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 problem with SC is parking, the City owns almost all of it because the zoning allowed builders to do whatever they want, and the City supports the parking load for them. In other parts of the City you must have a given number of parking spaces for a given square footage, it's a zoning requirement, but not in the heart (downtown). So parking is totally jacked up and costs a fortune. If you're lucky, thieves won't target your vehicle. 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.
When strolling down the sidewalks, commuting between the parking lots and work, you may be asked for a handout or assaulted by someone else's secondhand smoke. The City doesn't enforce it's own outside smoking ban, much less enforce the Medical Marijuana statutes, which leaves the rest of us to hold our breath while the dope head in front of us is toking on a pipe.
I have worked in downtown SC on 3 different occasions, and all 3 have left me with the same opinion: it's a dirty and does not convey the clean and inviting atmosphere that businesses -- and their employees -- expect. The sooner I can GTFO, the better.