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May 22nd
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A Strong Community, If Not a Town

SoquelNew Five Year Plan for Live Oak and Soquel seems likely to bring the area up to speed—without all the extra baggage

Who needs a mayor when you have the Santa Cruz County Redevelopment Agency (RDA) and Supervisor John Leopold looking out for you? Better yet, who needs elected officials when local residents show up and behave amicably towards one another while discussing controversial issues, such as the dispersal of millions of tax dollars in their community? Admittedly, being unincorporated is not the same as being ungoverned, but it stands that the response of local residents of the Live Oak and Soquel community at the Public Hearing for RDA’s new Five Year Plan showed that they are ready and willing to take matters into their own hands.

“It was a very respectful gathering,” says Leopold. “All my colleagues were knocked out.”

The public hearing, which took place on Nov. 10 in Live Oak, drew more than 250 people from the surrounding area, more than 75 of whom got up to speak, giving thanks, critiques, and suggestions. The opinions given largely echoed the priorities put forth in the community workshops held throughout the fall (in which more than 500 local residents participated) and outlined in Leopold’s proposal as five blanket issues: public safety, safe routes for walking and biking, positive activities for youth and community facilities, economic vitality, and affordable housing.

“This is the last step of the first phase,” Leopold said at the hearing, “which means we’re going to come back to you to talk about individual projects.”

The plan will disperse $50 million from 2010 to 2014 into the unincorporated region of Live Oak and Soquel, an area that stretches from 7th Avenue to the lower and upper ends of 41st Avenue, covering the coastline and much of the inland area between. Both the proposal and RDA’s website repeatedly state their intention to “alleviate blight” in the area, meaning urban decay and not plant disease, though maintaining the environment, particularly in the many parks in the area, is one of their central concerns.

This is the fourth five-year implementation plan for the Live Oak/Soquel project area sponsored by the RDA. Among their many accomplishments in the most recent stage of the plan (2004-2009) were the acquisition and construction of the Live Oak Library in 2007, a graffiti removal program that removes thousands of tags annually, and construction of the Live Oak Resource Center on 17th Avenue that is expected to be completed by 2010, as well as many road, sidewalk, and drainage improvements.

Some of the leading ideas for the new plan include moving the Sheriff’s Office into Live Oak, the most urban part of the unincorporated area, creating a rail trail and bike route through the Arana Gulch, and moving Central Fire from its location in Soquel where it now sits in a flood plain on a busy intersection.

Leopold stresses that partnership and sustainability are the key ideas to making the plan work both now and for future generations. There is partnership between all levels of community facilities: educational, economic, lawful, and political. “This not only makes sense in an era of limited resources, but it makes sense because it will help us have stronger programs,” he said at the Public Hearing.

The money may be there, but the work for this phase of the project is just beginning; the road ahead may be better financed, but for the time being it’s still full of potholes. However, the Public Hearing on Nov. 10 seems like a good indication that the project is in capable hands.

“Last night was emblematic of how this whole process has gone,” he says. “People were respectful, engaged, and created a dialogue. At an age when people get shouted down at [a] Town Hall, people were willing to throw in their lot ... it’s what you want in terms of civic life.”

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