CAPITOLA HAS TO DECIDE DIRECTION

By Noel Smith, Capitola Times
May 2005

What does the future hold for Capitola Village? This is the debate and the vision that revolves around this special place here on the Monterey Bay. There are those who don’t want to change Capitola from a funky California beach town and thenn there are those who want to see an evolving towards a California version of a village on the Riviera.

Peter Dwares is one of those whose vision and dedication is to making the Capitola Esplanade “a Plaza like they have in Healdsburg, or Santa Fe, with weekend artists, unique foods, and pedestrians.”

From Dwares’ apartment over the Capitola Mercantile, a building that he has owned for over 25 years, it is easy to see what he loves about the Village and also what he would like to change.

One recent weekday evening the view from Dwares’ residence was magnificent in the twilight looking out over the beach and the bay. Then came the raucous sound of a big bike starting up in front of one of the bar-restaurants across the street. The engine roared and then backfired, roared and then backfired again, thenn continuously roaring and backfiring, the motorcycle made its way around the Esplanade finally exiting the Village up Monterey Avenue hill.

The peaceful scene, according to Dwares, is continuously interrupted. Instead of hearing birds and waves breaking onto the nearby beach, there is the sound of diesel delivery trucks in the morning, or rumbling, muffler-less motorcycles, or frusterated drivers searching endlessly for a parking space so they can go to the beach during the day or to a restaurant or bar during the evening, all of these adding to the noise and air pollution.

In addition, Dwares complains of the street noise during the night from loud music in the establishments across the street and from unruly patrons as the bars close at 2:00 a.m. “The city needs to clean up its act.” Dwares claims.

Dwares is a businessman. He has refurbished many retail centers on the west coast from Washington to California. In 1979 he bought the Mercantile building – the former Capitola Fish Market. From his balcony above the Mercantile it is easy to see why he wants to make what is unique, even better.

“The Esplanade should be a treasure,” says Dwares, “not a parking lot or short cut. It should have warmn and inviting cobblestone streets and historic lighting. I’d like to see the entire Esplanade be closed, eventually.”

He continues, “We can do this within five years, but we need two, or even three parking levels behind City Hall. We need an attractive free shuttle from the parking lots to the Village and the hotels. We need a new hotel at the freeway exit of up to 200 rooms, also a hotel where the Capitola Theater is of about 80 rooms, and a Rispin hotel of perhaps 20 rooms. We also need a 70-100 unit “condominium” hotel over the multi level parking lot behind City Hall. Condo sales and management would yield millions for the city. The new hotel rooms will provide direct tax revenues for the City annd create a year round destination in the Village resulting in improved shopping and dining and more sales tax.

“The parking revenue loss from Esplanade parking will be made up by new hotel tax revenues and new parking revenues behind City Hall, and even hotel management fees.”

Now, this is a man who has experience and has put practical goals and objectives into his dreams.

The City Council generally agrees that they could seriously consider closing the Esplanade to traffic but only if a parking situation is addressed by the building of a multistory parking garage behind city hall.

The possibility of additional facilities for visitors has been raised by the Capitola Theater currently being in escrow with talk of a bed & breakfast, boutique-style hotel being built on the property.

Councilman Kirby Nicol told us, “I think the city would be receptive to suchh a development. We need to encourage tourism that isn’t just oof the one day, in and out variety. Longer term visits would help local businesses with a more relaxed, upscale, family oriented, and year-round clientele.”

But until the parking situation is solved, plans for the Esplanade would be difficult to implement even though the city has plans in place for such an eventuality including an outdoor bandstand.

Obviously there are those who object to such a change.

The convenience of parking right at the beach or in front of your favorite bar or restaurant is undeniable. Some of the Village merchants aren’t convinced that crowds will continue to come if they have to park so far away from their businesses and the beach.

And then there is the subject of city income. Between parking meter revenues of $500,000 and fines collected for illegal and overtime parking of $531,000 annually, that’s a guaranteed income of over $1 million that the city might put in jeopardy.

As far as noise and disturbances, the Capitola Police Department recently began to focus its effors on Friday and Saturday nights in the Village to keeping the peace. The department established a “problem-oriented policing” program to reduce rowdy behavior in the bars and among the tourists that visit the Village. Also, four police are now on foot patrol in the area during these two nights. The state Alcohol Beverage Control is training bartenders in the Village on responsible serving.

Dwares states, “We have the Mayor, City Council, jCity Manager, Police Chief and Staff to realize the dream. I’m calling on them to debate these ideas and ask the community where it agrees, and where it disagrees. Capitola has to decide what kind of Village it wants to be.”