On March 28th, the Santa Cruz YIMBYs (“Yes in My Back Yard”) held a public meeting at the Dream Inn in Santa Cruz to discuss the urgent need for more affordable housing in the city and county of Santa Cruz. The meeting featured a discussion on the state of California housing by Linda Wheaton, assistant director for the California Department of Housing and Community Development. A panel discussion followed Wheaton’s presentation, moderated by Robert Singleton of the Santa Cruz County Business Council.
Jondi Gumz of the Santa Cruz Sentinel was there and she did a great write-up on the meeting, so I don’t need to go into too much detail about who said what. I did record audio of the entire proceedings, which you can listen to and download here:
As the Sentinel did such a good job going over the particulars of the meeting, I’ll just add some of my thoughts on what was discussed.
Although Linda Wheaton went through a fairly exhaustive list of recent and proposed California housing legislation, she made no mention of the most radical bill making its way through the legislature: SB-827, sponsored by Scott Weiner of San Francisco. This was touched on in the panel discussion, but it was disappointing that it was not more of a focus by Wheaton or the panelists.
The Q&A session for the panelists was moderated by Singleton of the Business Council, who asked the panelists questions from a prepared list. There was little time remaining for questions from the audience; just three audience members were called on.
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One question from the audience was especially poignant: would not more housing lead to destruction of so much of what makes Santa Cruz such a beautiful, special place to live? I think that many folks feel that way: more housing = less green and open space. After all, who hasn’t heard about all the fruit orchards and farms which used to cover the Santa Clara valley, which were covered over with concrete, asphalt, and tract homes a few short decades ago?
Panelist Sibley Simon was quick to shut that notion down, however. As he pointed out, that’s been settled a long time ago in Santa Cruz. We’re keeping our green, open spaces. More housing does not mean more sprawl, such as we see in Santa Clara county and much of southern California. More housing – and more affordable housing – means denser, infill development (such as would be required with SB-827).
Another concern people have when they hear “more housing” is “more traffic.” As Simon pointed out, the key to reducing traffic is to having housing built closer to where the jobs are. Currently, many of those jobs are in Santa Clara county, but with wise, far-sighted development it is possible to construct live/work developments which will, to a large extent, obviate the need for road-clogging long commutes to distant employers.
The truth is, unless we build denser, more-affordable housing, we are going to end up with a Santa Cruz stuffed full of older, wealthier elites and mostly-empty weekend and summer houses owned by them. There’s simply just too much money chasing too few homes in a very beautiful, coastal area with a mild climate close to the most epic wealth-generating machine (Silicon Valley) the country has ever known.
Simply put: if we want a Santa Cruz that is accessible and affordable to people with a wide variety of incomes, we must build housing for them, because it presently does not exist.
I know it’s tempting to just stick our heads in the sand and hope the problem goes away. It did abate with the housing crash of 2007-2010, when many people lost their jobs and left the area. But with a strong economy and growing employment comes more demand for housing – we can’t have it both ways. Short of a Zombie Apocalypse, the only realistic and economically sound solution for our housing woes is the creation of more dense, affordable housing.
What are we waiting for?
Update April 3, 2018: the slides from the presentation can be downloaded here. Also, a video of the presentation has been posted to YouTube by the Santa Cruz Sentinel: