Candidates speak on mall, tax base, police move, roundabout, Measure M
By Jondi Gumz, Santa Cruz Sentinel
CAPITOLA >> When the Capitola-Soquel Chamber of Commerce sponsored a forum Wednesday for council candidates, the field cordially answered 13 questions in hopes of winning one of the three seats open.
Incumbents Stephanie Harlan, a nurse, and Michael Termini, an electrical contractor, participated along with challengers Jacques Bertrand, an engineer; Joe Clarke, a sheriff’s sergeant; and Laurie Hill, a retired government analyst. Challenger Richard Fitzpatrick, a retiree, did not attend.
All five want to be part of building a new permanent library and support increasing city reserves. None favors raising the speed limit on Bay Avenue.
Hill, Bertrand, Clarke and Termini voiced reservations when asked if they supported the Monarch Cove Inn proposal to grow from 11 to 41 rooms, which is a big issue on Depot Hill. Harlan said she was “very empathetic” but declined to take a position, saying, “I don’t want them to say I was biased.”
An issue where they diverged included on the future of Capitola Mall, which like many malls is seeing a higher vacancy rate as post-recession consumers are cautious about spending or shop online. Others included diversifying the tax base beyond tourism and deciding whether the police station should be moved out of its floodplain location in the village and how to pay for it.
There are also questions about putting in a traffic roundabout proposed by the public works director to deal with the awkward intersection on Bay Avenue by Gayle’s Bakery, and whether to support Measure M, which would increase the tax on hotel rooms and vacation rentals from 10 percent to 11 percent permanently.
Hill said she never shops over the hill and wants to take a closer look at what’s going on at the mall and on 41st Avenue. She sees opportunities to attract youth and add entertainment and dining.
Termini said the mall’ ownership has not taken advantage of $1 million in redevelopment funds set aside by the city for a revamp that would move Metro bus pickups to the rear of the mall and put stores along 41st Avenue. Traffic — 40,000 vehicles a day — is what brings in stores like CVS and Whole Foods, he said.
Bertrand suggested reviving an economic development committee for mall management and city representatives “so we clearly understand the issues they face.” He said city parking requirements would have to be changed to allow stores where parking is now.
Clarke noticed empty stores while back-to-school shopping with his daughter.
“Putting our skatepark at the mall might be a good idea,” he said. “We need to make it an area where everybody would like to be.”
Harlan shared a League of Cities presentation on “what to do with your aging mall” with council members.
“It’s high on our radar,” she said. “It would be interesting to have people from the outside take a look.”
Clarke said the mall must be revitalized.
Harlan is optimistic, noting Whole Foods and CVS came in during the downturn. She thanked voters for approving Measure O, a permanent sales tax to bolster city reserves and improve streets.
Hill recommended communicating “early and clearly” about the requirements to those interested in opening a business in Capitola since the process is “fairly onerous,” saying businesses might be able to shift to fit city parameters if they have advance notice. She suggested talking with the chamber and SCORE, the business adviser group.
Termini called the city parking regulations “arcane” and agreed with Hill’s assessment that Capitola’s planning regulations are complex. He suggested encouraging home-based businesses if they can operate without negatively affecting neighborhoods.
Bertrand agreed with Termini on regulations being complex and suggested talking with the chamber. “We need to understand why businesses come and go,” he said. “Parking and rent are issues.”
Bertrand recalled how a pipe broke and flooded the village in 2011. For that reason, he wants the city to “seriously think about” relocating the police station.
Clarke said moving the police to a better location is a good idea. “We need to afford the Police Department newer things,” he said.
Harlan said it’s “always a good idea to have emergency responders in places that won’t be flooded,” adding, “The question is where and how much is it going to cost? Is it going to flood again? That was a freak accident.”
Hill recalled being on the City Hall balcony watching rescuers below when the flood waters came through.
“Yes I would support moving the Police Department,” she said, adding, “Frankly it occupies prime real estate in an attractive tourist zone. I don’t know if response time would be improved … Is the move good for public safety including response times and, yes, how will it be funded?”
Termini agreed it’s a good idea to move police out of the floodplain but worries about “making things more complicated” given discussions about a new parking structure and a 70-room hotel in the village.
The Santa Cruz roundabout near the beach cost $1 million. There’s no cost estimate for the Capitola project, which is being studied with a $90,000 grant.
Termini thinks the traffic circle would help at an intersection he considers bizarre, but added, “We have yet to see the design.”
Bertrand suggested discussing Bay Avenue traffic issues with the Soquel Union Elementary School District. He’s not convinced a roundabout would work because it would take up property owned by Union Bank “and I’m not sure the bank would say yes.”
Clarke said he is concerned about vehicle not stopping for kids walking to New Brighton Middle School.
Harlan said she is “open to the idea.”
Hill said she was surprised to see the roundabout appear “as a given” in the city’s list of capital projects.
“I know people try to avoid that crazy zone,” she said. “It hasn’t been without problems in Santa Cruz.”
Harlan said she does not support Measure M at this time but thinks it will pass easily. She would prefer to ask voters to raise the hotel room tax in 2016 to replace funds from the expiring Measure D sales tax.
Termini supports Measure M. He said business did not decline after the Santa Cruz room tax went up. He wishes all the money raised, $125,000 a year, could go to wharf repair but other council members had other priorities.
Bertrand supports Measure M to mitigate tourist impacts, such as steam-cleaning village sidewalks.
Hill does not think the higher room tax will affect business or discourage overnight visitors, as opponents claim, but said she would not campaign for it. Saying the money will go for tourist impact mitigation is “too fuzzy for me,” she said.
Clarke will vote no. He said the city should have consulted with business owners before putting Measure M on the ballot.