The Calypso plan
Swenson Builders first submitted the proposal for the development at 130 Center St. in February 2021, but it was delayed by an appeal in November.
(Via Swenson Builders)

Santa Cruz council moves 130 Center St. project forward

A 233-unit mixed-use downtown development unanimously approved by Santa Cruz’s planning commission faced an appeal in November, but while those community concerns led to further delay, UCSC students and advocates rallied together to push the project forward, leading to unanimous approval by the city council.

The What: After nearly a year of planning for a 233-unit development at 130 Center St., the Santa Cruz City Council voted unanimously to move the project forward Tuesday night.

In November, the project was appealed by Gillian Greensite of Santa Cruz Tomorrow, citing concerns over traffic congestion and California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) exemptions. However, with an outpouring of support for the project — particularly from the UC Santa Cruz community — city council dismissed the appellant’s concerns to proceed with the unit plans, with the potential for four additional affordable units.

The So What: The development has been largely lauded by community members as an example of meeting the housing needs for students and young professionals.

The UCSC Student Housing Coalition — formed in fall 2021 — cited the fact that 9% of the university’s students are unhoused, higher than any other University of California campus. This is made all the more difficult when the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Santa Cruz is $2,533 per month.

Zennon Ulyate-Crow, coalition president and first-year Politics major, said the planning process for projects like this one has demonstrated a dire need for change to development processes, particularly for students like himself hoping to stay in the area after graduation.

Drawings of a project planned for 130 Center St. in Santa Cruz.
(Via Swenson Builders)

“The affordability crisis, combined with us as students figuring out our lives as adults, leads to a crisis of unprecedented proportions,” he said. “Our current processes aren’t on par to meet the crisis at hand.”

Background: The development — known as Calypso — planned by San Jose-based Swenson Builders is a six-story, mixed-use project with:

  • 233 single-room-occupancy (SRO) units.
  • 2,356 square feet of ground floor commercial space.
  • One level of underground parking.

Of the 233 units, 31 are required to be affordable, the minimum requirement for both inclusionary housing and density bonus ordinances. The lot currently houses an auto body shop and a Hertz rental car shop.

On Oct. 21, 2021, the planning commission voted 7-0 to approve the project; just over a week later, on Nov. 1, Greensite submitted the appeal against the decision.

The appellant’s concerns: For this project, Greensite and her group contended that the location of the project — across from Depot Park and less than a mile from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk — leads to questions regarding both the environmental and traffic impact.

“We are strong supporters of affordable housing, but we are also strong supporters of environmental review,” she said. “It is imperative that the city use whatever power it has left to assess the impacts of new projects and mitigate any impacts of significance by CEQA environmental review.”

Greensite said the lack of reports on weekend traffic patterns in the area made Calypso less suited for its proposed site.

“With this project adding an estimated 1,112 daily trips, and with a roundabout half a block to its south, to not assess the impact on the roundabout and ulterior roads on the weekends is unfathomable,” she said.

What UCSC students say: During public comment, UCSC students and Calypso supporters came out in droves, amounting to nearly three-quarters of the voices heard during the meeting.

Michael Wool, a Santa Cruz native and third-year UCSC student, said: “The housing crisis is disproportionately affecting renters, who are largely students — we need to be building housing tailored toward students.”

Santa Cruz local Pierce Brownstone, who recently moved to San Diego for college, reiterated that he would love to move back to the area, and would need projects like 130 Center Street to be able to do so.

“Local youth like myself are being forced out of the community we used to call home,” he said. “New neighbors should never be considered a nuisance.”

The Student Housing Coalition held its first meeting last week on the UCSC campus and announced its goals to bring...

What the builder says: Swenson Builders project manager Jessie Bristow kept his initial comments on the appeal short and straightforward.

“With the further analysis that city staff has conducted and city consultants have done, we have 100% confidence in their expertise and profession,” he said.

Following public comment, Bristow shared his disappointment in the appeals process, and implored councilmembers to better assess this process for other Santa Cruz developments.

“I don’t feel that this is a constructive way to meet long-term goals and provide housing for the housing needs that we have,” he said. “With the future [regional needs housing allocation] numbers for the city, they’re pretty staggering … are we going to hit this roadblock every time? Is Santa Cruz Tomorrow going to appeal every time? Do they have the right?”

What’s Next: With council approval, the city will continue working with Swenson on the project. It is expected to break ground this fall, with the aim of opening within two years.