To Beat A Dead Horse, or Camel? Whatever it’s about Housing Stupid

If you watched last week’s Santa Cruz City Council meeting you may have unknowingly seen a perfect example of everything that is wrong with housing politics in Santa Cruz. For just a brief moment, you saw elected leaders literally say one thing, and then in the exact same set of remarks, admit that it wouldn’t and doesn’t work. It was a flash of cognitive dissonance on full and proud display – legitimate and genuine pride in willful ignorance.

The exact moment came when Councilmember Sandy Brown made a motion to once again increase the City’s inclusionary housing percentage–against the recommendation of City staff, their fancy and expensive consultants, and their own Planning Commission–while at almost the exact same time pleading with her colleagues and City staff to exempt a housing project for Santa Cruz City school teachers. Simply put, it was an admission, an admission that the very policy she was formally proposing to adopt, would hurt the very thing it is supposably attempting to help, housing for local teachers.

In another twist of the ironic knife in the back, the school district is the project developer, out of necessity, because they are experiencing a teacher shortage due precisely to the lack of available housing. Notice the absence of the word “affordable”? Turns out the teachers make too much money to qualify, so it is actually the lack of just regular ole housing. Should this “big  and greedy” developer be forced to comply with the new inclusionary ordinance, then it would have to scrap the project because it wouldn’t pencil out. Sound familiar?!

That’s only what every housing developer (market rate and affordable) has consistently told them over and over again. But somehow only the school district is telling the truth!?!

Speaking of the children, the moderate members of the Council also championed and then adopted another poor housing policy, but this time in the interests of raising money for childcare facilities. Now we could once again rehash the “death by a thousand cuts” analogy for development fees, but it obviously isn’t working. So instead I’ll just pose the by now certainly rhetorical question “why do you think housing is so expensive?”

Is it because over 30 percent of all housing costs are directly related to imposed fees and government regulation? Well that certainly contributes, but oh well let’s slap another fee on to each and every project, because we can. Think of the children.

But what’s really frustrating about that little childcare fee, and the main reason why I personally didn’t go speak against it, was because it wouldn’t have changed anyone’s minds. I’ve already sat down with our elected leaders and staff members and told them that this very fee would just make housing more expensive, which is, in aggregate, probably why it’s so hard to find affordable childcare to begin with. I even outlined other policies that could potentially be more effective at getting them more childcare facility square footage without just piling on to the already lengthy development receipt! But I guess trying something new was just too hard? Surely one more fee won’t break the already very much crippled camel’s back?

That camel died years ago. Might as well see if we can squeeze the corpse for 5 percent more affordable housing, after all 15 percent of a dead camel is… well.


  1. Darius Mohsenin on December 16, 2019 at 6:19 pm

    Totally agree with you. When I read the agenda prior to the meeting. we knew already what the outcome would be. I don’t think any of the “progressives” understand that capital is very portable and it’s the bankers that demand a 15-20% return on the penciled out development in order to provide headroom for their construction lending. Twenty percent inclusionary and added fees simply mean they have to price the “non-affordable “ units higher to subsidize the affordable units. But then these units may exceed the market rate and not even be sellable at the artificially high prices! But the councilmembers think that Santa Cruz is so special that buyers will pay ANYTHING to live here. No, they’ll pay market rate. Period.

    Meanwhile, developers will take their capital to Monterey, Contra Costa Counties ir even Reno where they can get the return they need.

    Sure, Santa Cruz is special but there isn’t a “sunshine and love” entry on the spreadsheet where the underwriters at the bank pencil the investment out.