Defending downtown Santa Cruz

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.

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5 thoughts on “Defending downtown Santa Cruz

  1. That’s a thought… But what would such development be?

    There is a fairly strong history of downtown “redevelopment” projects, involving commercial space, failing. I can think of San Jose, as well as a couple of places elsewhere in the US. Typically, the development provides spaces for economically nonviable small businesses. These may either be knick-knack stores competing against each other for a very limited customer base, or franchise operations with a limited specialty, limited customer base, and reliance on minimum-wage labor to survive.

    Housing would probably be a better choice. Ah, but would it be approved? And, given that persons who live there would probably have to work at a distant location, what about traffic? Can you imagine rush hour(s), morning and afternoon, 5AM-9AM and 3PM-8PM, through the heart of town?

    An alternative might be (gasp) student and faculty housing for the U, with transporation up and down the hill provided by the U itself, rather than by Metro.

  2. Wallace,

    That’s the sort of attitude that keeps any sort of worthwhile change from occurring downtown. Kirby is a total pile. Entrusting him and his kind with any sort of progress in this or any other regard is foolish.

    When the issues plaguing a downtown area are pretty damn serious (ie: crime, drugs, harassment) you’re better off leaving the duties of revitalization of an urban center to p-r-o-f-e-s-s-i-o-n-a-l-s, not amateur daydreaming hacks like Mr. Scudder.

    Kind regards!

  3. I agree with Jamenta Kirby is a loose canon he has no idea how to revitalize anything especially lower pacific ave and beyond. He’s just a promoter cat who’s working the art angle in SC and doing an OK job of it but that does’t give him license to shape anything in our community other than that, (art). Leave the this job to the big boys. I wont call him a pile on this public site as it would be rude.

  4. I am surprised that anything that I might have contributed to this community during the last 4 years would warrant descriptors such as a total pile, loose canon or amateur daydreaming hack. I am also confused about the context in which I am referred to in Wallaces piece which I have just read. I certainly, am not the person responsible for the revitalization of downtown. However, what we are doing (as a group) is meeting with the police and local business owners on a monthly basis and working on actionable solutions for the problems we face in our neighborhood. I have spoken to Wallace in the past about some long term plans for the area South of Laurel that will be developed by urban planners and Developers (not myself) over the next 5 years. I will continue my role promoting the arts in Santa Cruz and leave revitalization to those who know far better than I. The issue of crime in Santa Cruz is a serious one and difficult to resolve easily. Unfortunately we are not alone as a community in dealing with these challenges and again there are many competent people working on these difficult issues. I would hope that long before the name calling begins, respondants would research the facts.

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