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Photograph by Sarah Phelan

Within Their Rights: Agoya Killeen and Sigrid McLaughlin petition downtown on Presidents' Day. And yes, they are city residents.


Ex-Mayor Smack-down

First, it was five former mayors--JANE WEED, CHRIS KROHN, BRUCE VAN ALLEN, KATHERINE BEIERS and CELIA SCOTT--lined up against the COAST HOTEL project. Now, 10 former mayors--DON LANE, NEAL COONERTY, SCOTT KENNEDY, CYNTHIA MATHEWS, JO GHIO, JOHN MAHANEY, SALLY GIROLAMO, LORETTE WOOD, NORM LEZIN and JOHN DALY--have come out in favor of it, and more may yet crawl out of the woodwork--if there are any more still unaccounted for.

Asked why he was supporting the project, Lane, who was mayor in 1993, said he believes it will help the city pay "to provide services we all expect," including the HOMELESS SERVICE CENTER, of which Lane is a founding board member.

"The city can't just wait for something else to come along and bail it out. First, because it's not going to happen, and second, because the most needy can't wait another 13 years," says Lane, who first started working on the idea of a hotel/conference center 13 years ago, while on the City Council.

'This is the furthest we've ever got with the idea. Finally, the council made it to the real thing, after seeing all previous attempts get shut down," says Lane. "The Coast Hotel is going to be amazing, a huge plus, especially in off-season rainy days."

Lane says he's been working with a lot of union representatives, who are worried about city jobs being cut and the year-round fate of hotel workers. "It'll be a nice place to have an off-season conference and it's a green building, using union labor," he says. "If you think of the impact the project will have on beach area restaurants in wintertime alone, you can see how much this will help our local economy and jobs."

Paying, Playing and Keeping It Local

Asked if it's true he's been paid to promote the project, Lane clarifies that in late November 2004, he asked proponents of the project how he could help-- which led him to the CENTRAL LABOR COALITION, which supports the project. From there, Lane says he called a meeting with the LOCALLY OWNED BUSINESS ALLIANCE, the BEACH AREA BUSINESS ASSOCIATION and the SANTA CRUZ CHAMBER OF COMMERCE and "a smaller gathering of people like me who are more tuned into the social services stuff."

Lane says he was planning to--and still does--advocate for the project gratis, but at the end of January, some of the folks in the above-mentioned coalition came up with $1,200.

"If people think that my being paid what amounts to about $5 an hour taints me, so be it," says Lane.

Lane also notes that there has been some controversy surrounding the petition circulating against the project; namely, that some of the signature gatherers being used to bolster it aren't local residents. They're supposed to be--but even if they aren't, he says, that doesn't invalidate the signatures they gather. They could be found guilty of perjury, however, if they falsely claim to be city residents.

Strange Bedfellows

For his part, Lane says he saw a couple of (presumably paid) signature gatherers outside the Safeway on Morrissey Boulevard. They had set up a table which housed two petitions simultaneously--one demanding the Coast Hotel project be put to a vote, the other requiring that parental consent be required in the case of teenage abortions.

"I thought it odd that a self-identified progressive group would be mixed up in something like that," says Lane.

Reached by phone, BILL MALONE, who is the volunteer coordinator for SANTA CRUZANS FOR RESPONSIBLE PLANNING, said the mixed messages had been dealt with. "We were notified that was happening," says Malone, "and we immediately went after the petitioner and asked him to stop doing anything but the Coast Hotel project."

Asked if petitioners were local volunteers or paid mercenaries (as Mayor Mike Rotkin described them), Malone said, 'We have about 75 volunteers that I'm aware of, and probably more, out there working, but because of the bad weather and the short amount of time, we had to sign up about half a dozen volunteers."

Future Fears

Malone says opponents of the project have until March 10 to submit signatures, and that so far he thinks it's going well, though the weather hasn't been helping any.

"But now it's sunny and you'll see us outside the library and the Vets Hall and the post office," he says.

But the fact that proponents of the project are now putting out their own petition, he says, is "screwing things up."

"My question is this," says Malone. "If this project is so good, why are its proponents afraid to put it to a vote? I say, let's hear the whole story of this project, including the downsides, and then if people say, 'OK,' so be it."

Meanwhile, on Feb. 22, Lane, the other pro-hotel mayors and the Community Coalition--whose members now include HERE/UNITE Local 483 (which represents Coast Hotel employees), SEIU Local 415 (which represents most city workers), WEST CLIFF DRIVE NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION and at least a dozen other groups, in addition to the aforementioned Locally Owned Business Alliance, Beach Area Business Association and Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce--met on the steps of the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. Lane says the Civic was selected "because it is one of several city facilities that have experienced cutbacks due to the city's budget crisis."

Mayor Mike Rotkin, who also numbers among the former mayors who support the project, says his biggest fear about the referendum is that hotel owner BOB LYONS will get cold feet and not want to wait it out until next summer. "He's already spent $1 million on this. If he thinks it's not going anywhere, he might go back to his original plan to remodel his hotel," says Rotkin.

Rotkin also fears a reversal would have a negative effect on other would-be investors.

'It's not that we want Santa Cruz to be overwhelmed by developers, but it would be nice to be able to attract the good ones. This developer wants to do a project that Santa Cruz wants. Unfortunately, all this won't scare off the big-box developers."

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From the February 23-March 2, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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