For more than 75 years, that character has been defined by a lushly vegetated, wooded buffer zone that separates the end of our cul-de-sac from homes on Santa Cruz Avenue. We call it the green space — a 53-by-60-foot area that is undeveloped public right of way. It gives the street a rural feel, and it is the first thing you see when you turn onto Louise. Or at least it has been, until now.
The threat comes from a developer who bought a home at 1825 Santa Cruz Avenue for $1.5 million, which he plans to rebuild and sell as a Louise Street property for $5.5 million. (No other house on Santa Cruz has commanded more than $4.5 million). To do so, he intends to build a new driveway through the green space, a structure that violates the long-established tranquility of our cul-de-sac. He claims he is restoring his "historical access," but more than 60 Louise Street residents dating back to 1948 have sworn that no driveway ever existed.
In March, the City Council voted against the driveway. The developer responded by advertising the property with a Louise Street address, hiring an attorney and threatening a lawsuit. In May the Planning Commission voted that abandonment was consistent with the general plan. The developer's crews, supervised by his attorney, drove a truck into the green space and cut three large branches of a heritage redwood tree — despite instructions from the city attorney not to do any work in the public right of way. It was the third time he has cut trees and removed vegetation from the green space without authorization. As a result we now see an exposed view of Santa Cruz for the first time in 75 years.
Although we won both prior votes and the Planning Department has twice denied the developer's request to change the house's frontage from Santa Cruz to Louise, recently he filed another permit to build a neighborhood-changing driveway on Louise. He has no right to appropriate public land for private gain at the neighborhood's expense. He can make a sizable profit by developing his home at its historic Santa Cruz address.
The families on Louise Street have collectively lived here for more than 300 years. The developer bought his house a year ago. A vote for abandonment will protect the green space in perpetuity. A vote against it will give the developer his driveway. This will increase his profits but destroy what we most cherish about our street. If a single developer can do that despite his neighbors' unanimous opposition, the basic fiber that binds our community together is becoming perilously fragile.
Today it's our neighborhood. Tomorrow it could be yours.
Michael Schwarz and his wife Kiki Kapany have lived on Louise Street since 1994 and have raised two daughters there. He is writing on behalf of the Louise Street families.