Time To Reassess “Cool” Santa Cruz

Welcome to Santa Cruz, California and its legacy as a “laid back” community. Like a Beach Boys surfer song combined with a youthful plea for leftist progressivism, Santa Cruz clings to the “peace and love” spirit of the late 1960s. Having continued a long-lasting friendships with ex-teachers John and Bobbie, there, my wife and I have often prioritized to visit them for a few days in Santa Cruz as we are traveling north toward nearby San Francisco. Saving money and time on our our present visit, Bobbie graciously offered us a place to sleep in her small but tidy guesthouse, while John accompanied us on an interesting walk around the town harbor.

Taking time to walk on our own around beachside Santa Cruz and nearby Capitola would be our favored choice on our present visit as we always looked forward to these unobstructed vistas of endless, natural beauty. How lucky must coastline residents be to look out the window of their Victorian home surrounded by exquisite landscaping to view the wild beauty of the vast Pacific. What a thrill to spot a sea creature rising in blackened silence from the distant bay and imagine a fish that might be as big as a whale. How awesome might one feel to relax one’s mind from life’s problems by surfing the edges of a restless wave on their favorite beach today.

If we wanted to play traditional tourist tomorrow on this three day visit, there was much to choose from at various levels of activity We might decide to passively stroll the classic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk on the beach to collect seashells, more actively explore the redwood forests in the Santa Cruz Mountains above the town, or even take a leisurely drive south to Monterey Bay for photo shots of the marine sanctuary there. Instead, we opted for something new and spent the morning hiking at Ano Nuevo State Preserve, north of town. At end of this three mile walk to the seashore , we were rewarded with closeup views of  sea lion colonies sunning happily there.

For cause activists, Santa Cruz typically feels “liberal” in thought. With nearby University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) remaining as a living remnant of the 1960s era of social and environmental activism, college town idealism remains strong in this community. As our nation’s feud with North Korea heightens politically, it felt right in this moment that Santa Cruz remains an officially “nuclear-free city on thus visit. As President Trump’s policies escalate to oppose affordable health care and gay/women’s rights across our country, we could admire the city’s continued progressive stands to hold active vigils and rally protests in opposition to his repressive policies. As climate change threatens to radically alter our normal weather patterns, we breathed in the consistently cool and clear air there with renewed vigor.

IMG_7082There remains an “uncool” side to Santa Cruz, however. As we made our way my through the outskirts of town, it is apparent that the town character has noticeably changed. The combination of explosive tourism growth, increased boat dock usage, and rapid urban gentrification in “Greater Santa Cruz”  cannot be missed. During morning and afternoon rush hours, for instance, gridlock traffic along main thoroughfares, combined with dangerous on-street parking on side streets makes driving unpredictably stressful. In addition, while searching for a walkable place to window shop in “nickel and dime” like fashion, we notice instead the intrusion of mega-retail outlets like Costco, Home Depot, and Target.

Lastly, Santa Cruz noticeably suffers from a serious housing crisis these days. With an average cost of owning a home there at $640,000 dollars and rising , Santa Cruz has become one of the least affordable places to live in the country. Combining this fact with a high, homeless population, and a lack of affordable, multistory housing, I wonder how much longer the city can profess to be a place that promotes itself as committed to “social change and human dignity.”

IMG_0104After spending one month in serene Morro Bay, perhaps any negative judgments of Santa Cruz realities seem unnecessarily given. It is not my intention as a casual tourist to reacquaint myself with the complex and hectic lifestyle of the urban commuter at this point in my life. Being “cool” now no longer resonates as an action-packed itinerary for sure. These days, I would be content to merely appreciate the natural beauty of each Santa Cruz panorama and relax from daily stresses in continuing pursuit of inner peace and long-lasting friendships. Simple times thus makes happy retirement.

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