Santa Cruz Good Times

Dec 01st
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Town Hall with Supervisor Zach Friend

zach friendYour office has been pushing for expansion of broadband in the county. Why do you see broadband as a vehicle for economic development?

High-capacity Internet is one of the most effective tools communities have at spurring economic development.  The economy of the 21st century is predicated up on data and information, and a large barrier to economic growth for local government is the fact that our data infrastructure is generally outdated. It is important to look beyond the traditional model of economic development, which often relied exclusively on box stores or other major physical developments, toward a less-impactful, higher-return, investment model.

For a region that rests in the shadow of Silicon Valley, and from which 30,000 people commute (many for technology-based jobs), it is important that we provide the resources necessary to compete. Affording such local connectivity could have positive impacts on traffic and highway usage and the tax base. We’ve worked with county staff over the last six months to present a number of broadband coverage and capacity proposals. Many have been adopted in concept and others are expected to be adopted in the coming months.

What will these proposals do? The overall goal is to allow for increased Internet speed, access and capacity throughout our area. This will happen through regulatory changes, a dig-once policy (when a road is ripped up for repairs there will be better coordination with utilities and providers) and defining technical specification for fiber conduit in the public right-of-way.

These proposals have led the California Emerging Technology Fund, the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, and even the California Public Utilities Commission to tout the work of our County as a model for economic development in recent presentations to other jurisdictions.

Overall we hope that these proposals will improve economic development by offering the infrastructure necessary for tech-oriented businesses to open here, relocate here or support telecommuters who otherwise would be driving to Silicon Valley every day.

What are you hearing from constituents about the Aptos Safeway plan, and what is your response to those who say it is not a good development fit for the area?

We have heard a wide variety of opinions on the project ranging from those not wanting any changes to the existing center to complete support of an overhaul. I have found there is a lot of common ground on wanting small-business protections and physical improvements to the center—but concerns over the proposed scope and scale; I agree with both of these points. I also know that ultimately whatever happens on the site will leave some unsatisfied, but my hope is that we will be able to achieve the best possible project for our community’s needs.

Our office continues to meet as often as bi-weekly with representatives from the development, the businesses within the complex and neighborhood groups. We have advocated strongly for the businesses in the complex and there has been some good news recently as over half of the businesses have signed agreements to be in the new center. It is my understanding that there are other businesses in the current center that are also close to agreements as well, which will help keep a lot of the current business mix in the new center.

I believe that improvements are needed at the center including parking, ADA components and traffic flow. I’ve spoken with many seniors that have expressed difficulty walking up the many steps in the complex, some in wheelchairs that can’t access the various levels without great inconvenience and others that are very frustrated by lack of parking and the flow of the center. It’s also important to improve the dated look of the center and provide a model where businesses in the center can thrive. But there is a universal desire to ensure this happens within the design and character of Aptos and doesn’t become a 41st Avenue-style development. I believe that if we work to shape the project and not simply oppose the project for opposition’s sake we can have a real say in the final outcome of the project and make it best fit the current and future needs of Aptos.

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