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5 Stories That Will Matter in Five Years

[whitespace] IT'S NOT ENOUGH to keep our readers up to date on the issues that matter today. We also aim to get you wondering and worrying about the important stories that will be on the horizon come the 10th anniversary. Water shortages, growth management, public education--it's not as if each of these issues isn't already a pedigreed problem child. But learning to think about them--and respond to them intelligently--that's the hard part. So, in no particular order, here's our Five in Five:

Thirsty's Child

Gridlock and UCSC parking lots are controversial, but imagine turning on a dry tap. Officials of the Santa Cruz City Water District, which serves 88,000 customers in Santa Cruz, Live Oak and part of Capitola, have been warning for months of looming shortages. Similar problems face the Soquel Creek district and the Pajaro Valley.

And there are no popular options for fixing it. New supplies are probably needed, but no elected officials are willing to risk political hara-kiri by advocating a new dam, pipeline or other storage and delivery option. Conservation? Great idea. Will it be enough? Water professionals don't believe so.

The powers that be are whistling past the graveyard on the issue. In politics, it's easier to blame someone else for the problem after the fact than to be pro-active in solving it before it gets serious.

When the next drought hits--and it will, with a vengeance--the ensuing political fight will have plenty of finger-pointing. Of course by then it will be too late.

Breakdown in QuakeTown

What will downtown Santa Cruz look like when all those software engineers and high-tech types start moving into their new offices in the Redtree and University Center buildings on Pacific? More workers, more cars, more office space, more restaurants and more entertainment venues--in short, more services catering to people with money to spend.

The signs of change are already there: witness Urban Outfitters, going into the old Woolworth's building. There has even been talk among some planners of interesting new mixed uses, such as condos and townhomes above storefronts. And Front Street won't be far behind.

An early test of how the new City Council will deal with all this growth will be how it finally revamps the Beach Flats/south of Laurel plan. Beach Flats gets all the press, but south of Laurel development will have a greater impact. As the bridge between the downtown business economy and the beachfront tourist economy, this area is ripe for improvement. With the 10th anniversary of The Quake coming Oct. 17, Santa Cruz is on the verge of a boom.

The Big Squeeze

Housing, water, transportation--they're all functions of the same thing: Santa Cruz is a damn fine place to be, and a lot of people want to live here. As bad as the housing situation is, it's only going to get worse. With telecommuting and networked officing making the workplace increasingly irrelevant, property values will continue to climb as more Silicon Valley refugees relocate. And UC-Santa Cruz will continue to grow.

Are high rents and high housing costs inevitable? Many of the same people who lament them also oppose more housing, hoping to create a natural barrier to population growth. Meanwhile, state law has taken away the local option of rent control.

As with the water shortage, there are no easy solutions. Can we create more affordable housing without encouraging excess growth? What happens to transportation and water problems if we try to build to meet demand? It may be a few years--make that decades--before we see realistic proposals that confront these questions.

Big Valley

Sometimes it seems city folk believe that the Santa Cruz border stretches from Upper Crust Pizza's "Welcome to Santa Cruz" Mission Street mural to Frenchy's in Pleasure Point. But seeds for many of the county's most critical stories are really sprouting in Pajaro Valley. While the debate over managing local water--especially in the troubled Pajaro River--is heating up, talk of the long-debated Central Valley Project water-importing pipeline continues to bubble right below the surface.

Things promise to get interesting for folks navigating the future of those fertile fields, as those hoping to preserve agricultural land and Watsonville's wetlands negotiate with advocates for growth, affordable housing and livable housing (a.k.a. homes without septic tanks oozing next to kiddies' sandboxes).

The next half-decade of the United Farm Workers' union-organizing campaign will also reflect Cesar Chavez's continuing legacy. Between acknowledging labor organizing and phasing out pesticides like methyl bromide, Watsonville farmers also have plenty of changes ahead.

Whatever the future holds, look for even more emerging Latino leaders as community members walk the delicate balance between addressing issues like gangs and fighting stereotypes of Watsonville as a crime-infested community.

Getting Schooled

Just as education was the talk of the wild 'n' wacky Gray Davis' gubernatorial campaign, we're hoping the next few years will bring positive action to accompany all that gabbing. With luck, new policies like mandatory tests before graduation and the emphasis on holding teachers accountable for student performance will be backed by the pocketbook. That's right, that tight wallet tucked so firmly near the state's hindquarters--the one that has allowed California public schools to spend thousands of dollars per student less than other states with similar incomes--has got some loosening up to do.

Local school districts will face more debates over charter schools, vouchers, bilingual and biliterate education and technology spending. Meanwhile, the never-say-die Aptos reorganization folks vow to continue their drive to shift south county school district boundaries. Special education programs as well as education for undocumented kids will fuel debates over access to schools and who is entitled to an education. Then there's the issue of making schools safer and Uzi-free once the kids are actually inside, but that's another story.

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From the May 5-12, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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