The meeting was over before it even began. The Downtown Commission and Public Works and Transportation Commission held a special joint meeting on Nov. 3 to discuss the possibility of making Pacific Avenue a completely two-way street. In a unanimous vote, the commissioners tabled the proposal.
Although most blocks on Pacific Avenue are already two-way, a few are one-way — from Pacific and Water Street to Pacific and Cathcart Street. The proposal included a three-month trial period. The estimate for how much the proposal would cost is between $20,000 and $30,000.
Community members gathered in the Chamber of Commerce, anticipating an argument and waiting to speak.
The meeting began with Bonnie Lipscomb, executive director of economic development and redevelopment, who gave a small presentation. She explained the fire department had a test run on
Nov. 3 to see how fire trucks driving through the potential two-way street would fare. Lipscomb said changes would need to be made downtown to make it safe for them to pass.
“In order to accommodate the fire trucks, we would have to remove a row of parking,” she said.
Kelly Kumec of the Santa Cruz Fire Department wrote to the city council, raising additional concerns about the proposal.
“I know especially during the holidays, UPS and other delivery trucks need to stop on Pacific to make their deliveries,” she said. “Currently it is not a problem, because traffic can pass them. But with two-way traffic this won’t be possible and could create gridlock.”
At an Oct. 25 meeting, the Downtown Association proposed to city council members the idea of making Pacific Avenue a two-way street. The idea for the proposal came to the Downtown Association from Bob Gibbs, a nationally respected retail expert, who said a two-way traffic flow would boost sales between 20 and 30 percent.
Removal of parking rows was not in the planned agenda for this project. Lipscomb said fire trucks’ inability to easily drive through a two-way street on Pacific Avenue raises concerns of “safety and access.” The estimate for the cost of the project would also increase significantly.
With a sentence, Lipscomb put an end to the discussion.
“Therefore the Downtown Association does not feel comfortable going through with the proposal at this time,” she said.
Once Lipscomb made the announcement the city council voted to end the discussion. All members unanimously voted to table the proposal and the crowd applauded the quick decision. One council member said it was “the shortest meeting I’ve ever had.” It began at 7 p.m. and was over before 7:15.
Mike Rotkin, a UC Santa Cruz community studies professor and former mayor, opposes the proposal for two-way traffic on Pacific Avenue.
“Despite the recession, we have a very successful downtown even though we don’t have a traditional [two-way] downtown street,” Rotkin said.
The Downtown Association wanted to inact a three-month trial by December or January, which Rotkin felt was “a violation of the process. The speed of it all, they were rushing it. This is a desperate attempt to get cash. I don’t blame them.”
Rotkin, who has lived in Santa Cruz since the summer of 1969, said he has seen a lot of changes within the business community.
“Santa Cruz is a summertime town,” he said. “Back then, people didn’t expect to make money in the winter, but today people do expect to make money in the winter. Rent is higher.”
Rotkin said businesses on Pacific Avenue can succeed without any change in the street.
“If I was a business person, I’d be demanding the government to help me, too,” Rotkin said. “I respect the businesspeople’s concerns. I just feel the basic premise of this is wrong. I don’t believe we need a two-way street on Pacific.”
Though the proposal is on hold until further notice, Lipscomb said there will be a “study session” on Nov. 9 for the city council with more recommendations from Bob Gibbs.
This and other proposals for developing downtown Santa Cruz are still in the beginning phases.