Joe Quigg owns the Pacific Blue Inn south of Laurel Street in downtown Santa Cruz and was horrified to see a model of his hotel and attached condo demolished in a city plan to build a new Warriors arena. He shares his thoughts on his neighborhood, his frustration with the city for not contacting him about the plan, and offers his idea for building housing and an arena.
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As a resident and business owner who lives and works south of Laurel Street in Santa Cruz, I think it’s about time we heard from someone who lives here about the plans for expansion in this area.
I am one of the owners of the Pacific Blue Inn, one of the newest hotels built in downtown Santa Cruz (2008) and which, by the way, pays the city over $50,000 a year in hotel and tourism taxes.
I also live above the hotel in a modest condominium with my wife, Deborah. I know the main strip in this area, Pacific Avenue, pretty well as I am also the founder of Easy Access Developers, LLC, a small local development firm. Although I am retired, I spent many long hours coming up with ideas for infill development in this area over the past 20 years. When very few wanted to go near this area, south of Laurel, my wife and I, with partners, saw much potential and did our best to make it happen. And although we did do a significant amount of development, we were not successful in our grandiose scheme to entirely develop mixed-use buildings in what are currently underutilized areas south of Laurel.
So you might be able to imagine what it’s like having put in the time and effort to create something beautiful and then find a picture of your building being demoed with an arena in its place.
At first you say, “They’ve got to be kidding. This is never going to happen.” Then as you see things develop, you realize that it might just happen, and what the heck are we going to do? Will the city use eminent domain and force us to sell? Where will we go?
We have a successful business, a home totally adapted for us as wheelchair users (backup elevator, help from the staff if we need it, backup generator and easy access to downtown and the beach). So my point here today is the start of what I’m going to do.
The city has been instructed by the state to build 3,400 units or have 3,400 units in the works over the next eight years. That’s an awful lot of units for this city, a city with very little land left to develop. That’s 425 units per year. Look how long it’s taking to build the monstrosity they’re currently building on Laurel Street and what it’s going to do to the landscape of Santa Cruz.
But the city came up with a plan, they have presented it to the state and they do show how they’re going to do this using current zoning regulations. By developing along the main thoroughfares — Soquel Avenue, Mission Street, Water Street and Pacific Avenue — with mixed-use buildings like my company has done on Mission, Water, Soquel and Pacific, it can be done.
And it can be done without changing zoning and without bringing in large developers to take work away from our local people and money out of the city.
So, what is the purpose of my piece here?
Well, I recently spoke to Ron Lotts, owner of Lotts Auto Stereo on Pacific Avenue, which is two buildings south of my hotel, and he says he’s been here since 1950. A family-owned business that’s been here for over 70 years! They have no desire to move from their location nor should they. They’ve got a successful business and want to keep it that way.
I also spoke to Calvin Lee, owner of the building across the street from us. He just finished renovating it, with residential units above and a restaurant below. He has no desire to move or tear down his building.
But the most interesting thing I found was that none of us have been contacted directly by the City of Santa Cruz about any of this. We’ve been contacted by developers (large developers) looking to make a killing by getting 20-story buildings approved (knowing they’d be happy with just 12 stories). But we have heard nothing from the city.
Unfortunately, now we also have landowners south of Laurel who are looking to make a killing by selling their properties and taking advantage of new, yet-to-be-approved zoning.
But don’t lose hope. We’re not selling.
There are several others who are not going to sell, and the huge developers who want to make the big bucks have a long way to go before any of that happens. And by any of that I mean 12-story buildings with relatively little parking turning our skyline into whatever that might look like and making parking a nightmare for all those who already live here.
Eminent domain, as I have been told by the redevelopment department, is not being considered. The city is looking to get zoning changed and hopes the developers will come in and do the work they so desperately want to happen.
So how will all this pan out?
Personally, I think the city needs to get involved and help foot the bill for a stadium if it really wants it. Our new mayor, Fred Keeley, has set his eyes on getting a new stadium. So why don’t we put it to a vote? Do the residents of the city of Santa Cruz really want a new stadium? Show us why it works for our city. If we do, why not use the Civic Auditorium as a spot for a new stadium? People have been complaining about that building for years.
In addition, the city can help give incentives to local developers who hire local residents to help develop much-needed additional housing across the city. I say let’s use current zoning and help local developers build infill development. We have a 20% requirement for affordability on any new project in place already.
I have news for you all: With the rising cost of construction, the rising cost of land, especially land with a building already on it, infill development is going to be difficult. The only developers that will take it on are out-of-town developers who will take on only larger projects to make them more economically feasible.
That’s why the city should be looking for ways to help local developers build smaller projects all across the city. This will benefit the businesses located throughout the city and it will spread the traffic congestion associated with additional residences over a larger area.
Everyone would chip in and, most importantly, we won’t have huge buildings ruining our skyline, creating shade in areas that used to be sunny and making it less attractive.
Joe Quigg is the owner of Santa Cruz’s Pacific Blue Inn, built in 2008.