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What We Lost With La Bahia

news_labahia1A guest column from the city’s mayor: For 20 years, the City of Santa Cruz has worked on a plan to transform the beach area into a year-round destination that showcases our incredible community, creates jobs and ensures a stable tax base.  Millions of dollars, thousands of pages of reports and studies, and hundreds of hours of public testimony were invested.

Sadly, last Thursday afternoon, Aug. 11, after a one-day hearing at which the Santa Cruz community overwhelmingly showed up in support, the Coastal Commission rejected the necessary amendment to our coastal plan to develop La Bahia on Beach Street from a shabby residence to a beautiful 125-room conference hotel. 

When votes like this occur, we tend to focus on who won or lost politically. Who voted “yes” and who voted “no” and the particulars of the proposed project. What we forget is that buildings don’t exist in a vacuum. They exist for people and the community. So when La Bahia was voted down, here is what the community lost:

• More than 100 year-round jobs guaranteed to have good wages and benefits under a contractual obligation to match union-scale wages and benefits.

• A $28 million construction project that was required to be built by at least 80 percent union and local contractors at a time when that industry is hurting in historic proportions.

• $700,000 a year in direct tax revenue that funds public safety, parks and community programs. To give a sense of how important these funds are, in order to balance our budget this year, the city had to cut $100,000 from community programs, causing hundreds of families to lose access to childcare, shelter and basic services.

• Economic opportunity and job creation from the visitors and conference attendees who desire to come to Santa Cruz for recreation and business, yet are turned away daily because of the lack of suitable accommodations.

• Millions of dollars in indirect impacts because our tourist season would expand with off-season conferences and events that would have allowed visitors to shop and eat downtown and support local businesses.

• A certified green hotel that would have provided more than 50 free bicycles, funding for a trolley to downtown and support of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Center.

• A first hire program for residents of the Beach Flats, including free language and job skills classes from Shoreline, a Goodwill program. This would have not only created economic opportunity for that community but also a nearby job that allows people to spend more time with their family and community.

• Commissions for local artists to provide the artwork in the hotel.

What was also lost was a sense of possibility for economic development that reflects our values. This project had widespread support—local businesses, nonprofits, public safety, elected officials, and neighbors came together to design a project that we could enthusiastically support. A nearly unanimous city council supported it as did Fred Keeley, Bruce McPherson, Capitola and Scotts Valley mayors, County Supervisor Neal Coonerty and the Coastal Commission staff.

After all of this support and work, six members of the Commission (four voted yes) ignored their staff, the overwhelming majority of public testimony, and pleas of the locally elected officials. Their reasoning seemed to be based on the idea that the property owner and community will simply go away and come back with another project. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Their vote does not provide the certainty that most investors need and especially those who would be interested in engaging in a long-term planning process that seeks community input and support.

It was especially disappointing that our local representative to the Coastal Commission, County Supervisor Mark Stone, refused to work with us to develop a project that he could support. He has a role representing this community on the Commission and profoundly failed to lead.

This was not a perfect project, but it was one built on thoughtful accommodation of community, economic development, historical and environmental needs. We are now left with the current building for the indefinite future. I hope that Mark Stone and his fellow commissioners and opponents of this project who claim victory, do so while acknowledging the very real opportunities that this community lost.


Ryan Coonerty is the Mayor of Santa Cruz.  Photo credit: Keana Parker

Comments (11)Add Comment
A bit late to the party
written by Nick Stefanisko, March 15, 2013
I have very fond memories of La Bahia, back in the 70s it was actually a resident hotel with maid service, continental breakfast, etc. My parents took the family there for a week at a time every other summer to spend at the boardwalk. It is an incredible building, probably in need of repair, but I would be very sad to hear it had been destroyed. I would love for it to be restored to its glory and re-opened as a suites/extended stay hotel, but making it a convention center or a restaurant is probably not such a great idea.
...
written by Dt•, March 07, 2012
As a former resident from 00' - 02'... I'm thrilled that this gem isn't going through a $28 million dollar renovation.... put 80% of that money into the boardwalk... and 20% into fixing up LaBahia to it's original glory (put pool back in the courtyard).... My time there was priceless... and I'm certain that the other residents who lived there would agree...
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written by Alan Crarer, January 11, 2012
What a shame. I remember my first time on Beach street, I saw that building and thought, "what the hell is that?". It needs more then TLC, as some suggest. It needs a wrecking ball.

The people against the new development don't seem to offer an alternative. It's a huge piece of prime real estate - probably needs more than a "historical restaurant. . . with gardens".

I left Pacifica because it's full of stodgy old hippies that are against any kind of change. As a result, it's a dumpy town with no future, no funky businesses and no character. Why would you wish that same fate on Santa Cruz?

I guess we'll just have to sit back and wait for the "historical restaurant. . . with gardens" to appear. . . I'm sure someone's on top of that.
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written by Brutus, August 20, 2011
Someone should unleash a cage of live wasps on Mark Stone.
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written by Jim Blackview, August 19, 2011
When Mark Stone voted against a bike trail through the Greenbelt, I thought he was just another politicians giving a few noisy constituents what they wanted -- principle and public safety be hanged.

And now I have seen him vote against La Bahia -- despite the deafening noise made by many, many locals, including his political teammates.

Could it be that he is actually a man of principal, trying to honestly apply the mandate of the Coastal Commission as he interprets it? Could he be a man who does not want to set an unfortunate precedent of giving in to builders on all coastal zoning projects, even when his own area would be the beneficiary this time?

It could well be. And if so, I salute him. He is a fine public servant. Ryan Coonnerty, on the other hand, is merely a smart politician. He told Santa Cruzans that they were special, and deserved special treatment. They aren't, and they don't. But I'm sure they still believe him, and will remember him come the next Assembly election.
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written by Elizabeth Borelli, August 18, 2011
Do we know why it was rejected?
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written by Larry in Santa Cruz, August 18, 2011
It is good that both the Mayor as a guest columnist, and Tom Honig in the Santa Cruz Observer, have both outlined the misuse of the mandate given to the Coastal Commission, either for the express purpose of controlling the height of buildings, or potentially for more sinister pollitical purposes of some members. But more important is what can be done to change the charter of the Coastal Commission so that it cannot remain a power beyond reason and common sense in the future. I am looking forward to voting against Mark Stone in his upcoming bid for an Assembly seat. But I am also wondering what else can be done to curb run away abuse of power?
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written by Michael A. Lewis, August 18, 2011
What was gained was historical continuity, community pride, and a resounding "NO!" to developers seeking to profit by destroying local culture.
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written by Tess, August 18, 2011
How about the old Holiday Inn on Ocean Street. I hear a fence will be around it next month? How about that???
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written by Robin Faith, August 16, 2011
Always the talk of more jobs and better tourist opportunity. Frankly I'm glad not to see a huge conference center on our beach area. Once this happens then the precedent is set and projects that have been rejected in past years such as the Seacliff beach conference center proposal are easier to pull off. Why not fix up the building and make it a historical restaurant. There is a beautiful example in Portland Or. fully done with gardens and a little movie theater. Pictures of the old building line the halls.
Santa Cruz can be creative without compromising integrity. Go with what we have, La Bahia is a lovely building and with some care and thought can be an asset much more than a large conference center. Quit the whining about the loss of that and make something out of that space. You'll have plenty of people to enjoy it and jobs to fill if you quit using tunnel vision.
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written by Matt in Santa Cruz, August 16, 2011
Shame on you MARK STONE. Thank you for keeping Santa Cruz in the dark ages, for all the lost jobs and revenue, and for a loss of city pride this project would have created. BOOOO!!!

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