By Carrie Spitler

Over 30 Westside residents attended a three-hour City Planning Commission meeting to protest the Santa Cruz City School District’s proposal to turn a Swift Street lot into a district bus yard.

Their cries were well met, as the Commission voted 5-1 at the Jan. 18 meeting to disallow the project. The school district (SCCSD) expects to appeal the City Council decision in the near future.

The proposed bus yard would house 18 buses, carrying between six and 84 passengers each, for special education students to get to county schools. According to SCCSD Assistant Superintendent Dick Moss, the lot at 313 Swift St. is the only viable place to locate such a depot in the city.

"We really don’t have one-and-three-quarter acres available on any one school site," Moss said. "If we did have the space it would then take space away from existing school operations."

The district’s current bus yard lease at 2931 Mission St. will expire in April and a new facility could cost up to $2 million dollars to construct, according to Moss. The lot on Swift Street, though, would only cost about $133,000 to convert into a bus depot.

"To continue to lease the [current] facility would be about $150,000 per year, which is money that could be used for educational purposes," Moss added.

But Jim Gill of the neighborhood group Friends of the Westside deemed the Swift Street bus yard inappropriate for the area, citing environmental, noise, traffic, and aesthetic concerns. He also said the Swift Street bus yard could prove dangerous for two adjacent schools – Head Start Preschool and Pacific Collegiate (PCS) prep school.

"The storm water run-off from the site will either come down Swift Street directly to the Monterey Bay or will flow into the water-saturated ground during the winter in the park and in the playground for PCS," Gill said at the meeting. "That’s why people are here. We live in these houses and we see these effects."

Westside citizens, including Alex Vera, who has lived in the area for 35 years, are concerned that a new bus yard will devalue the property in their neighborhood.

"A lot of people that live across from the property have spent a lot of time and money into trying to upgrade their homes and make things nice," Vera said.

While the bus yard proposal has been rejected for now, Planning Commissioner Scott Daly said that he was not successfully convinced by either side, and that neighbors’ response was really "a bit of an overreaction."

"I’m disappointed really on both sides," Daly said. "And, I’m disappointed [by the district]. It doesn’t seem like they’re being very creative to try to solve the primary problems the neighbors are
so against."