The Santa Cruz City Council met Tuesday night to decide on the long-debated issue of the La Bahia Hotel Project. With a 5-1 vote, the council approved the proposal, with one member absent.
An enterprise in the works since 1994, the project will turn the historic La Bahia building, which is located opposite Main Beach near the Boardwalk, from low-cost housing into an upscale beachfront hotel.
The project plan will be revised once again before building commences, in an attempt to mitigate the drawn-out discussions about the facility and incorporate recommendations and concerns presented by local community members.
“I think that the critics of the current version of the project achieved some of their goals when they said they wanted a ‘Better La Bahia,’” said City Councilmember Don Lane. “I’m sure they feel that’s not the case themselves, but it really is a better project.”
The proposal will still have to be approved by the Coastal Commission in order for plans to proceed. If ratified, the project will begin forward motion and changes to La Bahia will become a matter of the present, rather than an image of the future.
The City Council initially approved a La Bahia Hotel Project proposal in 2003. However, after being looked over by the Coastal Commission and other local committees, the proposal was sent back for revision and alterations.
City Councilmember Tony Madrigal, who stood alone in his vote against the project, said that the proposal still lacks the representation of the values Santa Cruz holds as a city. Madrigal said that other committees will recognize this and deter the project for more changes.
“I don’t necessarily agree that these state regulatory agencies are going to abandon their policies and philosophies, especially about protecting the environment, just because our local economy is hurting and the city needs an income-generating project,” Madrigal said.
Several councilmembers said they view the project as an economic stimulant that will not only help our current economic crisis, but also facilitate a stronger tourism economy for the future of the city.
“From my perspective, this is not a short-term fix but part of a long-term strategy to make Santa Cruz economically sustainable,” said City Councilmember Ryan Coonerty. “That’s why I’ll be supporting it.”
Councilmember Lynn Robinson emphasized the potential the project provides for the future of Santa Cruz.
“We have our chance to make history and take that forward into the next generation,” Robinson said.
Madrigal, however, said that it is not responsible to approve any lucrative project in tough economic times simply because income is needed for the city and local businesses.
One of the top points of concern presented by opponents to the project was the loss of the historic architectural landmark that La Bahia represents in the Santa Cruz community.
While the project’s planners intend to rebuild La Bahia to reflect its original architecture, the bell tower and the courtyards will be the only preserved structures incorporated into future construction.
“This project is going to impact the legacy we leave for future generations,” Madrigal said, “and we have to ask ourselves at what price we are exchanging the uniqueness of our community for the promise of future prosperity.”