One of the most significant actions the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors took during our recent budget cycle was to authorize the purchase of a new South County Service Center. This purchase will create a second County government building that would provide Mid- and South County residents equal access to county services in a way that hasn’t been seen before. The building purchase, and subsequent location of many County services in a centralized South County location, will be the largest investment in service delivery for the South County in multiple generations.
Where is it located?
The new South County Service Center will be located at 500 Westridge Drive (in the former West Marine building) in Watsonville.
What would be located at the new center?
The goal of the new service center is to centralize current South County services in one location while expanding new offerings that are currently unavailable (or are only occasionally available) to South County residents. For example, the building will consolidate all South County leases (saving an estimated $5-plus million over the next 30 years) into one location while providing new services for local residents.
While the exact departments and programs haven’t been determined, it’s expected that residents have access to Public Health, Human Services, the Planning Department, County Clerk, Probation, Sheriff’s Office, Auditor/Tax Collector, Assessor, Agricultural Commissioner, the 4th District County Supervisor’s office and more. Currently, South County residents have to drive to 701 Ocean St. in downtown Santa Cruz for many of these services and this will reduce the need to travel to Santa Cruz to access your County government. Additionally, residents in Aptos and other locations may choose to do the reverse commute to access services—saving time for residents.
When will it open?
The County is in the process of completing due diligence on the building. Assuming everything checks out the purchase will be finalized, improvements will need to be made to make it functional for County services and it is anticipated to open by the end of next year or the beginning of 2023.
What other benefits will the new center provide?
Ultimately, the new center provides environmental, equity and economic benefits. It will also provide quality-of-life improvements for both the residents seeking services there as well as from the employees that will be working there. From an equity standpoint, increasing services to the Mid- and South County is essential. Currently, residents either need to go to multiple locations within the South County to receive services or need to drive nearly 20 miles each way to obtain services from the 701 Ocean St. location. This new location will eliminate much of that need.
From an environmental standpoint, reducing car trips for those needing the services and reducing commutes for employees that will work in the center (many of the County’s employees live in South County) is also beneficial. Given that many of the County’s workforce currently commute during rush hour to the Santa Cruz location, having a number of these employees work at the new location (or remote work) will have positive benefits on traffic and the environment.
Economically, the project saves a significant amount of money. By consolidating leases and taking advantage of historically low-interest rates the County is able to save over $5 million during the life of the loan.
As mentioned above, many employees that live in the South County currently commute to the Santa Cruz location. This increases child care costs, makes it harder for them to attend after-school sports games and more—all because of the challenges that the commute presents. Eliminating much of that commute for employees will also improve their quality of life and is another benefit to the new center.
As always, I appreciate hearing your feedback. Feel free to call me at 454-2200 if you have any questions about this or any other county issue.
Zach Friend is Santa Cruz County Supervisor for the Second District. His views are his own and not necessarily those of the Pajaronian.