It’s a consistent theme in the letters to the editor page in the Sentinel. Downtown is dirty, dangerous and weird. I wouldn’t argue against anyone’s experience, but I spend lots and lots of time in downtown Santa Cruz, and I still think it’s the most comfortable and stimulating public space in the region.
Not that I would dismiss the dangerous element to downtown. In fact, though I’ve never been molested by anything more than a rude panhandler or two, I have felt a growing unease, particularly in the southern end of Pacific Avenue.
A few weeks ago, I was talking to a former business owner on the lower end of Pacific south of Laurel and he was telling me stories of harrassment and intimidation by various downtown characters. Pointedly, he referred to the 2005 bus strike as a period of sweetness and light, as the Metro stopped temporarily disgorging dozens of questionable folk into the downtown area every day.
In recent weeks, of course, the stepped up police presence has been felt by many, but the blocks between Laurel and Spruce Street still seem to attract criminal activity. Is development of that area the answer? Arts activist Kirby Scudder believes that Pacific Avenue between Laurel and the Santa Cruz Wharf is ripe for a renewal and he’s doing his best by establishing the businesses in the Mill. There is nothing to stop downtown for going all the way down to Beach Hill.
There’s doesn’t have to be that no man’s land between downtown and the beach. With new zoning and development, the grooviness of downtown could extend a lot longer than it does now. The best way to save downtown is to create more of it.