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Earth Day in the People’s Republic of Santa Cruz

Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970. Originally a statement of intent by a relatively small group seeking to save the planet from environmental collapse, it has steadily grown since then to be observed today by over 193 countries, including the People’s Republic of Santa Cruz.

Since the original Earth Day some 46 years ago, remarkable progress has been made in protecting the environment through changes in how we treat housing. Amidst growing costs and dwindling resources, things are increasingly geared towards water and energy conservation, such that LEEDS compliance and solar powered homes are quickly becoming more the norm than the exception.

Ironically enough, much of this change been achieved in ways that unexpectedly made allies of environmentalists and big industry alike, once (a) big industry figured out that there was money to be made (and saved) by doing things in an environmentally responsible way, and (b) environmentalists figured out that their vision could be implemented and spread in ways that were still socially responsible yet also profitable for them.

When it comes to housing, government still tends to have the largest impact in our interaction with the environment through its policies and laws, and regardless of which way the pendulum swings, each approach taken has not been without its share of controversy.

Santa Cruz County was an early adopter of protectionist efforts that pervaded much of the 1970’s and 1980’s with a growth management philosophy that was led by politicians like former Supervisor Gary Patton. Their interpretation of “smart growth” was embodied in bills like Measure J, designed to prevent urban sprawl and to provide affordable housing through imposed quotas on builders.

Since then, in the midst of the spiraling housing prices and the increasing sea of red tape plus costs like drainage remediation, traffic and environmental impact fees, the interpretation of “smart growth” by developers in cooperation with entities such as the Santa Cruz Planning Commission has evolved towards taller and denser buildings, particularly along the city’s main traffic corridors. And not surprisingly, there has been a widespread mixture of both support and opposition to this latest trend as well.

Time will tell if the environment, along with the character and quality of the community we love, will be able to be preserved while continuing to add housing to meet the growing population while trying to balance the escalating cost of what it takes to afford a place here. Whatever your political leanings may be on the housing issues, if you are one of the lucky few who live in Santa Cruz County, I hope you will be able to make the time to celebrate Earth Day by taking a walk, a ride or a paddle out to enjoy the simple pleasure of being here in one of the most wonderful places on Earth.

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