The Santa Cruz City Council hopes more small housing units are on the horizon, after relaxing rules for smaller housing units at Tuesday’s council meeting.
The council moved to change “small ownership units” (SOUs) to “flexible density units” (FDUs), with the goal of incentivizing developers to build more small units. In the past 15 years, only three SOU projects have been developed, according to the city.
Developers forgo building SOUs is because of the restrictions that units must adhere to, the city says.
By allowing small units to be mixed with other types of structures, and be rented or sold, the new set of rules addresses developers’ key concerns, the city says. Building height restrictions, parking minimums, open space requirements and inclusionary unit requirements will not change.
Councilmembers Justin Cummings and Sandy Brown voted against the measure, saying that without increasing the inclusionary elements to mandate more affordable units, there would be no guarantee that these smaller units would lead to more affordable housing.
“If the rationale is that reducing the unit size will make them affordable, this isn’t supported, especially when we see studios going for $2,800 a month,” said Cummings. “It would be in the best interest of the community to address preserving and increasing affordability if we’re going to consider moving in this direction. If not, then we’ll be driving up the cost of housing by setting market rate standards for very small living conditions.”
City staff said that the only way to guarantee cheaper rent is with deed restriction, but that changing the requirements for smaller units is one tool the city has that will help keep housing production up, especially ahead of the new state-mandated housing goals that are expected to triple. This, in turn, limits projects that qualify under Senate Bill 35, the bill that requires cities to streamline the approval process of some projects, said staff.
“I fail to understand how building less helps those who need housing the most,” said Councilmember Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson. “I fail to understand how building less doesn’t increase competition for the existing units that we have here. This is about building housing for everybody … for our kids, our parents, for that city worker.”
Street vending times, locations slashed
The council also approved a new permit system for vendors on sidewalks and beaches in a 4-3 vote.
Last summer, the city awarded six permits to sidewalk vendors in the Cowell Beach area based on a lottery system. According to the city’s reporting, upwards of 50 unpermitted vendors crowded Beach Street, Main Beach and the surrounding areas, and led to associated costs totaling around $650,000 for the police department, parks and recreation and the department of health combined.
Under the new permit system, the city is restricting the locations and the months during which vendors can sell on sidewalks.
For example, no vendors will be allowed from April to October on Beach Street from Third Street and the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf. The annual permit fee will be $30 for vendors to sell on city sidewalks and beaches, and vendors might need additional permits depending on what is being sold and where (for example, a food permit, or a permit from parks and recreation if a vendor wants to sell in a city park).
Councilmembers Brown and Cummings and Mayor Sonja Brunner voted against the item, instead supporting an alternate proposal that would have allowed limited year-round vending on Beach Street.
Ahead of April 1, when the state’s rental assistance program ends, the city will continue to support tenant resources for legal support, mediation and housing assistance.
The city is unable to extend an eviction moratorium, City Attorney Toni Condotti said at Tuesday’s meeting.According to the state’s dashboard, 3,400 county residents have applied for rental assistance, and 1,465 applications have received payment.