Viewfinder: La Bahia Hotel Preserved at a Loss of $76 Million for Santa Cruz

The Coastal Commission, the 11-member body of unelected officials charged with keeping the coastline attractive, turned down a proposal to build a new hotel across from the Beach Boardwalk. This is the good, the bad and the ugly of what's left.

Tourists walking by on Beach Street can't help but express surprise at how the 45-room apartment building that was a gem of a hotel in 1926 is such an eyesore today.

"It will take a lot more than paint to fix that up," said one, watching a photographer shoot pictures. "They should knock it down and start over."

That was the plan submitted by developer Barry Swenson and approved by the Santa Cruz City Council. They wanted to put a luxury 125-room hotel there with a meeting center.

Hundreds of people spoke in front of and wrote letters to the Coastal Commission, the vast majority in favor of the project.They included hotel competitors, UCSC, and Bookshop Santa Cruz, all of whom claimed a desperate need for more meeting space to bring people into the area during the off season.

However, the developer said that to make it profitable he had to go 18 feet over the 43-foot height limit set by the Commission, in order to add 17 rooms and make the construction pay off. (The tallest structure at the beach is the 125-foot Double Shot ride, approved in 2004.)

The hotel and meeting center was voted down 6-4 Thursday (Commissioner William Burke skipped out on the vote).

Commissioners said it would block views and wasn't consistent with the rest of the area, with the and excepted, as they were built before the Commission formed, and wouldn't be approved today, members said.

City officials, condemned for years as being anti-business, were stunned to lose millions of dollars in taxes, jobs and economic trickle-down in a business deal they thought would help the community.

They wanted the new building to anchor redevelopment in the area that includes the new $15 million Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center, just down the block, scheduled to open by the summer of  2012.

Opponents, led by residents in the Beach Hill area, behind the apartments, want to see the it remodeled, but not torn down.

The building played a big role in the 1983 Clint Eastwood film Sudden Impact, as did the Beach Boardwalk.

The slide show at the right depicts some of the good, the bad and the ugly of La Bahia, which means, the Bay, in Spanish, and which now houses students who pay between $800-$1,200 a month to live there nine months of the year.

In the summer it's occupied by Boardwalk workers from all over the world.

Clamper Jim August 16, 2011 at 01:37 PM
Thank you Mark Stone. Voters will remember...
dae August 16, 2011 at 02:33 PM
The mock ups of the project look like a monstosity. Just fix it up already
Alex Hubner August 16, 2011 at 03:27 PM
Ive always found this place charming, in a dilapidated kind of way. Has anyone ever noticed the stone swastikas (pre-Nazi) on the tower?
Becky O'Malley August 16, 2011 at 03:45 PM
Is this an editorial or a news story? I have no objection to opinion articles, but they should be labelled as such. This is blatant editorializing. I've already sent my campaign contribution to Mark Stone, who is a true "profile in courage".
John Hernlund August 16, 2011 at 04:14 PM
This is a non-story. The developers deliberately submitted a plan that they knew full well would exceed the guidelines set by the commission. The commission had told them directly that the height couldn't exceed certain limits, or it would be rejected. And of course, it was rejected.
W C Casey August 16, 2011 at 04:15 PM
As always happens with proposed development in Santa Cruz, political rhetoric has overshadowed the core issue. The City has a local coastal plan that includes development standards designed to protect coastal areas. The La Bahia project could have easily been designed to conform to those standards. Or, the City could have initiated a process to change the standards. Instead, the developer (Seaside Co.) chose to ask for an exception to the height limits in the standards, claiming it was necessary to make the venture profitable. Maybe so, maybe not - we don't know. Ultimately, the Coastal Commission decided that there were not compelling reasons to approve a major exception to established standards, to benefit one developer. I (and the Coastal Commission) would support a La Bahia hotel project - just do it the right way.
Brad Kava (Editor) August 16, 2011 at 09:04 PM
Becky: Maybe I'm missing something, but I thought I was very careful in only expressing facts and opinions of others in here. My opinion is not here, or I would have labeled it opinion. I thought the pictures did a fair job expressing the good, the bad and the ugly, as I said. I wanted to leave it to the readers to decide what to do from here.
Carol Skolnick August 17, 2011 at 02:44 AM
Where is the proof that conforming to the established height standards would have made for no profitability? Perhaps not enough to please Swensen, Seaside and those in bed with them, but what about in reality? Other smaller hotels make great profits; coastal accommodations are rare and command a pretty penny. Those who have long made this city into their own personal fifedom got rejected; that is as it should be. But because they would not negotiate, we are left with a truly unprofitable eyesore and no new jobs for the community. By the way, stay tuned for another debacle, the Hyatt hotel that will be built on Broadway on the site of the Unity Temple and will wreck the quality of life there.
Sandra August 17, 2011 at 03:58 AM
You ALL make valid points and I have expressed elsewhere my disappointment with the decision. There's always MORE to every story and would it please some of you if Swenson published the dollars and cents of it? This issue is not going to go away. Everyone involved just needed to go home, stamp their feet and come up with a new plan. Swenson is not going to kiss $2.2M goodbye. I can't imagine that happening, but to think that unreinforced bldg can be salvaged is a pipe dream.
Daniel Wootan August 17, 2011 at 05:44 AM
Barry Trump, er, Swenson wanting this exception sounds like a way to, in the future ask for more favors. Good job Coastal Commission. If you had let him do this i can already hear him say: "What? I have to hire union labor? The rules were soooo much more flexible when it came to height...what's 'one more' exception to my--I mean your--rules?"
Judi Grunstra August 17, 2011 at 06:13 PM
It will be a real shame if this building continues to sit there as is for years to come. Can't the city put pressure on Chas. Canfield to at least cosmetically fix the exterior? What a wasted opportunity for the beach area, although if one really considers what the traffic would be like with more development there, maybe it's for the best. One thing that surprised me was the Coastal Commission's involvement in requiring lower cost rooms in the context of improving "access." One expects to pay a premium for beachfront hotels. There are plenty of other lower-cost accommodations in the vicinity. And I agree with comment about the Hyatt planned for Broadway - the drawings looked extremely ugly.
Becky O'Malley August 23, 2011 at 05:34 PM
Why did I think the original story was editorializing? Let's start with the headline: "La Bahia Hotel Preserved at a Loss of $76 Million for Santa Cruz"-- Where's the factual documentation of this figure? It's speculation, pure and simple, and most likely Santa Cruz will actually gain financially in the long run by keeping its beach area in scale and charming.
Becky O'Malley August 23, 2011 at 05:36 PM
And this quote: "City officials, condemned for years as being anti-business, were stunned to lose millions of dollars in taxes, jobs and economic trickle-down." Says who? "Trickle-down" is fantasy almost always.
Brad Kava (Editor) August 24, 2011 at 08:08 AM
Trickle down is a fantasy? So the fact that tens of thousands of people visit the Boardwalk every year and spend money here is a fantasy? And the $76 million figure is what the developer planned to spend on the project, not speculation.
Nora Hochman September 02, 2011 at 07:37 PM
Ms. O'Malley makes good points about the angle the story is written from. In my experience, developers often put forward revenue amounts that are unsubstantiated and rarely come to fruition. Ditto for their actual costs in the project. Factual reporting wins the day, but is rarely to be had in Santa Cruz. In the hotel business, the lure of tax revenue is what often and mostly gets local governments to concede to a proposed project, whether or not it's a good one and whether or not the tax revenue is near reality. If we see another project come our way for this site, it will no doubt be accompanied by claims of tax revenue and those promises will, again, persuade the City to say yes, regardless of the project itself. At some point, a community has to ask itself: at what price do we give away land, close our eyes to our planning documents, build no matter the design or its' impacts? The promise of "local jobs" is enticing, but if they're minimum wage, what do we really get out of the deal? Is it always true that any job at any wage is a good job or a good deal? I add my voice to those others calling for the City to require that the current building owner, Charles Canfield, clean up his property. If it were any other owner, the City would be all over her/him to remove the obvious blight and deterioration and at least cosmetically restore the La Bahia to some version of a maintained building. Nora Hochman


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something