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Photograph by Sarah Phelan

Context Center: Councilmember Ryan Coonerty says he has concerns about the conference center proposal, but that it needs to be considered in the context of growth in other parts of Santa Cruz.


Dream Out...

Remember when the hotel overlooking COWELL'S BEACH was called the DREAM INN? Nüz can't help thinking that name would be perfect for the new hotel, parking structure and conference center being proposed at the site of today's COAST HOTEL, especially after sitting through hours of hearings in which residents shared both their nightmares and their dreams about the proposal.

Supporters of the project see it as the dream solution to the city's financial woes, and claim it would provide good jobs and boost off-season tourists, while critics argue the project is a nightmare in terms of traffic and environmental impacts, and a financial risk for the city, not to mention the last straw for residents of CLEARVIEW COURT MOBILE HOME PARK, who have already lost rent control. With this sharp split in opinion, it seemed fitting that supporters were out in droves the first night of hearings, while opponents dominated the second night, many angered by a Senile editorial that they thought had misrepresented their concerns.

"Am I against progress? No, I'm against traffic," said RAMON BERGER, who bikes to work at UCSC, while others advised the City Council to read a BROOKINGS INSTITUTE report which claims the conference center industry is already on its death bed.

"Conferences are becoming obsolete," said SUE POWELL, who was wearing a "Say No or Go Slow" sticker and didn't think the current plan "matches the spirit, creativity and lifestyle of Santa Cruz." DIANE LANDRY of the CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION said, "The project seems large for the site," while others saw it as an environmental justice issue, "a development in the backyard of those least able to fight it."

GILLIAN GREENSITE proffered that "the reason tourists don't come to Santa Cruz in winter is because it's usually wet and cold. No convention center is going to change that reality." And then there were former Mayors JANE WEED, CELIA SCOTT and CHRIS KROHN, who advised the council to step back from the brink.

When Weed asked, "How many people would like us to go slow?" she was answered by loud cheers and whoops of approval.

ED DAVIDSON worried that the project means amending the Beach Plan, creating new zoning categories, and hasn't accounted for the "tsunami hazard."

AMY CARTER of the Santa Cruz SURFRIDER FOUNDATION said, "You're right to call Santa Cruz 'Surf City,' but you're ignoring the value of Cowell's Beach." She pointed to the cove's tradition as a site for surfing and junior lifeguard training, not to mention annual RIDE A WAVE and SHARED ADVENTURES celebrations. Fearing the project would lead to more coastal armor, Carter opined, "Two people with surfboards, stripping down, pouring water over heads and rinsing sand off kids' feet would be incompatible with people with rolling luggage."

And, of course, Clearview Court residents feared that their mobile home park's name would soon be little more than an ironic reminder of what they'd lost, if plans for a "six-story parking structure" went ahead.

And then there were those who took issue with some aspects of the design, including those who believed the conference center needed bigger-sized rooms with ocean views to be competitive, and historian ROSS GIBSON, who hoped for "Spanish or Victorian alternatives."

...Dream In

Meanwhile, plenty of people lined up to give the project a thumbs up, including Kuumbwa Jazz Center's GARY GREEN, Shakespeare Santa Cruz's MARCUS CATO, BOB WILLIAMSON of the International Alliance of Theater Stage Employees, CATHY SARTO of COPE (a church groups coalition), ELIZABETH SCHILLING of Live Oak's Family Resource Center, surfer KIM STONER, Deputy Sheriff KIM ALLYN and kids from HARVEY WEST'S RIPTIDE team.

Bumped into by Nüz the very next day, Councilmember RYAN COONERTY acknowledged that "traffic is a significant issue and needs to be mitigated, but it's important to put it in the greater context, namely of UCSC and West Side growth, which is the equivalent of building eight conference centers at the top of Bay and four at the end of Mission."

Admitting he'd been worried about economic feasibility, Coonerty said that after studying the reports he's convinced the project can work.

"The city isn't going into the business of conferences. What we're doing is loaning dollars and being paid back, through parking fees. The hotel owner will have to pay us the same, no matter how many people come. It's just like a mortgage."

Noting that the footprint of the proposed hotel is smaller than the current hotel, and that the parking structure consists not of six stories, but six levels, "which is the equivalent of four stories," Coonerty believes the size of both the hotel and the parking structure can be reduced, thereby addressing the California Coastal Commission's concerns, while reducing traffic and improving design.

As for beach access, Coonerty believes in beach access for all: "I'm not going to make decisions about who can go to the beach."

Last but not least, Coonerty said he was concerned about residents of Clearview Court, and is looking into creating an affordable housing fund to provide them with options, in the event the project is created.

"I think the first two days of hearings have been helpful. People raised a lot of very good questions," said Coonerty, who anticipates the council won't vote Jan. 25, but will send questions to city staff.

Special Collection

Local resident, photographer and activist SEEMA WEATHERWAX, 99, has gifted a large number of early personal photographs and vintage prints to UCSC SPECIAL COLLECTIONS, a gift, says Specoll's CHRISTINE BUNTING, that allows the department "to put Seema's whole career in perspective." /font>

That perspective-putting begins with Special Collection's current exhibit, titled "Focusing Through Time: A unique story of Friendship, Photography and Collaboration." It features photos by Weatherwax, as well as those by JASON WESTON, great-grandson of EDWARD WESTON. As Bunting notes, "UCSC Special Collections has very strong photographic holdings, beginning in the 1960s with the cornerstone gift of over 800 project prints of Edward Weston, and the photo collections have continued to grow through the acquisition of works by other contemporary photographers, including Seema Weatherwax, BRETT WESTON and now Jason Weston. The exhibit runs through March 18, including a Jan. 29 artists' reception, 1-5pm, with photographs for sale, and free parking in the Hahn Student Services lot.

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From the January 26-February 2, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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