By Julian Schoen

Despite some environmentalist opposition over endangered plant species, the Santa Cruz City Council unanimously passed a proposed housing project off of Market Street in an attempt to develop more affordable real estate.

The plan aims to alleviate stress from the market, providing Santa Cruz’s middle class a practical and accommodating housing option.

Vice Mayor of Santa Cruz Ryan Coonerty expressed his optimism about the project.

“The project will be a major benefit to Santa Cruz,” Coonerty said. “The variety of housing, with 20 percent of the units affordable, was uniquely designed to create a genuine neighborhood.”

The project, however, has faced harsh criticism from the public, who cite threats to the environment, risks of traffic congestion, and possible destruction of archaeological artifacts.

One concern is over the welfare of the rare and endangered California spineflower plant. The site of the new housing complex is located in one of the few remaining habitats of the spineflower in Santa Cruz. Anxiety that the housing project would impede the plant’s survival hindered its approval.

Brett Hall, president of the Santa Cruz chapter of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS), remained uneasy after the City Council’s decision.

Hall fought for a provision, recommended by an Environmental Impact “IB programs are need blind,” Campbell said. “We don’t test schools on the background of their students.”

Despite the issues facing public schools with IB Programs in place, the programs are still considered superior to the Advanced Placement courses offered by many of the nation’s high schools. Report, of an 80- to 100-foot buffer zone for the spineflower, preventing the construction of any homes in that vicinity.

The City Council reduced this distance to a buffer of 30 to 60 feet.

“My real concern is for the protection of the robust spineflower,” Hall said. “[CNPS] is still standing strong over this issue.”

Hall added that Mayor Emily Reilly recommended the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service be consulted to assess the spineflower situation.

“There is supposed to be a monitoring program in place,” Hall said. “It is unclear whether [Reilly’s] statements have any legal binding.”

To go along with Reilly’s recommendation, the City Council added provisions with the ecological environment in mind.

Mike Rotkin, a member of the Santa Cruz City Council, explained that the natural landscape was taken into serious account when surveying the site.

“There was a lot of work done to cover the environmental concerns,” Rotkin said.	“The project will protect the ecological character of the native plants and bugs. Cats are banned, and the most important historical trees will be preserved.”

Hall concluded by saying the spineflower may be neglected because it is “not an animal,” but it is still an important part of the California ecosystem.

“The spineflower is a rare species, perhaps just hanging on. It’s very fragile,” Hall said. “Its habitat has been compromised. Conservation groups are not trying to thwart the project’s development; they just want to protect a federally endangered species.”

The project awaits construction, and it is unclear when it will be completed.