Stick to Santa Cruz’s downtown library and affordable housing plans: Don’t fall for ODOF’s two big mistakes

The new downtown library project, which the Santa Cruz City Council approved after years of study and public input.
The new downtown library project, which the Santa Cruz City Council approved after years of study and public input, includes a new central library, 124 units of very low-income housing, a child care facility, and parking that consolidates current parking lots.
(Courtesy of Don Lane)

The future of a visionary downtown Santa Cruz project to deliver 124 units of affordable housing, a modern library and a childcare center is threatened by a misguided ballot measure built on falsehoods and half-truths. Three experts push back on arguments made by Our Downtown Our Future leaders, including Rick Longinotti.

This November, voters will have an opportunity to decide the future of the Downtown Library and Affordable Housing Project by voting on a ballot measure. The visionary library project – which the Santa Cruz City Council approved following years of study and public input – includes a new central library with resources to serve all residents, 124 units of desperately needed low-income housing, a child care facility, and parking that consolidates parking lots that are an inefficient use of land.

It’s an exciting, visionary project and deserves support. The ballot measure – put forth by the citizen’s group Our Downtown Our Future (ODOF) – deserves to fail.

The new library project is located in downtown Santa Cruz at the site of the current Lot 4 parking lot, which is owned by the city and is bounded by Cedar, Lincoln and Cathcart streets. The library component of the project is funded by voter-approved Measure S and will replace the existing downtown library. Two affordable housing developers are working on creative and innovative plans for the housing component.

The Downtown Farmers Market (that currently takes place on Wednesdays on Lot 4) will move to a nearby (but not yet determined) permanent location in downtown Santa Cruz.

It’s a clear win-win for our community.

In his recent Lookout commentary, Rick Longinotti, a leader of the ODOF campaign, disagrees. He also fails miserably to justify ODOF’s misguided effort to block the new library project.

As three people who, collectively, have a deep understanding of libraries, affordable housing and our downtown economy, we’d like to examine two big mistakes the ODOF campaign has made.

ODOF’s first mistake was overreach. The second was building its case on falsehoods and half-truths.

ODOF’s overreach error is simple: its main objective originally was to stop a project that has already been supported by the city council, after years of public input and studies.

ODOF could have written a simple and more honest ballot initiative that said: “We the voters do not want the City of Santa Cruz to move forward with this project.” Instead, behind closed doors, members wrote a 14-page measure that prioritizes a subpar library, abandons 124 units of affordable housing, and creates bad land use policy.

Now let’s move on to the falsehoods and half-truths.

Affordable Housing

ODOF suggests its measure will generate more affordable housing. This is just wrong.

Much of the funding for the project is already secured. If ODOF wins, it’s unlikely those funds can be replaced, especially since there isn’t another site set aside for the project.

ODOF claims its plan will create affordable housing at multiple sites downtown. Affordable housing development professionals will tell you most of ODOF’s sites aren’t viable for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that several of the lots are way too small.

In sum, when ODOF promises affordable housing, the promise is empty.

Downtown Library

ODOF wants to renovate the existing library and has cherry-picked from the city-hired architect’s design to make its case. The architect designed both a renovated library and a new library. ODOF wants voters to believe the architect’s work shows a renovated library will be just as good as the new one. This is wrong.

Here’s what the architect actually said about the design for the renovated library: “…the building is only improved to a low-medium quality facility and will lack many of the amenities the public has come to expect in a modern library.”

ODOF’s initiative disregards the input of both professionals and community volunteers who, over a period of years, developed a clear recommendation for a new library. The current director of Santa Cruz Public Libraries said the new library would be vastly superior to a renovated library. The retired director of Santa Cruz Public Libraries, who was serving while the plans were being considered, said a new library is clearly the best option. The highly-regarded nonprofit, Friends of the Santa Cruz Public Libraries, and the citizen-based Library Advisory Commission, have said the same.

The Farmers Market

Many of us who encountered the ODOF signature-gatherers remember how the pitch focused on various versions of saving the Farmers Market. To put it bluntly, the Farmers Market did not ask to be saved and did not ask for any help from ODOF.

Here’s what Nesh Dhillon, Santa Cruz Farmers Market executive director, said about ODOF’s plans: “We have nothing to do with this ballot initiative.” And, “We as an organization will figure out where we need to end up.”

In fact, the Farmers Market is working productively with the city to identify a permanent home in downtown. Dhillon’s biggest request is more collaboration with the city. “It’s a successful weekday market, but it would be significantly better if we had some infrastructure to support it. Thankfully, the city has been in lockstep with our needs.”

Downtown Parking

Longinotti, in his Lookout piece, argues that because city staff did not “bring” the city’s parking consultant to make a presentation to the city council, there is a lack of transparency. He wants you to believe the city council didn’t know about the parking consultant’s report.

The truth is, the city council asked for a presentation of the report. The presentation happened – slides of it are still viewable on the city website — and local media wrote about it.

In fact, the report reveals a key point that ODOF ignores, one that directly undermines its core message. The consultant writes, “Infill development and rising opportunity costs of parking suggests that there is increasing demand for consolidated, structured parking facilities over time. As with future development, the most obvious opportunity sites for

consolidated parking supplies are existing surface parking lots within the district.”

Not only that, Longinotti implies the city didn’t implement the consultant’s recommendation for better parking management and pricing. Actually, the city has done exactly those things.

We believe voters need to see exactly what’s going on here.

As we move closer to the November election, we hope voters will see the very serious shortcomings of the ODOF initiative and the myriad benefits the new library project will have for our city.

Janis O’Driscoll serves as board president for The Friends of the Santa Cruz Public Libraries; Don Lane serves as board chair of Housing Santa Cruz County; and Zach Davis serves as board vice chair of the Downtown Association of Santa Cruz.

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