How much opposition will there be to a senior living facility planned along West Cliff Drive?

The proposed development site near the intersection of West Cliff Drive and Pelton Avenue.
(Via City of Santa Cruz)

A bit different than some of the other recently proposed developments, the city of Santa Cruz initially received a pre-application in 2019 for an assisted living project adjacent to the Shrine of St. Joseph church. After the public raised concerns in 2020, the project’s size was reduced; a presentation is scheduled for the planning commission’s Oct. 6 meeting.

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The area adjacent to the Shrine of St. Joseph church, opposite the iconic surfer statue on West Cliff Drive and across the street from Lighthouse Field State Beach, is the latest Santa Cruz location facing potentially big change.

Newly proposed for a site at 126 Eucalyptus Ave. is a two-story, 76-unit, 74,218-square-foot senior housing facility; the site borders the Oblates of St. Joseph campus. Construction is expected to cost about $34 million.

As has been the case with many recent project proposals in the city of Santa Cruz, the development has been met with some, but an unclear amount of, public concern. Those concerns include the familiar: claims of inadequate public outreach as well as environmental and traffic issues. This development, though, has sparked complaints of high-priced units — ones that favor wealthy out-of-town retirees over Santa Cruz residents.

The new venture represents a scaled-down version of one that met a lot of feedback two years ago. Santa Cruz City Senior Planner Clara Stanger said the city first received a pre-application for this project in November 2019, and community meetings followed in March and May of 2020.

In March 2020, about 55 members of the public voiced their worries about the development’s size, traffic, unit affordability and environmental impacts at a community meeting. Since then, the proposed 100-unit, three-story project has shrunk to the current 76-unit, two-story plan.

Of the 76 units, 59 would be assisted-living units and 15 would be memory-care units, along with two affordable, or “inclusionary,” units. The project — a partnership between the church and Minnesota-based development firm Oppidan — requires approval from the City of Santa Cruz Planning Commission for a number of permits in order to:

  • reconfigure five lots into two;
  • demolish two existing school buildings (previously Gateway Elementary) totaling 28,417 square feet;
  • remove six heritage trees;
  • construct the facility with associated site improvements.

Oppidan and city planning staff had been originally scheduled to present the project, provide details and take questions at the planning commission’s meeting last Thursday, but the presentation has since been rescheduled to the commission’s Oct. 6 meeting due to errors with public noticing for the Sept. 1 meeting, according to Stanger.

Dennis Reagan, a longtime Santa Cruz resident who lives on Eucalyptus Avenue, is among those concerned about the project, in both its new and previous iterations. There is currently no official opposition group.

He said he is disconcerted by what he perceives as a decline in community engagement from the city across many proposed projects.

“In the past, many different groups got together whenever there were things going on with Gateway, like traffic, but we worked it all out with the Oblates and Gateway because there was more of an open relationship,” he said. “Maybe they didn’t pay attention all the time, but there was more interest in working with the neighborhood.”

“It’s happening all throughout Santa Cruz, in a number of different projects, and I’m amazed at all of these things that are not getting public feedback,” he said. “I don’t know how to put it other than ‘clandestine.’”

Further, Reagan has additional environmental concerns.

“They’re proposing an entrance on Pelton Avenue, which is only 50 or 75 feet from the monarch [butterfly] reserve,” he said. “They have an entrance on West Cliff, so they should use that. Having cars pulling in and out all day isn’t good for that particular reserve.”

A rendering of the senior living facility proposed for a site off West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz
A rendering of the senior living facility proposed for a site across the street from Lighthouse Field State Beach, near the surfer statue along West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz.
(Via City of Santa Cruz)

Reagan also takes issue with the development’s pricing, claiming monthly rates of at least $8,000 and as high as $15,000 to rent a unit, based on information from a similar Napa-based Oppidan facility.

“Oppidan owns a lot of these properties, and these are the rates I found from Napa,” he said. “That certainly seems to be targeting wealthier out-of-town people. I mean, I certainly couldn’t afford that.”

Overall, Reagan said he sees the benefit of this kind of assisted living project, but is dissatisfied with the plans as they stand.

“I think it’s a good project, but needs to be scaled down and revamped,” he said. “This is not a bad idea, but it’s too big and certainly hasn’t gotten enough input from the public.”

Shannon Rusk, senior vice president of development at Oppidan, said Santa Cruz needs more services like the proposed development.

“Santa Cruz is critically underserved with this kind of housing with services for seniors,” she said.

Rusk added that this problem is only going to get worse.

“There is an upcoming crisis in which there will not be enough housing options for seniors in the age group from 75 to 85,” she said. “We want to increase access to purposeful, innovative solutions to this problem.”

Rusk responded to Reagan’s price concerns by saying that overall average rates including care costs are the same as similar competitors in the area, about $7,100 to $9,500 monthly.

“Deposit or membership fee is typically two months’ rent,” she said. “[Reagan] has overestimated profitability by a hundredfold.”

Rusk said the designated site is exactly what this project needs.

“This is a perfect location with a perfect opportunity for seniors,” she said. “This is going to be a quiet, low-traffic development with an overall low impact on the area.”

Lookout contacted the Oblates of Saint Joseph for comment but had not received a response as of publication time.

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