Santa Cruz Good Times

Monday
Sep 22nd
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Great and Small

news_housingSanta Cruz City Redevelopment Agency rises above budget nightmares and other cultural anomalies
The Santa Cruz City Redevelopment Agency probably won’t wash your car. It’s highly unlikely that they’ll make you dinner or mow your lawn or clean out your rain gutters. But you may have to forgive them that, because they’re seriously busy doing everything else.

On the surface, the agency’s mission is pretty simple. Like other redevelopment agencies throughout California, it exists as a government entity to create and support economic development programs and good urban planning, to eliminate blight, and to create affordable low-income housing. But in practice, that explanation of its impact on the economic and cultural life of Santa Cruz is about as appropriate as saying that water is kind of wet, or that the Super Bowl is somewhat important to football fans. It approaches the truth, but the scale is all wrong.

“Really, the Santa Cruz that we have today wouldn’t look the same without the Redevelopment Agency,” says former mayor and current City Councilmember Ryan Coonerty. “It rebuilt downtown. The beautification that’s gone on in the Eastside—that’s really made the Eastside come alive—is a product of the Redevelopment Agency. Our affordable housing is made possible by them. So is the Hope Services crew that cleans up downtown.”

The Tannery Arts Center was also the brainchild of the agency. So are the long-awaited upgrades to the Highway 1/Highway 9 intersection, the improvements to the San Lorenzo River levees, and the Nuevo Sol housing project, which provides housing for chronically homeless individuals, just to name a few more. The agency also assisted in bringing in the new modern art sculptures in downtown Santa Cruz. They’ve spruced up building facades all over town. They even made sure the lampposts and the street signs on Pacific Avenue are the same shade of green, just because it looks better. In short, Coonerty says, “it’s amazing the number of projects that the Redevelopment Agency sponsors that touch people’s lives on a daily basis.”

Founded in 1955, the agency’s original mission was to rebuild downtown following the devastating Great Flood. It was essentially inactive for the next few decades until 1989, when it was reformed, ironically enough, to rebuild downtown once again following the Loma Prieta Earthquake, which destroyed nearly 70 percent of that area. With the full name of the Santa Cruz Economic Development and Redevelopment Department, and under the guidance of Executive Director Bonnie Lipscomb, its mission has been to make Santa Cruz a better place for citizens and businesses alike. “We have very specific goals and objectives,” Lipscomb notes. “And we’re trying to leverage the limited dollars we have towards making projects happen in Santa Cruz.”

But in a time of county- and state-wide recession, making development happen is no mean feat. And it got a lot tougher earlier this month, when state legislators announced they would cut $3.7 million of agency funding, more than half of its annual budget, almost all of which is garnered through property taxes. But Coonerty says, “We haven’t given up on the money yet. We believe it was illegally taken. It’s our money. It’s not the state’s money to spend. They just happen to be in the best position to steal it.” The city hopes that a recent lawsuit against the state, as well as expected stimulus money from the federal government, will go a long way toward making up the difference.

But department employees will freely admit that it’s been a difficult year for Santa Cruz. “We were definitely impacted by the recession,” says Peter Koht, economic development coordinator. “Unemployment in the city in April was about 8.6 percent, 13 percent in county, 26 percent in Watsonville. A lot of people suffered and got laid off. A lot of my friends lost their jobs.”

Coonerty adds that the city has been “devastated.”

“We cut programs that we could never have imagined cutting: the Teen Center, the pool, the Beach Flats community center,” he says. “The massive cuts to local social service providers, the furloughs– it’s been absolutely brutal. And the economy’s been brutal to our local companies.”

Surprisingly, it’s not all bad. “We were remarkably resilient,” Koht says. “We lost businesses we cared about. But we’ve also used this time to regroup. We’ve had a lot of wins in a very difficult year macro-economically.”

Coonerty agrees. “I do think that we have programs and infrastructure in place that made the fall a little less steep and will make our recovery faster. In that way, I’m optimistic.”

Koht sees a huge amount of potential in technology-based businesses; he points out that there are already a surprising number operating here in town. “We’re really excited about start-ups in Santa Cruz,” he notes. “We’ve got a long history of innovation and entrepreneurship here. Your camera phone is from here. Your GPS and your iPhone are from here. Your wetsuit, your Bluetooth headset, Odwalla, commercial Unix, they were all invented here. For a little town of 50,000, we’ve got this rich history of inventors. As an economic development agency, we can support that ecosystem … What we want to do is foster the growth of jobs that have the highest wages and the lowest environmental footprint.”

Koht also points out that the biggest challenge is “identifying and retaining” talent and capital that currently flows to tech jobs in San Jose and Silicon Valley.

“We have about 20,000 vehicle trips per day to San Jose from Santa Cruz County,” he says. “That labor force is highly educated, highly motivated and creating the digital economy. We’d like to create conditions such that the jobs they currently drive to in San Jose can also exist here.”

It might seem odd that the Redevelopment Agency’s focus is split between small moves like painting building façades and huge projects like rebuilding the Tannery, and encouraging high-tech business ventures. But city officials say that each of these things, in their own way, contributes to making Santa Cruz unique.

Coonery puts it this way: “I think our goal has to be to create a community where people can live, work, shop, raise their kids, and retire. That’s the definition of a sustainable community. And I think the redevelopment agency is the way that we’re going to support many of the projects that make that possible. It’s the little things that make the big, big difference, and the agency has played no small role.”

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Catwalk on the Wild Side

Meet the artists and designers behind this year’s edition of FashionART, SantaCruz’s most outrageous fashion show

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Watch List

From Google to the government to data brokers, why your privacy is now a thing of the past

 

The Peace Equation

Sunday is the United Nations’ International Day of Peace, a global peace-building day when nations, leaders, governments, communities and individuals are invited to end conflict, cease hostilities, creat 24 hours of non-violence and promote goodwill. Monday is Autumn equinox as the Sun enters Libra (right relations with all of life). The Soul Year now begins. We work in the dark part of the year (Persephone underground) preparing for the new light of winter solstice. Tuesday to Wednesday is the Virgo new moon festival. We know two things about peace. “The absence of war does not signify peace.” And “Peace is an ongoing process.” In its peace-building emphasis, the UNIDP, through education, attempts to create a “culture of peace, understanding and tolerance”. Esoterically we are reminded of the peace equation: “Intentions for goodwill (and acting upon this intention) create right relations with all earth’s kingdoms which create (the ongoing process of) peace on earth.” At noon on Sunday, in all time zones, millions of participating groups will observe a moment of silence for peace on earth. Bells will ring, candles will be lit, and doves released as the New Group of World Servers recite the Great Invocation (humanity’s mantram of direction). To connect with others around the world see www.cultureofpeace.org    Let us join together with the mother (Virgo). Goodwill to all, let peace prevail on earth. The dove is the symbol for the day.
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Sweet Treats

Local cannabis bakers win award for cookies

 

What fashion trends do you want to see, or not see?

Santa Cruz  |  High School Guidance Counselor

 

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

 

Santa Clara Wine Trail

My memories of growing up in England include my mother pouring port after Sunday dinner—and sometimes a glass of sherry before dinner. My family didn’t drink much wine back then, but we certainly made up for it with the port and sherry.