NOTE: The Santa Cruz City Council will hear this issue Tuesday. The neighborhood is holding a meeting at the Unity Church, 407 Broadway Thursday at 6 p.m.
FROM: Debora Wade, a neighbor
In 2011, City council approved a 110 room Hyatt hotel going in on 407 Broadway, the former site of the Unity Temple church. Although the planning commission received more letters against the project from neighbors (including a petition with over 60 signatures asking for increased traffic mitigation caused by the hotel,) the council approved the project, even reducing the amount of traffic mitigation funding the planning department requested (from $50,000 to $15,000) as the traffic impact was said to be only a modest 5% increase on Broadway. The original plan had 5 employee parking spaces, and the council promised to review traffic impacts 2 years afterwards, much to the dismay of the neighbors.
In December of this year, the owners of the property asked council to approve a parking mitigation; the water table was too high to put in the two levels of underground parking originally planned, so the owners requested one story, with car lifts to fit the cars on top of each other, and mandatory valet service. Employee parking would be reduced to none.
This time, 40 letters were written to city council from neighbors against the hotel, citing parking and traffic impacts, as well as an additional 12 letters opposing the removal of the heritage tree on site, and only 1 letter of support came from another hotel owner. The neighbors of Lower Ocean hired an attorney, William Parkin, to write a letter to the city attorney showing how the city did not give adequate notice to the neighborhood about this parking change, and that the city was violating its own mitigated negative declaration since the original MND called for self parking spaces with extra employee parking, and the new parking arrangement eliminates employee parking.
Also, mandatory valet parking may cause hotel residents and employees to park in the neighborhood, or cause cars to back up in the hotel's driveway, spilling out onto Broadway. The car lifts could be noisy to the neighborhood, and no environmental impact report was ever done. The council voted to put off the meeting until January.
Meanwhile, the neighbors of lower Ocean are frustrated at the city's not doing what they feel are adequate traffic reports. The neighbors have considered hiring an independent traffic consultant to do a review of the traffic impact a now 106 room hotel would have on Broadway. (at considerable expense.)
There is a large low income housing complex going in around the corner on Ocean St., and the traffic review did not include that plans' recent addition of more housing, therefore causing an increase in traffic. The new Arena is not included even though people now park in the Lower Ocean neighborhood for the games. The city also relied on outdated records of the church's activity, which greatly influenced the lack of traffic impact they came up with.
Most residents of Santa Cruz know that Broadway can be clogged during rush hour traffic or weekends, from the Broadway bridge all the way to Ocean Street, and aren't sure how the residents of the hotel are going to turn left onto Broadway when traffic is bumper to bumper. The hotel plans include their exit driveway pointing directly at Clay Street, which neighbors were concerned over frustrated tourists using to get to the beach when they were unable to turn onto Broadway. The planning department's only mitigation was to recommend speed bumps or perhaps future parking permits for those impacted residents.
Further, the crosswalk on the corner of Riverside and Broadway was ignored as having no impact from traffic from this hotel (despite two recent accidents of pedestrians crossing, one involving infants in strollers who were hit, and a Riverside neighbor who recently broke several bones crossing in the afternoon.) If the hired independent traffic consultant finds a different impact than the city did, the neighbors hope the city will be forced to do another traffic impact report. But it may not come in time...
When the hotel was approved, the city had to provide an “administrative use permit” to allow a zoning exemption, which calls for neighborhood benefit. Then council member Katherine Beiers noted that there was no community benefit other than city tax revenue, and the neighborhood had been working for 20 years to improve this blighted neighborhood, and this was just “throwing it all away”. (please see: http://www.mercurynews.com/california/ci_18132000) She also expressed concern that this hotel did not fit into the city's general plan, and that it was inappropriate to put it in a residential neighborhood. (The property had been zoned medium -density residential, which means only condos or apartments are allowed which is why an administrative use permit had to be justified.) Beiers also expressed dismay over the heritage tree removal.
Regardless, the city concluded that city taxes would fulfil the neighborhood benefit, even though Beirs specifically pointed out that this was unlawful. But interestingly, the same day that the hotel was approved, a lawsuit involving the relatives of the new Hyatt were scheduled to appear in front of the city council for fraud and tax evasion, and filed for bancrupcy.
Back in 2007, the Patel family representing 9 different hotels in Santa Cruz, including Tejal Sood, one of the two current owners of the intended Hyatt hotel property, sued the city over not wishing to comply with subpoenas demanding the accounts for the city's transient occupancy tax, stating fourth amendment violations, amongst others. The Petals lost and Tejal Sood's case was finalized in 2008. (see http://caselaw.findlaw.com/ca-court-of-appeal/1246539.html )
Which brings to question, does the city know they are approving of a hotel from a family who has a history of suing over having to pay transient occupancy taxes, especially as the city sites this as the only community benefit?
Now the neighbors are dismayed at having to fight so hard to get the city to follow its own general plan, to do proper traffic impacts, and to realize that this neighborhood has fought hard to improve its own character, and feel that a large hotel does not belong on a medium-density residential lot, and will forever impact traffic on this main residential corridor.
The hotels in the neighborhood (including the former Torchlight Inn that filed bankruptcy and Days Inn and Suites, both owned by the Patel family) host prostitution activity, have trash around the vicinity, and have caused the neighbors to have to call the police on many occasions to address these concerns. Since they have already had little luck in reaching out to these owners to improve the conditions of their hotels in this neighborhood, the neighbors are worried that the new hotel would be similar, even if it is a more luxury hotel. And as the owners of this hotel have a history of evading tax subpeonas, the neighbors wonder if the new hotel will follow suit. The neighbors do not think a hotel fixes the urban blight caused by the family's other hotels.
When the city of Santa Cruz starts deciding that tax revenue is more important than their own General Plan and ignores the needs of the neighborhood, and refuses to notice that this same family sued the city over having to pay hotel taxes, clearly something is amiss. We'll have to see if the city councilors go ahead with the parking modifications in January, and whether or not it listens to the many concerns of this neighborhood.