Santa Cruz Mayor Justin Cummings says that, when he was running for Santa Cruz City Council in 2018, voters often asked if he supported building five stories of parking above a proposed brand new library.
His answer, he recalls, was always “No.”
“And I still hold those feelings,” Cummings explains. “I would say, though, that during the time that I was running, there wasn’t a lot of information on can we do a sufficient renovation, versus building [the] mixed-use [version or the library]?”
Cummings now supports a city proposal for a mixed-use parking and housing complex with a library on the first floor. It’s a plan that’s moving forward at the city of Santa Cruz—now that the current incarnation of the project has received the green light of a council subcommittee that Cummings served on, alongside Vice Mayor Donna Meyers and Councilmember Sandy Brown. The project will get its first vote before the Santa Cruz City Council Tuesday night at 6:30pm.
To be clear, the perspective that Santa Cruz would be unable to get its money’s worth from renovating the existing downtown library is not new. The Downtown Library Advisory Committee (DLAC) came to that same conclusion in 2018. The difference now, Cummings says, is that, through the subcommittee process, the city was able to gather more information than it had previously.
“I was aware of what the goals were of the DLAC, but I was unclear what the renovation could actually look like. Getting into those details, I thought, was important, to really understand, ‘How far is this money going to go?’” Cummings says.
Originally, the council was expected to also vote on the city budget at its Tuesday meeting, but the agenda got crowded, and the city pushed that discussion to a special July 2 meeting, Cummings says. “The meeting was pushing beyond 20 hours, so we decided that we were going tp have to split the meeting and have two separate meetings,” he says.
The City Council normally votes on its budget by the end of June. Under the city charter, the council must adopt its budget by the second Tuesday in July. The council has ruled out an increase in transient occupancy taxes. Cummings says the city is negotiating a 10% employee furlough across the board, and he says the council’s budget subcommittee will meet through the summer and into the early fall to fine-tune how to make needed cuts to balance the city deficit.
The current garage plan calls for 400 parking spots, instead of the 600 that were once proposed. The plan also calls for 50 units of affordable housing in the structure. Cummings believes the vision for a brand new library would be better for library users and for students than a remodel would be. Additionally, he says the current design will allow the city to repurpose the parking structure into housing if parking demand drops.
The proposed site, a parking lot, is currently home to the Wednesday farmers’ market, which would move to Front Street, a block and a half away, where it could be given a permanent pavilion.
Sustainable transportation advocates oppose the construction of a brand new library, combined with a parking structure. So too do fans of the current downtown library, including members of the Don’t Bury the Library group. Many activists want to see the City Council renovate the existing library at its current site.
The mixed-use project has garnered opposition from Santa Cruz Sentinel contributors like local historian Ross Eric Gibson, who penned a piece titled “Santa Cruz’s once and future library,” and the poet Stephen Kessler, who dubbed the effort the “Taj Garage,” repeatedly pinning blame for the parking structure on Councilmember Cynthia Mathews. (Mathews hasn’t voted on the project because she owns property nearby; she has, however, advocated for it privately, evidently irritating Kessler.)
Most of the recent letters to the City Council about the project voiced opposition. “From the beginning the library was used as an excuse to build support for a parking garage,” wrote Jean Brocklebank of Don’t Bury the Library.
Many opponents wrote their comments using the same form letter, and several included lyrics to the chorus from Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.”
For information on how to attend Tuesday’s meeting virtually, visit cityofsantacruz.com.