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News briefs: Backyard Bedrooms, Tracking Offenses

SC Planning Commission mulls "granny units." New partnership addresses recidivism in the county

Backyard Bedrooms

Depending on how you look at it, a converted garage might be a progressive step in the right direction or a slap in the face for a quiet neighborhood.

Some say Santa Cruz needs more accessory dwelling units (ADUs), sometimes called “granny units,” to provide affordable rentals. Those folks believe higher housing density reduces everyone’s carbon footprint. Others worry that such units and tenants bring in too much noise and extra traffic.

The Santa Cruz Planning Commission discussed ADUs at its Thursday, April 4 meeting, as planning staff is working to bring many unpermitted ADUs up to code and abate the rest under the rental inspection ordinance passed by city council in 2010. Commissioner Mark Primack voiced concerns about city staff forcing evictions because the property owner doesn’t live onsite instead of working more closely with tenants. The ADUs must also meet other requirements and must, for instance, be a certain distance from other buildings and fences.

Primack suggested recommending “an immediate suspension of other than unsafe dwellings” to the city council. The commission will take up that discussion item at its April 17 meeting.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Mark Mesiti-Miller floated the idea of making a map of ADUs in various areas. That way, commissioners could walk the neighborhoods and see how a higher density of ADUs has affected certain neighborhoods differently—if, for instance, they feel more crowded or not.

Mesiti-Miller also suggested incentivizing building ADUs near transit corridors like Mission Street to encourage higher density in the more urban neighborhoods. “We can address the needs of people who desire the less dense, more private single residential neighborhoods,” he said, “and have people who want to have an ADU, and they like the density.”

The planning commission also voted to support a four-story, 94-unit, mixed-use condo complex at 555 Pacific Ave., which should appear before council May 13 for approval. If approved, the 42-foot-high development—currently a vacant lot on the corner of Pacific Avenue and Front Street—will rival the Beach Hill bluff on the other side of the street in height. The first floor would house two restaurant spaces and two commercial spaces. The condos themselves would not be large—starting at just 450 square feet for certain studios and going up to 650 square feet for one-bedroom apartments.

Tracking Offenses

Make no mistake: the new partnership of public and private groups trying to deal with repeat offenders has no interest in regulating homeless offenses such as defecating, urinating or camping in public. Santa Cruz District Attorney Bob Lee made that clear on Monday, April 7.

“We’re interested in people who commit crimes in cases that aren’t anti-homeless crimes,” Lee said, fielding a question from a curious activist in front of O’Neill Surf Shop during the downtown press conference. “We’re talking about people who commit thefts. We’re talking about people who commit battery; people who commit alcohol violations, weapons violations, gang violations—the whole gamut. We’re not talking about status at all.”

The conference announced a new repeat offender accountability program that brings together partners from the county and city, as well as community organizations, to get creative, start discussions and work alongside one another to try to reduce crime among Santa Cruz’s chronic recidivist population. The eight-month pilot program will have offices on Pacific Avenue and measure success by how well it reduces arrests and police contacts among participants. Leaders will also track how well those are directed to the proper services.

Paul M. Marigonda, presiding judge for Santa Cruz Superior Court, said those who deal with the same judges, prosecutors and social workers over a given period of time receive more consistent punishment and treatment and see better outcomes than those who don’t. The idea for the pilot program grew out of the public safety task force recommendations the city council received last December.

“We’re not guaranteeing a safer Santa Cruz,” Lee said. “This a very difficult issue. What we are guaranteeing is [that] we’re all in.”

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Dancing In the Rain

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Giving and Giving, Then Giving Some More

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