.Santa Cruz City Council Moves Forward With Housing Project, Despite Appeal

The Santa Cruz City Council unanimously voted in favor of moving ahead with a mixed-use development that will build 233 studios downtown, despite a challenge from a group that claims the project does not meet certain city requirements. 

Santa Cruz-based developer SWENSON submitted the project, which is nicknamed Calypso.  A six-story building, Calypso will be built on 130 Center St. across from Depot Park. Thirty-five of the units will be rented at the very-low-income level, or 50% of the area median income. The rest will be rented at market rate. 

Calypso was approved by the city’s Planning Commission in October. Shortly afterward, Santa Cruz Tomorrow filed an appeal against the project. 

The appeal claimed that Calypso violates some of the development and preservation policies that the city lays out in its general plan. The letter, submitted by representative Gillian Greensite, wrote that the proposal conducted an incomplete traffic study, since the survey only looked at traffic and congestion on weekdays. It also questioned the Commission’s finding that the project would have no ‘significant impacts’ on air quality or contribute to noise pollution. Lastly, it questioned the grounds for an exemption from a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review, which looks at the environmental side-effects of government projects. 

At Tuesday’s city council meeting, Senior Planner Ryan Bane addressed these concerns, maintaining that Calypso does meet all city requirements. The reason the traffic study did not include weekends, Bane said, is because the developer will pay into a Traffic Impact Fees (TIF) program: fees that are associated with the traffic increases of a project. The fees are calculated based on peak PM hours, which for this project are at the highest during weekday evenings. 

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Bane also said that Dudek, an environmental and planning firm, found that the project would not generate enough noise to affect ambient noise levels. The firm also found that air pollutant emissions associated with construction would not exceed the Monterey Bay Air Resources District (MBARD) threshold. And, despite the project being built on a 60-year old auto body shop site, Dudek found no hazardous substances on site.

“The project has been thoughtfully designed to be attractive to both permanent residents and tourists,” Bane said. “Additionally, it will maximize density while providing 20% of the units at the very-low-income level, which will be a significant addition to the city’s affordable housing stock.”  

According to Santa Cruz City Clerk Bonnie Bush, the council received around 130 emails in response to this project. At the meeting, a majority of callers supported the project and opposed the appeal. Many of the callers were UCSC students who urged the council to approve the project that would add much-needed housing options for students. 

“I am a student, and I live a couple blocks away from where this development would be,” said caller Bodie Shargal. “I see absolutely no problem having more affordable housing near me. I would much prefer to live in a world where there are 233 additional units of housing oriented towards students and low-income people.” 

While multiple city council members sympathized with concerns about increased traffic, all council members agreed that the number of very-low-income units this project will add for the city are critical. 

Earlier this month, the city of Santa Cruz was assigned 12,979 new housing units that the state is expecting to be built in the city over the next eight years. Many of these units will be required to be affordable to low-income residents. 

In a motion carried forward by Council Member Sally Brown, SWENSON agreed to add four additional very-low-income units, bringing the total to 39.

“This project is taking a semi-industrial commercial site and converting it to housing,” said Council Member Justin Cummings. “I think this is something that our community wants to see happen when we’re trying to determine where the housing that we need to create is going to go.”

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