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  • Writer's pictureD Lane

The INCREDIBLE crumbling website

Updated: Jun 15, 2022

Any political advocacy website (and campaign) worth its salt will look good and say good things that appeal to the first-time viewer.

But good website imagery and headlines and lots of words do not equal a good, coherent, factual argument. There is no better Santa Cruz example of this than the “Our Downtown- Our Future”(ODOF) website.

On the surface, the ODOF site looks pretty good. It has all the right elements such as “fact check” and “frequently asked questions” and nice images. It even has a lot of wordy explanations. The problem is that it is built on a foundation that quickly crumbles as soon as you shake it even a little bit.

The foundation and the whole website will crumble because it is built on hot air, false assumptions, misuse of “data”, twisting partial quotations, fantasy disguised as reality, wishful thinking, and various other forms of bad material.

I will shake website right now. Let’s see what happens.

We’ll start with my personal favorite: Their “affordable housing” hot air and fantasy. This is important because the whole ODOF effort was initiated to eliminate a project that contains a very large number of affordable apartments and a new library.

The problem ODOF discovered as they got underway with their marketing was that killing a significant affordable housing project would not be a good selling point. What to do? They chose to create the illusion that their measure would do something about affordable housing. If you read through their website section on affordable housing, you will see a ton of discussion about the ins and outs and challenges of getting an affordable housing project built. It’s good that they adopted some of the information they learned from real affordable housing advocates to sound informed. They just don’t want you to realize that their discourse makes almost no sense to those of us who truly know about affordable housing policy and affordable housing finance and affordable housing development. All the folks I know in this field (and that’s a bunch of people) support the library housing project because they see it as:

· Quite far along in the development process

· A very good and valuable project for those needing rental housing in Santa Cruz

· A shared use project that efficiently uses limited resources and enables real cost sharing

· Environmentally sustainable, especially because of its great location near transit, jobs, & shopping -- and its green amenities

What the folks who actually have expertise in housing will tell you is that relocating this affordable housing to a different site and starting over with a new design and a new funding search will add years to the process at best—and it could lead to a completely lost opportunity. The only small brick the ODOF folks have left in this part of their foundation is the correct statement that not ALL the funding for the current new library housing project is secured. But a very substantial amount has been secured. Ask someone who has actual expertise in affordable housing development, and they will tell you that every dollar secured is precious and cannot be wasted. ODOF says the funding won’t be lost—but they don’t know what they’re talking about.

The next wall of the crumbling foundation to inspect is the Library portion. I can lay this one out much more simply. ODOF is pretending they have documentation for their statements when they don’t. Their claim, that we can have just as good a library in a refurbished old library, is all over their website and they have tons of images and pictures to suggest that this must be true. Fortunately, once again, they have provided a sliver of good information on their site (mixed in with their misinformation) and this sliver destroys their own foundational argument. They have a link on their site to this document. It’s a memo from the then head of the Santa Cruz public library system saying unequivocally that renovating the old library will lead to an inferior library and one that is significantly smaller than the current inadequate library. It even gets better… the memo also includes a statement from the architect working on an alternative plan for a renovation. That statement also unequivocally states that the renovated library will be inferior and mediocre. Yes, I’m paraphrasing and you shouldn’t just take my word for it. Look at the memo yourself.

Of course, the ODOF website tells you that this memo doesn’t really count. Why might we believe them? Well, maybe they’ll find a random librarian to say whatever suits their argument—and tell us the real library director was wrong. But, again, the foundation cracks and crumbles when we learn this: not only did the architect and the former library director say the new library will be better than a refurbished one. A second former library director said the same thing. The Friends of the Santa Cruz Public Libraries said the same thing. The citizen’s committee that studied the library alternatives said the same thing.

Here's another bit that tragically uninformed people writing text on a website can blithely write:

[FAQ] Renovating the existing Downtown Library would require relocating it during construction. How long would this be for, and how much would it cost? Isn’t this a deal killer?

"For renovation, the library would have to be relocated during the period of construction. A temporary location was used for the Library when the present building was constructed in 1968. Presently, there is lots of available rental space on Pacific Avenue for a temporary library.

Noll & Tam indicates that the cost of a temporary location for two years could be approximately $750,000, plus $90,000 for moving expenses. However, actual renovation work could take closer to one year than two years.”

It seems that everyone knowledgeable about our downtown library situation recognizes that we will essentially not have a functioning downtown library for about 2 years if we renovate. Yes, some space can be rented to keep the books and other materials—but it is not going to be anything like a true public library. It won't be able to provide the kind of service that you'd expect from a typical public library. Instead, there will be limited access to the collections and limits on all the usual library services.

So… let me say it straight since ODOF does not: With a new library, we will be without an open downtown public library for the time it takes to physically move and shelve the library materials (weeks). With a renovation we'll be without a truly open downtown library during the time it takes to move the materials out plus the time it takes to complete all the renovation plus the time it takes to move back and shelve. Someone who has some real knowledge on this subject would say two years is about right. ODOF will just say whatever they want… but they can’t get around the fact that we won’t have even a basic open library downtown for a very long period if we embrace their approach. (I’m sure our kids will thank them for it!)

Now a second wall of the foundation has crumbled and the whole thing is about to fall over.

Next comes the purest gobbledygook on the ODOF website. Yep, its about our terrific and popular Downtown Farmers Market. Let’s see exactly what they say:

[FAQ] If the Farmers’ Market Board hasn’t endorsed your measure, isn’t it arrogant for you to dictate their location?

"We have been in strong communication with the Farmers’ Market executive director and board of Santa Cruz Community Farmers’ Markets, and we have a good relationship that has nothing to do with arrogance. The Board has not endorsed any approach. Its highest priority is to obtain a settled permanent location with facilities encouraging year-round use."

Now, I invite you to read this recent news article about the ODOF measure.

I’m going to summarize and excerpt but I invite you to read the whole article to verify that I am characterizing it accurately. Here’s is the first quotation from the article—it’s the words of Nesh Dhillon, the Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Farmers Market: “We have nothing to do with this ballot initiative,” Dhillon said. “It’s fine if people out there are ‘rah rah’ about their support, but ultimately, we decide where we’ll go.”

And then there’s this most importantly segment from the news article:

[reporter] Had you ever heard of Our Downtown before this initiative was released?

[Nesh Dhillon] You hear names and all of these new groups popping up ... there’s some cross-pollination between factions, I’m guessing, but I’ve never heard of that group before, no. This group, other groups, have strong opinions about where they would like to have the farmers market, which is interesting. I don’t even know who these guys are — I’ve never spoken to this group, they’ve never spoken to us. There are people out there advocating for the market to be somewhere, but that’s them, they’re not us. We as an organization will figure out where we need to end up.

(Though the ODOF site likes to link to other sources to “verify” their positions and statement, even they did not have the audacity to link to this article. I guess they do have some limits on their deceptive practices.)

Yes, that is the sound of another one of the foundations crumbling…and the credibility of the ODOF website imploding, and their arrogance roaring.

Is it just me thinking it's shameful (or is it shameless?) that ODOF uses a popular community treasure as a pawn in their game—and causes community members to be afraid that this ballot measure is the only way to protect the farmers’ market.

Though three walls of their foundation have already crumbled and the website and its cause are “crashing” at this moment, we might as well finish the demolition so we can actually build a great new library and some homes for struggling local residents and workers.

Which brings us to the final area (for today, anyway) of community concern: the natural environment. The most noteworthy thing about the ODOF website in this regard is what's missing. There is an almost complete lack of discussion of climate change in relation to this project. Today (May 28, 2022) I wasn’t able to find any mention on the ODOF website of the carbon impact of the parking that’s included in the proposed new library housing project. I’m going to go out on limb (more on trees in a moment!) and suggest that the level of parking now included in this project is now so constrained (and the amount of secure bike parking so large) that they can no longer make a meaningful argument on this point. I suspect they’re probably counting on you to incorrectly assume this project has an ungodly amount of parking and means more cars and more carbon emissions. And perhaps they’re counting on you to see that the Climate Action Network is on their team so that you might assume there’s a vehicle emissions component to their case. However… go the Climate Action Network page on this project and, as of today, they don’t make any claim on this either.

Good for ODOF and the Climate Action Network that they’re not saying anything incorrect us on this. It does beg the question: what, then, is the environmental impact from the new library housing project? The main knocks on it are: some trees will be cut down to make the new library/housing building; there is a lot of building material waste involved in demolishing the old library that will be disposed of; and there will be concrete involved in building the new building. I agree that these are true.

But there is a bit more to this than they would like you to see.

· Building new housing near transit and jobs has a definitive positive impact on reducing carbon emissions. Each 30-mile car commute to a job in the middle of Santa Cruz has a quantifiable carbon cost. Each worker that will live and work in the middle of town means a quantifiable carbon reduction.

· The ODOF website and campaign regularly call for a new housing development on what is called “lot 7” as a replacement for the current proposal’s site on what is called “lot 4”. They have nice artistic renderings of a building on Lot 7. Two tiny little problems: there are quite a few trees on that site, too. And, if they get their way, there will be tons of concrete involved in their housing building on Lot 7. So… we have just about the same climate impact building on one site as on the other. Oops!

· They also leave out the fact that renovating the old library will generate a lot of removal of old materials and infrastructure and the pouring concrete, too. Therefore, neither route (refurbish or new) is pristine in these respects. But… the new library housing building will have many more green features than a refurbished old library.

· The ODOF website offers a lot of space and lip service to smart urban land-use. What they conveniently leave out is that their measure calls for including parking on the ground floor of new affordable housing projects build on city land downtown. Single levels of parking scattered around downtown is the opposite of smart urban land-use.

When one leaves this much out of a wall of the foundation... well, this gif says it all.

Recapping: ODOF is a website and a campaign built on a demolished foundation. Despite their empty, misleading, and fact-deficient claims, their initiative measure is not needed to help with affordable housing. Not needed to get a great library. Not needed to have a great farmers' market. Not needed to protect our natural environment. In fact, we will make more progress on these fronts if the proposed project moves forward and their initiative is defeated.

PS. One of the best and most honest parts of the ODOF website is the section that says at the top: "Library Misinformation." Though they certainly intended another meaning, it's a remarkably appropriate characterization of their entire website and campaign. Perhaps they could just move it to the top of their home page and we can be done with this whole issue.

Watch for this image on the ODOF website soon...

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