Santa Cruz City Council advances plan for more than 3,700 housing units — a fourfold increase — by 2031

Downtown Santa Cruz
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

It’s full speed ahead for the accelerated building of housing for the city of Santa Cruz over the next eight years. Plans long in the works call for development of more than 2,000 housing units along the city’s main corridors of Mission, River, Ocean and Water streets and Soquel Avenue. On Tuesday, the council unanimously approved the plan that now advances to state review.

Have something to say? Lookout welcomes letters to the editor, within our policies, from readers. Guidelines here.

Santa Cruz’s first draft of its plan to fit more than 3,700 new housing units within city boundaries by 2031 will now head to the state after unanimous approval by the city council Tuesday.

The plan, known as the housing element, is a state-mandated blueprint required of cities and counties across California to address the state’s increasingly imbalanced housing supply and demand ratio. The state, in conjunction with the regional agency Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments, determined that the city of Santa Cruz must plan to fit 3,736 units between 2023 and 2031. Santa Cruz’s unit allotment, known as its Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), is more than a fourfold increase over its 2015-23 mandate to fit just 747 new units.

Although the housing element essentially represents a paper exercise, it offers a compass for how and where the city will look to address its housing needs. Much focus has been placed on the downtown expansion plan, as well as the the addition of up to 1,600 new units in 12-story buildings in the neighborhood south of Laurel Street, for which the city council has shown an appetite. Aside from that megaproject, the city’s first-draft housing element shows a preference for development along the corridors — Mission, River, Ocean and Water streets and Soquel Avenue. According to the plan, the city projects 2,076 units will be permitted along the corridors over the next eight years.

New residents will start moving into at least three new downtown Santa Cruz apartment buildings in 2024, and the crack...

Regionally, Santa Cruz finds itself in an enviable position of having much greater housing capacity — the number of units the city could fit without changing any zoning — than its RHNA number. The city’s housing capacity stands at 8,272 units and the city projects it will permit 4,457 new units by 2031, more than 700 units over the state’s requirement. The RHNA numbers handed down to the unincorporated areas of the county, and communities such as Capitola, will pose a greater challenge as housing capacity is more limited.

The city council’s approval comes a week after the city announced it fulfilled its RHNA requirement in permitting 747 new housing units across income levels by 2023. According to city spokesperson Erika Smart, only 6% of jurisdictions across the state have achieved, or are on track to achieve, that milestone before year’s end.

Rafa Sonnenfeld, a policy director with YIMBY Law, an independent watchdog over housing-element laws, lauded the initial housing-element plan but said the city has its work cut out for it. If Santa Cruz residents and officials think the level of recent development has been intense, the city is going to need to increase by a factor of four over the next eight years, he told the city council.

“We need to think boldly about what sorts of policies we can implement to accelerate the unprecedented growth [required] within our existing zoned capacity,” Sonnenfeld said.

The plan now heads to the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development for initial review and comments. HCD will then send the plan back to the city for edits and another round of community input, as well as planning commission and city council votes before a final sendoff to the state this fall.


Be the first to know all the big, breaking news in Santa Cruz. Sign up to get Lookout alerts sent straight to your phone here or below.