|Santa Cruz Sentinel,
Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 14, 2011--The city of Santa Cruz probably feels snake bit when approaching the state Coastal Commission.
For the second time in the past year presenting a major project, the city has found itself on the outside looking in as appointed commissioners could not be persuaded their applications passed scrutiny according to the Local Coastal Act.
In the Arana Gulch proposal, commissioners still haven't bought the city's contention that a path through the coastal greenbelt isn't a transportation project disguised as a tar plant management plan.
Then Thursday, in a vote that would have allowed the La Bahia hotel project to finally get built, commissioners stunned city officials and the hotel developers by turning down a request for a height waiver. In turning down the application by a 6-4 vote two commissioners were absent, the commission went against the staff report recommending approval.
Afterward, a representative of the developer, Barry Swenson Builder, said the project was dead.
With it goes years, if not decades, of planning for a higher-end hotel in the city's main tourist area.
One Coastal Commissioner is getting a lot of blame, again, for the his vote: Santa Cruz County Supervisor Mark Stone, the current vice chairman of the appointed 12-member panel.
Stone's lack of support for the Arana Gulch plan, which is still alive, was later cited as influencing other commissioners. The thinking goes that if the local member of the Coastal
Commission doesn't support a local project, what does that say about how other commissioners should vote?
Stone has said his first duty is to uphold the Coastal Act and not be a rubber stamp for city-approved projects. But his refusal to disclose his opinions about the project or discuss his vote has caused anger and resentment, with some local electeds saying Stone might be more interested in courting labor and environmentalist support for a possible bid for state office than in working with them. If Stone knows the answer to this, he isn't saying.
Once again, opponents seemed to do a more effective job of staying on point with what was wrong with a project request as it applied to local or state regulations. Their arguments were echoed in some of the comments made Thursday by commissioners.
What's particularly galling is that the Beach Area is hardly a pristine stretch of California coastline. The La Bahia is crumbling and the area is dominated by an amusement park and the Municipal Wharf.
But the Coastal Act is what it is, and applies to touristy areas as well as Big Sur.
Meanwhile, the Santa Cruz City Council and city staff have done what they can to boost the local tourist industry, which would bring in badly needed revenue and equally desired jobs.
First, a proposal to revamp the Dream Inn hotel that would have brought the city a conference center, was shot down after encountering opposition.
Then the Swenson proposal, which counted on financial support from the Santa Cruz Seaside Co., owners of the Beach Boardwalk and the existing La Bahia building, started its long and torturous journey through the thicket of rules, regulations and agencies.
Now, after millions of dollars, years of compromises and design changes, it appears dead.
What's next for the city and developers in the Beach Area? Coastal commissioners also indicated that any hotel on the La Bahia site should start with restoring more of the La Bahia building Swenson didn't think this could pencil out.
Perhaps another hotel or tourist facility could be designed to incorporate a refurbished, but still standing, La Bahia.
Perhaps. But, opponents to a Santa Cruz project seem to have prevailed again -- which should make any future developer wary about starting over.
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Copyright (c) 2011, Santa Cruz Sentinel, Calif.
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