Ed. note: The following Guest Commentary references the proposal by a local developer, Workbench, to construct a five-story, 59-unit development at 1130 Mission Street. The development, opposed by some neighborhood groups and others objecting to he scale and size of the proposed building, would require demolishing two buildings that were home to the Food Bin and Herb Room. After the developer came forward with several changes to the project, the Santa Cruz City Council delayed consideration of two neighborhood appeals on the project until May 28. The city Planning Commission will also review the changes to the project at its meeting on May 16.

Trust is a legitimate issue anytime a neighborhood is dealing with Workbench. All of our sympathies should rest on the side of the neighbors challenging the Food Bin housing project.

We in the Seabright neighborhood have our own history of conflict with Workbench. And we can provide our own documented example of why they should not be trusted. Our story, in brief:

We opposed their three-story triplex project behind an existing house on Pennsylvania Street in 2020. Like the Food Bin challenge, we appealed all the way to the Santa Cruz City Council.

In their presentation to the council on Feb. 9, 2021, Workbench extolled the virtues of bringing affordable “family housing” to this neighborhood, pointing out that one of the new three-bedroom units would be registered in perpetuity as an affordable unit through the use of a deed restriction.

In the end council members expressed sympathy with our complaints regarding the appearance and size of the proposed structure, but citing the new state laws they concluded that they had to support the permit approval anyway. And two council members at the time, Justin Cummings and Renee Golder, specifically thanked Workbench for the inclusion of the affordable three-bedroom unit.

The public hearings now over, a few months later Workbench quietly returned to the city Planning Department with a “plan revision.”

These last-minute submissions from builders are never vetted at public hearings, and their approvals are not subject to any appeal. In short, no one would have been the wiser until years later when the project was completed – except this time a suspicious neighbor checking with the city departments uncovered the mischief.

Workbench was attempting to renege on their promises of family housing. The plan revision eliminated the affordable deed restriction on the three-bedroom unit, added an ADU to the project by converting one of the garages into a studio apartment, and designated this little unit as the required affordable unit in the development.

So much for providing affordable family housing.

I can supply full documentation to support this sad story.

In the Food Bin conflict, Workbench attempted to substitute new plans at the last minute before the council hearing. The council members rightly objected to this maneuver, sending the project back to the Planning Commission.

The Laurel and Cleveland area neighbors who are appealing the project need to be aware of this second opportunity for chicanery, the “plan revision,” that may come later.

If and when the City Council relents and approves the project, it would be prudent to check in daily with the Planning Department, to ensure that Workbench has not tried to sneak through any new unwanted changes.

The Workbench people need to learn that credibility is a precious commodity. Once you lose it, it’s hard to win it back.

Alan Speidel is a Santa Cruz resident.