City Council ‘oversight’ meeting next Tuesday, September 14, for 831 Water Street application

Please send a letter to the Council now about the controversial development proposal — and then join the meeting

It’s time!  Please put your opposition to the 831 Water St. development in the public record by emailing the City Council at — ASAP — before the proposed project’s “public oversight” meeting this coming Tuesday, September 14. Joining the City Council’s zoom on Tuesday is also important if you can, but writing in advance of the meeting ensures your voice will be heard without time constraints. (Please note that, at the time of this writing, the city had not yet included a time for this item on its meeting web site; so please monitor that and join the meeting.)

In short, we must let the Council know that we support affordable housing — and support it on the 831 Water Street site. But we also must let them know that the size and scale of the current proposal is not at all acceptable to the citizens who elected them. 145 units on less than one acre — in zoning that allows up to 55 units per acre — is detrimental to planning and development for a sustainable and healthy City that values the health and safety of its current and future residents.

In a letter to the City Council last month, our 831 Responsible Development citizens group identified a number of issues that we think should disqualify the proposed project from getting fast-track (Senate Bill 35) approval from the city. Many of those issues — and a few new ones — are also described below.

The first item, below, may be the most important right now to send the developer back to the drawing board. Feel free to include any of these topics in your correspondence and/or oral testimony, and remember, it’s always most powerful to give personal reasons why certain concerns are important to you.

The Most Significant Identified Impacts of the 831 Water Proposal:

1. Incomplete SB 35 Application: The City should officially respond to the applicant in writing, deeming the fast-track application as non-conforming and incomplete.

  • Why is the city even officially assessing an application that does not even satisfy the minimum SB 35 requirement — of “50% or more affordable units”? The City has posted acknowledgment of this nonconformity. The City of San Francisco has set a process that makes this situation stop the application until the applicant submits a new conforming application; and then the timeline starts over again.
  • How can we adequately assess an application that is also obviously incomplete beyond the requisite affordability numbers?
  • The elaborate table in the old/replaced application showed how the developer felt they fulfilled the specific objective standards they identified with their building design and relative specifics, as well as the SB 35 requirements. That old application had different unit counts, parameters/massing, setbacks, etc., so it cannot be used to measure the new application against any identified standards/requirements.
  • The new application is missing this needed table or similar explanation of fulfillment of the standards/requirements. Without it, how can the City, the public, or any other reasonable person be able to assess it?

2. Mass / Scale / Density: This development would be 145 units on less than one acre, in zoning that is only supposed to allow up to 55 units per acre. It would also be 60 feet tall and take up almost the entire lot that is zoned for only 40 feet tall and should include more open space for any new residents. Loopholes in the density bonus and new state laws are allowing developers to try to build much larger and denser than is healthy for our community.

3. Segregated Housing: This development segregates affordable units from market rate unit in two separate buildings, promoting classism and racism; we cannot allow the development patterns in society to perpetuate this segregation. Two City Ordinances dictate that all inclusionary affordable units are to be “dispersed throughout the development.” This includes our Inclusionary Ordinance as well as our Density Bonus Ordinance. It is also a requirement for the affordable units found in SB 35’s regulations per the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development.

4. Cyclists — Public Safety: The only proposed entrance/exit for the underground parking garage poses an unusually unsafe situation for cyclists riding down the new protected bike lane on Water Street. If we want to build a more cyclist and pedestrian oriented City, dangerous proposals like this cannot be approved.

5. Traffic — Public Health: Traffic already backs up at the intersection of N. Branciforte Avenue and Water Street. Adding this much population density to such a small lot will dramatically increase this. And it’s not just the density, the only entrance/exit is on Water Street where the center divide will force everyone entering and exiting the property to make U-turns to access the property, depending on which way motorists are heading. Traffic has been linked to dangerous air quality and many other negative health impacts.

6. Historical / Archeological: The Villa de Branciforte holds significant yet largely ignored historical and archeological significance for the City, the County (originally named Branciforte County) and the State. Potential buried structures/foundations and artifacts from that era must be protected and the presence of which should disqualify the development for SB 35 approval. The Villa had a completely different culture than the Santa Cruz Mission town. Native Americans and Mestizos were allowed to vote in the Villa and some even held office. This is in stark contrast to the secular and controlled society at the Mission, where huge numbers of Natives perished. For being such a small strip of town with huge historical significance for the entire State, the old Villa de Branciforte area needs to be treated with great archeological care during any deep excavation that would completely remove the historical Bolcoff Hill for a two level underground parking garage.

7. Building Safety / Earthquakes — Public Safety: This site is on a hill with a slope of more than 30 degrees and with very specific geography. The type of soil is loose and crumbly with chunks cracking and falling along the retaining wall on Water Street. Santa Cruz is in an area with six major faults surrounding us, and the Ben Lomond Fault going straight through our City.

  • Unfortunately, SB 35 only restricts developments within areas in which the State Geologist has published official maps showing them as delineated earthquake fault zones.  Unfortunately “no data” has been officially applied to the entire area of our City on the official maps, even though the fault activity map on the State’s geological survey shows a ton of faults.  If you go to our City’s address on this map and zoom out, you will see many faults and we know first hand that our City is prone to plenty of damage due to earthquakes.
  • The oversight of our City not yet having adequate data on the State Geologist’s site should not be allowed to result in improperly constructed large developments throughout our City that don’t get the proper EIR/CEQA process that could mitigate such dangers by requiring earthquake retrofitting in the design.

8. Standing Water — Public Health: This site is hydrologically challenged due to its geography. During wet-weather months, water is trapped above the substrata of mudstone and pools in the neighborhoods north of Water Street as it runs down from Delaveaga. Water Street gets its name because water constantly seeps through the retaining wall at this site. If the developer is allowed to put in a concrete two-level underground garage, it will create a “dam” along the entire north side of this long, narrow lot. That poses a considerable threat to homes, as well as a public health issue, coupled with the shading from these tall buildings. Standing water + total shade (see below) = toxic mold.

9. Shade — Public Health: The 60-foot height of this development would cast shade on many nearby homes; during the winter, many would see zero direct sun for the entire day. This is linked to depression (Seasonal Affective Disorder). It could also cause serious illness due to toxic mold when those properties would have neither the drying warmth, nor UV sterilization from the sun during the wet time of the year.

10. Parking: This site does not provide the required amount of parking for the density of housing proposed and only a couple parking places for their commercial retail. On top of that, the parking will be expensive for the residents and paid for separately (uncoupled) which poses an extra strain on new residents needing affordable housing. This will cause many residents and commercial patrons to park elsewhere, greatly impacting neighboring streets.

11. Open Space / Privacy: Green open space is part of our development standards and crucial to include in any development for physical health, mental health and well being of residents, as well as the air-scrubbing needed from plants to mitigate the huge increase in population density and associated traffic. Besides a couple of very small strips, the only open space proposed for this development is the rooftop, where people will be able to look down directly into the yards and homes of the neighboring community.

12. Cumulative Impacts: Large developments are already permitted all over the City and more are being proposed. The cumulative impacts on our community are not being discussed and the crucial infrastructure needed to support such density is not being adequately addressed. We are already over our carrying capacity for many necessities, such as water (with no end to our global warming-perpetuated drought in sight).

Thank you for joining in the effort to oppose the 831 Water Street development, as it is currently proposed. Working together, we can help the city transform this proposal into a housing project we all can be proud of.