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Not Exactly a Small Town Anymore

By Datta Khalsa, Broker

During the formative years of my real estate career in Santa Cruz back in the early Nineties, our town was still reeling from the dual disasters of the Savings and Loan debacle and the Loma Prieta Earthquake, which together heralded the end of the heady Eighties.

At that time, median home prices had dropped to somewhere in the mid-Two Hundred Thousands, and investment properties could be picked up for somewhere between seven to ten times their annual rents. Our downtown had a different feel back then, when the term “tent city” was an innocuous phrase that referred to the large white tents housing the merchants and eateries who had lost their shops and restaurants. It was rustic, but colorful.

Last week, as I was waiting for the light to change at Front and Laurel, I was suddenly struck by an unexpected visual. It was one of those double-long accordion buses that you see when you go to a big city, except that this one had a UCSC slug on its side and was in our town. This set off an epiphany of how much the surrounding street scene has changed from the first time I was at that intersection some 30 years ago:

Only the tire shop remains as it did before, but with the noticeable addition of the Kaiser Permanente Arena rising up behind it. And to my right, were the camping tents and porta-potties of the de facto downtown homeless community support station which now proliferate at the credit union parking lot.

Across the intersection, the former auto dealership which had sat vacant after the earthquake is now a hardware store, sharing its block with what’s left of the Saturn Café, which has sadly closed down in the wake of Covid. And the entire end of the northern block running from Front St to Pacific Ave has been torn down, taking out the old Taco Bell with all the surrounding stores and automotive repair shops. The scene there is now marked by chain link fences and heavy construction equipment installing foundations for the 6-story mixed-use high density residential development that is going in there.

A few days later during a day trip to San Francisco, I couldn’t help but think that the scene up there with its juxtaposition of wealth and culture contrasted with the dirty streets is a likely indicator of how our little town will eventually look, the way things are heading. Granted, over the course of the past decade we have seen our real estate grow at an incredible pace, and with this has come a higher standard of living for those who can afford it, but everything comes at a price.

Yes, the times they are a-changin’. And while I do appreciate the opportunity and economic advancement these changes bring, I can’t help but look back fondly on a different time and place where we once lived and miss the days when you didn’t have to plan your life around the traffic patterns.

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