.Santa Cruz to Include Library Measure on November Ballot, Pogonip Cleanup Approved

Santa Cruz’s Mixed-Use Library measure heads to Santa Cruz polls; the Homeless Garden Project seeks permanent home in Pogonip’s Lower Meadows

An initiative that would scrap downtown Santa Cruz’s mixed-use library project, which has been in the works for years, is headed to the Nov. 8 ballot. 

Our Downtown, Our Future, the organization behind the effort to halt construction on the new library, collected thousands of signatures to make its initiative eligible for the November election. At the June 28 Santa Cruz City Council meeting, council unanimously approved bringing the measure to voters. 

If approved, the measure would bring the city’s plans to develop a new library and housing complex to a halt. Santa Cruz has been working on building a new public library since voters approved Measure S in 2016, an initiative that provided $67 million in funding for library renovations across the county.

Current plans call for a two-story library overlaid by between 100-125 affordable housing units above. The project also includes a 310-space parking garage.

Our Downtown, Our Future hopes to restore the decaying Civic Center Public Library in lieu of pursuing the new complex. The group says that the community has a preference for updating the current building over constructing a “massive complex.”

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The Downtown Library Advisory Committee explored updating the original library, but, after engineering and technical studies, deemed that the current facility has too many non-compliance issues and full renovation would be too expensive.

The measure also opposes the relocation of the Wednesday Farmers Market: the new library’s anticipated location would be City Parking Lot 4 at the corner of Cathcart and Cedar streets, which is where the Wednesday Farmers Market gathers. 

Halting the city’s library plans would cost the public critical affordable housing, but the initiative promises to use some of the surplus parking revenue to promote affordable housing developments—although it’s unspecified how much money would go to affordable housing, as the surplus money would also be used for things like improving Lot 4, and “transportation demand management programs.”

Critics of the initiative wonder if the true intention of the measure is to stop plans for more affordable housing.

Multiple members of the public wrote in to support the initiative, and also called on the city to hire an analyst to create a report that would compare costs and benefits with the city’s Downtown Library plan. An impact report is expected to come in September. 

HOMELESS GARDEN PROJECT

The Santa Cruz City Council also unanimously approved efforts to clean up lead contamination in Pogonip’s Lower Meadows, in an effort to find the Homeless Garden Project (HGP) a permanent home.

For more than 20 years, the HGP has been searching for a permanent location. In 1998, the City adopted the Pogonip Master Plan, which placed the garden in the lower meadows. Shortly after, it was discovered that the site was used as a skeet shooting range, and found that the soil there was contaminated with lead.

In 2021, the project issued a request for the council to consider the garden’s relocation to the upper meadows. The council first heard the proposal in August, and again in October, during which its received dozens of letters from residents opposing the move.

Since then, HGP has requested that efforts to relocate to the upper meadows come to a stop, and for the city to concentrate efforts on cleaning up the lead contamination in the lower meadows.

Consultants found that to render the area safe, the lead-contaminated soil would need to be disposed of at least 1 foot deep. Clean soil would also need to refill the space. For full remediation, the cost will be between $5-6 million.

Thanks to a grant from the Department of Toxic Substances Control, costs of planning and permitting remediation of the Lower Main Meadow will be covered. The city hopes to use some of that money to cover the remediation costs, or to find alternative grants to help fund the project.

The city will continue to look into remediating the lead contamination in the lower meadow, which Parks and Recreation staff hopes can begin in the next few years.

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