Santa Cruz City voters deviated from historic election trends in June by defeating Measure F, which sought to add a half cent to the municipal sales tax. This is the first sales or property tax to fail in the past 40 years. By comparison, in 2018, 72% of Santa Cruz voters passed a sales tax increase.
What explains this change?
A survey commissioned by the city before the city council that placed the sales tax on the June ballot says, “33% [of respondents] said they would be much more likely to oppose the measure because “we can’t trust the city council to deliver on its promise to use the money properly unless the tax measure specifically says how the ‘money must be used’.
A Santa Cruz Sentinel editorial endorsed the No to Vote F vote, stating, “Many voters and residents are still angry about the 2016 Measure S County tax that led to the planned multi-project library for the downtown. We called for a follow-up vote on this draft, as the original measure said nothing about such a plan and many residents remain convinced that they were misled by the measure.
The Sentinel refers to the city’s proposal for a new downtown library with a 310-space parking structure and potentially more than 100 affordable housing units.
I agree with Sentinel’s assessment.
The City’s promotion of parking does not meet good governance standards.
In December 2016, city staff presented a proposal for a new parking structure to city council without key information. Specifically, they presented a plan for a five-level parking structure without waiting for the results of the Strategic downtown parking plan – which NelsonNygaard Consultants conducted under a $100,000 contract with the city.
When NelsonNygaard submitted his report, city staff never presented it to city council for consideration. The contract called for a presentation to the board. It never happened. The report was also never on the board’s agenda.
I believe it is because the report did not recommend a new parking structure. Instead, it says, “The most fiscally prudent approach to meeting the additional demand: modernize parking management and better align parking prices with the cost of building and maintaining the system. »
On a 4-2 vote, council approved the concept of a parking structure, without the benefit of this crucial information.
The lack of transparency on the garage continues.
The city reports council could approve mixed-use project in 2023, which will begin construction in 2024. However, there will be no construction unless the garage can obtain bond financing. And there are no bond agencies that will extend credit to the city’s downtown parking district if it cannot show annual revenue to pay the bond debt.
The city budget shows that in fiscal year 2022, the pandemic-affected downtown parking district’s deficit was $4 million, which is huge compared to the size of its expenditures of just over $8 million.
For 2023, the City forecasts a deficit of $2.6 million. There is no estimate of when the parking district will make ends meet, let alone generate the $2.9 million surplus according to city staff is required to make bond payments.
This surplus may never occur, because parking demand tends to decline in urban areas due, in part, to Uber and Lyft. Santa Cruz is no exception.
In 2019, parking advisor Patrick Siegmann told City Council, “Downtown Santa Cruz parking demand is down 10% from its 2008 peak.” The city council has already doubled parking rates from 2019. There is no quick fix to make city center parking profitable.
I believe that our community’s best hope for the upcoming construction of downtown housing is the Our Downtown, Our Future election measure, which modify the general plan to “require, where possible, that certain designated parcels within the Downtown Plan Area of the City of Santa Cruz…be developed with affordable housing at all times, with parking permitted on the ground floor …”
These plots are currently municipal parking lots. The general plan would also recognize City Lot 4 (Cedar St. where the Farmers’ Market meets) as “the preferred long-term location of the downtown Farmers’ Market as well as other public fairs and events… This policy priority will not specifically prevent the development of affordable housing and associated uses on Lot 4.”
Without the cornerstone of funding a parking garage, the process of developing city housing on these downtown lots becomes simpler.
Opponents of the Our Town Center initiative embrace the false premise that we cannot have affordable housing while creating a permanent home for our beloved Farmer’s Market on an enhanced community commons on Cedar Street.
Fortunately, we can do both.
Rick Longinotti is Chairman of the Campaign for sustainable transport, which aims to reduce our community’s reliance on car travel by making it safe and convenient to get around without a private car. Rick is a marriage and family therapist and a former electrical contractor. He has lived in Santa Cruz for 33 years.