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Sentinel Coast Hotel editorial deconstructed

The snowjob is in full swing as the business types who see their pockets lined with $30 million dollars of indebtedness to the public, line up to sing the praises of the mammoth Coast Hotel Project and to dangle carrots in front of citizens who responsibly want City government to have a sufficient revenue stream. This dog and pony show glosses over real concerns that the Sentinel would rather the public not spend much time thinking about. This Sentinel editorial leaves out a lot of these concerns. I have appended them to the front of the editoral from Sunday's paper.
NOTE TO READER: This editorial leaves out a number of vital arguments AGAINST the Coast Hotel project. It fails to report the unliklihood of the project passing the Coastal Commissions standards. In order for this to pass, the CC would have to grant a variance.

It fails to mention that Redevelopment Agency funds MUST be used to address blight. While the current Coast Hotel might be architecturally tacky, it is not red-tagged, yellow-tagged, or in any way blighted.

Third, this article does not mention that this involves the taxpayers of Santa Cruz going in debt by $30 million to fund this project, assuming all the risk for those funds if the project is not successful. What will the interest rate be on this debt?

Fourth, this editorial acts as though the Brookings Institute report did not exist. This report shows that hotel conference/convention centers peaked in 1993 and have been suffering declining attendance ever since.

Fifth, the land where the conference center is slated to be located is West Coast Hotel property. After 55 years the convention center reverts to private hotel ownership.

Sixth, since this debt is the equivalent of a new tax--the issue rightfully belongs on the ballot for the voters to decide.

Seventh, a previous council, considering over 2000 public comments, ruled out the site as unsuitable. Scott Kennedy apparently started this project in private conversations with the hotel owners in a process which was entirely out of the public process. This is NOT democracy in action. This is corporate welfare.

Eighth, at the time of these public hearings, documents relative to the project had only been available for a few weeks, making it extremely difficult for citizens to understand what the risks are.

Ninth, no matter what happens, success or dismal failure, the RDA will immensely profit and hence cannot be considered an unbiased source.

Tenth, there are no mitigations for the residents of Clear View Ct. who were already abandoned by the council when they cancelled their rent control. Their equity situation in their trailers has dropped substantially so that the City is liable for a lawsuit for breach of contract.

January 30, 2005

As We See It: A long process
COAST HOTEL: Were the long hearings and endless questions about the proposed project really necessary? Probably.

Arguments for and against the Coast Hotel project near Cowell Beach are relatively simple.

For: A new hotel and conference center would be a much-needed help to the local economy and to a city in need of money. The present hotel is ugly, and the new one will be much more attractive. The conference center and additional parking would encourage the kind of visits that would bring people in for a longer stay, and during non-peak tourist months, and both those things would also help the local economy.

Against: The city shouldn’t be involved in any way, financially, with a new facility whose success isn’t assured. And if it is successful, those who live nearby — or those who frequent the area — will have to deal with additional traffic. The proposed hotel is too big for the site, and the bridge across West Cliff Drive that would connect the hotel with the conference center and parking area would be ugly.

So why did two nights of public hearings drag on for hours? Why did the City Council in its own deliberations take several hours to discuss the project? Why did the council put many, many conditions and restrictive language into the agreement? Why was the final decision made well after 1 a.m.?

Two reasons. The first is just something that Americans have to live with. It’s called democracy in action, and no one ever suggested that big decisions are made quickly. Dictators, even benevolent ones, can do what they please and then just imprison anyone who doesn’t like it.

The second explanation is peculiar to Santa Cruz. This is an area that’s uncomfortable with change. People move here because they want to be out of the way, and they don’t want to live in the fast-paced and changing world of Silicon Valley.

This hotel project is uncomfortable for many Santa Cruzans, and particularly those who champion the environment. The elected City Council finds itself in a tight spot — wanting to preserve the status quo on the one hand, and wanting to pay for a high level of city services on the other.

Unfortunately for Santa Cruz elected officials, they don’t live in their own country (?), and state law has made it necessary for local areas to develop economically in order to earn tax revenue.

That discomfort explains the length of the meetings and the complexity of the arguments. Approving a big hotel conference center just isn’t a "soul of Santa Cruz" thing to do.

That’s why even the supporters had to come up with a long list of "progressive" conditions for the hotel owners. You must put local art on the wall. You must put out brochures that give out some directions and not others. You must have deliveries at certain times and not others. Garbage collection must begin no earlier than 8 a.m. Toilets and water connections need to exceed existing requirements as far as conserving water.

By painstakingly going through that process, the four council members who voted "yes" can be satisfied that they’re still progressive, and that they haven’t gone over to the dark world of corporate greed. (No sarcasm is intended. Many of those conditions make sense.)

The discomfort affected the three who voted "no." All three said they understood that the city needed more revenue, but that they wouldn’t support the proposal. They either cited traffic, neighborhood concerns or, in the case of Councilwoman Emily Reilly and Councilman Tim Fitzmaurice, an argument that the public hadn’t been adequately informed. (Even though the matter had been on the front page of the Sentinel for weeks and had been on television. You would have had to walk through town with your hands over your ears not to hear people talking about it.)

The result of all the talk, the meetings and the long hours was a 4-3 vote to move the project on to the next level. It’s easy to take shots at the process, and we agree that the matter took on needless complexity. But that’s democracy, and that’s Santa Cruz.

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