Pleasure Point is not a place for high rises: Rezone our neighborhood the right way

JoAnn Allen on East Cliff Drive
JoAnn Allen of Save Pleasure Point on East Cliff Drive.
(Via JoAnn Allen)

The neighborhood group Save Pleasure Point wants to protect the culture and character of its eclectic coastline community by preventing Santa Cruz County from rezoning Portola Drive to the maximum urban density allowable under code. The group isn’t against building, members write — just against what it sees as too much building too fast for an area it says is already burdened with parking, traffic and safety concerns. Save Pleasure Point offers an alternative solution.

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Santa Cruz County wants to more than double the density of housing on Portola Drive in Pleasure Point.

Save Pleasure Point — a group of Pleasure Point residents who came together in 2016 to safeguard the neighborhood’s vibrant vibe and low-key characteristics — opposes this idea vehemently. Our group started as a small band and now boasts hundreds of members. We want the community to hear our concerns and listen to our ideas for alternative solutions.

We see Pleasure Point as a living treasure with its rich history, boutique shops, great eateries, iconic surf, coastal walkway, and inclusive, informal “know-your-neighbor” style. We protect our neighborhood of 5,800 residents by monitoring development projects on our section of Portola Drive to ensure any new projects include design styles compatible with our local character. This includes: no buildings higher than three stories, ample on-site parking for new projects, and plenty of green, open spaces.

Our efforts have led to the implementation of flashing beacons at crosswalks, increased on-site parking on proposed project designs, and the community meetings that generated the development design guidelines for the Portola Drive commercial corridor between 38th and 41st avenues.

In reviewing the county’s proposed 2022 Sustainability Policy and Regulatory Update, we recently discovered a section on rezoning Portola Drive to allow maximum development of high-density housing. We believe this could easily diminish the low-key culture and character of Pleasure Point. It is also contrary to the design guidelines developed through community meetings and supported by residents.

While we support increased housing projects, we must adamantly oppose this effort to rezone sections of Portola Drive to make it urban residential, flexible high-density housing. That would allow up to 45 units of housing per acre — rather than the current 17.4 units per acre.

That is a shocking and highly noticeable change — potentially increasing allowed housing by more than double.

Pleasure Point is not urban. We do not have a strong, sustainable infrastructure to support this level of high-density housing. Our parking availability, public transportation, water resources and public safety are already strained and need major improvements. We can’t support more without first improving what we currently have.

Portola is currently an overburdened traffic corridor used by over 16,000 cars per day (it’s a speeder’s delight). We have inadequate public transportation (try being a restaurant worker and needing an 11 p.m. bus). There’s heavy bicycle and pedestrian traffic everywhere, and most of our avenues are narrow single lanes. The drought has created locally enforced restrictions that could persist long into the foreseeable future.

We are currently a year and a half behind in our water supply resources. How can we keep building if we do not have enough water?

In addition, the state’s Density Bonus Law promotes affordable and low-income housing, but also means projects can jump in size by 50% to 80%. That means projects with 45 units can easily become 80-plus units per acre — once the bonuses get applied.

An acre is equivalent to half a residential square block. Visualize half a block on your street accommodating 45 to 81 housing units. Now add cars without sufficient on-site parking spaces. Think what that will do to street parking, traffic patterns and safety for pedestrians, cyclists, kids and pets.

The county has repeatedly allowed developers to pay in-lieu fees to avoid building affordable housing.

We are opposed to this practice. It is these types of below-the-radar deals — not neighborhood advocates — that cause housing shortages.

We’ve watched other neighborhoods tagged as “NIMBYs” (not in my backyard advocates). We’ve seen them get rebuffed for saying “no way, never.” Our approach is more nuanced.

We are saying no to diminishing Pleasure Point, while simultaneously offering solutions that are workable for everyone.

Jo Ann Allen (hat), Patti Brady (middle) and Carin Hanna, members of Save Pleasure Point
JoAnn Allen (with hat), Patti Brady (middle) and Carin Hanna, members of Save Pleasure Point.
(Via JoAnn Allen)

We would like the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors to rezone Portola Avenue as “urban high density residential.” This will allow up to 30 to 54 units per acre (accounting for possible density bonuses), It will allow 138 to 245 units (again, depending on density bonuses) on at least nine underutilized Portola parcels. It will provide housing but will not cause detrimental harm to our flimsy infrastructure nor adversely alter the culture and character of Pleasure Point.

We think it’s a good compromise and hope our District 1 Supervisor, Manu Koenig, is listening.

We expect him to support us in urging the board of supervisors to veto the county planning department’s recommendation to rezone Portola Drive for maximum urban, residential high-density housing.

We also want the public to get involved. The planning department is scheduled to hold a public Zoom meeting with the county planning commission on Wednesday. On Friday, the planning department inexplicably removed rezoning from the meeting agenda. But the public can still offer two-minute comments on this issue, even though it is no longer on the agenda.

The planning department does not advertise its meetings on rezoning, and we believe few people have participated in past sessions because they don’t understand the impact such rezoning will have on Pleasure Point. We encourage residents to come and to speak.

Rezoning can be good for everyone. It can have a positive impact. But only when housing density remains realistic and meets the needs and character of a community.

Building too much too fast will destroy Pleasure Point, the village 5,800 of us call home.

The authors are members of the Save Pleasure Point steering committee, an informal group of 14 residents, property and business owners who want to protect, preserve and enhance the character of Pleasure Point. The group, formed in 2016, now has hundreds of members. Some have lived in Pleasure Point for almost 70 years. Others have come within the past 15 years. All want to build on Pleasure Point’s unique character and surroundings.

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