Big Tiny City

Dionne Ybarra, founder of The Wahine Project, says a presence in Sand City allows the nonprofit to share what it does on the beach with more people: “passion for ocean and conservation.”

The fourth-smallest city in California, Sand City could perhaps afford to rest on the laurels of Costco, which brings in millions in tax revenue every year. Your panic purchase of food and toilet paper in March? Sand City collected 1 percent of the bill in sales tax.

But rather than continue coasting as it reasonably might, the city is undergoing a facelift, bringing in new businesses and making progress on real estate development.

“Regardless of the negative impacts to our revenues and morale due to the extremely lengthy shelter-in-place, I truly feel that when we look back at 2020 that it will have been a good year full of positive progress and creativity for Sand City,” says city manager Aaron Blair.

The most obvious sign of change is the nine murals painted as part of a recent art festival. With a cityscape made up of windowless warehouses, turning exterior walls into canvases made sense, and the results include a photorealistic depiction of Jimi Hendrix, a stylized bee and many whimsical and fun pieces. The murals have brought pedestrian traffic and social media interest, Blair says.

Those pedestrians could soon find themselves strolling on reconstructed streets and sidewalks. The city was awarded $1.1 million to redo Catalina Street from Proposition 1 funds, approved by California voters in 2014 for stormwater improvements. Thanks to bioretention holes, permeable pavement and better engineering, runoff with urban pollution will be filtered before flowing into the Monterey Bay. The project promises to reduce runoff waste by about 1,000 pounds a year while diverting rainwater to aquifers. Blair says Catalina Street will end up looking like Seaside’s Broadway Avenue.

The remade street would deliver people to the new businesses opening up in Sand City. One of them is Alma Del Mar, a retail annex to the surfing nonprofit The Wahine Project, which just opened a brick-and-mortar headquarters in Sand City. At Alma Del Mar, shoppers can buy surfing supplies or pay to refill containers of soap and detergent in a major boost to the local zero-waste movement. Another business, Monterey Glassworks, aims to open this month and offer custom glass blowing and classes. Meanwhile, recent city council agendas also show that Captain + Stoker, the trendy coffee shop in Monterey, is looking to open a roasting facility with a small coffee bar in Sand City.

None of these things will have as big an impact on the city as the proposed South of Tioga project, which promises about 400 apartments, including 52 affordable ones, and a hotel. The city reached a milestone last month when it signed a development agreement with the Orosco Group. Demolition could start early next year.

“This project will help with housing, which we urgently need,” says councilmember Greg Hawthorne, who was reelected Nov. 3. “A hotel is needed for diversifying our revenue stream, and encourages patronage of our local businesses. This will breathe more life into our already vibrant city.”

Asaf Shalev is a staff writer at the Monterey County Weekly. He covers the environment, agriculture and K-12 education, as well as Seaside, Marina, Sand City, Big Sur and Carmel Valley.

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