Fresh produce surrounded by smiling vendors, warm red walls of buildings, and homes of longtime families line the street. Even the parking lots hold sentimental value as you scour for the perfect spot ahead of another memorable day strolling around the city. 

This is Downtown Santa Cruz.

But these familiar images of Downtown could be subject to changes soon, changes which Measure O seeks to redirect. 

Measure O would prohibit the proposed Downtown Library and Affordable Housing Project (DLAHP). A Community Meeting on Sept. 21 revealed that the updated design would include a 41,039 square-foot mixed-use library, almost three-fourths the size of a football field, to replace the Downtown Church Street Santa Cruz Public Library. 

This mixed-use library would feature four floors as well as an 1,905 square-foot child care facility. In addition to the library’s amenities, the project proposes a parking space of 243 stalls, 258 bicycle parking spaces, and a new permanent home for the weekly Downtown Farmers’ Market. As showcased in a Community Meeting presentation on Sept. 21, the DLAHP also aims to provide 124 affordable apartment homes for those making 30 to 60 percent of the area median monthly income. 

When the project was first pitched in 2016 by the City Council-appointed Library Advisory Committee, it became a topic of interest to the community as the Downtown Church Street Santa Cruz Public Library and Downtown Farmers’ Market would no longer reside in their regular spots.

The Yes on O campaign, “Our Downtown, Our Future,” seeks to “preserve” the heritage of Downtown Santa Cruz by renovating the Downtown Library and maintaining the Downtown Farmers’ Market in its current location. 

Measure O advocates cite these locations as being historic — the library is close to the Civic Auditorium and Santa Cruz City Hall, and the Farmers’ Market has been in Lot 4 since 1990.

In a memorandum of understanding (MOU) submitted to the Farmers’ Market Board in July, the Farmers’ Market plans to settle in Lot 7. This new location would accommodate the existing 67 vendors and allow year-round functionality. 

The Farmers’ Market does not endorse a specific stance on Measure O. 

Based on Jayson Architecture’s conceptual design for the Downtown Library renovation, the renovated library would be 12,080 square-feet smaller in size, but have 22 percent more public space. The Downtown Library’s renovation concept designs feature a Children’s Garden, Community Patio, 90-degree parking, Community Room, and expansion for the existing Kids, Teens, and Adults Areas. The renovation would also include remediation of all asbestos issues, and address accessibility compliance issues as the existing facility’s amenities are not compliant with current accessibility standards. 

If Measure O is passed, we would continue to see this towing sign in Lot 4, where the Farmers’ Market is held on Wednesdays. Photo by Jeffrey Hopson.

The Friends of the Santa Cruz Public Libraries oppose Measure O as the renovation of the Downtown Library would not only be smaller with less amenities than the new mixed-use library, it would result in operation at a temporary location, which hasn’t been confirmed or proposed yet, until the renovation is complete.

The Friends of the Santa Cruz Public Libraries is a non-profit organization that fundraises for the ten branches of the Santa Cruz Public Libraries and advocates for programs that the library offers. Notably, the Friends of the Santa Cruz Public Libraries is one of the organizations in the coalition for the No on O campaign, “Santa Cruz for Real Library and Housing Solutions.” 

Opponent Janis O’Driscoll, president of the board of the Friends of the Santa Cruz Public Libraries, explains her opposition to the measure.

“There are people who feel very strongly that’s where the library is supposed to be because that’s where it’s been for all these years, and it’s close to City Hall and […] the Civic Auditorium. They think, ‘Well, no, that’s where the library corner is. That’s where the library ought to be,’” O’Driscoll said. “And maybe haven’t stopped to think about, ‘Where does the library need to be now in the lives that we are living now?’” 

Measure O is also opposed by Housing Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz Congressman Jimmy Panetta, and the Downtown Association of Santa Cruz.

The Yes on O campaign uses the phrase “Measure O for Our Climate Crisis”’ in their promotion. Supported by The Sierra Club, Youth for Climate Justice, and Santa Cruz Climate Action Network, the campaign’s research concludes that the construction of the mixed-use library would result in intense production of embodied carbon.

Embodied carbon is the specific carbon footprint of an individual building or infrastructure before it is operational. This includes the carbon dioxide emissions from all materials used in manufacturing, producing, processing, and transporting, among other stages, of the building process.

In respect to the construction of the new library, Lira Filippini, co-chair of “Our Downtown, Our Future,” expressed concern over the sustainability of the new library.

“A lot of the decisions that are being made are not what’s best for a community,” she said. “Leading research on the environment shows that the vast majority of carbon having to do with buildings and building use is not actually the energy use of the building while it’s operating, it’s the construction of the building.” 

In a City Council meeting on Sept. 22, real estate advisory firm Keyser Marston Associates prepared an impartial analysis report of Measure O. This report concluded that the measure was inconsistent with the policies aligned in the General Plan, a guiding document for the social and economic decisions of Santa Cruz. 

From their comparison of the existing library renovation and new library construction, analysis proved that the new library has more green building features. The new library would be solar powered, include no fossil fuel reliance, and have 85 percent more planting area. 

It was also determined that the specific language of Measure O in respect to preserving the locations of the Downtown Farmers’ Market and Downtown Library would hinder its ability to develop feasible housing. The amount of affordable housing would be limited as Lot 4 would continue to house the Farmer’s Market, and Lots 14 and 16, adjacent to the Downtown Library, are too small to support the construction of affordable housing even when combined.

Endorsers for the No on O campaign also zeroed in on the importance of affordable housing units. 

Co-founder of Housing Santa Cruz County and former Santa Cruz Mayor Don Lane shared his thoughts on the housing components showcased in a recent community meeting presentation. 

“The project that’s being proposed downtown will have 124 truly affordable apartments for people in this community and Measure O is going to stop that project,” Lane expressed, “The idea that we have this opportunity to get affordable housing built and that a ballot measure is gonna stop that, it just makes my heart ache.”

City Attorney Anthony Condotti, who formulated the impartial analysis on Measure O, commented on what the measure would entail for affordable housing.

“The debate rages about whether or not Measure O would result in additional affordable housing or actually be an impediment to the construction of affordable housing in downtown […] It doesn’t actually entail any affordable housing,” Condotti commented. “It states as a policy prioritizing the use of certain downtown city parking lots for affordable housing, but that in and of itself doesn’t necessarily cause affordable housing to get built.” 

Edward Estrada, Supportive Services for Veterans and their Families (SSVF) Housing Navigator at Housing Matters and advocate for “Santa Cruz for Real Library and Housing Solutions,” witnessed the urgent need for affordable housing firsthand. 

“Everyone really loses out on the Measure O vision in one way or another,” Estrada stated. “I think that we really need to center the people who would be tangibly affected by this project and who will have their lives materially improved.”