Quick Take:

The March 23 council meeting had no shortage of action, including updates on the future of the encampment for the unsheltered at Highways 1 & 9, Beach Street vending changes, a call for more Downtown artwork, and a request for COVID-19 vaccinations of essential workers.

The latest on Highways 1 and 9 …

Santa Cruz officials are still trying to coordinate clearing the homeless encampment in the right-of-way near Highways 1 and 9, Planning Director Lee Butler told city council members on Tuesday.

CalTrans, the California Highway Patrol and Santa Cruz County have all been involved in discussions of how to get unsheltered people out of the area before a major highway project can begin in April. It’s still unclear where the displaced people will go — or who will pay for their relocation.

CalTrans has “recognized the safety hazards that are present in that area, and they are taking the lead in the approach for making sure everyone can be moved out of that dangerous location,” Butler said.

The city has continued trash removal at the site, with help from volunteers. And Santa Cruz County has begun offering vaccinations to unsheltered individuals, including those who live around the highway intersection.

Beach Street vending changes

Santa Cruz is creating a program for street vendors to be able to obtain permits and sell goods along Beach Street. Once the process is finalized in the near future, vendors will be able to apply for half a dozen spots near Ideal Bar and Grill, at the entrance to the municipal wharf.

In August, the city banned street vending due to COVID-19 concerns. However, a 2018 state law decriminalized sidewalk vending and made it harder for local governments to place limitations on it.

In response to the bill and the weakening pandemic, the city is making a regulated path for vendors to work in the popular beachfront area.

In recent weeks, the city placed signs along Beach Street to notify vendors that selling their goods in that area is still prohibited due to COVID-19 concerns. March is typically the start of “peak season” in the beach area, so Santa Cruz is trying to get its permitting process up and running soon.

City staff had previously mapped out 6 spots in the patio area next to Ideal for approved vendors, but a 25-year-old agreement between the city and the restaurant has come to light and complicated matters, staff analyst Ralph Dimarucut told city council on Tuesday. In that contract, the city agreed to not issue any street vending licenses on the outdoor deck, which Ideal helped pay for. City staffers are now trying to find a compromise that might lead to three of six sites that are close to restaurant, in the patio, being open to vendors.

Santa Cruz has worked with Community Bridges, a nonprofit human services organization, to connect with vendors, notify them of the changes and help them apply for permits. Under new rules, vendors will need additional documentation to be able to legally operate. In addition to a business license, vendors will need a city-issued permit, as well as a county health permit if they are selling food. As part of the application, vendors will need to submit information on proposed operations and agree to comply with the city’s noise ordinance.

Calling all artists

As part of its economic recovery plan, the city is looking to “activate” the heart of the city. In recent weeks, the Downtown Management Corporation group considered six proposals developed by a subcommittee on how to breathe life back into downtown over the next six months to a year. The city is seeking applications from artists by April 5 with ideas on how to bring art to downtown spaces that aren’t filled. To apply, click here.

Council advocates for ‘essential worker’ vaccinations

On Tuesday, Santa Cruz City Council gave City Manager Martín Bernal the green light to write a letter with Watsonville leaders and ask the county for “specialized COVID-19 vaccination clinics” for essential food, retail, restaurant and agriculture workers.

“We hope this effort creates more equitable access to vaccines locally for those essential workers and helps our small businesses open up quickly while protecting their employees who are at greatest risk. Given the expected increase in vaccine supplies in the coming weeks, we recommend the letter to be transmitted to the County Public Health Officer no later than March 31,” a staff report said.

Watsonville’s city manager could not immediately be reached for comment.

Santa Cruz County has set up numerous vaccination sites and facilitated vaccination programs at existing clinics that are accessible to frontline workers, including those in the food industry. More than 2,500 employers throughout the county have also submitted vaccine interest forms for eligible employees. Vaccinations have also been occurring through regional health care systems and federal pharmacy programs.

The city’s request is for the county to set up specialized clinics for people in specific professions — such as retail and restaurant employees — similar to those the county helped facilitate for EMS workers and teachers.

A county spokesperson gave the idea a lukewarm reception.

“We’re still dealing with vaccine scarcity while trying to address equity and numerous other groups that are asking for specialized clinics, and we’re about a week away from turning vaccine management over to Blue Shield,” county spokesperson Jason Hoppin wrote in an email. “I’m sure we will continue discussing it as we move forward, but we believe thousands upon thousands of eligible members of this group have already received at least a first dose, and for those numbers to grow even more in the very near future.”

HUD funding:

The city council gave its first approval to a plan for distributing Community Development Block Grant funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. CDBG funds must be used for programs or projects that benefit low-income residents, so Santa Cruz set neighborhoods in the Beach Flats and Lower Ocean as priority areas.

In July, Santa Cruz will receive $618,240 in CDBG funds. When that funding is added to $35,000 of expected income and $70,000 in unspent funds from prior years, the total CDBG budget will be $723,240.

About $130,648 of that total must be used for program administration costs, per HUD, so the city has to decide how to spend the other $592,592 in funding.

Through the federal Home Investment Partnerships Program, Santa Cruz will also have an influx of $383,527 to help close financing gaps on affordable housing developments and fund a security deposit assistance program. Two developers, Habitat for Humanity Santa Cruz County and MidPen Housing, qualify for HOME funding. The city also anticipates a proposal from non-profit developer First Community Housing, a San Jose firm that is working on Pacific Station North and an affordable housing project at Barrios Unidos.

Although the awards must go through another reading by city council on April 27 before being finalized, the city council approved initial plans on how to use the CDBG dollars, awarding money to:

  • Senior art studio installation at Louden Nelson Center — $50,000
  • Market Street Senior Center renovations — $110,000 (of about $500,000 total needed for upgrades)
  • City of Santa Cruz Homeless Infrastructure Projects, such as resources for homeless encampments — $236,092
  • Nueva Vista Teen Center — $40,000
  • Second Harvest Food Banks — $25,000
  • Housing assistance by California Rural Legal Assistance — $25,000
  • Nueva Vista and Beach Flats Community Centers — $100,000

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Follow Isabella Cueto on: Twitter. Isabella joins the Lookout team as a government accountability reporter, building on her experience covering local government for The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C.Before...