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07.30.08

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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

If city planners get a new parking garage in downtown Santa Cruz, the farmers market will be out on its ear.

Lots of Parking

Sedans and crossovers could replace fruits and veggies if a recurring proposal to build a five-story parking garage on the site of the downtown farmers market goes forward. Groundbreaking on a structure is still far off, but the idea for a parking palace on the corner of Cathcart and Cedar streets has picked up renewed strength in recent months. The idea has actually been floating around City Hall since 2005, when planners began to realize there wouldn't be enough parking spaces for tourists and students during peak travel times once earthquake recovery was complete.In recent months, the Downtown Commission and City Council have begun discussing how they might finance the project and where the farmers market might be relocated.

City transportation engineer Jim Burr stresses that something needs to be done to relieve the pressure on parking as construction wraps up on major downtown projects, including the condominiums on River Street and the Rittenhouse office/retail building at Pacific and Church.

"We conducted a study that projected shortfalls of parking by the time the earthquake recovery plan was put into place--once all the holes were filled," explains Burr. "We've now reached that point. This year will be the first year that the number of parking spaces needed for businesses downtown will exceed the number we have in supply."

This year, the deficit during the busiest times is about 127 spaces. Things could get worse, however, as the General Plan update calls for increasing density in future downtown projects. That means the deficit could jump to over 700 spaces by 2030. The new garage would add 743 spaces.

Nesh Dylan, manager of the Wednesday farmers market, said he's been aware of the plans for the last few years and has been working with the city on relocation. They haven't yet come up with a new site.

"It's sort of outside of our hands," says Dylan. "It is city property."

Burr, however, is quick to assure market devotees that a farmers market in the downtown area will continue to be a Santa Cruz tradition.

"We're going to make sure that the farmers market has a home," he says.

Balancing Act

The updated General Plan will have Santa Cruz city planners walking a fine line in the coming years. The new plan, which outlines general principles the city must follow in its growth until 2030, attempts to strike a balance between employing smart growth techniques and keeping the small town charm that has attracted so many residents to this little slice of paradise. The plan hasn't received final approval yet, but on Thursday, July 24, the Planning Commission approved a draft of the document. Now it will go on to environmental review.

The most notable change from the 1990 plan is the addition of a section on greenhouse gas emissions, which commits the city to reducing emissions 30 percent by 2020. In order to implement this ambitious goal while still allowing for growing population and commerce centers, the new plan has emphasized smart growth techniques. These include encouraging mixed-use buildings, building near existing transit corridors and, more controversially, pushing for high-density projects.

These ideas generally sound nice until one is proposed for next door. Ed Silveira, a representative of the Branciforte neighborhood, questioned whether too much may be lost by shifting toward mixed-use, high-density buildings in his area.

"Businesses in our neighborhood attract visitors and tax dollars because they are small and intimate," he argued during the Planning Commission meeting. "If you put in a five-story building, people just aren't going to be as comfortable walking or shopping around that neighborhood."

Last Thursday wasn't the first time this tension had come up. Planner Ken Thomas explained that at the outset of the general plan process, more areas were actually considered for high-density development. After numerous meetings and vigorous debate, the areas were scaled back to major transit corridors, such as Soquel Avenue and Mission Street, explained Thomas.

"Our goal is to preserve neighborhoods and enhance corridors," he said.

This debate is sure to stick around as Santa Cruz runs out of developable land not already designated as open space. In fact, the mixed-use, high-density project at 2120 Delaware Ave.--which as of presstime was scheduled for the Tuesday, July 29, City Council meeting--is a perfect example of how hard it will be to balance these two goals successfully.

However, the commission was quick to assure Silveira and other concerned residents that the city's history as a cozy beachside town wouldn't be forgotten. Commissioner Mari Tustin promised to keep the character of each individual neighborhood in mind while finding ways to use scarce land wisely.

"The city is made up of all these small areas," she said. "So we have to be careful that we don't forget those little neighborhoods, even as we do what we have to do."

View a copy of the plan at www.ci.santa-cruz.ca.us.

Party Arty

Santa Cruz NEXT is holding another shindig this evening, July 30, at the Crepe Place. The theme is "Santa Cruz's Thriving Arts Community," the purpose to "celebrate the arts," an endeavor made easier by the avid consumption of beer, wine and appetizers. There to help everyone get in the mood will be Kirby Scudder and Chip, co-directors of the Santa Cruz Institute of Contemporary Arts; improv group the Funatics; musicians Byron Space Circus, Kombucheros, Eli Goldman, Isaac Frankie and more; and a slew of local artists showing off their wares. This may be the most de-yuppified clutch of yuppies ever to quaff locally produced pinot noir together as they hatch creative schemes for the next phase of Santa Cruz civic life. Nu_z is feeling the arty love already.

SANTA CRUZ NEXT meets Wednesday, July 30, at 6:30pm at the Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. $10 includes free drink ticket, appetizers, donation to the SPECTRA artists in schools program and entertainment. All are welcome.


Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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