The city of Santa Cruz needs to build more than three times as many housing units in the next eight years as it did in the past eight. And the plan coming before the city council Tuesday shows a projected 4,457 units that can be permitted during that time. Most of them would be in along the city’s corridors — Mission, Ocean, Water and River streets and Soquel Avenue.
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In the same week the City of Santa Cruz announced it was among the 6% of California jurisdictions to meet their state required housing goals over the past eight years, the city’s planning commission advanced a broad plan to permit thousands of newly state-mandated housing units over the next eight years.
Meeting with barely a quorum, the planning commission voted 4-0 to send the plan, known as a “housing element,” to the city council for a final approval before the state takes its first look. Commissioners Julie Conway, Cyndi Dawson and Sean Maxwell were absent from the dais. The City of Santa Cruz, along with all other cities and counties in California, will need the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development to approve their housing elements by the end of 2023.
The City of Santa Cruz will need to permit 3,736 new housing units, across varying levels of affordability, by 2031 as part of the state’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation program, handed down to cities and counties every eight years. The units required between 2023 and 2031 represent a more than threefold increase over the 747 the state required of Santa Cruz between 2015 and 2023.
Analyzing existing land use conditions such as zoning and entitlements, the city’s planning staff projects Santa Cruz will permit 4,457 new units by 2031, yet has the capacity to add 8,272. The capacity number is a conservative estimate. For instance, although officials have said the downtown expansion could include up to 1,600 units, the housing element commits it to 1,145 units, which is the number of units that could be built there today without any zoning or entitlement changes.
“[The state] doesn’t like uncertainty when we submit these things, and, it was a much better way to go about just putting in the base capacity of the downtown area,” senior planner Matthew VanHua told commissioners. “We don’t even know what the potential extra units are yet. [The project] is still going through the process. We still need to do a [California Environmental Quality Act review] and come up with the exact zoning plan for this area. So, there are still unknowns there.”
The downtown expansion plan represents the largest single area for new projected units. The city’s corridors — Mission, Ocean, Water and River streets and Soquel Avenue — will also receive a lot of focus for new housing. The city projects it will permit at least 2,076 new units along the corridors by 2031, with the Mission Street corridor leading the way with 869 new units. The planning department also projects to permit 583 new accessory dwelling units (ADUs), and 154 new units on currently vacant residential land.
“Our town is so small, it’s so personal,” planning commissioner Pete Kennedy said. “There’s only like five sites [that can fit much of the projected new housing] and we probably all know where they are. That’s just the nature of a small town.”
The Santa Cruz City Council will vote on the housing element during its meeting Tuesday. The housing plan then heads to the state for initial comments before coming back to the city’s planning staff for any amendments. Planning Director Lee Butler said the housing element would come back before the planning commission and city council one more time before its final approval this fall.