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A New Economy for Santa Cruz?

tom_honig_sPeople like me who put words on paper are always looking for a trend. I had an English teacher in college who said clues in literature and life come in threes. Later I met a cop who said he didn’t believe in coincidences at all and that CIA agents who don’t see trends are, generally, dead CIA agents.

Following that advice, then, it’s significant that I came across exactly six people in Santa Cruz one day last week who all wanted to discuss the economy. One was a guy who, like me, has spent most of his life in a “legacy” business that’s struggling in the so-called new economy. Another was a guy who was sharply focused on trying to find a job. The other three were simply passersby on Pacific Avenue—one of them a homeless guy who was explaining to his companion that the “real” economy in Santa Cruz was actually lurking under the surface.

I’m not exactly sure what he meant, but that’s not really the point. What fascinated me about these conversations is that the local economy has come into sharp focus around town—and that’s something that hasn’t always been the case.

Later that same day, the Santa Cruz City Council discussed aspects of an agreement with UC Santa Cruz over water usage. As members of the public debated the issue, several speakers—all of them around 40 or under—brought up jobs and the economy as part of the debate.

Again, that’s something new in Santa Cruz. There was a day when land-use issues were debated for hours, and no one except a smattering of old-school business people brought up issues like jobs and the economy. In fact, during one debate—this one over a minimum wage proposal—one speaker went so far as to suggest that the laws of supply and demand don’t apply to Santa Cruz.

The economic reality of Santa Cruz is all too real to those who are trying to build their lives here. Some of the old debates now are the province of aging Santa Cruz figures who bought their homes for $50,000 some 30 years ago and really don’t have to worry about things like a mortgage. In fact, some of these folks bought two or three of these houses, and make a good living by doing nothing more than renting them out.

These are the folks who traditionally have defined land-use issues in Santa Cruz. Take water and UC Santa Cruz. Comfortable old-timers and impressionable student-age voters told the City Council that there’s not enough water to serve a growing UC campus. Of course, those who came of age in Santa Cruz know—or ought to know—that one reason there’s not enough water is that an entire generation of activists thought they could hold a cap on growth by limiting the supply. Their claim now that there’s not enough water is like someone killing his parents and then pleading for leniency because he’s an orphan.

But the debate took on a new wrinkle that night, because some of the younger speakers— those in the early phases of their careers—took aim at the economic issue. They see, correctly, that UCSC is a driver of the local economy, and that—gasp!—a growing campus actually could result in more private sector jobs in a rapidly changing economy.

Here’s the challenge for Santa Cruz. We are, indeed, subject to the laws of economics, and the economy is changing drastically, both here and around the globe. Unemployment stands at about 13 percent in Santa Cruz County, and many of those out of work have lost their jobs as old businesses fade away. Factories like Wrigley’s or even Texas Instruments are long gone. What’s less apparent is that a new economy is rising from the ashes. New jobs will be high-tech—and they’re likely to be entrepreneurial in nature. One irony that’s perhaps lost on older environmentalists is that green business is likely to drive a new economy here and it’s hard to argue that growth of that ilk is bad for the environment.

Many of the old political arguments around Santa Cruz centered on a business versus environment fulcrum. No longer. A younger generation is focused on an improved economy and a protected environment. Growth, under that scenario, will be managed but not stopped.
Good things happen in a growing economy. It’s not just better jobs. A better economy could mean that younger families can afford Santa Cruz and not have to commute over the hill.
Now that would be good for the environment.


Contact Tom Honig at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Send comments on this article to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
Comments (6)Add Comment
Thank you
written by Anonymous, August 31, 2010
Thank you for writing a positive article about what UCSC brings to Santa Cruz. I am very tired of reading various posts that only bash the campus. As the biggest employer in Santa Cruz, the citizens should recognize that the local economy has greatly benefited; from housing, to retail businesses as well as hiring smart educated students as employees, etc. I would also like to point out all the volunteerism that many of the students perform; from K-12 classrooms to helping the homeless. I think we should be very grateful that UCSC is here.
Banana Slugs and Oranges
written by Anonymous, August 20, 2010
UCSC and UCSD were founded with very different visions. There are strengths and weakness to both schools, just look closely at their respective academic offerings. San Diego is the eighth largest city in the US, Santa Cruz has 55,000 people. Its not difficult to image why the schools took different paths, but success is in the eye of the beholder.
Clarifying
written by Stephen Hauskins, August 16, 2010
I think I wrote to quickly and didn't do much proof reading.

UCSD has grown leap and bounds compared to UCSC. The economy around UCSD is (was) doing very well.

UCSD sits between San Diego and LA, but UCSC is close to Silicon Valley and not that far
from San Francisco.

I wonder how much local politics in both cases played in the growth of UCSD and UCSC.

As to water, we can use less in many areas. UCSC is doing a good job to reduce water usage
through plumbing refits and landscape changes.
UCSC vs UCSD
written by Stephen Hauskins, August 15, 2010
What is interesting is that UCSC and UCSD are about the same age. UCSD had one advantage in that Scripps was established much earlier and UCSD became a spin off in a way.

1960-1964 looks like UCSC.

If we compare the two that is what is so interesting. UCSD has become an educational power house.



Developing what water?
written by Deirdre Des Jardins, August 15, 2010
There's only so much surface and groundwater on the Central Coast. Period. And the city is already taking too much water from San Lorenzo River -- it's a good part of the reason why our formerly abundant coho salmon are on the brink of extinction. Yes, we can build a desalination plant, but it uses a lot of energy, and will inevitably affect the marine life off our shores.

The decisions made in this generation will be critical. Do we value our coastal heritage and having abundant local marine life and fishing boats? Or do we just want more buildings and people?

And what since landscaping can be 50% of water used, what kind of landscaping do we need? UCSC has been great about using drought-tolerant native plants. But there are still a lot of lawns around the city, which can represent 50% of residential water use, Are these lawns really worth driving the fish in the San Lorenzo river to extinction? Or should find more ways to get people to reduce lawn size and install low water use plants on drip systems?

This is all part of facing a future where there are more people but the same amount of water. And as a community we all need to look at what our priorities are, and what kind uses we want.
...
written by Bill Tysselng, August 12, 2010
Agreed... but worth noting that there is nothing that guaranties future growth... particularly economic growth. Population declined in the first half of the last decade and might well have been negative for the past ten years if home owners could have extracted themselves with out a significant real or perceived loss of equity.

The opportunities a great. Let's not squander them.

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