The plan to make Santa Cruz into Detroit and Los Angeles

The plan to make Santa Cruz into Detroit and Los Angeles

By Ross Eric Gibson

Since the late 19th century, Santa Cruz and Santa Clara have been described in superlatives for natural beauty and agricultural prestige. But for a time after World War II, both counties struggled to become a Los Angeles auto culture of highways, heavy industry, and urban sprawl. Santa Clara "was successful", but Santa Cruzans formed groups to fight the disease.

In 1950 the San Jose City Council announced that he wanted to become the "Los Angeles of the North". Land speculators raved about Santa Clara County and bought up cheap farmland to reassess it as an urban subdivision. Longstanding farmers who attempted to maintain their reputation as the country's quality fruit capital received protection by changing the zoning of Santa Clara County in 1954 for agricultural areas.

Outraged, the San Jose City Council annexed property, county streets and school districts to the city by any means. In the spring of 1955, the farmers had the state parliament pass a law without the consent of the owner, which prevented the annexation of arable land or adjacent district roads. This would have worked, but San Jose used the 90 days before the law came into force to expand its borders to 200 miles, which are less than 20 square miles. The madness of the acquisitions frightened the neighboring communities of San Jose, which were incorporated into seven new cities for reasons of "home rule".

Heavy industry contracted with legions of workers, overwhelmed the aquifers and caused a water crisis. In the late 1950s, fly-by-night developers maximized their profits by building inferior houses that fell apart so quickly that they immediately turned into slums. While the FHA (Federal Housing Administration) was supposed to help homeowners, it was dodgy developers who were looking for their low-interest, insured mortgages to build hundreds of homes for a risk-free profit. And the lax oversight of the veteran administration allowed the development of known floodplains, the construction of houses that the US government had to buy back after inevitable floods and then repair them for resale.

Santa Cruz flood

Santa Cruz County was drawn into the overdevelopment psychosis of San Jose after the 1955 Christmas flood. While the tide was nationwide, it flooded downtown Santa Cruz, Ocean Street, Soquel, Capitola and Watsonville. The designated “Flood Recovery” remediation lasted more than 30 years and was only ended by the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, which described the next 30 years of remediation as “Earthquake Recovery”.

After the 1955 flood, dodgy San Jose developers roamed Santa Cruz County, bought large Victorians, demolished them, and pushed as many cheap houses as possible onto the site. This caused a backlash against the loss of a district's character-defining landmarks. A quarter on the river was cleared and district offices moved from the beloved Romanesque courthouse on Cooper Street to the district's hated government center, a new brutal-style prison-style monstrosity, and were built as a nuclear fallout shelter.

Post-war advertising campaign stickers to lure the chimney industry to Santa Cruz. (Contributed)

But the city planners didn't seem to notice the outrage and wanted the developers to do a similar modernization of Santa Cruz. It has been suggested that the county’s leading tourism and agriculture industries (tourism shabby) be abandoned, both of which are seen as stumbling blocks to the development of parkland, wilderness, and farms. Santa Cruz would become "the City of Industry" or "Detroit of the West" (depending on the selling point) through a planned 11-mile corridor of factories along the rail shipping line between Santa Cruz and Davenport, surrounded by a sprawling, suburb of the wing houses. A proposed city / district zone regulation to prevent interference in residential areas in potential industrial locations has not been adopted.


Santa Cruz planned to annex Scotts Valley, Live Oak and Wilder Ranch for high density urban development, ban agriculture and cattle breeding within the city limits, and empty the passenger rail for a network of four-lane highways along West Cliff Drive via Neary Lagoon and Beach Hill to Ocean Street, on the edge of the university, through Pogonip and DeLaveaga Park. Downtown Santa Cruz would be demolished for high-rise office buildings, apartment towers, huge parking lots, and chain stores, with West Cliff and Beach Hill planned as a series of skyscrapers, gas stations, and fast-food joints in Miami Beach, while the new UC Santa Cruz The campus was planned as a towering Manhattan in the Redwoods.

From the post-war perspective, this was seen as extremely practical and as part of a national trend for cities that are urban regeneration-free and target ethnic neighborhoods to “clear slums”, with urban sprawl, highway development and polluting industries as such badges of the Progress. The pressure to develop was so great that farmers could not afford to price arable land as an urban subdivision, and the owners of rural land taxed trees on their property as non-harvested wood (instead of shade, ecology or wilderness).


In 1963, neighbors rose to stop the planned highways through the neighborhoods and the planned leveling of the city's architectural heritage. Many business people, especially as a tourist city, agreed that turning Santa Cruz into Detroit would be bad for the economy. The business people founded SCOPE (the Santa Cruz Organization for Progress and Euthenics). "Euthenics" means well-being from a better environment. Her stated goal was: “To preserve human values, natural beauty, clean air, beautiful old trees, historical values ​​and areas and architecture, open spaces, public security, the absence of traffic noise, human values and improve rural atmosphere and the distinctive individuality, character and charm of this community in Santa Cruz County. "

They proposed guidelines for landscaped highways that blended into the landscape and avoided being guided through the urban core. The demolition of the city's highways was stopped, and thanks to Chuck and Esther Abbott, SCOPE helped transform Pacific Avenue into the 1968 Pacific Garden Mall as a designated national historical district.

Various highway suggestions from the 1960s, in which important destinations and prospects were sacrificed in order to quickly get the drivers through the city. (Contributed)

Meanwhile, there was a backlash against Santa Cruz's annexation plans when Live Oak complained that it would lose its world-famous flower and mushroom industries. Live Oak residents feared that the county would deposit their unwanted housing projects on their farmland, even though Brown & # 39; s Bulb Ranch on 41st Avenue and the Begonia Farm of the Veterle Brothers were incorporated into the new town of Capitola (b. 1949) were. Scotts Valley's Skypark airport was owned by the city of Santa Cruz, but Scotts Valley opposed Santa Cruz's annexation efforts by voting for inclusion as a city. The claim was that Scotts Valley could retain its rural charm and airport if residents voted for the city in 1964. However, the election results were questioned in the belief that the campaign for the city was indeed funded by development interests. Scotts Valley was founded in 1966 and closed its airport, which was supposed to protect the city.

The planned development of the Wilder Ranch in 1969 was referred to as the "San Jose Sleeping Community". 10,000 homes are said to double the population of Santa Cruz and turn Mission Street into a commuter traffic jam. Santa Cruz curbed the brunt of urban commuter services, while their employers' trade taxes stayed high. In the same year, Palo Alto assumed that it would be inevitable to lose its foothills through residential property and commissioned a plan to create the most beneficial and environmentally friendly development. They were shocked by the results: "… if the costs for schools, roads, police and fire brigade … and other communal objects were added … the total investment so far would have exceeded all tax revenues that the area could generate. Land (for open spaces) would be cheaper. The most economical environmental design would not be a design. "(California Tomorrow, pp.257-58). The proposed wilderness development brought opposition in the community to the same issues and conclusions, and in 1974 the property was saved as an open space in the state park.

Hoping to meet housing needs in Santa Cruz County, Watsonville built affordable housing for farm workers. However, some feared that it was a commuter accommodation. Over the years, regular plans have been proposed for massive industrial development in the Coyote Valley in southern Silicon Valley. When the counties of San Benito, Monterey, and Santa Cruz complained that these plans led to a massive housing shortage that resulted in an invasion of commuters into these counties, the San Jose City Council said it wasn't their concern and other counties would have to take care of themselves. That was a turning point for many.

Today's affordable housing crisis is nationwide, and overbuilt locations (such as Los Angeles, San Jose, and San Francisco) have not been more successful in making property prices affordable than those that have not. In this tumultuous history, Santa Cruz has preserved its quality of life, its open agricultural areas, its wilderness areas and its tourist charm, all of which contribute to the high demand for housing. How to win one without losing the other is the balancing act we face.

Ross Eric Gibson is a former columnist in the history of the San Jose Mercury News and the Santa Cruz Sentinel.


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