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March 18-25, 2009

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Letters to the Editor

Waste Without Remorse

UNDER normal circumstances, Barry Swenson representative Jesse Nickell's moaning at the March 5 Planning Commission meeting about having worked on the La Bahia hotel plan for "nine years" might have drawn some hearty sarcastic guffaws. But these are desperate economic times, when the lack of city funds has meant job cutbacks, so it's hard to have any other reaction to Nickell's droopy crocodile tears than red-eyed anger.

There is no one more to blame for the long unfulfilled promise of the La Bahia site than the owner-developer team of Charles Canfield's Seaside Company and Barry Swenson Builder. The City Council approved their initial plans for a La Bahia hotel six years ago. The developer has spent much of the last three years telling the city just how thoroughly flawed their own original plan was. That plan is "infeasible," according to the company. The city put much time, effort, and resources into the process of getting that plan approved, but the Canfield-Swenson team wasted it all without a hint of apology.

With the third and latest version of the La Bahia Condo-Hotel, the waste of city resources without apparent remorse continues. The condominium-hotel model would cut into the potential room taxes, if it worked. But worse, it doesn't, as vacant or reconverted condo-hotel units across the country demonstrate, including the abandoned plan on the other side of the bay to turn the Carmel Valley Ranch into a condo-hotel.

Nickell says the new plans have changed "a little bit." Indeed, very little. Despite suggestions rising to clamor from community groups, the plan still far exceeds height zoning limits, still totally demolishes an historical landmark, and still has no agreements with union labor whatsoever. It would be tragically shortsighted of the company to use the city's real sense of economic emergency to push through a flawed plan, only to find that the nonprofit and liberal community group conference market--a natural fit for Santa Cruz--continue to choose the Monterey or San Jose area competitors with better justice and fairness credentials. It would hardly be surprising to see these conference groups avoid this La Bahia like the plague.

But that's jumping way ahead. This La Bahia isn't going to be built anytime soon. The fact is, there's no money for hotel construction now. Or if there is a little, apparently, Barry Swenson hasn't got it. That is why Swenson Builder asked the city of Capitola last month to borrow $2 million in order for the company to move forward on the 25-room Rispin Mansion hotel project. If you're wondering just how long 125-room La Bahia project might take to complete, please note that the proposed development agreement calls for an extra 2 years beyond the usual three-year term, and then adds the possibility of two more one-year extensions. In other words, even if approved tomorrow, we still might hear Mr. Nickell groaning on about how long he's worked on an unfinished La Bahia in 2016. Without an economically viable plan, and without buy-in from progressive groups that have given their seal of approval to competitors, La Bahia is doomed to failure. It's long past time for Canfield-Swenson to put forward a La Bahia plan to bring real benefits to Santa Cruz, and time for the city to demand it.

 Mark Weller,
UNITE HERE Local 483


Beats, Not Beakers

DO SCIENTISTS have any respect for science? I wonder, while I read about the university plunging forward with a plan to guzzle millions of gallons of precious water, in defiance of the massive scientific evidence that the planet is warming, which will result in a drier climate here in Santa Cruz. Because we've never seen any palpable manifestations of it.

I am assuming that the new buildings join the examples of the disgustingly corporate cement-and-glass monstrosities on Science Hill. And when I go to performances of classical music put on by the music department, they are (unwillingly) begging for money so they can continue. Has anyone remembered what a university is for? Or why should we waste money on the fine arts, when we have Britney?

Perhaps, if the UC would like to better teach the principles by which the world works, they should put in a center for the study of Irony. Oh, wait, that would be literature. OK, then. They should gut the science labs and convert them to literature classrooms.

Miles Zarathustra,

Last week we misidentified the subject of the photo in Muz. His name is Mike Norris. We regret the error.

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