New Santa Cruz Initiative Supporting Library Project Launches
2019-07-11 | Santa Cruz SentinelJul. 11 -- SANTA CRUZ -- Observing rising opposition to plans for a combined downtown library, parking structure and housing project, a group of community members is organizing a counterstrike.
The collective effort, dubbed Downtown Forward, will host a kickoff event Thursday morning at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History . Announcement of the pro-mixed-use library group's formation comes in the midst of city "pause" on the library project, while a Santa Cruz City Council subcommittee reviews project alternatives through the fall.
In September, the council voted 4-2 for a mixed-use facility providing a 44,000-square-foot library for $28 million , plus a multistory parking structure and affordable housing units. Councilwoman Cynthia Mathews , who owns residential property downtown and served on the former Santa Cruz Public Libraries board of directors, has been barred from voting on the project.
Two groups standing in opposition to the city project include the Campaign for Sensible Transportation , focused on questioning the need to build more city parking garages, and Don't Bury the Library, raising alarms for everything from disrupting an existing downtown "civic center" in exchange for a more retail-oriented location to aesthetic, historical and cultural concerns. The downtown branch is the 10-branch Santa Cruz Public Libraries' flagship operation, hosting a number of personnel and storage for services used systemwide.
Supporters step forward
Mathews is among those now speaking out in support of the downtown mixed-use project, raising it above several alternative library projects considered and discarded in 2017 by a 10-member citizen downtown library panel.
Wednesday, Mathews and several Downtown Forward supporters from Friends of Santa Cruz Public Libraries , Eden Housing , a downtown retailer, Santa Cruz County Business Council and two former Downtown Library Advisory Committee members met with the Sentinel to share why they backed the effort.
Affordable Housing developer Jane Barr , with Eden Housing , commended city efforts to create a downtown plan that established a vision encouraging higher-density development, more housing and taller structures. As for building a parking garage to replace an estimated 200 parking spaces projected to go offline in coming years, Barr said even modern ride-sharing or self-driving vehicles will need to park somewhere, and tourists will likely continue driving to Santa Cruz with their own vehicles.
"I think a lot of people who are just involved with the library don't have those other things in their view. So, they're thinking a library, and now they hear a library, garage and affordable housing, they don't think it's right because it's morphed into something big," Barr said. "I think it's the city responding to the needs of the entire city, the parking, affordable housing and the library."
Whether or not the future library project involves onsite renovation or outright rebuilding at the downtown facility's existing 224 Church St. site or takes over a surface parking lot surrounded by Cathcart, Lincoln and Cedar streets, funding would come from a 2016 voter-approved facilities bond measure and has a July 2025 deadline to be spent. The proposed mixed-use project would share costs with the city and other potential building tenants.
Library Director Susan Nemitz , who clarified that she was not speaking in an advocacy role with Downtown Forward, told the Sentinel that she could not recommend a library project that involved limited renovations to the existing 51-year-old library building, an alternate proposal that could fall within the facilities improvement bond dollars available. She said that, falling short of a complete rebuild, any renovation project would need to stay within the same building "footprint" for seismic safety reasons, and anything involving more than 10% change to the building would trigger requirements to meet hundreds of pages of Americans with Disabilities Act access-required building improvements.
"I think you could renovate this library, but it's going to be substantially more money than what was Option 1," Nemitz said, referring to the mixed-use proposal. "To take the money you have and just remodel this library will not give you a state-of-the-art library and will give you a building full of problems for its entire existence."
If you go
What: Downtown Forward kickoff.
When: 11 a.m. , Thursday.
Where: Museum of Art & History Secret Garden , 705 Front St.
Info: firstname.lastname@example.org .
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