By Lauren Foliart
City News Reporter
Positioned flawlessly on the north tip of the Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz is a junction for sunny beaches and temperate forests. As a natural West Coast gem, this Surf City has become one of the country’s distinctive locales.
Pressure to preserve the city’s uniqueness has guided many decisions throughout its history and remains a driving force in the evolution of Santa Cruz. Today, Santa Cruz’s future will be guided by three pressing issues: coastal changes, campus expansion and city development.
Gary Griggs, UC Santa Cruz professor of earth and planetary sciences and director of the Institute of Marine Sciences, has lived in Santa Cruz for the past 40 years and has written several books about his research on the progressing city.
“When you look at a scale of change, it’s not about what happened, it’s about what didn’t happen,” Griggs said. “[Santa Cruz] didn’t build a large power plant in Davenport, which was once a purposed plan, and we stopped development plans for Wilder Ranch. The city’s sort of been protected.”
Locally, rising sea levels and coastal erosion have the potential to eliminate various Santa Cruz landmarks. The geography of Santa Cruz will drastically be altered if the problem remains unsolved.
As a result of changing climates, beaches such as Natural Bridges and Seabright will slowly digress inland and a few others will be nonexistent. If climate change persists, areas like Main Beach and the Boardwalk could cease to exist in 40 years. Main Beach is on one side of the Santa Cruz Municipal Pier.
The best estimate for escalating sea levels is based on the year 2100, which could see a 2- to 3-foot rise, putting Main Beach underwater, Griggs said.
In 2050, Main Beach will be half of what it is now, depriving the city of one of its signature beaches and statewide vacation destinations.
“Two feet by 2100 doesn’t seem like that much,” Griggs said. “But in the case of Santa Cruz and the Boardwalk, those 3 million people that come every year aren’t going to have a beach.”
Like many California coastal cities, Santa Cruz depends on the driving force of its beaches to boost its economy. Without Main Beach, a huge portion of vacationers would be forced to find other places to spend their summers, leaving Santa Cruz with a huge loss of income every year.
Although many threatened areas have been protected, coastal erosion remains an issue in mapping the future of the Santa Cruz coast.
While West Cliff Drive separates houses from the sea cliff, Capitola and Opal Cliff contain numerous dwellings directly on the cliffs. Nonetheless, armoured walls protect and maintain the houses, preventing erosion and ensuring security. In addition, the Seabright jetty preserves several establishments around the beach.
“Seabright Beach was widened when the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor jetties were constructed in 1962,” Griggs said. “So houses around here are, for the most part, protected by the huge beach that the jetty created.”
Even with eastern areas protected, the heart of the Santa Cruz beach community will potentially be swallowed by climate change, reconstructing the image of Santa Cruz as a whole and eliminating much of what people have loved for generations.
Two issues are at the forefront of UCSC expansion. Garnering the most attention recently is the Long Range Development Plan (LRDP). The other is the water supply of the city.
A controversial topic throughout Santa Cruz, the LRDP attempts to outline the future of the UCSC campus. To accommodate predicted demographics, by 2020 the plan will bring a larger, more complex university to the Santa Cruz redwood community.
By the year 2050, expansion will bring new long-range plans for larger undergraduate classes and new academic programs. However, the order in which planning and construction is implemented will alter the campus for future generations.
“A lot of it will depend on how much money is given to build [on campus] and what the demographics are going to be like in California,” said Karen Holl, environmental studies professor and LRDP faculty member.
Currently, UCSC has a population of over 15,000 students. The LRDP written in 2005 increases that number to 19,500 by 2020.
While previous drafts of the LRDP proposed possibilities of developing in the meadows rather than in the forest, the one that was adopted in 2005 shows no plan for expansion into the southern areas of campus, Holl explained.
Nonetheless, with adequate funding by 2050 there is potential for new green development. Growing support for green architecture among the UC systems could guarantee all development plans be regulated through sustainability.
The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System promotes sustainable building through a rating system based on performance and use of resources.
“UCSC up till now has been one of the only campuses UC-wide that doesn’t have LEED certified buildings,” Holl said. “The UC Regents adopted a green building policy a few years ago, and the campus has started looking at carbon emission and how to reduce those, so I’m hopeful that will translate into more green building in the future.”
Some obstacles that growth development will face on the UCSC campus will also challenge the city in the next 40 years of expansion and require collaboration.
The biggest issue facing both the future of the campus and city is sufficient water supply. With less rainfall and intensifying drought years, projects will have to look for alternative ways to supply Santa Cruz with water.
Cooperation has already started between the university and city through a water conservation agreement that will save 30 million gallons of water a year, Mayor Ryan Coonerty said. In addition, both are working on the desalination project at Long Marine Laboratory, which could supply water to Santa Cruz during drought years if the project is successful.
“UCSC staff worked closely with Santa Cruz Water Department on plans for the pilot plant,” said Tim Stephens, science and engineering writer at Long Marine Lab. “The campus is providing a site for the project and access to Long Marine Lab’s seawater system.”
The temporary pilot plant is testing desalination technology to see if it has the potential to solve the problem. If successful, the pilot plant will be torn down and a larger, permanent plant will be built in its place.
In a study done by Santa Cruz Water Resources Planning and Management, the desalination project would cost less in the long term, have lower impact on groundwater basins, and would have a relatively infinite capacity.
Brent Haddad, UCSC environmental studies professor, teaches a course on fresh water policy. “The sooner we treat water and find ways to reuse it, the better off we’ll be,” Haddad said.
With the city 95 percent developed and submersed in a continuing water crisis, plans for the future will require tactical growth projects for both city and university populations.
With an estimated water demand of 5.3 billion gallons per year by 2030, the Santa Cruz Water Department has been researching all possible solutions.
Expanding pre-existing developments addresses concerns about lack of space while also making water supply reasonable in accommodating. In addition, development in the city corridors — Mission, Soquel, and Front Streets — provides convenient locations for new housing in areas that are not yet overdeveloped.
“The idea behind branching out into the corridors is to increase land-use density,” said Ken Thomas, principle planner for Santa Cruz Community Development. “It’s a good way to accommodate population growth.”
The city would like to see those corridors be built as mixed-use facilities, where shopping and businesses are located on ground floors and housing on top floors, Thomas said.
Helping house large groups of people and providing more space for business growth, these mixed-use amenities would also keep overdevelopment from affecting existing residential areas.
“We want to keep residential neighborhoods residential and then along downtown and the corridors can we have mixed-use space,” Coonerty said. “The point of mixed-use development is to create a space so people don’t have to drive as much, ultimately creating walking and bicycle communities.”
Thomas said the city wants to make plans to accommodate change while also creating new communities, in addition to maintaining what is already unique.
“Mitigations between the university and the city will have to deal with water,” Thomas said. “But if settled, UC growth won’t be too much of a detriment to the city.”
The upcoming 40 years will impact the community of the city, housing new neighbors while harboring natives, but with negotiations, university growth does not have to be consequential.
“The reality is the UC isn’t going anywhere and the city isn’t going anywhere,” Coonerty said. “So if we’re going to come up with solutions it’s going to have to be cooperative.”
Water supply, coastal erosion, sea level elevation and population increases are all environmental factors that both the city and the university will have to deal with in the future.
Connecting them all is the global crisis of climate change, putting more dependence on worldly changes rather than local. The solutions for climate change across the world will ultimately guide where the city will be in 40 years.
“I think that ultimately climate change is going to cause the city to develop differently,” Coonerty said. “This will be the driving force in city policy and procedure over the next 40 years.”
Regardless of changes Santa Cruz will be forced to address in the next 40 years, the city is constantly evolving.
“Santa Cruz’s future is not just about numbers and progression,” Griggs said. “It’s also about potential.”