A Visit to City Hall

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A couple of days ago, I went down to Santa Cruz City Hall, to catch a public meeting of the Zoning Administrator. There were several projects that the public was invited to comment on before the zoning administrator. I happened to know about the meeting because I’m a semi-avid reader of the Legal Notices in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

I spent about 90 minutes there, observing the proceedings. There were around five projects on the agenda that day. There was a stack of papers for people to grab, which documented what each project was about, and the City’s rationale for approving or dis-approving the project. I want to comment upon two of the projects that were debated there at the meeting that day.

The first was a case proposed development of four 1-bedroom townhouses on a cul-de-sac on Sumner Street in the Seabright neighborhood of Santa Cruz. There is currently a single-family residence on the parcel in question, but it is zoned R-L which allows for much a higher density. There are other single-family residences on the cul-de-sac which are also, I believe, zoned R-L. The Planning Commission of the city had been inclined to approve the project, with some conditions, prior to the meeting.

The property owner/developer started off with a brief presentation about how he had made some changes to the development plan, based on the input of the neighbors. There was a big kerfuffle about a heritage Boxelder tree – one would have to be cut down to make way for the townhomes, but the developer was going to replace the one three with several others – I think somewhere in the range of 8.

Then a few of the neighbors had their chance to speak. One lady was very well prepared with a PowerPoint presentation and a laser pointer, and made what I thought was a very good case against the proposed development. I think most in the audience – including the zoning administrator – were very impressed. She even had an alternative idea – to develop two 2-bedroom units – a duplex, essentially – instead of the proposed four 1-bedroom units.

In the end, the zoning administrator ruled that the project could go ahead, but that the plans would have to be scaled back – to either the duplex, or just three one-bedroom units, so that the boxelder tree could be saved. Of course, this isn’t necessarily the end of the debate – any party can appeal the decision to the city Planning Commission.

The next project was the construction of what amounted to a security fence for a condo complex on River Street, across from San Lorenzo Lumber. Apparently, the complex is plagued by folks sleeping in the bushes that surround the complex, and there have been a large number of break-ins to automobiles, trashed dumped in the bushes, drug usage, etc. The residents wanted to erect a six-foot wrought-iron fence along River Street, to help put an end to this on their property. Prior to the meeting, city had planned to decline permission for the project.

Several owners of units in the complex were on-hand to testify as to the need for the fence. They made a great case for having the fence put in. The city’s argument against it had been that it wouldn’t be within the normal setback requirements for the fence, and that it would block a line-of-sight for traffic. However, the owners were able to convince the planning administrator that since it was a wrought iron fence, it could be seen through by motorists and wouldn’t be a danger. In the end, the zoning administrator agreed to let them build the fence, so long as it was five feet tall instead of six, and if they cut the bushes down to about three feet high so that motorists could see clearly.

I may not be remembering all the nitty-gritty exactly right, but that’s the gist of those two cases. I left the meeting fairly impressed with the system. It seemed to me that the city really was trying to be fair to everyone involved, and that they did, in fact, care about the well being of the citizens, while also respecting private property rights. There’s no shortage of horror stories about the machinations of local government for or against development, but from what I saw that day, I think that all in all the people of the City of Santa Cruz are being well served by the system.

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