In the News

Santa Cruz Guide: Local Politics
Five things to know about the topics most likely to get you into a fistfight with a local

By Jacob Pierce
Santa Cruz Weekly, 9/21/11

Santa Cruzans are passionate about their causes. They’ll square off over anything: deciding the best way to re-develop neighborhoods, the best way to get around town and, of course, water. Here are some talking points about local issues for that next round of animated cocktail party patter.

Desalination  Both the Santa Cruz Water Department and the Soquel Creek Water District say their communities are in dire need of more fresh water. Their proposed Westside desalination plant would take seawater and separate brine from drinkable H20. Santa Cruz wants more water to prepare for droughts and in order to stop pulling so hard on streams that are home to endangered fish. Soquel wants to rest wells that are more parched than a singer at Coachella. The plan’s main opponent, a group called Desal Alternatives, fears the plant will be too expensive and could never be carbon-neutral. Desal Alternatives says water demand could be met through better conservation and water-sharing between districts.

Highway 1 Widening  Transportation officials and commuters alike say Santa Cruz’s main artery, Highway 1, is so clogged it’s on the brink of cardiac arrest. Officials want to widen the Highway 1 bridge over the San Lorenzo River and the one-mile stretch from Morrissey Boulevard to Soquel Avenue from two lanes to three. But environmental groups don’t want it any wider. They want money instead spent on alternative transportation, and fear that any expansion will just mean more cars. Most of the funding will come from Caltrans and federal grants. The Regional Transportation Commission has also looked at widening the highway out to 41st Avenue in Capitola or even San Andreas Road in South County, a full nine miles of three-lane blacktop.

King Street Bikeway  Many King Street residents—along with students from UCSC, Santa Cruz High School and Mission Hill Middle School—all want the same thing: a safer cycling alternative to Mission Street, the site of two bike fatalities in recent years. People Power is pushing for a bike boulevard plan on King Street, with diverters to slow down and re-route car traffic. Bikes would travel through, but cars would have to zig-zag through the Westside. The city worries that that might clog neighboring streets with cars. Right now it’s stalled anyway; the city failed to receive a $326,000 planning grant for the much-discussed project this year.

Arana Gulch Multi-Use Trail  They’ve been fighting about this one for almost 15 years. An 8-foot-wide paved trail through a park sounds simple enough: Cyclists would use the route as an alternative to scarier streets like Soquel Avenue, cutting both emissions and traffic for Santa Cruz. Last year, the California Coastal Commission voted down the project because the park is home to the endangered Santa Cruz Tarplant. That decision sent the city back into mitigation planning. Many transportation advocates support the plan and accuse opponents of not trying to curb global warming. The Friends of Arana Gulch counter that advocates are neglecting Santa Cruz wildlife.

La Bahia Remodel Once the crown jewel of Santa Cruz beachfront property, the La Bahia Apartments now need a facelift worse than Rupert Murdoch. Plans to destroy, rebuild and replace them with a luxury hotel have fallen into a shambles even worse than the deteriorating complex itself. Last month, the Coastal Commission voted against a proposal to raise the roof a full 14 feet over what is typically permitted, leaving the plan dead in the water. The building stays for now. But the debate over its future isn’t going anywhere, either.

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