May 17-24, 2006

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Hotel La Bahia

Developing Story: A community forum on the proposed hotel at La Bahia addressed concerns about increased traffic, obstructed views and union agreements.

Living It Up at the Hotel La Bahia

The project's developer promises jobs, but a local labor leader questions their quality

By Laura Mattingly

The panelists shifted in their seats, scratched their heads and flared their nostrils in unease as Daniel Dodge, political director of the Central Labor Council, got into the meat of his message. According to Dodge, "Barry Swenson Builder has not made a commitment to good quality jobs." The Community Coalition for a Sustainable Economy hosted a community forum and discussion last Wednesday on the proposal to build a hotel at La Bahia, on Beach Street in Santa Cruz. Most concerns voiced at the meeting included discussions of the new hotel's proposed height, which exceeds local zoning and planning requirements. People questioned whether the buildings will obstruct views of nearby residents, how much traffic the hotel will introduce and where its shadow will fall.

During Dodge's turn at the mike, the tone of the meeting changed dramatically as he lit into project development company, Barry Swenson Builder. "My brothers and sisters at the Hotel Worker's Union have requested a simple agreement, that the hotel operator remain neutral should workers choose for or against the union in a card-count election," Dodge said.

This request, he said, has not been granted.

Other panel speakers TJ Moran of the Beach Area Business Association and Kathy Zwart, director of the Workforce Investment Board, stressed the need for Santa Cruz to improve its rate of employment by supporting the tourism industry. According to Zwart's estimation, the new hotel would employ about 100 people seasonally. Zwart framed this estimation by quoting Santa Cruz County's unadjusted unemployment rate at 7.3 percent, a number higher than both the state at 5 percent and the nation at 4.8 percent.

Dodge, on the other hand, emphasized the need not only for jobs but for quality jobs. Though developers in Santa Cruz are not legally bound to make commitments regarding an operator's neutrality, Dodge urges the community to demand that Barry Swenson Builder do so. "In Santa Cruz, with a proud history of support for working people and fair democratic decision making, this should be a no-brainer," Dodge said of the neutrality commitment.

Jesse Nickell, vice president of Barry Swenson Builder, insisted that "a neutrality agreement is something for the operator. Why would we sign something like that when we haven't got the operator even chosen?" He said that unions are "a delicate issue, but we deal with unions all the time. We honor and respect them," and emphasized Barry Swenson Builder's belief in giving back to the community. It was one of the contracting companies involved with the recovery of downtown Santa Cruz following the earthquakes of '89.

During the question and answer session of the meeting, one person asked, "Will Barry Swenson make commitments to address the labor union's concerns before public hearings on the project?" Said Nickell, "The answer is no."

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