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Rotkin & Nüz vs. 2005

What's the best term to describe Santa Cruz in the '05? Letting chance decide who we'd pick to describe it, Nüz had a supercomputer randomly select a name from a database of last year's mayors of Santa Cruz; it picked former mayor and current Councilmember MIKE ROTKIN. His defining term for the year?

"Long-term structural crisis in terms of our budget."

Sure, Rotkin makes city politics sound like a barrel of laughs, but was 2005 really that much fun?

Let us recount the ways: There was the COAST HOTEL scrap, in which a citizen group called SANTA CRUZANS FOR RESPONSIBLE PLANNING derailed one of the most ambitious economic development projects that city has undertaken since it wooed the regents to plant a UC on a hill.

Speaking of which, 2005 also marks the 40-year anniversary of UCSC. Somewhere along the way, the city of Santa Cruz became UCSC's redheaded stepchild. According to people like those in the COALITION FOR LIMITING UNIVERSITY EXPANSION, the city is now wilting beneath the weight of the University's latest LONG RANGE DEVELOPMENT PLAN. This year, our City Council took an aggressive stand against ill-planned UC growth.

Even now, Rotkin says the city (with unanimous support from the council) has attorneys writing letters to UC indicating that the ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT REPORT for the LRDP is "seriously flawed" in a number of ways, pointing specifically to the lack of mitigations for the significant transportation, housing and infrastructural impacts that the proposed growth will have on the city.

The funny part is, most of the proposed expansion would actually occur outside the city limits, which means the city isn't technically required to supply water to those areas. Yes, that's right: if UCSC refuses to play ball, SC can hang them out to dry ... maybe.

But just last month, the proposed DESALINATION PLANT, which would provide (expensive) water in the event of a drought, got the go-ahead. Some worry that a desal plant will somehow invite growth, while ignoring the obvious benefit of turning extracted salt into giant hills on which our children can sled, and which our deer can lick.

Of course none of that will eliminate the city's perky little structural budget deficit. Says Rotkin, "We have a clear indication that our revenues are going to be either flat or even downward-trending over the next 10 or 20 years." What kind of clear indication? "If you look at the last nine months," says Rotkin, now with his EBENEZER SCROOGE cap on, "U.S. sales tax has gone up about 20 percent, California sales tax has gone up about 9 percent, the county of Santa Cruz went up about 2 percent, and the city of Santa Cruz dropped 2 percent during that period. So this is not a problem that's going to get fixed by a good Christmas season."

So the city has already begun a kind of harikari process of gutting itself. In a budget hearing before the council, City Manager DICK WILSON first pointed to the upside of budget cuts--that the city learned to function more efficiently--but went on to say that the cuts are now so deep that the city's situation has become "unsustainable."

City staff, meanwhile, participated in a sick-out a couple weeks ago, presumably to let the upper echelon know they're not happy with their financial situations. But the upper echelon isn't happy either; former HR director IRWIN YOUNG and former Fire Chief RON PRINCE have both found much better paying jobs elsewhere.

The two city departments that underwent the deepest cuts were the PLANNING DEPARTMENT and the PARKS & RECREATION DEPARTMENT. Parks & Rec's budget has been reduced by 35 percent, drastically reducing its ability to keep the town looking pruned and pretty. P&R fun fact: where we used to have about 30 rangers patrolling our greenbelt, we now have one. His name is JOHN WALLACE, but now we can call him THE LONE RANGER, because that's what he is.

On Oct. 11, former Planning director GENE ARNER gave a darkly humorous PowerPoint presentation showing an organizational chart with big X's over the positions vacant or eliminated. Arner mentioned a 44 percent reduction in staffing since the Planning Department's peak four years ago, and he wasn't even including himself. Arner has since retired and moved to Idaho.

So what's the city doing about all this? Rotkin points to the work of CLIFF WARREN, the former RAYTEK CEO who is working to recruit high-tech companies to Santa Cruz.

"The other thing we need to do," says Rotkin, "is play to our existing strengths," meaning tourism, and support "reasonable hotel development" like the boutique hotel and mini conference center BARRY SWENSON BUILDER is proposing for LA BAHIA. Meanwhile, HOLIDAY INN landed that weedy chunk of land at the corner of Pacific and Front, and RON LAU finally struck a deal on his property at the other end of Pacific, which BOLTON HILL will convert into housing and retail.

"The third area we're looking at," says Rotkin, "is arts development. We're trying to encourage artistic that would actually produce taxable activities of one kind or another."

To that end, the TANNERY PROJECT, the city REDEVELOPMENT AGENCY's endeavor to convert a toxic industrial site into an affordable live/work space for artists and their families, is also moving forward.

Ultimately, though, Rotkin says the GENERAL PLAN UPDATE ADVISORY COMMITTEE will play an important role in our city's future, having the potential to either nurture or stifle economic development through the zoning process.

"I think we have a tendency in town," says Rotkin, "to sort of think our job in life is to stop the wave of development pressure that's coming down on us. I wish we had a wave of development pressure coming down on us that we could stop and figure out what to do with."

Rotkin says plenty of people probably want to build expensive houses and pave our greenbelt, but there's not much in the way of pressure to develop healthy, low-impact, tax-producing industry.

So Rotkin has a bit of advice for the GPAC committee: "The right question is, what kind of an economic base do we want for this community, and how can we do that in a way that's consistent with our other values?"

We took the liberty of submitting the question to our supercomputer. The answer, of course, is still 42.

Food Drive Push

The SECOND HARVEST FOOD BANK reported that it has collected over 440,000 pounds of food and cash equivalent for its holiday food drive this year, but it is still thousands of pounds away from its goal. Donation stations at fire stations, libraries, Coast Commercial banks and Goodwill will be open until Dec. 31, so there's still plenty of time to chip in. Visit www.thefoodbank.org to make financial donations.

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From the December 28, 2005-January 4, 2006 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.

For more information about Santa Cruz, visit santacruz.com.




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