First meeting on potential 2024 Santa Cruz housing bond debates affordable housing, downtown growth

Looking down upon Front Street, construction on the Anton Pacific apartment building and Pacific Station South continues.
Construction continuing along Front Street in downtown Santa Cruz in April.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Santa Cruz Mayor Fed Keeley hosted the first of three public meetings on a potential March 2024 housing bond ballot measure, along with City Councilmembers Scott Newsome and Sandy Brown, Director of Economic Development Bonnie Lipscomb and city attorney Tony Condotti.

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

More than 20 city residents gathered in downtown Santa Cruz on Thursday for the first of three public discussions on Santa Cruz Mayor Fred Keeley’s proposed 2024 housing bond.

The majority of attendees stressed the importance of building low- and middle-income workforce housing to allow workers to live in the city, thus cutting down on commutes, as well as closing a gap on financing projects that consist of 100% affordable housing.

Keeley hosted the event in the Santa Cruz Police Department’s community room along with City Councilmembers Scott Newsome and Sandy Brown, Director of Economic Development Bonnie Lipscomb and city attorney Tony Condotti.

Last week, the city council voted to start a process to bring forward an affordable workforce housing bond measure in the March 2024 primary election. The bond was a key aspect of Keeley’s mayoral campaign heading into the fall 2022 general election. Keeley recently told Lookout that he plans to let the community vet the viability and play a major role in leading the scope of the bond, and Thursday marked the first of such public input sessions.

Though the meeting was largely a community brainstorming session, it also shed light on what some residents believe to be the most important elements of a potential housing bond — as well as some concerns over growth.

Attendees raised concerns that adding more housing would lead to overpopulation and questioned why some smaller cities didn’t seem to be facing the same pressure from the state to add large numbers of new housing units.

From left: Scott Newsome, Fred Keeley, Sandy Brown, Bonnie Lipscomb
From left: Santa Cruz City Councilmember Scott Newsome, Santa Cruz Mayor Fred Keeley, Councilmember Sandy Brown, Director of Economic Development Bonnie Lipscomb.
(Max Chun / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Others questioned the concentration of development in the city’s downtown rather than in more affordable areas of the city. One attendee, who said he owned a number of properties in the city, argued governments should explore increasing property taxes, so long as that tax revenue is used to fund affordable housing.

Keeley acknowledged the challenging road ahead with the state ordering Santa Cruz to build nearly 4,000 units in eight years. “But what I know is that the council is very committed to seeing as much of that housing as possible can be affordable in various ways,” he said.

Downtown Santa Cruz is humming with construction, and there’s plenty more coming. Here’s Lookout’s update on where...

He added that other cities are, in fact, in the same position as Santa Cruz — faced with figuring out how to meet housing targets set by the state — but have built in less populated areas outside of their downtowns. He argued that, for Santa Cruz, concentrating building in the downtown helps preserve neighborhoods.

“Wherever you’re going to try to develop increased density, you’re going to get pushed back,” he said. “The concept here is that it’s much more realistic politically [to develop downtown].”

After the Q&A session, attendees split into groups to list what they believe should be priorities in the bond, and the most compelling reason to continue pursuing a housing bond. Every group listed building low- and middle-income workforce housing and working to close a gap in financing affordable workforce housing.

Most also agreed that environmental benefits are a compelling reason to build more workforce housing, arguing that if more workers could afford to live close to their jobs, it would dramatically reduce commutes and cut down on emissions as a result.

An example of a group's thoughts during the brainstorming session.
(Max Chun / Lookout Santa Cruz)

MidPen Housing Corporation project manager Diana Alfaro suggested reworking 2018’s Measure H — a county affordable housing bond — into a city-specific measure.

“We know the city of Santa Cruz overwhelmingly supported Measure H, so why not bring that back, dust it off, and update the numbers? I think that’s a very simple discussion to have,” she said.

Rafa Sonnenfeld, policy director for advocacy group YIMBY Action, recommended that the city explore other sources of revenue that can be utilized to fund the bond and perhaps pay for housing subsidies.

New housing going up in downtown Santa Cruz.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

“We’ve mostly talked about property taxes, but there are other sorts of taxes that the city could consider, like property transfer taxes, for example,” he said. “What are the size of the potential housing subsidies we could potentially get from different tax options, basically.”

Keeley said that city staff will take note of Thursday’s conversation, and information gathered from public polling and come back with options at the next session.

The next meeting is set for next Thursday, May 25, at 5:30 p.m. at the SCPD community room at 155 Center St.


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.