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Silicon Valley Overflow Reaches Pacific
By Martha Mendoza   Associated Press
SANTA CRUZ— California's idyllic Central Coast, once dubbed "the land of endless summers" by Spanish explorers, is rapidly transforming into the "Cybercoast" as technology workers and corporations overflow from the neighboring Silicon Valley.

"How could it get worse?" said James Crowell, a 26-year-old local resident who cruised a technology business fair here last week. "This is San Jose 20 years ago. Out in the country we still have peace and tranquility, possums, owls, raccoons and coyotes, but downtown you can't go anywhere. The traffic is becoming abominable."

California's Central Coast, stretching about 150 miles from Montara to Monterey, is home to about a dozen communities with a total of about 500,000 residents. Inland and parallel to the coast on the same stretch, more than 2 million people fill the burgeoning cities south of San Francisco.

"The Silicon Valley is probably the most dynamic economic development area in the entire world," said Gary Patton, who heads LandWatch Monterey, a conservation organization. "It's putting incredible pressures on the Central Coast."

Twenty years ago, Silicon Valley — once known as "Prune Valley" — was lush with orchards, fruit-packing plants, clean air and affordable homes. The high-tech boom has raised incomes substantially and practically eliminated unemployment, but the small-town quality of life in places like Sunnyvale, Campbell, Cupertino and Mountain View is gone as well.

Schools are now overcrowded, traffic is regularly jammed, housing prices have soared and office buildings and corporate campuses — Cisco, Intel, Apple, IBM, Sun and many more — have replaced the rows of peach trees.

On clear days, Silicon Valley residents can still see the redwood-covered Santa Cruz mountains that separate their freeways, office parks and gated communities from the coastal havens of Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz, Monterey and Carmel.

But now these picturesque towns are growing techie too. With nicknames like "the cyber coast" and "the Silicon beaches," the coastside has become home to dozens of new Internet and technology businesses.

First came the workers — well paid Silicon Valley computer programmers willing to commute over the mountains along slick, foggy narrow roads in order to live near the beach. These days about 60,000 people a day commute in two lanes from Santa Cruz along Highway 17 to lucrative jobs in the Silicon Valley.

They boosted the coastal economy with their paychecks, but also drove up housing prices to more than $400,000 on average, and created daily traffic jams along scenic Highway 1, which winds along the cliffs above the Pacific Ocean.

Soon the techies began opening businesses on the coast themselves.

A new company opens in Santa Cruz County every two weeks, according to Matthew Herman, a senior account manager at the Hall Kinion employment agency in Capitola.

The Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the high tech business fair on the same day and block as the weekly downtown Farmers Market, says it's not going to follow the Silicon Valley's path to environmental havoc.

"The key is to maintain the quality of life that is here, rather than growing willy nilly," said Greg Carter, the chamber's sales and marketing representative.

But the growth has been rapid. These days the Monterey Bay is not only home to a biologically diverse national marine sanctuary and dozens of state parks, but also to about 20 Internet startups, including the pre-IPO firms SurfSoft in Capitola and Lutris Technologies.

There are also a few old timers — The Santa Cruz Operation Inc., or SCO, founded in 1979, is a global leader in business software, and Texas Instruments runs a wafer manufacturing facility in Santa Cruz with 600 employees.

Local leaders concede that some damage has already been done. Housing prices in Santa Cruz and Monterey are among the top in the nation and Highway 17 routinely makes the top 10 lists of most dangerous and overcrowded highways.

Some residents are fighting back.

In Santa Cruz County, residents and local political leaders routinely kill proposals to widen highways that would make the region easier to drive in and out of.

And when one high tech leader submitted plans for a mansion on a scenic coastal drive in the city of Santa Cruz, hundreds of residents turned out to protest.

In Half Moon Bay, local laws are now in place limiting growth. And in Monterey County, new development is simply banned in the Big Sur area.

In San Jose, Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce president Steve Tedesco says the quality of life in their region is enhanced by the coast, where workers can escape to sun themselves on the beaches, hike the forests or sip coffee in the quaint downtowns.

Sadly, he said, coastal towns "don't have total control over their destiny."

"You see the impact job growth of the Silicon Valley is having," he said. "There are people here who argue that Santa Cruz has already allowed too much development on the coast. Yes, here in the Silicon Valley we've wiped out orchards, but there are other orchards. Once you wipe out the coast, it's gone."

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