190 West Cliff: 5 Biggest Takeaways

Last week the Santa Cruz City Council took an important step in our community’s housing future by approving 190 West Cliff, a density bonus project that will provide 79 new condos, 10 deeply affordable units, and a local market–combined with public open space–on what used to be an inefficient surface lot. The Business Council has been working on this project with a myriad of other community partners, from MBEP to YIMBY and beyond, because of the precedent this project will set in a truly post-redevelopment world, where there exists very little local funding for affordable housing.

Rather than focus on the facts of the project (which you can exhaustively read here), or even the obviously mixed community response across all of the meetings and hearings, we wanted to do something new. Instead we wanted to list out what we thought were the 5 biggest takeaways, from an advocacy perspective, about how this project got across the finish line where others may not have. This is all the more important as the decision making point on our new downtown library branch looms every closer…

  1. You really need two types of “political cover” in order to get our electeds to support what they all know deep down inside is a great project. The first one is obvious, in that you need a broad coalition of folks from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds to speak in favor of new housing. No ifs and or buts about it, no broad based coalition of more than just old white folks in the room? No housing for you. Said another way: the whole community needs to show up, and even then Chris Krohn is going to vote against it on some bogus environmental reason.
  2. The second type of “political cover” one needs to get our rational elected leaders to support projects like this is a process oriented one, in this case a legal one as enabled by the state. A critical point made by Vice Mayor Justin Cummings as he cast the final vote in favor of the project was his worry that the City could face another lawsuit under the Housing Accountability Act. Not only is he 100 percent correct (that’s the whole point of the HAA), but because this act was recently strengthened by our state legislature this does set an important precedent locally. Though the irony over having” process cover” here is that problems with the process are usually aimed to stop or delay projects (another EIR anyone?) not the other way around.
  3. When people get emotionally invested in a project outcome, no amount of facts or studies are going to persuade them. Only those very few and disciplined decision makers seem to be able to rise above the constant back and forth and be able to genuinely synthesize information well into the evening. Obviously members of the public have no interest in overcoming their emotional stances, they came to the hearing to let their elected leaders have it, which doesn’t help frankly. But to constantly question the expert input of staff, lawyers, geologists, hydrologists, traffic engineers, etc.–all of who went to school for many years in order to qualify to give such testimony–is really hard to watch, and slightly demeaning. To take all of their information in and then dismiss it entirely, or nit pick it until you find a minor inconsistency that is usually one poignant question away, that’s just completely regressive.
  4. People still don’t understand how the Density Bonus Program works. We’ve covered it here, in tremendous detail, and even produced a whole video about it. But Just to reiterate: inclusionary zoning should not be stacked with the density bonus requirements (they’re built in), that defeats the whole purpose. The purpose is to provide an economic incentive to provide more or deeper levels of affordable housing. By including the extra inclusionary requirements you completely nullify the “bonus” element. It’s also expressly illegal, but again those who were trying to get it to apply anyway already know that, they’re just posturing.
  5. Lastly, and most importantly, we need more money for affordable housing. Right now projects like these are the only way we are able to finance units for those making very low incomes. There simply doesn’t exist any other money at the local level to get these units built. Doing nothing is not an option, but we also need to pursue more funding sources because projects like these alone are not enough.


  1. Bratton Online on October 31, 2019 at 12:16 pm

    […] Those of us who spoke against the project were not asking for much. Just an EIR , (Environmental Impact Report) to better assess the traffic, pedestrian and geologic impacts which were understudied in the documents used to approve the project.  Robert Singleton, Executive Director of the Santa Cruz County Business Council laments that those of us who oppose such projects just don’t trust the experts and that for us “to constantly question the expert input of staff, lawyers, geologists, hydrologists, traffic engineers, etc.–all of who went to school for many years in order to qualify to give such testimony–is really hard to watch, and slightly demeaning.” Gird your loins and read more here […]

  2. Bon on October 31, 2019 at 10:17 pm

    The planning commission was not unanimous. Andy Shifrin demanded more incusionary housing–15%. Not the 10% affordable advocates ended up with.

  3. Affordable Housing on the River on October 29, 2020 at 8:48 pm

    […] The only project that included any very low income units that was approved during that period, the Ensemble/Dream Inn parking lot development, also made use of a Density Bonus. However, 3 of the “progressive” Councilmembers also voted against it, two of which have since […]