Cities, county and UC Santa Cruz outline their housing plans

A look at what will soon be the fourth location of Santa Cruz Community Health, a 20,000 square foot facility in Live Oak
Work underway at 1500 Capitola Rd.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

At the Housing Santa Cruz County forum Wednesday, hosted and co-sponsored by Lookout, local officials explained what’s been done and what’s on the drawing boards.

“Straight talk” provided the theme this week for a Housing Santa Cruz County forum, hosted and co-sponsored by Lookout.

That was the basic messaging of Wednesday evening’s event. It focused on countywide affordable housing and development plans, as part of the organization’s Affordable Housing Month programming, aiming to ensure that the county is an “inclusive, thriving, just, diverse and sustainable community” for local residents and workers, said governing board chair Don Lane.

The 90-minute event included representatives from Santa Cruz County, each of the county’s four cities, and UC Santa Cruz, with those representatives asked the following three questions:

  1. What has your jurisdiction done in the recent past to address affordable housing needs?
  2. What is in the housing policy or project pipeline for your jurisdiction in the near future?
  3. What will the housing element process look like in your community, and how will community members be involved?

Each jurisdiction had nine minutes to share its responses to those questions, and there was a brief period at the forum’s conclusion to address participant questions. Here’s what we heard from each jurisdiction.

Santa Cruz County

County Supervisor Manu Koenig pointed to the affordability density bonus, passed in 2018. “This is probably the most significant thing the county has accomplished in the recent past, and you’re seeing a lot of developers taking advantage of it,” he said.

By adding more affordable units, developers can build more units overall. For example, if a developer added 20% affordable housing units, the developer would be able to expand the project by 35%.

Koenig noted recent accomplishments include creating workforce housing, streamlining accessory dwelling unit (ADU) development and creating a unified permit center, addressing needs of families rebuilding from 2020’s CZU Complex fire. He further noted three recent affordable housing projects, amounting to 118 units in the pipeline:

The work underway at 1500 Capitola Rd.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)


Mayor Ari Parker, alongside Suzi Merriam and Carlos Landaverry of the city’s development and housing departments, emphasized the geographic constraints on adding housing in Watsonville. At 6.4 square miles within city limits, largely surrounded by farmland, they say its options are limited.

“We have to constantly keep in mind with our housing that we are a small footprint,” Parker said.

Affordable housing development represents 16% of the city’s total housing stock, with 2,000 affordable rental units. Parker noted that these numbers were largely the result of the city’s first affordable housing ordinance, adopted in 1991 and most recently updated in 2001.

The city’s 2021-23 strategic plan includes creating additional housing units, aiming to “remove barriers” to meet current and future housing needs, said Parker.

Fifteen events in May focus on what it will take to put a dent in the affordability crisis in Santa Cruz County.

City of Santa Cruz

The city of Santa Cruz has seen recent affordable housing groundbreakings, increased inclusionary requirements to expand density from 15 to 20%, and nearly reached the regional housing needs allocation for the current cycle, said Jessica de Wit, the city’s housing and community development manager. Additionally, the city has recently received three awards toward affordable housing development, totaling $60.5 million.

Looking forward, de Wit talked about nearly 800 more units of housing coming as part of the Downtown Plan Expansion in the next few years. The city is also looking to develop more affordable housing in partnership with Caltrans at the Tannery Arts Center.

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Scotts Valley

Mayor Donna Lind and councilmember Derek Timm expanded on the challenges of developing in Scotts Valley, a city of 12,224 residents and 4,600 housing units within just 4.6 square miles.

“It’s been a struggle for the city — we are challenged with the upcoming RHNA numbers,” Lind said, with the city set to produce 1,220 more units in the coming eight years.

Timm, who serves on the city’s affordable housing committee, said that while Scotts Valley is relatively affluent, the city is the least funded in Santa Cruz County. Further, the city’s entire development department is one person, community development director Taylor Bateman. Even so, there are a few recent projects in the pipeline that could assuage the city’s concerns surrounding housing development.

The city is also looking to expand the inclusionary boundary to increase affordable housing development, update the ADU ordinance and housing element, and implement new software for ease of use.

Recent projects include:

  1. Encore (16 units, with 2 low-income housing units)
  2. Polo Ranch (6 affordable units)

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Similar to Scotts Valley, Capitola has limited space for development, with just 1.7 square miles. Yet, as Mayor Sam Storey and senior planner Brian Froelich said, the city is the most densely populated in the county, with 5,485 housing units it has been able to achieve due to redevelopment. Storey said most development in the city now will be infill.

The city reviewed and updated its inclusionary housing ordinance in 2021, with 15% or new developments with seven or more units needing to be deed-restricted affordable. The city has created pre-designed ADU plans for residents, allowing for quicker ADU development and more streamlined processes. The city also adopted an affordable housing impact fee, with $25 per square foot for new developments with fewer than seven units.

“This will hopefully help us to build up our affordable housing budget in Capitola,” Storey said.

Looking forward, Froelich said the city recently signed with a consultant to discuss the Capitola Mall redevelopment, with at minimum 637 residential units. The city will be able to move forward with the plans beginning in June; the city council evaluated objective design standards at its Thursday meeting.

UC Santa Cruz

As the largest provider of housing in Santa Cruz County, UCSC representatives laid out what’s in the housing pipeline for the university’s current and future students.

Vice Chancellor of Community Relations Mark Delos Reyes Davis and Director of Physical & Environmental Planning Services Jolie Kerns explained that the university currently houses 50% of its students on campus, which is one of the largest among the UC system, but still not enough. The university has a 10-year housing plan in place, with a project ladder to adjust as needed and “continuously deliver beds to meet our goals,” Davis said.

The campus now has approximately 9,400 student beds and 270 employee units. The university is developing the Kresge College renewal project, which will deliver 970 new beds to campus, nearly doubling the original plans.

The university has been stalled in developing housing at Student Housing West, a proposed 3,000-bed building, since 2019 due to legal battles.

“There is no question the project is needed, and that the university is lawfully permitted to develop housing at the site,” Davis said. “There is a constant delicate balance of trying to satisfy everyone’s preferences while addressing real, immediate issues.”

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