Chip, the executive director of the Downtown Association of Santa Cruz, has accepted a new job, and the career will take him far from the Monterey Bay.
The outgoing leader of the Downtown Association (DTA) is taking a job as CEO of the Downtown Boulder Partnership, which is Boulder Colorado’s equivalent of the Santa Cruz DTA. As he gets ready to start the new gig, however, Chip is not focused on the fact that he is leaving. Instead, he thinks more about why he’s leaving.
It’s really nothing personal.
“It’s an incredible opportunity,” Chip says. “Ninety percent of it isn’t that I’m leaving Santa Cruz. I’m being pulled toward Boulder.”
In his new job, he’ll have a bigger staff in a city with a 60% more residents than Santa Cruz has. Boulder, Chip says, has one of a few downtowns that he’s kept an eye on over the years as a source of inspiration and to see what they’re up to. This position is an exciting next step for him professionally, he says, with the added benefit of being in a beautiful city that he happens to love.
Chip’s upcoming move is part of a larger trend of leadership changes locally.
For starters, it happens at the same time that his wife Abra Allan has been transitioning out of her post as director of the Motion Pacific Dance studio, which she’s led since 2009. Allan will stay in Santa Cruz for another year, until their daughter finishes up high school, and then will move to Boulder as well.
Michelle Williams, the executive director of the Arts Council of Santa Cruz County, is also moving away in the coming weeks, now that her husband has landed a lucrative marketing job in Florida, where the couple has now purchased a home. Earlier this spring, Williams told GT that her family’s “financial lives will change overnight,” expressing frustration that the she, Vaden and their kids have gotten priced out of Santa Cruz.
Chip says he has heard heart-wrenching stories time and again of locals leaving for money reasons. But he stresses that he isn’t getting priced out himself. “That’s a story I totally understand, but I have been lucky to have so many amazing opportunities here,” he says.
Among other local leadership changes, the Santa Cruz city manager’s office will be bidding farewell to Deputy City Manager Tina Shull, who has accepted a city manager job in Scotts Valley, where she’ll start June 3. Shull is the second deputy city manager to leave Santa Cruz over the last 18 months.
And up at UCSC, Chancellor George Blumenthal is retiring, and UC Riverside Campus Provost Cindy Larive has been tapped to replace him. Also at UCSC, Campus Provost Marlene Tromp is leaving for a post as president at Boise State in Idaho.
Chip says Boulder bears a lot of similarities to Santa Cruz—it’s a moderately affluent university town with similar demographics and an engaged citizenry, and its residents are interested in being healthy, enjoying the outdoors and having a high quality of life. The Colorado city has a growing tech community, too, and its relationship to the city of Denver parallels the one Santa Cruz has with Silicon Valley, he says.
In addition, Chip compares Boulder’s current woes around housing affordability to the ones Santa Cruz was struggling with 10 years ago—back when Surf City was only a very expensive place to live, and not the incredibly unaffordable community that it is now. He’s quick to add that he doesn’t know of a simple way to fix housing affordability problems—and certainly not by himself, adding that Boulder’s doing a lot of things right.
“In some ways they’re ahead of us, and in some ways they’re a little behind us. It’s a very thoughtful community,” Chip says.
He stresses that he’s been impressed with the cohesive vision that the town’s cultural and city leaders share for downtown Boulder, as well as their collaborative efforts to implement it.
There are other parallels between Santa Cruz and Boulder. Boulder, for instance, might be the only city in the country that has higher rates of commuters who bike and walk to work than Santa Cruz has. Some transportation activists have recently encouraged Santa Cruz city leaders to embrace some of the same initiatives that Boulder has. Those calls have only grown stronger amid discussions around building a controversial new parking structure on Cedar Street.
The most iconic feature of downtown Boulder is the Pearl Street Mall, a pedestrian-only shopping area that’s blocked off from car traffic. For years, many Santa Cruzans have pushed downtown Santa Cruz to build something similar on Pacific Avenue.
But Chip says that a full pedestrian mall would never work on Pacific. One of the defining features of the Pearl Street Mall, he says, is that all of its cross streets—13th Street, 14th Street and Broadway—all line up, allowing cars to drive through the shopping area, which is 0.3 miles long. In Santa Cruz, by comparison, Pacific Avenue only has one through street connecting Cedar Street Street and Front Street across a stretch of road that’s three times longer.
“There are a lot of opportunities in Santa Cruz to create new pedestrian-friendly experiences downtown,” Chip says. “I do not think it makes structural or economic sense to do it for all of Pacific Avenue.”
A pedestrian mall would also eliminate some street parking.
Floating one possible alternative, Chip believes that if Santa Cruz builds a new parking garage, it would open up options, allowing the city to consolidate its parking and build pedestrian-friendly spaces elsewhere.
WHEN YOU’RE DOWNTOWN
As the DTA’s Executive Director, Chip led the development of an information kiosk downtown, facilitated a rebrand of the association and helped launch many events, including Santa Cruz Dance Week, with wife Abra Allan. Over the years, he also co-founded the First Friday Santa Cruz art tour and led the push to establish a Santa Cruz chapter of the Downtown Streets Team.
The change at the DTA could allow a leader on Santa Cruz’s economic issues to step forward. Chip stresses that his own departure is as much an opportunity for the community as it is for himself.
“It’s a great opportunity for me, but I genuinely feel like it’s a great opportunity for Santa Cruz. I know I’m leaving a little bit of a vacuum, but another person, or lots of people, will step up to fill it. I look forward to watching from Boulder what happens in Santa Cruz,” explains Chip, who legally changed his name to his one-word moniker 20 years ago.
Chip’s one-word name has been the source of some bemusement in Santa Cruz over the years. He says that he first started going by one name in his twenties when he was a young stagehand; he was trying to find a way to stand out in the arts community and establish a brand for himself. But now, in 2019, while preparing to pivot into a higher-profile position, he says that he briefly wondered if it was time to make a change and considered taking Allan’s last name. He decided against it.
Chip may have picked his name in an effort to be unique decades ago, but the one-name moniker might ironically end up causing a little unintended confusion out in Colorado. That’s because, in Boulder, the University of Colorado’s mascot—a cartoonish buffalo—is also named Chip, and also has no last name.
On the morning of Wednesday, May 22, the Downtown Boulder Partnership sent out a press release headlined “There’s a New Chip in Town,” announcing Chip as its new CEO.
The partnership, in the release, jokingly mentioned that the Colorado school’s mascot “could not be reached for comment.”