An Open Letter To Santa Cruz City Council
Dear members of the Santa Cruz City Council,
You have chosen a difficult job. It requires wisdom and leadership. But you are responsible to ALL in the community, not just those with the loudest voices. Those of us who run businesses downtown, particularly those above retail, do not feel heard right now. Please do take the time to come visit the upstairs companies and their employees downtown. Our views will be different from those that you hear from on a regular basis. We need you to consider our voices and our issues too.
Your highest order of business is to manage and maintain a sustainable community. Your job requires foresight and initiative, predicting needs and taking proactive action to meet them. You want young people to be here; which means they must be able to afford to live here. You want those young people working here, yet we make it difficult to start and run a business here. So, tens of thousands of people drive over the hill every day to work. They spend their money there, not here. They contribute more to our traffic and pollution problems than anyone working locally. But I do not blame them; they love Santa Cruz, but they are going where the work is.
Since moving here in 1985, I have seen little if any growth in our city — in quality or quantity. We are the least affordable place to live in the country. Our ever-increasing homelessness problem is shameful. Yet what I see is active opposition to growth, including policies and practices that keep our housing unaffordable, even for my well-paid employees. We need bold changes, and that requires transparent, focused, active leadership.
To my point of ensuring that you hear from everyone in the community, I assure you that nearly everyone I know is in favor of the new Mixed Use Library Project that includes new parking. Most people don’t have time to sit in four-hour council sessions, so they are shouted out by those who do. Over the past ten years, our company has paid over $100,000 for employee parking, along with parking deficiency fees that I hoped would someday be used to build more parking. Building parking above the much-needed new library is an efficient use of space and fulfills the well-known parking demand. Without this new parking, company growth downtown will be seriously limited, and people will continue driving over the hill to find work.
Of course, not every employee drives a car. Over 35% of the time, our team takes alternative transport: walk, bike, carpool, Onewheel, and Inboard M1. We even dedicate high-priced commercial real estate to park our bikes in our space because there are not enough safe places to park the bikes on the street. The waiting time for monthly lot permits is currently beyond one year, so you know that parking demand exists. Having sufficient parking insures that people can come downtown and spend their money in retail. In a community that values freedom as much as ours, it’s idealistic, silly, and disrespectful to insist everyone should ride the bus. My company chose to be downtown for access to a community, nice restaurants, and retail stores. But employers have alternatives — they can relocate to nearby communities with plenty of parking and will be welcomed with open arms.
My industry is known for paying more than a living wage, yet most employees cannot buy a house, and those who rent cannot afford to live without roommates. The problem is simple economics: not enough supply and too much demand.
The increase in our city population since 2000 is almost exactly equal to the increase in student enrollment at the University. Statistics say Santa Cruz grows at less than the state average, but it would appear there is no organic growth other than the student population. Our University is a wonderful part of our community, and we should be proud of its many accomplishments. But for the University to house only half of its students while it doubles in size strains our market to the breaking point. Some homeowners are renting out three-bedroom houses to 10 students at $700 each. There are even incomprehensible suggestions of asking professors to rent rooms to students!
I urge you to increase housing supply and negotiate with the University to either reduce enrollment or build a lot more student housing now. Between the nearly 20,000 students and 8,000 employees, the University represents over 40% of the city’s population! We are ill-equipped to support that. Release height restrictions in order to be efficient with land and the environment. Make it affordable for developers to build property, so they can charge less. Market demands will respond with lower prices if there are choices. The Rent Control measure is impulsive and creates countless unintended outcomes, most of which run counter to the intent of addressing affordability. Talk of forcing it through regardless of the public vote is autocratic. There are better ways. Those ways may be difficult, and you may encounter resistance, but it is your job as the stewards of a sustainable community. Do your part to increase housing supply — and fast.
As our city council members, you are our CEOs. Your highest order of business is to manage and maintain a sustainable community. We need your foresight and initiative to propose and implement real solutions. They will not be popular with every constituent, but a positive, progressive vision for Santa Cruz, one that accommodates healthy, sustainable growth, is good for all constituents. We hired you to provide that vision. It’s long past time to start.
Treasurer, Santa Cruz Works