Santa Cruz Good Times

Wednesday
Jul 23rd
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

The Strange Journey of La Bahia

tom_honig_sIf you want to understand the politics of coastal California, look no further than the proposed La Bahia Hotel project in Santa Cruz.

You’ll be hearing a lot about the proposal as it heads to the state Coastal Commission for approval next month during the commission’s August meeting in Watsonville on Aug. 11, 12 and 13.

The La Bahia project has been much debated, and it’s a big deal in Santa Cruz. But beyond that, it’s an instructive tale about how awkward California’s political institutions really are.

The Santa Cruz City Council approved it more than two years ago. At that time, the council voted 5-1 to approve the La Bahia plan, a 125-room hotel project that would significantly upgrade the Beach Street area, and provide an economic boost to a city that could really use it.

But that’s hardly a signal to get the hammers out and start building. Next comes Coastal Commission approval, a process that is grindingly slow—and little understood by most Californians—even those who live here on the coast.

For a variety of reasons, more than two years have gone by since the city approved the plan, and the Coastal Commission will finally decide at its August meeting in Watsonville whether to give it the thumbs up or thumbs down.

Here’s what’s so strange about the Coastal Commission system: a big part of the cost-benefit analysis that you’d think goes into the decision isn’t even on the table.

Any economic benefit from the project is not part of the discussion. The commission’s role is narrowly defined. To understand why, you have to go back to the creation of the Coastal Commission.

It was established when voters passed the California Coastal Act in 1972. Essentially, voters were convinced that massive coastal development of that era endangered the environmental health of the coast. An equally big fear was that developers could possibly develop coastal land and then effectively cut off access to the general public.

So the Coastal Commission has evolved into a kind of appeals board over the kind of city decisions like Santa Cruz’s approval of the La Bahia project.

But here’s the rub. When the city examined whether to approve the project, it did what amounts to a cost-benefit analysis. The payoffs were many: increased city revenues, more local jobs, a much-needed higher-end hotel and meeting area that would bring more tourist dollars to town and a fix to a building that is in need of renovation.

But some folks protested. At issue was the height of the building—it was to be 14 feet higher than outlined by the city’s Local Coastal Plan—a document on file with the state Coastal Commission. That variance is why the entire project is in the Coastal Commission’s jurisdiction.

(A second issue has little to do with the actual building. The project is proposed by Barry Swenson Builder, which happens to be locked in a dispute with some building trade unions. That dispute has made some union leaders oppose the project.)

Now, as the Coastal Commission meeting draws near, the entire decision as to whether to allow a La Bahia Hotel to be built revolves around that 14-foot height variance.

As proponents and opponents prepare to face off at the Coastal Commission hearings, many of the main arguments over the La Bahia proposal won’t even be discussed. The city of Santa Cruz—which officially is the agency asking for commission approval—will argue that the proposal is in keeping with the Beach Street area and that it will increase public access to the coast by bringing in more visitors.

Opponents will argue that the 14-foot variance is an outrage—even though their reasons for opposing the project really have little to do with the height of the building.

But much of the actual arguments on both sides of the issue won’t be discussed—not the economic benefit and not the labor issue.

Some people warned 40 years ago that the establishment of regional agencies like the Coastal Commission—an unelected body with considerable power—would end up not really serving the best interests of the people of California.

In this case, elected officials from the city of Santa Cruz have decided that the La Bahia is a good idea. Yet their judgment is in danger of being overruled by a state agency that isn’t even going to consider some of the most important reasons leading to the decision.

Somehow, this system hardly seems like an example of good government.


Tom Honig is the writer of the Santa Cruz Observer, an online newsletter at tomhonig.com.

Comments (1)Add Comment
...
written by A native Santa Cruzan, August 24, 2011
Amen. And look what happened at the Coastal Commission hearing. Project sunk by 2 absentees who may have provided the 1 yes vote, and unbelievably a no vote by a "local" who is a commission member. Remember his name, Stone. Remember to vote against him in future elections.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Art Files: Opposites Attract

Using found objects, Victoria May seeks beauty in dichotomy and tension, the creepy and absurd

 

A Year of Creative Self-Expression

Wednesday, after a year in Cancer’s nourishing waters, Jupiter enters fiery Leo. Next Tuesday, the sun joins Jupiter in Leo. Leo is the sign of the three fires of life, of seeking our individuality, our gifts and talents. Life for the next year will be quite dramatic, expressive, creative and generous. Jupiter, the heart of Aquarius, is the planet of expansion and truth, distributing Ray 2 of Love and Wisdom.

 

Final Cut

Cedar Street Video to close after 10 years at downtown location

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of July 18

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Posted

Desserts at Seabright’s La Posta, a pop-up breakfast, local ethnic cuisine, and a long-lost varietal 

 

What is the most outrageous thing you did as a kid?

Santa Cruz | Retired

 

Best of Santa Cruz County

The 2013 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll and Critics’ Picks It’s our biggest issue of the year, and in it, your votes—more than 6,500 of them—determined the winners of The Best of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll. New to the long list of local restaurants, shops and other notables that captured your interest: Best Beer Selection, Best Locally Owned Business, Best Customer Service and Best Marijuana Dispensary. In the meantime, many readers were ever so chatty online about potential new categories. Some of the suggestions that stood out: Best Teen Program and Best Web Design/Designer. But what about: Dog Park, Church, Hotel, Local Farm, Therapist (I second that!) or Sports Bar—not to be confused with Bra. Our favorite suggestion: Best Act of Kindness—one reader noted Café Gratitude and the free meals it offered to the Santa Cruz Police Department in the aftermath of recent crimes. Perhaps some of these can be woven into next year’s ballot, so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the following pages and take note of our Critics’ Picks, too, beginning on page 91. A big thanks for voting—and for reading—and an even bigger congratulations to all of the winners. Enjoy.  -Greg Archer, EditorBest of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll INDEX

 

Loma Prieta’s Pinotage

Although drinking alone is not half as much fun as drinking with others, after a busy day of dashing around, I came home and poured myself a glass or two of Loma Prieta’s Pinotage 2010 (saving a bit for my husband). There’s something about taking that first sip of a worthy wine that gives one an all-over glow.