Santa Cruz Indymedia :
Santa Cruz Indymedia

News :: [none]

City Council Blocks Affordable Apartments

What I saw at the March 23rd, 2004 Santa Cruz City Council meeting made me feel ashamed to live here. Council rejected 46 affordable apartments slated for an empty lot at High and Cardiff. Developer Maynard Manson intended to build studios for workers, students and people with disabilities. Instead, Council gave in to privileged homeowners who live nearby. This article focuses on homeowner prejudice and city council equivocation.

"I wonder how many people in this city
live in furnished rooms.
Late at night when I look out at the buildings
I swear I see a face in every window..."
-- Leonard Cohen

What I saw at the March 23rd, 2004 Santa Cruz City Council meeting made me feel ashamed to live here. Council rejected 46 affordable apartments slated for an empty lot at High and Cardiff. Developer Maynard Manson intended to build studios for workers, students and people with disabilities. Instead, Council gave in to privileged homeowners who live nearby. This article focuses on homeowner prejudice and city council equivocation.

Another midnight meeting

All the pews were full. People were standing in the aisles. There was a line out the door. The March 23rd, 2004 Santa Cruz City Council meeting was going to be another midnight marathon.

After honoring some schoolchildren who were about to leave for our sister city in Japan, Council took up the main agenda item. The Planning Commission, a political body, had rejected the four-year-old Cardiff Place project. The Planning Department, a non-political body, saw things a bit differently. Subject to a few conditions, the developer had met the rules. Council was free to accept or reject the project, according to the Planning Department.

Benefits of the Cardiff Place project

After receiving a detailed presentation from the Planning Department, Council invited the developer's agents to speak. The project had many benefits, including:

A new housing option

There would be four one-bedroom apartments and 42 studios. Studios are ideal for single people who want to live alone instead of sharing. ["Single-room occupancy" or SRO is the technical term for studio. SRO's were once popular with retired men, as in San Francisco's South of Market "skid row", where 3000 elderly single men lost their homes to Redevelopment Agency bulldozers. SRO's usually had furniture, hence the term in the Leonard Cohen poem.]

Built-in affordability

Because of their small size, the studios would be affordable even at market rates. Monthly rent would be $750.


Unlike older housing, these apartments would meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements.

Relief for bus riders

The site is a block away from Bay and High, a public transit hub. Tenants with cars would have to pay a parking fee.

"Mixed-use" layout

Commercial space on the ground floor would complement an adjacent plaza. The plaza houses Slug Books, Bay Federal Credit Union, Hillel, and a 7-11.

Extra time for the opponents

Then the public testimony began. Claiming to represent a large group of homeowners, the first speaker badgered City Council for four minutes and then six. Everyone else got two minutes. Judging by the applause that followed each comment, there were as many supporters in the room as there were opponents.

Affordable housing opponents: privileged and prejudiced

The opponents were a homogeneous lot. All were white, as far as I could tell. Most said they owned homes near the project site. Given our high home prices, any new homeowner has a six-figure salary, a rich uncle, or a generous inheritance. A longtime owner will have benefited from Proposition 13, the mortgage interest deduction, and the homeowner's exemption. The longtime owner is also sitting on capital gains in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Thanks to the main residence exclusion and the rising inheritance tax threshold, she will never pay a penny of tax on that income. The opponents of affordable housing are privileged indeed.

Most of the opponents didn't even try to hide their prejudice against renters. Drinking, parties and litter were alleged. Renters were portrayed as a threat. I thought of Ice-T's ironic song, "There Goes the Neighorhood".

Savvy opponents tried to mask prejudice with good intention. Some said they wanted to attract more "families with children" to the neighborhood. Others said they were willing to "compromise". Families can't afford half-milliond-dollar homes or $2000-a-month luxury apartments. And when Council Member Porter asked whether a compromise might still include some studios, opponents said no. Several council members saw the negative testimony for what it was: "hyperbole".

Affordable housing supporters: ordinary people

The supporters were diverse. There was testimony from UCSC students, young workers, older workers, a City employee, several small business owners, and an advocate for the disabled. Many races were represented. Renters said they wanted, and deserved, a place in the community. Business owners said their employees needed affordable housing. The disability advocate said his clients needed accessible housing. Members of Slug Books, the discount textbook cooperative, said they wanted the new commercial space.

Council says one thing but does the opposite

The public hearing ended around 11 PM and Council deliberated until midnight. Council Member Fitzmaurice said, "We don't design or build projects." He was wrong. In a series of votes, Council redesigned the four-year-old project, literally from the ground up. Council changed basic features like the amount of commercial space and the mix of apartment types, even though the developer had followed applicable rules. Would the developer still want to build?

Council Member Primack cautioned, "We're creating this illusory thing." Mayor Kennedy observed, "Sometimes there's a public benefit to making a decision and developing one of these parcels, as opposed to having it come back every year or two." The developer said, simply, "I cannot make it work."

The Tower of Babel - Why City Council should get out of the design business

City Council has no business designing projects. Council's role is to apply existing zoning rules, not to make up new ones on the spot. The Tower of Babel failed because its builders thought they were better than God. "Santa Cruz City Council Memorial Apartments at Cardiff Place" is a Tower of Babel. Common sense, economic reality, the needs of prospective residents, and the needs of the community as a whole, are the spurned gods.

Here's what I noticed about the council:

Limited understanding of zoning rules

The developer wanted to build studios with an average size of 345 square feet. He had asked for an exception to the old unit size limit of 325 square feet. A prominent council member said that the developer had asked for an exception to a density limit. Density (units per chunk of ground) is a different issue. The Planning Department also told Council that there was a 50% residential minimum for "mixed-use" projects. Several council members understood exactly the opposite. They alluded to a commercial minimum and suggested that the developer hadn't met it.

Misconceptions about transit

One council member, himself a bus rider, said there wasn't enough bus service near the project site. He alleged hourly off-peak service and said residents would have to take at least two buses to get to a grocery store. In fact, eight bus routes converge one block away from the site. The corner of Bay and High has more bus service than any other part of Santa Cruz, except Metro Center itself! There's even a direct bus to Safeway (Route 2). What better place to put a transit-friendly development?

No understanding of economic forces

Two council members said they wanted a "neighborhood-serving" retail tenant in the project. One suggested a cafe and the other, an organic market. Were there sufficient demand for such services, businesses like Slug Books and 7-11 would have been displaced long ago. Curiously, neither council member considered Slug Books to be "neighborhood-serving". UCSC students aren't neighbors (see below).

No understanding of travel demand

City policy favors putting housing within a quarter mile of a grocery store. Instead, this project is across the street from UCSC (UCSC's free shuttle buses go up to the campus core). The greater benefit of building next to the county's largest employer was completely lost on the city council. How often does a single person travel to the grocery store? How much food does he buy? How often does he travel to work? Which facility ought to be closer to home?

Narrow concepts of community, neighborhood

In voting against affordable housing, most of the council members said they were "deferring to the community". By their votes, these council members had defined community as neighbors and neighbors as homeowners. A few hundred people occupy single-family homes in the immediate vicinity of the project site. They count. Thousands of students live across the street at UCSC. They don't count. Renters from all parts of the City may want to move to Cardiff Place. They don't count either.

Mayor Kennedy shows leadership

Scott Kennedy, our new mayor, deserves a round of applause. He spoke in favor of this affordable housing project; urged his fellow council members to be brief and to stay on topic; and led the unfocused council toward a decision, even though he didn't like the majority position. He is a born leader. He was a ray of light in an otherwise awful council debate.

Mark Primack was the only other council member who voted in favor of affordable housing. I'm glad he supported the project, but I didn't like his push for restrictions on students (see below) and I am not comfortable with his NIMBY (not in my backyard) past. He led the fight to keep Metrobase out of West Side Santa Cruz.

The empty lot "solution"

What happens now? If the developer does redesign 250 Cardiff Place and resubmit the application, homeowners will probably complain again and Council will probably give in again. As I discovered on March 23rd, 2004, the Santa Cruz City Council (as a group) votes for the path of least resistance: the empty lot.

Choice comments from City Council

  • Ed Porter: "...rather than try and micromanage this thing here tonight..." [Why did you vote to redesign the project then, Ed?]
  • Tim Fitzmaurice: "We have to make the decision based on what the community thinks is desirable." [It takes more than some privileged homeowners to make a community, Tim!]
  • Tim Fitzmaurice: "Good faith will take us somewhere." [Your vote takes us to an empty lot, Tim!]
  • Mike Rotkin: It's not about "What does Mike think is best?" [Why did you vote to redesign the project then, Mike?]
  • Mike Rotkin: "defer to the neighborhood" [It takes more than some privileged homeowners to make a neighborhood, Mike!]

Although I couldn't get the whole quote down, Tim Fitzmaurice said that NIMBY was good because it creates "livable neighborhoods". Mike Rotkin talked about limiting students at 250 Cardiff Place and even came out against letting his own university grow. If anyone has a tape of the meeting (we don't have cable or broadcast TV), please share it so I can properly transcribe these and other examples of doublethink.

Here are answers to some of the questions I've received.

Is $750 per month affordable?

If you are a single person and a renter, you have very few options in the City of Santa Cruz. It costs at least $500 to rent a room in a shared house and about $1000 to rent a one-bedroom apartment. Studios are in between. At $750, the Cardiff Place project would have had some of the City's cheapest studios.

Here are typical rents (including basic utilities) for Santa Cruz County. Forty per cent of people pay less and sixty per cent pay more.

HUD Fair Market Rent, Santa Cruz County, 2004
Unit Size Monthly Rent
Studio $ 843
1 bedroom 1004
2 bedrooms 1341
3 bedrooms 1865
4 bedrooms 2185

[ "Fair Market Rents", U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department, ]

Notice that 250 Cardiff Place represented affordable market rate housing. This is important, because there isn't enough subsidized housing to go around. Even if we had money, we couldn't build much subsidized housing in the City of Santa Cruz. If privileged neighbors oppose market-rate apartments, imagine what they would say about subsidized apartments. If City Council blocks market-rate apartments (in desireable areas), imagine what it would do with subsidized apartments.

Is it okay to endorse a for-profit project?

I think it is fine to endorse a for-profit project, especially if it's the only realistic way to get housing built. I realize that rental property yields big profits. On the other hand, the fact that people are clamoring for inexpensive apartments tells us that non-profits and government agencies have not solved the housing problem. We live in the real world. This means we have to make compromises. Things get interesting when what's good for the developer matches what's good for the people, as at 250 Cardiff Place.

Why is this issue so important to you?

First, I believe that people deserve nice places to live. In a society that loves to build but hates to maintain, new or rehabilitated housing is the key. My husband and I live in the Chestnut Street Apartments, one of the developer's other projects. To quote my letter to the Sentinel, "Unlike the granny flats, basement apartments, converted garages and subdivided houses that pass for affordable housing elsewhere in Santa Cruz, our place offers safe electrical wiring, a sanitary kitchen, lots of light and plenty of space. We even have a private patio and a bike rack."

Second, my husband and I are in our twenties and we know how hard it is to survive in Santa Cruz. There is no future for young people here. Should we take jobs at the Boardwalk, now that Texas Instruments has left and UCSC is downsizing? We want a vibrant economy, one with more housing, more businesses, and more jobs.

What will happen if the University buys the land?

If UCSC buys the land from the developer, the City will forfeit the property tax revenue and lose control over development of the site. The state is not subject to local zoning rules, and it does not pay property tax. That would be a good lesson to the City Council.

Why mention Ice-T?

Some of the references in Ice-T's lyrics make me very uncomfortable. However, the premise of "There Goes the Neighborhood" is correct, and also germane. The song criticizes privileged people who want to keep less privileged people out.

What about the limit on students?

To satisfy homeowners, the developer did propose a limit on students. Ostensibly, no more than one quarter of the apartments would have gone to UCSC or Cabrillo students. This was sold to Council's anti-University wing as a benefit. I do not believe that the developer ever intended to discriminate against students.

The senior vice president of the John Stewart Company made a legal error when she testified on this point. John Stewart, which manages 20,000 low- to moderate-priced apartments in California, would have managed Cardiff Place. The senior vice president claimed that it is legal for landlords to restrict students. She cited current practice in federal public housing projects and said that "students are not a protected class".

Under federal public housing policy she may be right (though I couldn't find any examples). Under federal law she is definitely right. 250 Cardiff Place, however, is private, and is subject to California law. Our Jesse Unruh Civil Rights Act states:

"All persons within the jurisdiction of this state are free and equal, and no matter what their sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, or medical condition are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever." [California Civil Code section 51(b)]

The courts say that the "all people" bit matters. "The Unruh Act prohibits all types of arbitrary discrimination, and not just discrimination based on sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, disability or medical condition" [ "Unlawful Discrimination / Your rights and remedies", California Attorney General's Office, ]. This is the basis of protections for gay people, to pick an example of a class that is not protected under federal housing law.

In California, a private landlord would have to make a business case for summarily turning students away. She could say, for example, that students tended to have bad credit and tended to do lots of damage. In a situation where students were already occupying 25% of the units, it would be hard to make such a case and impossible defend it.

The City of Santa Cruz might get away with imposing its own limit. This would be a restrictive covenant, written into the deed (record of ownership) for the property. These things "run with the land", remaining valid even after a property is sold.

Not long ago, racist homeowners, associations, developers, real estate agents, lawyers and local governments used restrictive covenants to keep black people out of white neighborhoods. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1948, and the California Supreme Court in 1966, that discriminatory restrictive covenants are invalid. Again, Unruh protects Californians against all arbitrary discrimination. A restrictive covenant against students might be discriminatory, and therefore, invalid.

Mark Primack and several other council members said they favored enforcable limits on students. Leave it to our "progressive" city to resurrect a troubled institution like the restrictive covenant!

For an excellent, if shocking, article about discriminatory restrictive covenants, see: "Unfair Housing - North County neighborhoods once quietly shut out other races, religions", Gary Warth, [San Diego] North County Times, May 5, 2002,

Aren't you painting an unfair economic picture of new homeowners?

Nope. As of early 2004, you need a family income of $129,000 to $148,000 to buy a typical home in Santa Cruz County. You also need $28,000 for the downpayment. For the next 30 years you will pay $3500 a month, including mortgage, property tax and insurance. Today, it is safe to say that you are in a special economic class if you can afford to buy a detached home in a desirable area. Bay and High is such an area.

If your income is lower, you may be able to buy a mobile home, a condominium, or a detached "fixer-upper" home with help from the government. For example, the City of Santa Cruz has a "Home Ownership Second Mortgage Program". A representative of the Department of Planning and Community Development told me that the City hadn't made any loans in over a year! He said that the City hoped to revive the program this summer, when new money comes in.

Though every situation is different, the City probably won't lend you more than $90,000, according to this representative. Your income cannot exceed $62,550 (for a family of four). If you earn that much, you can get a first mortgage of up to $217,000. Add the $217,000 first mortgage, the $90,000 second mortgage, and a $16,000 downpayment, and you can afford a home worth $323,000, by my calculations. Remember, this is the best case and is not typical. The cheapest detached home I could find in Santa Cruz costs more than $425,000.

Please note: I am not saying that people are "bad" because they own homes. Public policy rewards homeowners and punishes renters, so buying a home is a rational economic choice, for those who can afford it.

[ References for this question:

Median home price

"Market Statistics", Santa Cruz Association of Realtors (R),

Mortgage interest rates

"California Rate Search", Mortgage Market Information Services,

Ability to borrow, monthly payments

"Mortgage Calculators", Mortgage Market Information Services,

Multiple Listing Service (MLS) property listings

"Search for Homes", Zip Realty,

City of Santa Cruz Home Ownership Second Mortgage Program

"Home Ownership Second Mortgage Program", City of Santa Cruz, ; also, telephone call to Housing and Community Development Division, Department of Planning and Community Development, City of Santa Cruz, (831) 420-6250 ]


New Comments are disabled, please visit


Support economic growth, you hippies

Expensive homes bring in more property taxes, building permits, and other fees than so-called "affordable housing", thus helping to pay for parks, schools, welfare, HUD, ADC, fire, and police protection.

Expensive homes bring in more disposable income that gets spent at local businesses, helping our employers to keep us employeed!

"Hippies" pay more than their share

This is nuts! The economic benefit (property tax, sales tax, income tax, local consumer spending, etc.) of a 46-adult use is much greater than the economic benefit of an 8-adult use. I believe that 250 Cardiff Place is a one-acre lot, which would fit 4 single-family homes. Assume each will house 2 adults and 2 children, the children having no income.

Since the 1970's, property tax in California has been based on price paid, with reassessment under certain circumstances, such as after new construction. A way to gauge the stable, long-term property tax take from 250 Cardiff Place is to guess what the property will sell for once developed. A good way to estimate that is to imagine the apartments as condominiums. We get $150,000 x 46 units = $6.9 million. With 4 single-family homes, we get $560,000 x 4 = $2.24 million. Annual property tax is 1% of price paid. By any reasonable estimate of property value, 46 apartments generate more property tax than 4 homes.

Even if single-family homes generated more property tax than did apartments, local governments are not the primary funders of welfare, nor of schools. And HUD is a federal department; it doesn't get a penny of property tax revenue.

Homeowners may have high incomes, but they contribute much less than their share of state and federal income tax. For today's typical home buyer in Santa Cruz County, the mortgage interest deduction shields half a million dollars of income from state and federal tax, and the property tax deduction shields another $220,000 from federal tax, over 30 years.

Renters, though we may have lower taxable incomes, don't get to exclude housing costs from our taxable income. We do get a $60 credit from the State of California -- usually suspended by the legislature. The rent we pay is also taxed to the landlord, producing still more tax revenue.

Homeowners, not "hippie" renters, are a drain on the treasury.

Re: City Council blocks affordable apartments

I am very disappointed the council turned down this project. This council plays lip service to affordable housing but has abandoned rent control for the residents of DeAnza and Clear View Ct. Go back a few years and we find that this same council paid $17 million for 48 "affordable" (meaning subsidized) units (Nueva Vista in the Beach Flats) and destroyed 63 units of affordable housing to do so. This is yet another example demonstrating that Santa Cruz is for the rich and fails to support diversity or plan for people of all walks of life. We have 2000 homeless people (displaced former residents) in this City as a direct result of the City failing to build the kind of housing people need and can afford.

Many thanks to Paul Marcelin-Sampson for this extensive report.

Re: City Council blocks affordable apartments

> Expensive homes bring in more property taxes, building permits, and other fees than so-called "affordable housing", thus helping to pay for parks, schools, welfare, HUD, ADC, fire, and police protection.

A modest house in this neighborhood goes for $700 to $800K. Yet the schools are going (further) down the toilet, park budgets are being slashed, welfare is being slashed, and the other services you list are being curtailed.

So who do expensive homes help? Real estate agent parasites and old crusty right-wing people who have lived here for 30 years and want to retire in Iowa.

Re: City Council blocks affordable apartments

If this actually was to be used as affordable housing for the under-employed, that would be one thing. But the reality is that this is going to be a student housing complex and contribute major parking and traffic congestion. The neighbors are understandably concerned.

It is certain that more affordable housing needs to be made in Santa Cruz, but these are to be studio apartments, not family dwellings.

If you want to systematically deal with the problem, a massive local income tax on the rich is what is required. People who live and work in Santa Cruz in general are not making enough money to afford rent or mortgage payments on a modest 3 bedroom house unless they have lived here a long time and have some sort of rent protection or a comparatively small mortgage. The university is the largest employer in town, but you have to be a tenured full professor before you begin to pull in the salary that one would need for a house payment. The staff have it quite a bit worse. The situation for employees at other institutions and businesses here aren't in any better situation either. Firepersons, cops, schoolteachers, etc don't make enough to live here either. In short, Santa Cruz is totally unafordable to anyone but rich people who likely work elsewhere like San Jose. These are the people that need to be soaked with an income tax to redistribute wealth or else need to be driven out. $750 studio apartments aren't going to help them very much unless they live alone.

Re: City Council Blocks Affordable Apartments

This is the same kind of NIMBY that fears the "riff-raff" and supposedly reduced property values if transit such as light rail lines are built. In reality, it couldn't be more the opposite. Projects like light rail and affordable infill housing are the exact kinds of projects that make cities more desirable to live in AND stimulate the economy by creating jobs and making centers of employment, commerce, and culture more accessible. Shame on the City Council for wimping out and giving in to the upper class.

Paul, my girlfriend and I went househunting today and we're impressed with Chestnut Street! It's at the top of our list for next year.

Thanks for the great report.

Re: City Council Blocks Affordable Apartments

I thought Santa Cruz was supposed to be a liberal, freedom-loving town?

All I hear people talking about here, is how best to use government threat-of-force to tell people what they can do with their own property.

Somewhere along the way, "liberty" was apparently removed from the liberal agenda.

Just because you dont like what your neighbor is doing on his land, or think that you have a better idea, doesnt give you the right to do anything more than offer him suggestions no matter what legal mumbo jumbo you choose to employ. It still comes down to the implied threat of violence from cops with guns being used to intimidate innocent people into doing someone else's will.

Yes, let's just "soak the rich" like medieval robber-barons, and then sit around and complain that there are no high-paying jobs to be found on this side of the hill; gee, I wonder why.

You people are amazing.

And you wonder why there is "class war". Your prejudiced stereotyping and subsequent unconditional hatred of people based on their income, is why. You're as guilty as they are, for continuing the cycle of cold war between rich and poor.

Re: City Council Blocks Affordable Apartments

I first would like to say that I am a Amarillo Tx fixture from Santa Cruz, with hopes of returning home some day. Your coverage of the city council meeting on this proposed affordable housing was very intresting.
What was most intresting is that the distingushed members of the city council find this topic not one of human intrest, but rather an inventaion to negotiate theire position with the towns upper west-side elite.

Re: City Council Blocks Affordable Apartments

Excusse the break.
But Santa Cruz is what I thought it to be all of this time... a wolfe in sheeps clothing. It is liberal in theroy but conservative in practice.
It is important to understand that similar propsals for low income and affordable housing have came up in the past...but failed to take hold in Santa Cruz. I would like to give all of those reading a little comparison from first hand experince. I pay $850 a month rent for a four bedroom house with 2.5 bathrooms and a garage here in the golden sprawl of Amarillo. Please don't get me wrong, I understand that Amarillo is no vacation mecca like my home town, nor does it offer the same kind of tranquil utopia. So naturaly there is going to be cost diffrence when you factor in latent and mainifest wants when talking about pricing diffrences in houses between Santa Cruz and other parts of the country. However, at what point do we start to define resonable. It seems that we have three choices: is resonable what the market will bare, or is it what people can afford, or is it what is deemed as ethical practice according to our god given rights to live as humanbeings in a modern civilized society.
I truly think that before we can address this on going delima of affordable housing, we need to define, pardon the pun, what is fair and balanced for the entire community.

Re: City Council Blocks Affordable Apartments

this article demonstrates a fundamental relationship in our capitalist society. The petty bourgeois homeowners have antagonistic class interests to the working class renters. Obviously this is a broad generalization, but generally speaking it is accurate to state that petty bourgeois folks have material interests that are opposed to the interests of the rest of us. I think its unreasonable to expect them to do the right thing out of the goodness of their heart. We have to force them to be at our material level or force them to bring us up to theirs. Otherwise we are doomed to repeat this scenario again and again. We need revolutin to endthe war in iraq, to take over corporations in the interest of the workers, and yes, we need revolution to take control of property and political apparatus at the local level. We should fight for things within the system as a stepping stone for something greater. Lets get real and overthrow capitalism. Our "neighbors" are cannibals.

Re: City Council Blocks Affordable Apartments

Your right I don't want another Maynard development smack dab in the middle of suburbia. Yes it is tough to live in Santa Cruz and survive but this is a recreation, resort college town. Not a San Jose. Nor will I want it to ever be the way.

Bah Humbug to Maynard!

Re: City Council Blocks Affordable Apartments The guy is a former marketing refinancing executive from Laycos, where he credit counseling was one of the prime movers in creating debt consolidation help the corn chips over 30 years ago debt consolidation by combining regional corn brands loans online into one national brand. relocated refinancing direct to Pierce County 18 years ago from online loan New Jersey when he took a position mortgage with Tacoma-based Roman Meal Company loan tambernat.comnm


No events for this day.

view calendar week
add an event


Media Centers

Syndication feeds

Account Login

This site made manifest by dadaIMC software