Santa Cruz Downtown Commons Concept

By Downtown Commons Advocates

The Farmers’ Market is presently held at the last sizeable publicly-owned open space in the center of Santa Cruz – Parking Lot 4. Imagine two alternatives for the future. In one, a six-story mixed-use garage/ library/housing structure would contribute to the heatisland effect, and it would violate the 2017 Downtown Plan’s goal to “preserve and enhance the informal ‘village’ qualities of the Cedar Street Corridor.” Alternatively, Lot 4 could become a Downtown Commons – a permanent open space designed to accommodate the Farmers’ Market, the Antique Faire, and community events.

Our City Council will face this fundamental choice in the months ahead. For the long term, the better of the two alternatives is to create a Downtown Commons on Lot 4.

The out-of-scale mixeduse plan for Lot 4 gained support when an appointed adhoc citizen library advisory committee deemed that Measure S bond funds were insufficient to fully renovate the existing library. They hoped that putting the library in a garage would avoid significantly overspending what was then the $23 million (now $28 million) Measure S budget. However, it has become evident that additional money beyond Measure S funds would be required for library construction even in a garage. One proposal is to use Parking District funds to make up the shortfall. But the city could just as easily not build the garage, and put some of the millions saved into the library.

Having a state-of-the-art library and a town commons are not mutually exclusive goals. But the proposed mixeduse project is based on neither solid planning nor smart politics. Projected parking demand is insufficient to justify paying $87 million ($2.9 million a year for 30 years) for a garage. That plan clings to an outmoded approach to parking and it would fail any cost-benefit analysis. We can do better in an era of climate crisis by offering support for people getting downtown by means other than single- occupant autos. And politically, the public is too divided for the City to embark on such a controversial and expensive project. Even downtown business owners disagree about the proposal.

Santa Cruz should avoid a “cut and paste” approach of moving the library from the Civic Center and sticking it in a catch-all structure at Lot 4. As the City Council recognized by appointing a Downtown Library Subcommittee, the community is best served if the library project proceeds soon. That goal is jeopardized by linking it with a garage and housing project. Both the public controversy and significant financial, planning, Environmental Impact, affordable housing, and other requirements create obstacles to basic project design and approval. Given these realities, it would be extremely challenging to complete the library/garage within Measure S construction time limits (July 2024).There are some who claim that Parking Lot 4 will inevitably be developed by someone for something. They cite an “opportunity cost” if the six-story structure is not built. But Lot 4 is public property; it does not “have” to be built on. The opposite opportunity cost is much larger: if mixed use building construction proceeds, the site will be lost forever as a public open space. No one will deconstruct a parking garage to create a park.Forward-looking cities around the country are working to create more vital downtowns. By engaging in “place making,” they are establishing vibrant and safe open public spaces that serve as anchor points for retail businesses, restaurants, housing, and community life. Now is the time for Santa Cruz to follow suit.Santa Cruz can make the Farmers’ Market a permanent part of a Downtown Commons where people gather to shop, eat, play, listen to music, and meet friends. That seems far better than losing it to a multistory structure that literally cements in place a downtown where people are hemmed in by buildings. Creating a Downtown Commons on Lot 4 can reverse Joni Mitchell’s lament – unpaving the parking lot will create a little more paradise. 

Downtown Commons Advocates is a group of business and community members advocating for a public commons and permanent home to the Farmers Market at its current location in Downtown Santa Cruz. Contact them at downtowncommonsadvocates@gmail.com or visit their Facebook page at //fb.me/ SantaCruzDCA.

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Grounded

Grounded
Posted: 10 Sep 2019 03:08 AM PDT
History will be kind to the protesters who plan to stop flights at Heathrow airport. They are climate heroes.By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 4th September 2019Obedience is dangerous. It has facilitated every form of institutional oppression and violence. Every advance in justice, peace and democracy has been made possible by disobedience. Ethical progress is unlikely when we do only what we are told.We owe our right to vote, our freedom from servitude and subjection, our prosperity and security to people reviled in their time as lawbreakers and reprobates. Breaking the law on behalf of others is a long and honourable tradition.Next week, a few dozen unaffiliated activists intend to start something they call Heathrow Pause. They will each fly a toy drone within the restricted zone (a circle 5 nautical miles (9km) wide) around Heathrow airport. The drones will fly nowhere near the flight paths, and never above head height, ensuring they present no risk. But any drone activity forces the airport to suspend all flights. The activists know they face arrest and, possibly, long prison sentences.Their aim is to launch their drones consecutively, stopping flights for as long as possible: perhaps for several days. In doing so they seek to denormalise one of the most destructive activities on earth. Once unthinkable, then a bizarre novelty, then an extraordinary luxury, then a hope, then an expectation, flying – and flying frequently – is now treated as a right. Worldwide, the number of flights is expected to double in 20 years. In the UK, if aviation growth is unchecked, it will soon account for most of carbon we can afford to burn, if the government is to meet its obligations under the Paris Agreement. Even current levels of flying make a nonsense of international commitments. Yet everywhere, governments are seeking to expand airport capacity.Those who defend the sector point out that it currently produces “only” 2.4% of the world’s emissions. But this is because just 20% of the world’s people have ever flown. In terms of individual impact, taking a flight, because of the quantify of fuel it uses, inflicts more harm on the living planet and its people than anything else you are likely to do.Even in rich nations, flying is overwhelmingly concentrated among the wealthiest citizens. In the UK, 15% of the population accounts for 70% of flights. Those most likely to fly frequently, according to House of Commons research, have a second home abroad and a household income of over £115,000. We are told that flying is about freedom. It is: the freedom of the rich to destroy the lives of the poor.As flying expands, it will become one of the principal causes of global heating. The impact is already greater than the 2.4% of emissions suggests, as planes create cirrus clouds that roughly double the overall heating effect. There are technological alternatives for most of our damaging activities. But not flying. Biofuels will cause more problems than they solve. Large electric planes, for all the hype surrounding them, are many years away, and may never materialise.Carbon offsets are now redundant: the only way of preventing more than 1.5°C of heating is drastically to reduce emissions, while simultaneously using the protection and restoration of nature to draw down carbon from the atmosphere. One is not a substitute for the other: we need to maximise both. The only realistic option is to travel less.Yet flying on a whim is being normalised, even hypernormalised. According to Tatler magazine, whose target readers are extremely wealthy, “The Long-Haul Long Weekend is now a thing.” It gushes about escaping from “grey England” to the Seychelles for four days, or to Kenya, Antigua or Cape Town, a mere 11 hours away. “Slip off to one of these destinations on a Thursday night and you can be back by Tuesday with an adventure worth shouting about.”The travel editor of the Independent seeks to justify the 67 flights she took last year, on the grounds that her job demands it: “I don’t feel guilty about it yet.” Perhaps she should question the value of her job. The most depressing thing I have seen in the past year is Jane Goodall’s appearance in an advertisement for British Airways. When a prominent environmentalist endorses an airline company, you know we are in deep moral trouble.The socially just solution is the frequent flyer levy proposed by the Free Ride coalition. There would be no aviation tax for the first flight in any year that a person takes, but escalating taxes on subsequent flights. Set at the right level, the levy would avert the need for airport expansion, and steadily scale down the industry. But don’t expect the government to listen. The new transport secretary, Grant Shapps, was previously chair of the British Infrastructure Group, which lobbied “to ensure that every opportunity for growth is seized”.Nothing will change until the impacts of flying become salient. One of the Heathrow Pause campaigners, Valerie Brown, told me “I’m petrified of course … It’s not easy to face the idea of prison, but it’s even more frightening to me to think about what my grandchildren and all the children of the world will face in 20 or 30 years’ time.” Another, James Brown (no relation), explained that he decided to act when he found his adult daughter was incapacitated with grief about ecological destruction. “I’m prepared to face the consequences. I don’t know what prison will be like for me. But against the alternatives it’s a small price to pay.”They risk their liberty in the hope of freeing us from the momentous consequences of climate breakdown. History will judge them kindly.www.monbiot.com

Compost Key To Sequestering Carbon in Soil


– From UC Davis
by Lauren Lum

This is reposted from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, Planting Seeds blog, written by Kat Kerlin. See original post.

By moving beyond the surface level and literally digging deep, scientists at the University of California, Davis, found that compost is a key to storing carbon in semi-arid cropland soils, a strategy for offsetting CO2 emissions.

For their 19-year study, published in the journal Global Change Biology, scientists dug roughly 6 feet down to compare soil carbon changes in conventional, cover-cropped and compost-added plots of corn-tomato and wheat-fallow cropping systems. They found that:

  • Conventional soils neither release nor store much carbon.
  • Cover cropping conventional soils, while increasing carbon in the surface 12 inches, can actually lose significant amounts of carbon below that depth.
  • When both compost and cover crops were added in the organic-certified system, soil carbon content increased 12.6 percent over the length of the study, or about 0.7 percent annually. That’s more than the international “4 per 1000” initiative, which calls for an increase of 0.4 percent of soil carbon per year. It is also far more carbon stored than would be calculated if only the surface layer was measured.

“If we take the time and energy to look a little deeper, there’s always more to the story,” said co-first author Jessica Chiartas, a Ph.D. student with the UC Davis land, air and water resources department. “The soil represents a huge mass of natural resource under our feet. If we’re only thinking about farming the surface of it, we’re missing an opportunity. Carbon is like a second crop.”

Cover crops, compost and the carbon market

Nationwide, many studies that investigated carbon change in the top foot of soil found that cover-cropped systems store carbon. The UC Davis study also found gains in the surface but, deeper down, enough carbon was released from cover-cropped systems that it resulted in an overall net loss.

“There are other benefits to cover crops that farmers may still enjoy, but in our systems, storing carbon is not necessarily one of them,” said co-first author Nicole Tautges, a cropping systems scientist with the UC Davis Agricultural Sustainability Institute. “We’d make more progress by incentivizing compost.”

The researchers did not compare composted systems without cover crops, but suspect the compost helped sequester carbon despite the cover crop, a notion they intend to investigate further.

Microbes need a balanced diet

Carbon has to filter through soil microbes to create stabilized forms of carbon in soil. Compost provides not only carbon but also additional vital nutrients for those microbes to function effectively.

“One reason we keep losing organic matter from soils is that our focus is on feeding the plant, and we forget the needs of others who provide important services in soil like building organic carbon,” said senior author Kate Scow, director of the UC Davis Russell Ranch Sustainable Agriculture Facility. “We need to feed the soil, too”.

Having a balanced diet can make the difference between how much carbon stays in the soil versus how much is released as carbon dioxide, Scow said.

When their diet is out of balance, microbes seek out missing nutrients, mining them from existing soil organic matter. This results in the loss rather than gain of carbon. The authors think that deep in the soil, cover-crop roots provided carbon but not the other nutrients needed to stabilize it.

Sequestering carbon in arid climates

The study was conducted in California’s northern Central Valley at the Russell Ranch Sustainable Agriculture Facility, part of the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis. The results indicate that semi-arid Mediterranean climates like the study site may be capable of storing far more carbon in the soil than once thought possible.

“This work coming out of Russell Ranch at UC Davis is very timely as the state invests in programs to sequester carbon in soils,” said Secretary Karen Ross of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. “Carbon sequestration in soils through the addition of compost is a key practice in our Healthy Soils Program and we are delighted that the science and policy efforts are aligning and supporting each other.”

The results also indicate an opportunity for compost to provide multiple, interconnected benefits to farmers and the environment by improving soils, offsetting greenhouse gas emissions, and transforming animal and food wastes into a valuable product the soil needs.

Link to article on UC Davis web site