.Food Bin Housing Approved

Developer Comes Under Fire from Council

The Santa Cruz City Council unanimously approved a 48-unit housing project at the current site of the Food Bin and Herb Room on May 28 after the developer submitted plans for 59 units on the site.

Eleven Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) were removed from the project by the council because of how they were being created. Under state law, the developer presented the ADUs as “amenity space” for storage. 

Workbench never hid its intentions for the space and wanted to be honest with the public about its eventual intent, said Jamileh Cannon of the developer at the meeting.

But council members said they felt misled by Workbench. 

“If they are going to be ADUs, why not just make them ADUs?” asked Councilmember Renee Golder.

The ADUs were added to the project after Workbench continued to make changes to the project to get to the 59-units that were approved by the Santa Cruz Planning Commission in January.

Workbench, led by Jamileh Cannon and Tim Gordin, has come under criticism from the City Council recently for making a flurry of last minute changes to the project that forced the Council to send the project back to the planning commission on May 16. 

Councilmember Renee Golder said in the April 30 meeting that Workbench needed “to get real.” 

“I have to say how frustrated I’ve been with Workbench and with the owners of the property to be unwilling to make even minor modifications to appease the neighbors,” Golder said. “I think moving forward I know Workbench has several proposed developments coming in around town and I just want to make it really clear I hope you can be better partners.”

One of these projects is the 18-story Clocktower Center. Workbench is hosting a virtual community meeting at 6:30 pm Wednesday June 5 to discuss the controversial tower-proposal that was unveiled in March.

However, new pro-housing state law severely limits the recourse for the City Council to make changes in development projects.

Santa Cruz YIMBY released a statement accusing the council of violating state law: “the Santa Cruz City Council voted to approve a downsized version of the Food Bin Project at 1130 Mission Street. These changes eliminated 11 homes and are in violation of California’s Housing Accountability Act (HAA) and Density Bonus Law.”

Councilmember Martine Watkins defended the current City Council’s pro-housing record but expressed dismay at the loss of local control over zoning.

“This Council has supported a lot of development,” Watkins said. “We’re actually very far ahead in what we need to accomplish compared to a lot of jurisdictions. Housing is a priority certainly and respectively in a way that the community can have it work for them is like a Santa Cruz value. I am hoping to see that moving forward.”

Santa Cruz Planning Director Lee Butler said that the developers see using this storage-space-to-ADU law “as a tool to make projects pencil.”

“We do not under case and state law have the discretion to remove the storage units,” Butler said on May 16.

The City Council took a different view and viewed the units as discretionary in its denial of the ADUs.

In January, the project was appealed by Ian and Natasha Guy and a group called the Laurel-Cleveland Neighbors. The neighbors found miscalculations in Workbench’s density calculations and building set-back, allowing them to include more units.

“Other developers are watching this. They are going to say: ‘Does this game of pushing everyone around, is anyone going to call us out on this?’” said James Mueller, a neighbor to the project.

The neighbors proposed a 50-unit, four-story building but this was not taken up by the council.

If Workbench decides to submit another proposal with Food Bin owner Doug Wallace, the building could be significantly taller.

According to Workbench’s revisions submitted to the Santa Cruz Planning Department, “the owner could go back through the planning process and create a building that is 86 units,” under current state law that was not in effect at the time of the initial application. 

Workbench did not respond to a request for comment.

“There is kind of a game of telephone happening. The neighbors will talk to the city, they’ll talk to city council members, eventually we’ll get some of that information,” said Cannon. “It’s been a very frustrating game of telephone.”


  1. When do we expect the City Council we withdraw their illegal conditioning? Or do we think they’re just waiting to be sued? Surely they know they are acting outside of the law here… ADU law is one of the clearest options available, and it isn’t a matter of misunderstanding state law. ADU law (broken by Council) is enshrined in the Muni Code.

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