Voters have affirmed their support for Santa Cruz’s downtown library project, which proposes to build affordable housing, a new parking garage and an updated library at the site where the downtown farmers market currently meets every Wednesday.
Measure O, the controversial proposal that would have scrapped those plans, has been trailing in votes since results were posted on election day. As of Monday, Measure O had 40.48% of the vote, with 59.52% of the votes counted opposing it.
For the No on O campaign, housing was at the heart of the issue, with 124 affordable units at stake should the measure pass. Supporters of Measure O took issue with the project’s parking garage, and campaigned on the message that residents want more input on the project, which has gone through multiple iterations since planning started in 2016.
Former Santa Cruz Mayor Don Lane, a spokesperson for the No on O campaign, says voters have made their interests clear.
“This was the voters’ voice being heard,” says Lane. “The results affirm that people were satisfied with the process up to now—but even to the extent they weren’t, I think they’re glad to have a chance to vote on it. People are clear that they thought the project should move forward.”
Even though Measure O collected 7,652 yes votes, Lane says he isn’t expecting any lingering division over the project to last now that the results are in.
“I think there’s a lot of shared interest in especially the affordable housing issue, but also there’s certainly a desire on everyone’s part to have a really good library,” says Lane. “Even those who voted yes can recognize this project can still lead to some positives for those things we share in common.”
After the second batch of results were posted Friday, Rick Longinotti, a spokesperson for Measure O, called on the city to “heal the mistrust” that has come with the project.
“Thousands of city residents voted to oppose the city’s project, indicating a deep level of mistrust with the project and how the city has handled it,” Longinotti wrote in a prepared statement sent to GT.
Results for Measure N, which would tax second homes that are in use less than 120 days per calendar year, are looking grim for its passage.
As of Monday, 8,077 (41.97%) votes were cast in favor of the tax, and 11,166 (58.03%) votes had been tallied against.
The measure, also known as the “Empty Home Tax,” broadly pitted affordable housing proponents against real estate agents and vacation homeowners.
“The disinformation campaign funded by real estate money run by Santa Cruz Together appears to have worked in scaring voters,” Measure N campaign manager Cyndi Dawson says.
Santa Cruz Together, the committee leading the charge against Measure N, raised the most money out of all the local political groups involved in the Nov. 8 election. The campaign raised around $130,000, with nearly $50,000 coming from the California Association of Realtors.
“All of us should be concerned that a campaign funded by those that benefit from the housing crisis may have prevented more affordable housing in Santa Cruz,” says Dawson.
Funds from the tax would have been dedicated to affordable housing, and the Yes on N campaign estimated the tax could generate millions for low-income housing.
Opponents of the measure said similar taxes implemented in other cities have yielded inconclusive results.
Measures K & L
Early results signaled strong support for K and L, bond measures that would generate $249 million and $122 million, respectively, for the Santa Cruz City Schools District. As of Monday, Measure K had garnered 65% of the vote, while L had gotten 69%.
“We’re incredibly grateful to our community for continuing to support our students,” SCCS Superintendent Kris Munro says. “These vital improvements to school infrastructures—made possible only through bonds—will have a lasting impact, improving the lives of generations of students.”
The work includes energy-saving projects such as lighting, insulation and windows, said district spokesman Sam Rolens.
“There are so many projects that can have a huge impact on our energy sustainability that we can begin straight away,” he says.
About 5% of the bond funds, Rolens said, would go toward a workforce housing project expected to bring an estimated 80 units of studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments to a location on Swift Street. Rolens said that the district has already worked with city and county officials to gauge what type of work it is authorized to perform. It has also tentatively contacted architects and will soon review possible plans to get them submitted to state officials for approval.
Preliminary results show that Santa Cruz voters have approved increasing accommodation taxes on overnight stays at hotels and short-term rentals within city limits.
Measure P, the city’s transient occupancy tax increase, collected 79.6% of the 19,738 votes counted as of Monday.
The measure raises the overnight lodging tax from 11% to 14% for short-term residential vacation rentals, and from 11% to 12% for hotels, motels and inns. It is estimated to bring in $1.38 million annually to the city’s general fund.
This is a significant win for the city, especially after residents voted down a half-cent sales tax earlier this year. That measure failed by a mere 50 votes in July, denying the city additional revenue that officials have said they desperately need to support homeless services and offset the city’s budget deficit.
“We are grateful that the community recognized the need for additional revenues to maintain essential city services,” City Manager Matt Huffaker said in a statement. “From wildfire prevention, investing in affordable housing and our infrastructure, and continuing our progress on homelessness response. This funding will be put to good use.”
Casey Beyer, CEO for the Santa Cruz County Chamber of Commerce, says he’s not surprised the measure passed. It’s difficult to predict how a tax like this might affect tourism, Beyer says, but the key to evaluating the tax’s success will be looking at where that revenue is spent. Funds generated by the tax are not earmarked for specific issues, so the city council can spend it at their discretion.
“When you raise the tax, there is a human behavioral response,” Beyers says. “When it reaches a certain tipping point, you don’t travel as much … the city will have to identify and show that, ‘OK, the money that we collected, we can point to specific local issues and show our return on investment to the community.’”
Watsonville’s half-cent sales tax increase had formidable support from voters in early results.
As of Monday, Measure R had amassed 64.4% of the 6,709 votes tallied. The general tax measure only needs a simple majority for approval.
Placed on the ballot by the Watsonville City Council in June, Measure R would raise the city’s sales tax to 9.75%—the highest rate in the county, along with Scotts Valley—and bring an estimated $5.1 million into the city’s general fund. City leaders say that the additional revenue would be used to upgrade and upkeep Watsonville’s parks and roads, as well as its library and older adult services.
If approved, it would be the second sales tax measure that has been embraced by Watsonville voters in three years. They overwhelmingly approved Measure Y, another half-cent sales tax that replaced 2014’s Measure G, in 2019.
Abel Sanchez, who served as the co-chair of the committee leading the charge on Measure R, said that the results show the trust Watsonville voters have in the city to use the funds correctly.
“We’re looking forward to using those funds to benefit our community, and I’m really proud of the community’s commitment to support those services,” said Sanchez, a representative on the County Board of Education and a member of the city’s Parks & Recreation Commission.
Measures Q and S
Watsonville voters have elected to extend the city’s urban growth boundaries for the next 18 years, rather than head back to the drawing board and determine a new growth plan.
Measure Q, the proposed extension of Watsonville’s Urban Limit Line (ULL) approved in 2002 via Measure U, was headed toward victory over Measure S, according to early voting results available Monday.
Roughly 67% of voters filled in “yes” for Measure Q, compared to around 50% of voters who elected to approve Measure S.
While both measures only need a simple majority for approval, the measure with the most “yes” votes will be the one that is approved.
Measure Q, the result of the Committee for Planned Growth and Farmland Protection’s (CFPGAFP) signature-gathering process, seeks to protect the ULL that has shielded the majority of the agricultural land surrounding Watsonville from urban development by establishing a modest 25-year growth plan for housing and economic drivers. But some of Measure U’s protections are set to expire this year, and the rest sunset in 2027.
Measure S, placed on the ballot by a divided Watsonville City Council in response to Measure Q, also proposed an 18-year extension of the ULL, but would have allowed the council to make adjustments to the boundary during its upcoming general plan update—a massive, multi-month undertaking in which the community will determine what Watsonville should strive to be by 2050.
Measure Q proponents told voters that their campaign is the only way to stop “urban sprawl” that would overtake the Pajaro Valley’s rich agricultural lands. Meanwhile, Measure S proponents said that an extension of the current growth boundaries would negatively impact the city’s ability to build new homes, entice large employers to set up shop in Watsonville and bring in more revenue to the municipality’s thin coffers.
CFPGAFP member Sam Earnshaw said in a phone interview on Thursday that the results serve as a “loud and clear” message from Watsonville voters that they want to preserve the Pajaro Valley’s agricultural land.
“Everything that we heard when we were gathering signatures held true, people don’t want to pave over our agriculture fields,” says Earnshaw, who adds that the CFPGAFP is looking forward to working with the city on its general plan update in the coming months.