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Grassroots: Please note the grass-filled beds in this artistic rendering of the Bahia redesign.


La Bahia Redux

It's official, folks. BARRY SWENSON BUILDER has earned our MASOCHIST OF THE WEEK award. Granted, said award only exists as a rhetorical device, but still, when a developer designs and gets approval of a boutique hotel project at the LA BAHIA site on Beach Street in 2003, only to turn around and completely redesign the thing, we think the shoe fits (for a masochist, it would be a two-sizes-too-small kind of shoe).

BSB vice president JESSE NICKELL, who stopped by the Nüzroom last Thursday to show us a presentation for the new design of the hotel, says that even though the old design won unanimous support from the City Council, the city Planning Commission and the city Historic Preservation Commission, it was "an inferior product."

Beach area resident RICHARD ANDREWS, who has seen the new design, agrees. "I thought the old one stunk, it was terrible," says Andrews. "I thought the old project was really ugly because they were trying to maintain that old facade. I thought it was terribly dense and had no socially redeeming value. ... It looked like our old jail--the jail before they tried to turn it into the [Museum of Art and History]."

The new design, which will not preserve the old facade and will therefore require another review by the Historic Preservation Commission, might retain the old bell tower, though Nickell says they're "not committed to that right now." "We want to produce a better product," says Nickell, "but we're going to have to break some of the rules."

Indeed, the new design is two stories taller in the back (a total of five stories tall), which will trigger another review by the CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION. They'll also have to get the city's approval for an amendment to the South of Laurel Beach Plan.

The new design includes 126 hotel rooms (up from 118 previously approved) and underground parking, and it's completely ADA compliant. Nickell estimates that the hotel will employ 72 full-time workers and 30 part-time workers, and will yield about $600,000 a year in transient occupancy taxes for the city. Unlike the Coast Hotel project, this one will require no city investment. Nickell is in the process of presenting the new design to neighborhood and activist groups like the BEACH AREA NEIGHBORS ASSOCIATION, the WESTSIDE NEIGHBORS, SANTA CRUZANS FOR RESPONSIBLE PLANNING, SURFRIDER and the SIERRA CLUB.

"We just kind of watched what happened with the Coast Hotel and said no thanks," says Nickell. "So we're taking a grassroots approach."

An alternate version of the new design features a seven-story structure that would include a 7,200-square-foot conference center with a capacity of 477 people. The bigger project would also mean 35 additional rooms, 17 more full-time employees, 10 more part-time employees and $178,000 more TOT dollars for the city.

"This [project] is still kind of 'putty,' if you will," says Nickell, adding that BSB has already spent $750,000 on the project, and will probably have to spend another $250,000 to complete the renewed approval process.

"I think it's a nice project," says Anderson, "and it's obviously not a cheap one. Barry Swenson, I don't think his buildings are known for architecture. I think this one is over and beyond what he usually does, which is really nice."

Felton's Civil War

Ask any master's-degreed historian about the 1863 battle for Felton and they will reply, "Felton? What's a Felton? Please, leave my office." In fact, no reference to this Civil War battle shows up in any form, written or otherwise. But, friends, Nüz is here to testify that this battle did indeed take place on May 29, 2005. After parking our horseless carriage at Roaring Camp Railroad, Nüz walked past the Union encampments of the 114th Pennsylvania Zouaves and the 69th New York Volunteers. Not far away (close enough to see the whites of their socks) was camped the Confederate army, and in between lay an empty field soon to be either won or lost. The cannons began a volley of noise and smoke. Mothers covered their children's ears, dogs huddled behind owners' legs and one inebriate who apparently failed history yelled out, "Remember the Alamo!" Soldiers from both sides advanced, fired, reloaded, advanced some more. A few men fell (no doubt asphyxiated by the lingering gun smoke that rivaled a foggy day in London), but most stood strong and closed ranks. A slightly shorter-than-Nüz-imagined PRESIDENT LINCOLN traversed the sidelines in top hat and tails, his safety overseen by three 11-year-old boys swimming in Union uniforms.

The spectators watched as the Confederate army outflanked the Union boys, eventually forcing its scattered remnants to surrender unceremoniously--causing Nüz to surrendered five bucks to our companion, who'd thought it sporting to gamble on the outcome.

Following a GEORGE ROMERO-esque moment when the casualties rose up from the field, Nüz took advantage of the moment to interview two of history's most intriguing figures: PRESIDENT ABRAHAM LINCOLN and GENERAL ROBERT E. LEE.

Standing beside a jar suggesting a one-dollar donation be made to photographically commemorate the moment, the president welcomed Nüz with a hearty handshake. Asked where he'd like to see the country heading, Mr. Lincoln thought a moment. "I want to heal the wound, heal the country, bring everybody back under one umbrella of the Union," he said, adding that he foresaw "a strengthening of education, of individuality, of the economy, the weaker becoming stronger and a more harmonious existence between the races."

Sitting beneath the shade of an awning in the Confederate encampment, the gentlemanly General Lee offered Nüz a chair and a cup of water. The war-weary general confided, "I do not now, nor have I ever, believed in secession. I don't believe in it in principle and I don't believe that it's legal. That said, I also do not believe President Lincoln should ever have ordered 75,000 soldiers to invade the South."

On our way out of 1863, Nüz asked SECOND. LT. BRIGADE ADJUTANT JOSEPH about rumors that GENERAL GRANT was a big drunk; Joseph chuckled. "Those are not rumors, those are fact," said Joseph. "For some reason, he was the most functional alcoholic in the world. He would typically take more casualties than the South, but he gained the most ground of any Union general. Then, he became president."

Sounds familiar. As for whether MARY TODD LINCOLN was hot or not, Lt. Joseph didn't hesitate: "Hot, Definitely hot."

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From the June 8-15, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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