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Turning Santa Cruz Into a Haven For Hackers, Makers & Startups 117

Posted by timothy
from the also-source-of-great-skateboards dept.
waderoush writes "While Santa Cruz, CA, may be most famous for its surfing, its boardwalk, and its lax marijuana laws, it was also the birthplace of big tech companies like Plantronics, Borland Software, SCO, Seagate Technologies, and Netflix. But that was all a long time ago. As entrepreneurs and city leaders in Santa Cruz work to revive the city's technology scene today, they're starting largely from scratch. In a three-part series this week, Xconomy looks at efforts in this sunny beachside town to build a thriving high-tech ecosystem with a unique identity, separate from that of nearby Silicon Valley. Part 1 surveys the products and industries that make up the Santa Cruz brand, from sports and recreation to organic food. Part 2 looks at the city's past technology successes and its crop of emerging startups, and efforts to build a strong local network of startup mentors, advisors, and investors. Part 3 details efforts to increase the local talent supply, in part by encouraging more students from UC Santa Cruz to live and work in the city after they graduate; it also looks at the city's campaign to reverse perceptions that it's an anti-business haven for beach bums and pot smokers."
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Turning Santa Cruz Into a Haven For Hackers, Makers & Startups

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 01, 2013 @02:47PM (#44449771)

    Problem with SC is the exact thing that is happening in Austin:

    1: Students move in and get residency rights.
    2: Said students vote themselves lots of amenities (bike paths), and against anything that isn't "cool" (such as new police substations, water treatment plants, roads, etc.)
    3: Said people graduate and move back home.
    4: Taxes go up in the city, and the consequences of the decisions (higher crime) that these people make isn't felt by these transient voters, but by everyone else living in the area.
    5: New students wonder where the cool hangouts went. Answer: They were taxed out of the city. Instead, the only places that can pay the large bills are places that cater only to the spray tan and duck lip crowd.

    If you are a college student, SC is a great town. If you actually have to shoulder a tax burden for people who voted for things and are long gone, there are better places.

    • by MaWeiTao (908546)

      All this sounds very familiar, except that in my city they're not involved in local politics. They're too busy with their light academics loads and parties. They do come in and expect the world should accommodate them at the expense of quality of life for year round residents. Often times it's just a complete lack of consideration and when people complain they're offended that anyone would try to restrict their lifestyles. The best part is when they graduate and move out, they go and badmouth the city.

      Unfor

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 01, 2013 @04:04PM (#44450563)

      Nah none of that is the reason. The reason is the old fart hippies that run Santa Cruz and the surrounding cities don't want growth, so they oppose anything and everything that smells like progress. And the planning department is totally corrupt and obstinate. Opening a small business in Santa Cruz is annoying, trying to grow that business quickly runs into local opposition due to permits. Where are you going to find a place where you can house a 100 code monkeys.

      And face it, if you're not a slacker pot head Santa Cruz is really boring.

    • by Seumas (6865)

      Basically, the problem with Santa Cruz is that its Santa Cruz. Ick.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Problem with SC is the exact thing that is happening in Austin:

      1: Students move in and get residency rights.
      2: Said students vote themselves lots of amenities (bike paths), and against anything that isn't "cool" (such as new police substations, water treatment plants, roads, etc.)

      Democracy, ain't it a bitch. How terrible that people should have the right to vote where they live.

      3: Said people graduate and move back home.
      4: Taxes go up in the city, and the consequences of the decisions (higher crime) that these people make isn't felt by these transient voters, but by everyone else living in the area.

      Who, apparently, can't vote at all, right? And who certainly can't organize to reverse any of the bad decisions, or appeal to the alien monsters from "government".

      • by unixisc (2429386)
        Problem is that in a city as small as Santa Cruz, the residents are pretty well matched by the current batch of students, yet to leave, but who can vote to make it a dump, since they won't be calling it home once they're gone
    • by cayenne8 (626475)

      1: Students move in and get residency rights.

      Sounds like the answer is right here, revoke this law.

      I've never heard of such a thing....I was an out of state student at my college for all 4 years I went, I paid out of state tuition, etc.

      I never was able to register and vote in that state, but I still could in my state of residence.

      Aren't most states like this?

      Anyway, why don't they change this back. Seems unfair to have transient folks voting and making regulations and taxes that true residents have to

      • I don't understand. Is there some other prerequisite for residency rights besides... residency?

        If simply moving somewhere doesn't qualify you for residency rights, then what does?

        Regarding in-state tuition vs out-of-state tuition, that has nothing to do with residency rights and everything to do with school policy. Had you moved to the state where your school was located several months (depending on the school) before enrolling, you would have been eligible for in-state tuition rates. You'd likely have
        • You may be too young to know much about this topic. 50 years ago, when I turned voting age, the rules about residency were far more stringent. To register to vote one typically had to demonstrate residence in a location for 6 months prior to registering. Often a poll tax payment was also due. And the age was 21, not 18!

          After I graduated from university I did a couple of postgraduate fellowships which caused me to move around a bit. The gist was I missed voting in several elections, including the presidenti
        • by cayenne8 (626475)

          I don't understand. Is there some other prerequisite for residency rights besides... residency?

          In most cases, you have to show proof of residency for 6mos or most often closer to a full year.

          Most college students that are from out of state, are only there for the months college is in, often leaving for summer, and hence, never are there long enough to establish residency.

    • by goffster (1104287)

      Being a resident in Austin, I can't see any evidence whatsoever
      for these claims.

  • by Niris (1443675) on Thursday August 01, 2013 @02:55PM (#44449867)
    A lot of developers I know are pot smokers, so it's not that they're necessarily mutually exclusive.
    • There are a lot of myths out there with no relation to reality. I think half of them are people who saw a poster or commercial for a Cheech & Chong movie (without actually seeing the film) and now think they're experts on the topic.

    • by Seumas (6865)

      According to Slashdot, 98% of geeks are mind-altering-drug-smoking hackers with aspergers.

  • I thought Santa Cruz had already become not just the dope-smoking, tie-died place it always was, but also "a Haven For Hackers, Makers & Startups," overseen by the King Hacker, Maker, & Starter-Upper, Steve Wozniak.

    • by hguorbray (967940)
      yep -students, bums (homeless) and hippies/new age types -sort of like Berkeley by the Sea -should be an Open Source Paradise

      I'm just sayin'
      • by Roblimo (357)

        Only problem = crazy cost of living. Look at these rents: http://sfbay.craigslist.org/scz/apa/ [craigslist.org]

        No problem if you're homeless, but if you want to live indoors, maybe because you have computers and such, $$$$ like crazy. Might as well live in San Franci$co.

        So only hippies, new age types, and open source developers with trust funds can live in Santa Cruz.

        Nothing new - I remember it as a richie haven back in the 1970s.

        I always liked Searunner trimarians, but not enough to live near their factory.

        And beaches? So.

    • by Nerdfest (867930)

      The problem is that as soon as you start talking about "branding", you're probably heading in the wrong direction.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    From TFA:
    "If you’re visiting from the north, part of the delight of arriving in Santa Cruz—quite apart from its numerous attractions, both natural and man-made—is that you have survived the terrifying drive over the Santa Cruz Mountains on California State Route 17."
    I moved to Santa Cruz around the time Half-Life 2 was somewhat new. It always gave me a chuckle that the highway between Silicon Valley and Santa Cruz is called Highway 17. TFA makes it seem like they're equally dangerous.

    • by pspahn (1175617)

      On the occasion that the area receives snowfall in the winter, 17 can be absolutely treacherous, though, in general it's no different than your average windy, four-lane freeway over a moderate mountain pass, with drivers leaving at least five feet between them and the cars in front of/behind.

      Still, there are some backroads in the SC mountains that are far, far worse. Bear Creek Road at 6am on a Monday headed toward San Jose is like a narrow, two-lane Autobahn (with occasional landslides that take out one o

  • it also looks at the city's campaign to reverse perceptions that it's an anti-business haven for beach bums and pot smokers.

    Perceptions? If by that you mean, "what people see when they walk down Pacific Ave/Front St", then I would understand wanting to reverse that.

    I've spent a lot of time in SC and the surrounding areas, and used to live in Boulder Creek for some time. I'm not so sure about the "anti-business" part, but it certainly IS a haven for bums. Pot smoking is irrelevant, it's Santa Cruz, nobody cares.

    Now, if they were instead try to "reverse the perception" that there is a problem with high crime, that might interest

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I know this may be construed by a few as slightly off topic, but why did they close the comments on the Facebook poll? I have some very pertinent information on the subject.

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) on Thursday August 01, 2013 @03:14PM (#44450089)

    This whole thing sounds like reading the local chamber of commerce brochure.

    >> students from UC Santa Cruz to live and work in the city after they graduate

    Look, I went to four different colleges between undergrad and grad school. Besides the degree, the whole point of college is to get out, see new things, and make your sophomoric mistakes (get it?) in some other town where no one will remember you ten years from now. Wherever you go to school...please, please don't just settle down there. You'll thank me later.

    • by Lluc (703772)

      Wherever you go to school...please, please don't just settle down there. You'll thank me later.

      I'm somewhat amazed by the number of people who do settle down in their undergraduate college town, or at least have an infatuation with living in said town. My guess is that for many people, college is the first experience of freedom from parental authority. Combine that freedom with the relatively carefree lifestyle many live in college, and you have a (subconscious?) mental link between a great life style and your college town.

      • That and with their student debt they can't afford to move.

        • >> with their student debt they can't afford to move

          If your worldly possessions don't comfortably fit in a car by the end of your undergrad, you're doing it wrong. (And I would I suspect your debt problems go beyond student loans.)

          • by erice (13380)

            >> with their student debt they can't afford to move

            If your worldly possessions don't comfortably fit in a car by the end of your undergrad, you're doing it wrong. (And I would I suspect your debt problems go beyond student loans.)

            It doesn't take much furniture to not comfortably fit into a car and it's usually cheaper than living somewhere that is furnished. Of course, the usual solution is to abandon/give away said furniture because it was never all that valuable any way.

            If your wage prospects are so dismal that you can't afford to buy a new bed then I guess you might have a problem.

    • by pspahn (1175617)

      You have to remember, though, that there are some fantastic places to live that are very close by.

      The whole San Lorenzo Valley to the north (Felton, Ben Lomond, Boulder Creek) has more of the feel of a place where alum might settle down after landing a nice job down in San Jose. My step-dad bought a nice secluded lot while still working for Cisco (before he got to ca$h out) and it's turning into a great home where retirement is nothing more than spending more time in the yard.

      The area is also desirable fo

  • by l0ungeb0y (442022) on Thursday August 01, 2013 @03:17PM (#44450123) Homepage Journal

    Santa Cruz is a nice place to spend a weekend but it's completely and utterly ISOLATED. It's a 45 minute drive from San Jose by way of the SR-17, which is a rally course set in a ravine. Every time I go through there, it's a stressful ride with a rock wall on one side, a concrete divider on the other and everyone wants to go 80 despite the 50mph limit. I'd probably enjoy the drive more if I had a Porsche or other low slung sports car, but not in my top heavy SUV careening through a narrow, curvy highway.

    And that's the ONLY way to get there. There is no MassTransit Solution aside from possibly a bus.
    Being that the tech community is about CONNECTIVITY, Santa Cruz has no place in that culture because it is physically so unconnected.
    And don't lecture me about Skype and email etc -- we all know that's bullshit and for any real business to happen people will have to commute 45 minutes to an hour from SJ or 2 hours from SF to get there. And those without cars -- well, might as well leave the day before and get a hotel room because CalTrain + Bus will likely add up to 4 hours each way.

    • I lived in SC for years and commuted to Fremont in 50 minutes (before rush hours). I for one LOVE the drive on Hw 17 everyday. I would look forward to that drive in my Murano...SUV. There was nothing better than getting out of the boring freeways in the valley and heading up into the mountains and tall trees. To each their own.
    • by pspahn (1175617)

      And that's the ONLY way to get there.

      Incorrect. Highway 1 comes in from the north and south on the coast. Highway 9 comes in from SLV, and 152 comes in through Watsonville.

      Yes, Hwy 17 is the highest capacity road that comes in, but if you're out to spend a leisurely day in Santa Cruz, why not take one of the more scenic routes to get there?

      • by dgatwood (11270)

        Incorrect. Highway 1 comes in from the north and south on the coast. Highway 9 comes in from SLV, and 152 comes in through Watsonville.

        Yes, Hwy 17 is the highest capacity road that comes in, but if you're out to spend a leisurely day in Santa Cruz, why not take one of the more scenic routes to get there?

        And by scenic, of course, you mean "filled with hairpin turns and no guardrail, overlooking a 300-foot dropoff into the water" (highway 1), "filled with hairpin turns and no guardrail, overlooking a 1000-

  • I thought the problem with Santa Cruz was all the vampires?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      All the _damned_ vampires.

  • ...isn't a lack of talent, or retaining students, or anything else related to business - it's crime. The once-quaint "beach bums" are actually violent street kids and mentally ill homeless people, and unless you're on campus and removed from the city itself, you can't help but to experience this everywhere you go.

    I lived there for four years while at UC Santa Cruz, and while there was a street kid problem then (15 years ago), it's much worse now, crime rates are up, and I don't feel safe there at all, just walking down the street. I've lived in various low-income communities, and for the most part they're "just" poor - there's crime, of course, but you can walk down the street safely. Santa Cruz is absurdly rich for some people, destitute for others, and it attracts a homeless/street population that make it no longer worth visiting. It's sad but true.

    • by MrSavage (2127458) on Thursday August 01, 2013 @03:35PM (#44450309)
      I lived in Santa Cruz for the past 25 years. While crime is a problem, THE REAL PROBLEM, is the political leaders of the city. They have created the bum problem by offering them social services (to the nth degree), being lax on convicting criminals, making headaches for businesses with too much regulation and sticking their heads in the sand when people point out these problems. If these politicians would take off their rose-colored glasses, or get voted out by the populace, Santa Cruz might be able to bring in some business.
    • by pspahn (1175617)

      When I visited Venice Beach last summer on a business trip, I was amazingly surprised at how polite most of the homeless people there were. There wasn't a constant nagging for "money for bus fare", a handful of pennies for a cigarette, or any of the type of nonsense you find among homeless elsewhere.

      I found this in stark contrast to the homeless in Santa Cruz. You'd think that the two cities would be similar in many ways; beach bums, boardwalk, tourists, expensive ocean view properties, but that couldn't b

  • by stevew (4845) on Thursday August 01, 2013 @03:40PM (#44450345) Journal

    " Plantronics, Borland Software, SCO, Seagate Technologies, and Netflix"

    Of these - Borland & Seagate were both located in Scotts Valley NOT Santa Cruz (the city). Scotts Valley is in Santa Cruz County but those are two entirely different entities/locations. Looking at the Netflix website - their Corp HQ is now in Los Gatos on the right side of the Hwy 17 hump!

    • by adri (173121)

      For good reason. The 17 is a total nightmare during summer and during peak hours. Having to drive to Santa Cruz each day for work would suck. But moving there would isolate you from the rest of the bay area. That may be what you want but it's a high price to pay for a job.

      • Actually, reverse commute is nothing. So long as you are not working on the weekends, you would be flying over the hill both ways if you lived in the valley and worked in SC. Having lived there for many years and commuted before rush hour each day, I can say that the 'isolation' is completely what you are used to. If you are used to lots of highways, malls, and suburbia, then SC will not be for you. If you like the ocean, mountains, laid back life and can get a job there, I'd think for many it would be
        • by adri (173121)

          Right. Then you grow your business, you need more people there.. oh wait. Not everyone wants to live in Santa Cruz. So you have to move.

    • by k6mfw (1182893)

      kind of like everyone puts Downey, Thousand Oaks, etc all as "Los Angeles." hey I remember Borland and when they bought out some other company the president or CEO said "our people were working 12 hour days, now they will work 16!" as if working very long hours was honorable thing to do.

      Highway 17, I commuted it for only 3 month duration. I never was inducted into the Highway 17 Page of Shame (was before the internet), gone but archived on wayback machine:
      http://web.archive.org/web/19990127223641/http:// [archive.org]

    • by mattack2 (1165421)

      I was going to correct the same things... ...and the 1989 quake was NOT the "San Francisco" earthquake, despite it being recorded on the World Series coverage and obviously affecting SF a lot.

  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday August 01, 2013 @03:43PM (#44450369) Homepage

    Great place to live if you like to surf. I have a surfer friend there. She lives three blocks from the beach. But it's not a high-tech place.

    Highway 17, which connects San Jose to Santa Cruz, isn't a freeway. There are non-interchange intersections all along its length. This is because of opposition at the Santa Cruz end. Caltrans would like to make it a freeway, and put in a center barrier to reduce collisions. [santacruzsentinel.com] Even that was opposed. "The barrier makes residents and his business feel isolated", whined the owner of a motel. (Cars can no longer make left turns across traffic to get to his motel.)

    According to the article, the biggest private employer in Santa Cruz is Plantronics, which makes headsets. 500 employees. The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, which is an amusement park, has about 600, but it's seasonal. Santa Cruz is a seaside resort town. There's just not much industry there.

    Then there's the mind-set, which is way too laid back to get much done. It's also very retro. There are towns near Santa Cruz which are still stuck in the hippie '60s, flower-print granny dresses and all.

    The big industrial growth area near Silicon Valley is Fremont. It's hot and boring, but Tesla is there. So is Gillig, the bus maker. There's serious manufacturing in Fremont. There are jobs available now in Fremont for CNC machine operators, robot assemblers, automatic screw machine maintainers, master mechanics, and vacuum manufacturing technicians. Current Santa Cruz job openings: school crossing guard, dental receptionist, social worker, pool attendant, dog companion.

    • by mattack2 (1165421)

      Wait a second, there are cement barriers in the center along much of Highway 17.

      • by Animats (122034)

        Wait a second, there are cement barriers in the center along much of Highway 17.

        It's not a limited access highway. There are driveways and road intersections. Some intersections have breaks in the barrier and left turn lanes, without signals. That's a big source of accidents. Locals complain if they have to drive too far to cross the road, which is why the barrier has breaks. There's only one overpass in the mountain area, at Summit Road. Locals complain about proposals to build more overpasses. They're a "freeway facility".

    • by hguorbray (967940)
      correction -Gillig is actually in Hayward across 92 from where I'm at now -25800 Clawiter Rd, Hayward, CA 94545

      but yeah The East Bay between Fremont and Hayward is definitely growing as a tech/mfg area

      The Desi population here is so high that when Netflix shows me what other people in the area are watching it is Bollywood flicks

      -I'm just sayin'
  • Build an office park on The Mystery Spot, if you can find it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 01, 2013 @04:17PM (#44450689)

    As a Santa Cruz resident I'm sick of people living outside SC making a big fuss about how marijuana is handled here.

    We have incredible problems with drug related crime, for cocaine, meth, AND marijuana.

    I loved living here before drugs ruined this place and turned it into a crime ridden shithole. It will always be my home, but the drug-slinging gang members AS WELL AS the pothead students with their never ending thirst for drugs ruined things.

    So fuck the submitter for making a big deal about weed, because weed is what's killing my home.

    • by neminem (561346)

      Seriously? I grew up there, I still visit a couple times a year, and I haven't found it to be a "crime ridden shithole" anywhere except Beach Flats, and Beach Flats has *always* been a shithole. Kind of ironic that it's so close to the biggest tourist attraction, but you just know never to walk around there. Anywhere else in the city, even downtown, has never felt particularly dangerous to me. I've never actually seen a single drug deal take place, nor been propositioned for one, anywhere in the city (which

  • The Santa Cruz atmosphere is certainly unique, it gives many people the heebie jeebies.

    On any given Wednesday (farmers market) you will be bombarded by a litany of drug addled homeless people looking to score some food, cash, or drugs. It is a terrible blight on Santa Cruz and leaves a bad taste in the mouths of those who get out of SC. The streets are dirty, foul odors emanate from the alleys that act as both throughways for local workers and garbage repositories for the restaurants.

    Another significant p

    • by dgatwood (11270)

      There is only 1 city owned lot that is free to park in anymore, they just added gates to the 3 story garage on Front and River streets.

      Yup. That's why I've started eating supper in Scotts Valley instead of Santa Cruz. Why would I pay to park and walk nearly a mile to a Santa Cruz downtown restaurant when I can just as easily stop in Scotts Valley on the way down, park right in front of the business, and get the same food in half the time, without the hassle of dealing with parking stations or having to c

    • Holy shit there's an outside smoking ban?!

      Thanks for the tip, as I'm currently researching moving out west (from NJ). I'm not even a smoker, but damn that's one totalitarian regime. There's literally no evidence that outside smoking can have any health impact on non-smokers. I'd hate to find myself living somewhere that implements policies that are counter to both reason and freedom.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The rent is too damn high. heheh. During the depths of the housing crash, housing was *almost* reasonable... if you were willing to take a chance on getting crushed by trees and landslides during the next El Nino. Something in a safer zone (less the unavoidable earthquake hazard)? Not to be found.

    It's hard enough to start-up when you're cut off from the Valley by that windy crazy, route 17 mountain pass. It's even worse when you're almost paying Si Valley rent or mortgage. You might as well just go wh

  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Thursday August 01, 2013 @04:59PM (#44451101) Homepage

    When I think of Santa Cruz, all I can think of is SCO (Santa Cruz Operation). My mental picture of Santa Cruz is one of suits bringing lawsuits.

    • by roc97007 (608802)

      When I think of Santa Cruz, all I can think of is SCO (Santa Cruz Operation). My mental picture of Santa Cruz is one of suits bringing lawsuits.

      Wait wait wait. Santa Cruz Operations was a decent company that actually produced a useful product. The company that called itself "SCO" was a patent troll. The only significant thing in common besides the acronym is the IP. (Or, rather, what SCO thought they had in IP.)

  • Did anyone else read that in Eric Bana's voice?

  • First, the "beach bums" invented surfing as you know it.
    Santa Cruz seems more organic than many of the neighboring cities. It's more family-like. Yes, there are poor people there; but many of them are creative and artsy.

    The relationship between "pot smoking" and counter-productivity is bullshit. Forget your stupid antiquated corporate policies, because drugs may in-fact fuel some of the creativity in this area. Even Apple would not have been where they are without some drug use. This is the land of Aspies,

  • Borland Software

    Wow, there's a name I haven't heard in a long time.

  • The Problem With Santa Cruz is not any of the shit you people think it is. I was born there, I return there when I get a chance to visit friends, I'm on the nostalgia group on failbook. And it's that latter that really gives me insight into what the actual problem is.

    The actual problem with Santa Cruz is gentrification. We had way more hippies and bums in Santa Cruz in the 80s and there was way less crime then. But you can't reasonably commute into Santa Cruz for a low-wage job, and you can't reasonably aff

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