On Tuesday night the Santa Cruz City Council passed the latest iteration of the Downtown Plan, increasing the zoning densities along lower Pacific Avenue and Front Street, and clearing the way for potentially up to 800 new units of housing. It was the single largest increase in zoning density within the City since the 1989 earthquake, and one that has been over 28 years in the making.
The evening hearing marked the 21st public hearing on the plan, which saw an overwhelming turnout at Council in favor of the project. Yes you read that correctly. Thanks to the organizing capacity of local housing advocates, the business community, and a wide sampling of concerned citizens, the Downtown Plan received the kind of demonstrated public support that that a lifetime achievement award given to a senior staff member might receive. The number of supporters who spoke outnumbered the voices against by a 4 to1 margin, and ultimately the plan passed unimpeded with the exception of the the 2 political sympathy votes cast by the regressive members of the Council.
It didn’t go unnoticed either. Both the Mayor and many of the Council members commented on how appreciative they were that such a large and diverse group of community members came out to offer their support, or wrote letters. This is the true takeaway from the hearing last night. We always talk about how the most effective way to advocate for new housing is to just show up, since the voices in the room tend to always swing negative, but last night laid the groundwork for what can be the result for many more hearings to come.
Not only did Santa Cruz show up in favor of housing, but they proved they can stay on message, address opposition concerns, and ultimately participate in a way thats give our elected leaders the confidence to know that there is a silent majority of people who understand the need and the true severity of the crisis we are in.
SCCBC Member Owen Lawlor summed up the issue perfectly “Too often people conflate housing with growth” he said. “My daughter is 9 years old, and I want her to stay 9 forever, but if I don’t buy her new clothes she is still going to be 21 some day. Housing is a response to growth, not the cause of it.”
When the public hearing closed Vice Mayor Terrazas quickly jumped in and made his motion, as if he could barely hold back because he was so excited that he was the one able to make the potentially historic motion. You don’t see that exuberance often, and it goes to show that if you turn out enough people, housing is no longer a political liability, it actually becomes a political boon.
Special thanks to the folks at Santa Cruz YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard), the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership, the Santa Cruz Area Chamber of Commerce, Looker, and the Downtown Association–all of who showed up to speak and encouraged their members/employees to support the project as well.