In Search of a Win-Win For Downtown Santa Cruz

In Search of a Win-Win For Downtown Santa Cruz

In 2016 and 2018 the Sierra Club urged the City of Santa Cruz to reject plans for a large parking structure downtown that would include a new library and housing on the Cedar Street parking lot—the long-time home of our weekly Farmers Market. Back then, we argued that building more parking will encourage more automobile trips, undermining our local and State goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, we stated that providing more parking infrastructure goes against our commitment to Climate Action principles. Unfortunately, the City is moving forward with plans to demolish the existing downtown library and build a combined parking, housing, and library facilities facility on the Cedar Street parking lot, and move the Farmers Market to a location on Front Street.

Many of those who voted for Measure S in 2016—to fund the renovation of our aging Main Library—are dismayed at the plan that goes far beyond library renovation. Patrons who love Farmers Market, the stately trees, and the quiet ambiance of Cedar Street don’t want to see the Market displaced onto a parking lot on busy Front Street.

Lot 4 Farmers Market

There’s a good chance that the City’s garage-library-housing project will not be built within the next 7–10 years unless bond financing is secured—a real possibility since the Downtown Parking District is deep in red ink. (The City reports that parking revenue has met expenditures in only 3 years since 2011, and has dropped precipitously during the pandemic. This would leave us with none of the benefits of a renovated library or increased affordable housing.

There is a coalition that is working to change the direction of the City’s proposal to build a hybrid parking–library–housing development. They believe that solutions exist that will address the needs of all stakeholders. Their goals include:

  • Giving the Farmers Market a permanent home at its current Cedar Street location.
  • Devoting upper floors of downtown City-operated parking structures to affordable housing, while preserving parking at ground level.
  • Using library funds for renovation of the existing Downtown Library
  • Directing any surplus parking revenue that eventually results from not building a garage towards affordable housing.
  • Stopping the construction of a massive new parking structure on the Farmers Market lot that consultants say is not needed.1
  • Supporting the development and implementation of a Transportation Demand Management Plan that, by definition, decreases the need for more parking spaces downtown.2
  • Stopping the demolition of our current library and seeing it all trucked off to landfill.

The coalition supports a livable, sustainable city design that includes mixed-use structures, in-fill development, and the development of affordable housing.

See Sierra Club comment letters here:
2016 letter to City Council
2018 letter to City Council

1. City-hired consulting firm Nelson/Nygaard recommended: “The most fiscally prudent approach to accommodating additional demand: Modernize parking management and better align parking prices to the cost of building and maintaining the system.” In the City staff’s zeal to build a garage, they never presented the City Council with the Nelson/Nygaard report.

2. One proven strategy for decreasing the number of local automobile trips is Transportation Demand Management, which includes innovative programs that incentivize walking, biking, and use of public transportation for short trips.

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