West Cliff senior living facility approved by SC City Council after hearing appeals by developer, residents

The boarded-up facade of 126 Eucalyptus Ave., formerly Gateway Elementary School.
(Max Chun / Lookout Santa Cruz)

The assisted living facility proposed for a Eucalyptus Avenue site off of West Cliff Drive continues to move forward, with the Santa Cruz City Council passing the project by a 5-2 vote. Residents may appeal the project once again to the Coastal Commission within 10 days, or by Dec. 13.

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The Santa Cruz City Council has approved a plan to build a 76-unit, 74,218-square-foot senior living facility proposed for a site at 126 Eucalyptus Ave. near West Cliff Drive.

Tuesday’s 5-2 vote upheld the developer’s appeal to build three affordable units instead of the originally planned two. That’s well below the nine requested by the planning commission. The council denied a separate appeal from Pelton Avenue residents Anne and Robert Segal — consistent with the city staff recommendation.

Councilmembers Justin Cummings and Sandy Brown voted against the project due to what they said is not enough affordable units.

“I appreciate the effort to increase it [the affordable units] by one, but that’s not enough with where we’re at in this community,” said Cummings. “We have many homeless people who are seniors who will never work again living on our streets, and they cannot afford market rate rents.”

Though Councilmember Donna Meyers voted in favor, she asked the developers to “keep an open mind” regarding how to make the traffic circulation work in a way that the neighbors support.

Residents can file an appeal to the California Coastal Commission by Dec. 13.

Roger Bernstein, vice president of construction for the Minnesota-based development firm Oppidan, appealed the planning commission’s Oct. 6 move to require 15% of congregate or assisted living units to be made affordable on the grounds that it would make construction too expensive — echoing a concern raised among the commissioners in that same meeting. Instead, he told the city council that three affordable units is likely the most that could be included. The initial plan had only two affordable units.

Meanwhile, Pelton Avenue residents Anne and Robert Segal filed their own appeal. While they did not seek to nix the project entirely, they urged further study. The appeal cited concerns similar to those brought up previously, namely uncertainty over the project’s environmental effects and monarch butterfly endangerment. Overall, the appeal requested:

  • a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) evaluation on the adjacent areas;
  • for all construction vehicles during the demolition and building stages to enter and exit only through the Shrine of St. Joseph church, so as to not use Pelton Avenue for any construction traffic;
  • for West Cliff Drive to be the primary entry and exit point.

In the presentation of her appeal, Anne Segal displayed pictures of the adjacent neighborhoods and the view of Lighthouse Field State Beach from the proposed facility, with the ocean peeking out from just beyond the trees and open field.

“Look at the photographs and see what we get to see,” she told the city council. “You see what will get disturbed without further investigation.”

The proposed development site.
(Via City of Santa Cruz)

She further underlined the now potential negative effects on the monarch butterfly population within Lighthouse Field, such as noise and vibration, excessive exhaust from construction vehicles and possible displacement.

“This monarch habitat is a beautiful, heavy tourist destination that brings lots of people here, but you can see that the primary entrance is steps away from the monarch habitat,” she said.

Last, Segal added that the project is unsafe, as she said that it lies within a tsunami inundation zone determined by Santa Cruz County’s Local Hazard Mitigation Plan.

“Realistically, the property shouldn’t be used for anything other than open space,” she said. “There should never be a vulnerable population, school or large gathering housed there.”

She added that she believes the developers and city have also understated the amount of traffic and congestion that would result from the development.

Bernstein responded to the appeal, saying that the biologists that Oppidan has consulted — Justin Davilla of environmental consulting firm Western Ecosystems Technology Inc. and local biologist Bill Henry — are very knowledgeable in the area of butterflies, and that the concerns surrounding them are being taken seriously.

“It’s a beautiful area, and quite honestly, we’re hoping to bring seniors to this area to enjoy the natural surroundings, beautiful views and butterflies,” he said. “Many of [Davilla and Henry’s] suggestions have become conditions of approval.”

Those added conditions of approval were laid out in city planner and project lead Clara Stanger’s Oct. 6 presentation. They are:

  • retaining all butterfly roost trees;
  • buffering occupied roosts, including those at Lighthouse Field State Beach, by 100 feet;
  • beginning daily construction after temperatures are above 55 degrees so that butterflies have emerged from their idle state and are capable of flying, thus avoiding displacement;
  • making trucks and equipment enter and exit from the east of the site toward West Cliff Drive to minimize exhaust and vibration impacts to Lighthouse Field roosting sites;
  • prohibiting right turns out of the Pelton Avenue driveway to divert outbound trips east of the existing monarch grove and to avoid casting vehicle headlight glare into the grove;
  • locating new trees in places where they will not excessively shade nectar resources;
  • shielding exterior project lighting to avoid glare and illumination of adjacent properties and the monarch grove.

Bernstein also said that traffic will not be a concern, as most residents will likely not drive. The plan looks to add eight parking spaces to the lots.

“If one or two own a car, it will probably just sit there in the parking lot,” he said. “This is a very low-impact use.”


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