In recent years, there has been a pattern of the Santa Cruz City Council ignoring or dismissing the concerns of large segments of the community. Even candidates who seem very progressive and community-oriented have often transformed into business-as-usual politicians who govern by deferring to City staff more than by listening to, and representing the public.
We respect the commitment and dedication of all Council members who work long hours with little compensation or personal benefit. At the same time, their voting record shows clearly that Santa Cruz can do better. We want to see a brand new council who will listen to and represent the concerns of the community and not make decisions like these:
1. Favoring developers and hotels over affordable housing: Against the vocal objection of neighbors, the Council approved a hotel on Broadway by rezoning a large residential parcel that could have become apartments or condos. The City also allowed the destruction of a heritage tree, and ignored neighbors' requests for minor modifications like moving the location of the driveway to improve traffic flow. In addition to rezoning the parcel, the Council helped the developer acquire federal tax credits designed to improve lower income neighborhoods, funds which are generally used for housing. The Council then offered the developer and two other large hotel projects two million-dollar subsidies each (six million dollars total). The City later canceled the subsidy program, citing a lack of interest from developers, without any comment on the interest of workers who build the hotels. The Council has the power, when making concessions to a developer, to require community benefits like prevailing wages. However our current council members seems eager to give, without any take.
Another way that the Council has favored developers over affordable housing has been by allowing them to pay a fee in-lieu of building the required 15% affordable housing units in large development projects. A recent example is the large building under construction at 555 Pacific Ave, which will be 100% market-rate housing. Visit our “platform” page for more discussion on in-lieu fees and alternative funding mechanisms for low-income housing projects.
2. Pushing an unnecessary and unpopular desalination plant. In considering how to ensure a stable long-term water supply, the City Council dismissed more ecological options and an organized public to, instead, waste millions of dollars of taxpayer money pursuing an unnecessary desalination plant. Rather than listening to the well-educated opposition, the Council wasted more taxpayer money hiring a PR professional to try and undermine objections to desal. Only when voters passed Measure P by an overwhelming majority was the Council forced to accept public input and pursue alternatives.
3. Cruel and ineffective attempts to address homelessness. In response to the negative impacts that some people experiencing homelessness have on parks and public spaces, the Council has regularly voted for policies which fail to improve the situation, while adding further difficulties for those living on the street. For example, the Council passed an ordinance banning RV parking at night, without offering a legal alternative, although its implementation is barred pending further review by the Coastal Commission, who decried it as a criminalization of homelessness.
The Council also voted to continue criminalizing the mere act of sleeping in public, even for people who have nowhere else to go, and ignored a request from the Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women to establish a safe place for homeless women to sleep. Another Council decision made it illegal to panhandle on the median, a rule ignored by both panhandlers and police, and many restrictive rules on Pacific Ave have driven off celebrated performers like the Great Morgani, without solving the problem of unhoused people congregating in public places.
4. Weakening heritage tree protections. Although Santa Cruz is perceived as a very ecologically-minded city, our Council voted to weaken the heritage tree ordinance, allowing trees to be cut if they are deemed to represent an “economic hardship” to the applicant. In making this decision, the Council asserted that it was not necessary to study the environmental impacts, as it would not affect how many trees were cut. The City later lost in court and had to rescind the changes.
5. Bulldozing a community garden in a low-income and minority neighborhood. The Beach Flats Garden is an important park and cultural center in one of the lowest income and most heavily Latino neighborhoods in the City. Owned by the Seaside Company that runs the Boardwalk, the parcel was neglected and full of trash and crime before volunteers in the neighborhood transformed it into a garden over 20 years ago. The land was later leased to the City as a park, and when the Seaside Company recently pushed to reclaim the property, a public outcry led the Council to vote to pursue buying the land. Yet only a few months later, while negotiations were still ongoing about the future of the garden, the City bulldozed half the area, destroying food crops and fruit trees that provided food for those in need.
6. Wasting taxpayer money pursuing an unnecessary road widening project. While local roads await repair and City workers are asked to defer cost of living pay increases, the City Council put hundreds of thousands of dollars toward the design of a fourteen million dollar expansion of the Highway 1 bridge over the San Lorenzo River. This, despite Caltrans’ statement that the bridge was in reasonable shape and the expansion was not an efficient use of money.
7. Approving military equipment for the police through a dishonest public process. When the Santa Cruz Police Department asked for approval to obtain a BEARCAT military vehicle from the Department of Homeland Security, they attempted to avoid public discussion, waiting for eight months to bring it to Council, and then presenting it as an urgent decision that had to be made that night to avoid losing the necessary grant funding. The Council approved the request, and later ignored months of organized opposition by hundreds of community members. The process was so problematic that Congressman Sam Farr wrote a letter criticizing both the idea of SCPD’s obtaining a military vehicle and the lack of transparency and honesty in the process.