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SCS Year In Review 2022

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By Aric Sleeper asleeper@santacruzsentinel. com SANTA CRUZ » What started as a years-long grassroots community effort to ren- ovate the Santa Cruz Li- brary where it stands, and preserve the historic loca- tion of the farmers market, snowballed into a heated battle between a ballot measure's proponents, the city of Santa Cruz and real estate developers. In June, the county clerk certified a petition created by the organization, Our Downtown, Our Future, for a ballot measure, later known as Measure O. The group gathered 4,912 valid signatures, more than the 3,048 required to place it on the November ballot. "We are energized by the public's response to our ef- forts and those of our vol- unteers who collected more than enough signatures to move forward," said Our Downtown, Our Future member Lisa Ekstrom in June. "I have met and had conversations with so many amazing people in the com- munity and for that alone I'm grateful." In addition to halting the Downtown Library and Af- fordable Housing Project, which has cost the city ap- proximately $2.5 million during the planning pro- cess and counting, the bal- lot measure would have es- tablished Lot 4 as a perma- nent home of the farmers market. The measure would have also required the de- velopment of affordable housing on downtown city- owned parking lots, and designated a surplus reve- nue gathered by the city's parking program to finance affordable housing projects and alternative transporta- tion programs for people working Downtown. When word of the mea- sure began to spread, op- ponents from the real es- tate and developer commu- nities dumped large sums of money into the campaign that opposed the measure, known as Santa Cruz for Real Library and Hous- ing Solutions, which raised about $117,000 by the end of their campaign compared to Measure O proponents raising about $37,000. Of the approximately 30 do- nations made during the disclosure period, the larg- est donation of $10,000 was made by Santa Cruz-based real estate firm Redtree Partners and the second largest donation of $5,000 came from SCFS Ventures LLC, which is an applicant in the Cruz Hotel project. However, the Measure O story actually starts in 2016 with the passage of Mea- sure S, which earmarked $67 million to modern- ize, upgrade and repair lo- cal libraries in Santa Cruz County. The language on the ballot stated that the Measure S funds would be used to replace failing roofs, outdated bathrooms, electrical systems, struc- turally damaged facilities; support growing use by children, seniors, veterans and others; expand access to modern technology; and construct or expand facili- ties where necessary. In 2016, the city created a Downtown Library Advi- sory Committee to exam- ine the best way to use the Measure S funds, whether it was a partial or full renova- tion of the existing library, a new library on the existing lot or the construction of a mixed-use building on Lot 4. The advisory committee concluded that the mixed- use building, which did not contain a housing aspect at that time, was the best way forward. The City Coun- cil then voted to move for- ward with the library and parking garage mixed-use building. However, due to push- back from the community, the project was put on hold in May 2019 by order of the City Council and another subcommittee was estab- lished, which consisted of Councilmembers Justin Cummings, Sandy Brown and Donna Meyers to again find the best use of the Mea- sure S funds. After about a year, the City Council subcommittee concluded that the mixed- use parking structure build- ing was the best option, but to shrink the parking struc- ture from 600 to 400 spaces and add an affordable hous- ing element. The council voted to move forward with that recommendation at the June 23, 2020, City Council meeting despite continued public opposition. Many of the leaders of the oppo- sition to the parking ga- rage and mixed-use build- ing went on to form the or- ganization Our Downtown, Our Future, which authored Measure O. Of the 10 branch librar- ies in the Santa Cruz Pub- lic Library system, all have completed construction and renovations using the Measure S funding except for the downtown Santa Cruz branch. The last up- date given by the city on the mixed-use building and parking structure meant to house a new downtown li- brary was in regards to the removal of the heri- tage trees in Lot 4, but no building permits have been granted for the project and no timeline has been es- tablished for the building's construction. For the opponents of the measure, such as the cam- paign's spokesperson, Don Lane, the failure of Measure O at the polls will pave the way for a livelier and more affordable downtown Santa Cruz. "We're very grateful that so many voters have em- braced the opportunity we have to create affordable homes, a great new library, and a more vibrant Down- town Santa Cruz," said Lane after the results of the election were announced in November. SANTA CRUZ Measure O decides fate of library project Funding for library renovation was approved in 2016 Heritage trees are now slated for removal to build the new library and housing project. PHOTOS BY SHMUEL THALER — SANTA CRUZ SENTINEL Following the defeat of Measure O, a new library, affordable housing and parking garage will be built on Lot 4, which is the current home of the downtown Santa Cruz Farmers Market. | | SANTACRUZSENTINEL.COM SATURDAY, DECEMBER 31, 2022 8 C

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