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Majority Report: Fun City vs. Surf City
by Chris Krohn
Thursday Aug 17th, 2017 7:15 PM
A column focused on the current Dream Inn mini-mall and condo project proposal at the corner of West Cliff Drive and Bay Street in Santa Cruz.
[ Parking lot at the corner of West Cliff Drive and Bay Street in Santa Cruz where a mini-mall and up to 89 housing units might go. ]

August 2-8, 2017

After ten days of walking around my second favorite city, New York, and experiencing the possible -- a bike-share program and bike lanes that are highly used; High-Line Park with plenty of benches, once an experiment but now an institution; moveable tables and chairs inside potted-tree areas (MAH listening?) useful for meeting friends, reading, and eating lunch; and good street food of all stripes and competitively priced -- I came back to my favorite city and a phone call awaited. It was from Tyson Sayles (I kid you not!) of Ensemble Real Estate Solutions and Investments. He wanted to discuss the Dream Inn parking lot project: a mini-mall plaza concept with 67-89 units above retail, all perched on the beach-centric corner of Bay and West Cliff and shadowing the Clear View Court mobile home park. But, it's just a "concept" for now.

I met Tyson in the ample-sized glass enclosed Aquarius restaurant above the Santa Cruz Main Beach, and below the 60's Brutalist structure we lovingly call, the Dream Inn. He ordered fish tacos and iced tea, I had clam chowder and water. Tyson is currently the "Principle, Multi-families and Mixed Use Properties" guy at Ensemble. A "Development Associate," Jason Muller, joined us half way through our lunchtime meeting. Both seemed familiar with the town uprising that took place in 2006 against the Idaho developers who wanted to put the then, Coast Hotel, on builder steroids. It became a non-starter and they left town. Now it's Ensemble's turn to present is what they believe is kinder and gentler building design.

"Architect as Developer"

I must say, Tyson's been busy doing his homework these days while commuting from Culver City. He's been touching bases with groups like the CWC (no, not Gary Patton's, Community Water Coalition, but Greg Pepping's, Coastal Watershed Council), chamber of commerce types, and even with a professor in the Environmental Studies department at UCSC. He spoke often about bicycles and non-car travel, but his company has never done a traffic survey with their guests or the neighborhood, to find out what that beach traffic experience is like, but he did organize a neighborhood get-together last Tuesday evening.

The Ensemble show hit the Sayles road in a meeting room at the Dream Inn. Cheese plates, fruit, and small sandwiches were served at a public information gathering session. Each participant was given four red dots and eight green dots and asked to place them on poster boards with pictures depicting various building envelope drawings like outdoor dining, housing, and shopping facilities. It was a kind of what-would-you-like-to-see session.

A veritable Who's Who from the Santa Cruz developer and anti-developer communities showed up. This audience included Westsiders like former Planning Commissioner Diane Louie, builder Ralph Meyberg, former city planner Aldo Giacchino, retired attorney Reed Searle, historian Ross Gibson, Clearview Court resident Jim Conway, and former... (and future?!) city council candidates J.M. Brown and Robert Singleton hanging out together.

From the eastside came that titanium trio of planning insight, Shelley Hatch, Dawn Norris, and Candace Brown... oh yeah, that YIMBY ("Yes in my backyard") guy was around too. Sociology professor Steve McKay was seen taking notes as well. Ensemble's even contributing to McKay's, "No Place Like Home" summer surveys that are being carried out on the Westside by undergrads... (be careful Steve!)

The Sentinel reporter (there's only a few left) was spotted occupying a standup table by herself, also taking some notes. Many wondered why more red dots than green dots were handed out, but it became fairly obvious that Ensemble's probably looking for the most positive of outcomes, and green dots have a way of getting that. Folks, it was not a scientific poll by any means.

At the Aquarius the following day, Tyson mentioned that they've done these sorts of gatherings many times before and were looking to just take a temperature check of the surrounding neighbors. After all, they've gotten lots of thumbs up from the developer-real estate world, so the finger-sandwich gathering was a let's find out what the neighbors think approach. No one could argue with that, and the food was tasty.

Other things Tyson's people are looking at... the confluence of bikes, pedestrians and cars; a traffic signal at Cliff and Bay; he wants the project to be "show-piece technology;" and he's also pushing his company to provide the affordable units on-site, not simply pay something into the city's affordable housing fund. This project, and many others like it that tend to be focused on maximizing profits, offers many reasons to still "think globally, but act locally."

Stay tuned, lots more to come on this one!