Quick Take:

Before Santa Cruz City Council members on Tuesday tackled the sticky issue of where homeless people would be allowed to camp citywide, they handled other matters. Besides water conservation and parking rates, they moved forward with plans to rename the Louden Nelson Community Center. Here’s the rundown:

The Santa Cruz City Council moved ahead on several key issues on Tuesday, including the renaming of the Louden Nelson Community Center, increasing parking meter rates in the Main Beach area, and adding two new “impact fees” for developers.

Water conservation plans and several large infrastructure projects to improve water facilities were also approved, as was an option for employer-sponsored affordable housing in the city.

Here is a breakdown of the issues:

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Water conservation, infrastructure projects approved

This year is shaping up to be one of the four driest on record in Santa Cruz. The lowest water years ever have been 1977, which was the lowest year in modern recording, 1976, and 2014.

According to Rosemary Menard, the city’s water director, this year is tracking a little bit better than 1976 or 2014, but is still “definitely in the lower part of the critically dry characteristics,” which is especially damaging because it’s the second dry year in a row.

Santa Cruz water bar graph
Credit: City of Santa Cruz

To respond to the bad water year, the city’s water commission recommended water restrictions, and the city council voted to adopt them on Tuesday.

This will be only the first level of restrictions; Menard said most residential users won’t be heavily affected, as by and large the amount of water households use is on par or less than the rationed amount of 500 cubic feet.

The city council also approved a number of investments in water infrastructure:

  • A big-ticket project to replace water meters — $6.7 million.
  • Hiring a company to install an oxygen diffuser system at Loch Lomond Reservoir — $372,462.
  • A contract for seismic work on the Murray Street Bridge — $677,758.
  • Adding to a contract for environmental work as part of the improvement of the Graham Hill Water Treatment Plant — $622,299.
  • Accepting work done as part of a raw water pipeline replacement project on the Coast Pump Station.
  • Buying some materials for a Water Quality Lab — $176,866 — and accepting remodeling work that has been completed.

Renaming of Louden Nelson sites

The council voted to work on renaming landmarks and sites honoring London Nelson, and “pursue a more accurate depiction” of Nelson, an important figure in Santa Cruz History. Nelson, who was born into slavery in North Carolina in 1800, has long been referred to by the wrong first name — Louden.

Archival image of London Nelson
Archival image of London Nelson Credit: Images via City of Santa Cruz

After being moved from a plantation to California to work as a blacksmith, Nelson eventually purchased his own freedom and became a traveling cobbler, or shoe repair person. For the last four years of his life, Nelson lived in Santa Cruz, farming his land along the San Lorenzo River, selling produce and cobbling. When he died in May 1860, Nelson left all of his belongings to the local school district, which enabled the construction of a larger Mission Hill School.

In 1979, locals led an effort to name the site of the former Mission Hill School after Nelson. The same year, the community center was named after him, too.

It wasn’t until several years later that historical documents came to light and showed Nelson’s name to be London (“Louden” was a nickname, according to some members of Santa Cruz’s Black communities). A previous effort to rename the community center, in 1984, ended after vocal opposition from Black residents.

Last summer, the issue arose once again amid Black Lives Matter protests. More than 1,000 people signed an online petition started by resident Brittnii London, asking for the landmarks to be renamed. Early this year, a group met for several months, researched, reviewed historical documents and discussed the issues associated with renaming the sites.

Since Nelson’s will listed his first name as London, the group unanimously agreed that the the city should rename school site/plaza, community center, Nelson’s headstone in Evergreen Cemetery and a plaque on Water Street — and provide a more robust history of Nelson where possible.

On Tuesday, council members voted to send the issue to the Historic Preservation Commission, which will review the advisory group’s decision on May 19 and make a recommendation to the city council on how to proceed.

Because the community center was built in 1930, it is a historic structure, and any change requires a stamp of approval from the Historic Preservation Commission.

The city council’s agenda contained a trove of historical documents, photos and press clippings about Nelson. The complete package of Nelson-related documents is below:

Main Beach parking meter rates to rise

Parking meter rates in the Main Beach Area from $1.80 per hour to $2.25 per hour — a 25% increase — by the summer, according to another council vote. Under the new rate structure, the maximum daily parking rate for 12 hours in a lot without variable rates would be $27.

Parking in areas with variable rates will be pricier, starting at $2.25 an hour and doubling every two hours for part of the 12-hour maximum period:

  • First and second hour: $2.25 each
  • Third and fourth: $4.50 each
  • Each additional hour: $9

Additional parking revenue from the tourist-heavy area will help give a needed boost to the city’s general fund as Santa Cruz deals with a significant structural deficit due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The rate increase along would net the city an extra $300,000 per year, according to staff estimates.

City staff recommended the new parking rates take effect on May 1 “in order to capture the upcoming demand” during peak summer months. About 4 million tourists visit Santa Cruz every year (in non-pandemic years), and many frequent the beaches and nearby attractions.

The last time the city council increased meter rates around Main Beach was in August 2019, when rates went from $1.50 per hour to $1.80 per hour.

Proposed ‘impact fees’ get preliminary nod

Santa Cruz is proposing charging developers of residential and nonresidential projects — except on affordable housing — a new fee to help fund the police and fire departments. City council members gave initial approval to a proposed “public safety impact fee,” which has been in the works since at least 2019.

Under the proposal, developers would be charged the public safety impact fee — per square foot of construction, based on the kind of development — over the course of three years. A proposed child care impact fee would follow a similar timeline. Both fees would be formally adopted after a second vote on April 27.

The fees would be used “to refurbish existing facilities to maintain the existing level of service or achieve an adopted level of service,” and offset the demand for fire and police services caused by new developments so other taxpayers don’t foot the bill. The funds may be used on equipment, vehicles, facilities and other resources for fire and police, but can’t be used to fill existing gaps in service.

The new fee could generate an extra $130,000 to $260,000 per year, depending on how much active development happens each year, according to staff estimates.

Public safety impact fee schedule in Santa Cruz
Credit: via Santa Cruz City Council agenda packet

Child care impact fee

The city is also looking to implement a child care impact fee, which would be paid by developers on residential and nonresidential projects in order to support the city’s current and needed childcare facilities. There are about 2,373 children under the age of six in the city, and 1,785 are in working families, according to a staff report.

City officials adopted an ordinance that created the child care fee in December 2019, but instructed city staff at the time to figure out the best way to implement the fee. On Tuesday, council members gave the plan initial approval.

Santa Cruz County created a child care impact fee in 1991 “to mitigate the adverse impact new and expanded residential and nonresidential developments would place on the existing child care system,” according to a staff report. The city would use the same method as the county for calculating the fees, so there is continuity across the region.

Under city staff’s proposed plan, developers would be charged a child care impact fee — per square foot of construction — over the course of three years “to reduce the initial financial burden.” Affordable housing projects would be exempt from this fee.

According to the county calculations Santa Cruz is using, the maximum amount the city could charge for residential development is $426 per bedroom, or $0.68 per square foot. City staff are recommending a lower rate.

For nonresidential developments, costs per square foot vary.

A schedule of the childcare impact fee
Credit: via Santa Cruz City Council agenda packet

Employer-sponsored affordable housing proposal passes

The council voted to add an option in local affordable housing requirements for companies to sponsor housing for their employees. While much of the focus has been on working with the school district to establish employer-sponsored housing, the change will also allow for other entities to build housing for their workers.

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