Mayor Don Lane talks about serving one last time
Because mayors only serve one year at a time, they often like to pick an area of focus to make sure the term doesn’t get away from them. This year, Santa Cruz Mayor Don Lane, whose term began last month, wants to prioritize affordable housing. Lane, who says he will not run for council again, has also been a big supporter of the 180/2020 project, which aims to end chronic homelessness by the year 2020. GT sat down with the mayor in his office to talk about the year ahead, the community at large, and the future of Santa Cruz.
We’ve heard a lot of uproar about federal grants for an armored police vehicle. Do you support that purchase?
DON LANE: I feel OK about it. I have minor reservations, but on balance, I’ve supported it. It’s unfortunate that it came up in a time when people were thinking about what police departments are doing to interact with the communities. It looked like something that was a real obstacle and not a community-building tool, which [it is]. But I also think it wasn’t fully understood that the actual purpose [is] a rescue vehicle and a protection vehicle, not just for cops, but also for firefighters and paramedics.
You supported Councilmember Micah Posner’s motion not to have the vehicle be used for nonviolent protests. Were you surprised it didn’t pass?
I was disappointed, and I don’t think that’s a settled issue yet, and the environment that council meeting took place in was so tumultuous. Some of the councilmembers might be interested in having more discussion about that. It didn’t feel like that was going to be a productive discussion at that moment. I’m hoping the city will explore that question a little more about what are the guidelines for the vehicle’s use.
Council has shown interest in revisiting the laws around food trucks. What’s their future?
The potential is really high, and I’m hoping what the council will adopt in these next couple of weeks is a pilot program, where we’ll see how well it could work. I think it will be successful, as long as some of the food-truck operators are warm to the idea and willing to jump in under this pilot program. The community would go for it … Doing things up on the river levee, or the river walk, as I guess we’re calling it, is a [possible] spot. If there were good food there, it’s a nice place to get out. It’s right in the middle of town, but it’s out of the urban feel.
What will the river look like in 15 years?
I think the river itself will look fairly similar. The main change will be what’s adjacent to the river—a variety of activities happening on the river walk, and I think on the downtown side of the river there will be more buildings that are oriented to the river, maybe some restaurants that have a patio.
You and Councilmember Hilary Bryant have both shown a sense of humor in meetings. Is that a helpful trait for a mayor?
Yes. But it’s really important to be careful—to make sure it’s fun and isn’t too barbed. Sometimes making jokes can be at others’ expense. And I’m hoping that for the most part when we use humor, it’s in genuinely good spirit. In politics it’s so easy—I’ve had some experience with this—to think I was doing something I thought was being funny and then have the recipient of that take offense.
Are you referring partly to a valentine sent a couple of decades ago that was seen as obscene?
Yeah, Mo Reich was a councilmember, and he bought the valentine and got me and a couple of other people to sign it, and that’s when I thought “Oh, this is just a silly, fun thing.” Steve Hartman, who was the recipient, took offense, and I apologized.
What are some possible locations for a new basketball arena if the Santa Cruz Warriors decide to stay?
One possibility is where they are now. But I think every site we look at, I can see obstacles to, even as I see benefits. For instance, that site is one where it probably isn’t big enough for a permanent arena. So, you’d have to take out some of the adjacent apartment buildings, so that becomes a problem: what happens with that housing? Another one that concerns me, at least as much, is if that’s the site that’s building a permanent arena, there’s a gap. The temporary arena would be removed, and then there’s one or two years of construction, and there wouldn’t be anywhere. To me, there’s some value in looking at other sites, so that we can have that continuity and keep using the temporary one until the new one is built. Some sites are being considered in the beach area. My personal preference is a little closer to downtown. I think there’s some places, especially along the Front Street corridor. A key issue is a place where the parking would be the best.
The council has relaxed rules around accessory dwelling units [ADUs], which some say contribute to affordable housing. Are ADUs critical to that, or just one component?
They’re a moderate component, but they’re not a game changer. We have to be realistic that it’s one thing we can do, but if that’s all we do, we’re not going to come anywhere close to what we need. I’m not confident we can do what we need to do. There’s both issues around some of the regulatory questions: will we allow more height, more density where I think the community would support it. Another regulatory piece is around tiny houses and smaller units in general. Are we prepared to support the idea that we have a different model for what makes a legitimate housing unit? Historically, the model has grown bigger and bigger and bigger. It’s time to shift the opposite direction and say we need more smaller units. I think it’s common for people to say ‘All I need is 300 square feet. That meets my needs.’ That’s not as hard as the financing part … For lower-income housing, we do need to have some tools for subsidy, and those have almost all dried up. I think it’s helpful, now that redevelopment is gone, for the city to start thinking, ‘Is there anything else we can do to create some financing?’
So, you’ll be temporarily termed out in 2016.
Not temporarily. For me, it’s permanent. My wife just retired. When I’m done with my council term in a couple of years, I intend to not be fully retired, but I intend to be part-way to retirement at that point. So, I don’t think being on the council fits in with that plan, for me or my wife. I have another part-time job for a charitable foundation, and I hope I keep doing that. And I will probably keep doing a lot of work around housing and homelessness as a volunteer, and I will probably travel more.
PHOTO: Mayor Don Lane says the potential for food trucks in Santa Cruz is high, but the city has more work to do on affordable housing. JACOB PIERCE