Plans to build the Warriors stadium are moving through the city government with unusual speed for Santa Cruz, which has built a reputation for caution and a slow pace when it comes to considering any major new developments.
After over four hours of deliberation and public comments, the planning commission voted unanimously to grant the Golden State Warriors a special use permit to build a new temporary basketball stadium on Front Street, in what is now a parking lot, just south of Laurel Street.
Plans for the 3,000 seat, 33,000-square-foot stadium in a tent are moving faster than normal in order to meet the Dec 23 deadline, the date of the Warriors first home game. This will be the first basketball stadium in the country to be housed in a giant tent.
The proposal will move next to the Santa Cruz City Council on Tuesday, which will review and vote on finances.
The estimated cost of the stadium has nearly doubled to $5.4 million since it was proposed in April. The price increase will cover better noise protection for the neighborhood and firming up softer soil than originally expected.
The city's staff and many residents are cautiously enthusiastic about plans for the new stadium, and expressed hopes that it would breath new life into the part of town between downtown and Beach Street which, according to commissioner Rod Quartararo, “has been a little too quiet for a little too long.”
Deputy Police Chief Steve Clark said the stadium has the potential to "change the personality of the area," which includes the San Lorenzo River levee, long known as a hotbed for drugs and violence. Clark was confident the influx of fans “doesn’t throw a curveball” to the SCPD, for whom, he said, crowd control is “second nature.”
Despite the enthusiasm of the city's staff and some residents, the speed with which the plans are moving has many locals concerned that concerns about the increased noise, traffic, and parking are being glossed over.
Don Webber spoke for over two-dozen members of the Beach Hill Neighbors Association.
"We are acutely aware of some of the potential negative impacts. On Beach Hill we live in the most heavily impacted summer tourist area and now we are going to have more of it, year round."
The plans for the new stadium do not include an increase the amount of parking in the downtown area, but officials say visitors will be encouraged to park on the street and in downtown lots.
"One of the reasons we have stated for this is to bring people downtown to restaurants and to shop," said Alex Khoury, of the Santa Cruz Planning Department.
"This is certainly a different type of approach to parking than we are normally used to, but on the other hand, we are always being hammered about 'Why do we need new garages?' and things like that, so here is an opportunity to say, 'Well, we have parking available, at least the study says so, lets get people using it and have a real 'smart growth' type of situation."
Webber and other Beach Hill residents remained adamant that "the only way we are gonna keep traffic out of Beach Hill in this newly expanded year round traffic scheme is to take the parking away from them."
The planning commission has included a suggestion to city council that it meet with Beach Hill residents to seek a compromise on the parking situation.
The other primary concern neighbors had was about the noise. These concerns may be well founded if Jim Weyermann, President of the Warriors franchise has his way.
"I hope they hear it in Monterey," he said. "That's a key part of the sport."
Weyermann spoke candidly about the stadium's potential for negative side effects on the surrounding neighborhoods, but assured residents that the project is a work in progress, and that ongoing efforts will be made to ensure the events run as smoothly as possible.
"I’m not going to stand up here and say that those neighborhoods are not going to have some mitigating impacts until we figure out how to do this right," said Weyerman. "But I will say that it doesn't do us any good if people are going to be parking on Beach Hill.
"We have a tremendous incentive as a user group to get people to park downtown. A whole part of this equation is to increase the traffic in the off-season to downtown Santa Cruz. It doesn't help us if people can't find parking, they wont come to the events."
The commissioners shared concerns about the building's size and appearance, which commissioner Mari Tustin called "just plain ugly."
But at the end of Thursdays session, the commissioners agreed to back the proposal for the new stadium as a "civic experiment" that is worth the effort.
"There is no project in Santa Cruz that doesn’t come with impacts and concerns and we have to take those into consideration," said Commissioner Mark Primack. "But I think we should be open to the unexpected, and not live in fear of unintended consequences. Fast- tracking may not always be prudent, but slow-tracking can also be disastrous.”
Chairman William Schultz said this project wasn't moving so fast; others just moved too slowly.
"I think this a model of the speed with which projects should move through the system," he said. "You can slow it and slow it till you stop, and I think that’s really the intent of the people who ask that we slow down this project."