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May 23rd
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The Race Is On

news2-City Council MeetingCity council candidates run from one forum to the ‘Next’
Eight candidates, three council seats, and a zillion forums are the makings for a busy election season. In the last few weeks, the Santa Cruz City Council hopefuls have been making the rounds at a variety of community forums aimed at getting to know them better. The roster of candidates includes incumbent Lynn Robinson, who is running for reelection, Transportation and Public Works Commissioner David Terrazas, who ran for the council in 2008, retired firefighter Ron Pomerantz, Planning Commissioner David Foster, grant writer Steve Pleich, insurance salesman Kevin Moon (the outspoken Republican of the group), real estate agent Hilary Bryant and nonprofit worker Gus Ceballos.

Forums are like political speed dating: you line up the potential contenders, fire a few carefully selected questions at them, and then pick your favorites. Perhaps in an honest reflection of what’s on Santa Cruz’s mind, the forums thus far, including the Sept. 13 Santa Cruz Next forum, which GT got a sneak peak into, have focused on business, economic growth and public safety, with only the occasional water or transportation-related environmental questions thrown in (these issues played a bigger role in the 2008 race).

If you haven’t crossed paths with a Santa Cruz Next member yet, they are, in general terms, between 25 and 40 years of age, business-minded, and interested in local politics and engaging in the community. The group was formed in 2008, and has continued to grow since—allowing folks in the demographic to attend events, network, and meet other people facing similar challenges as themselves (namely affordable housing and job opportunities—the pair of problems that make Santa Cruz a hard place to both live and work).

Unlike their bustling 2008 city council candidate forum at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center, this meeting was a small, private event for Next members only. An absent Kevin Moon made for a total of seven participants. Fittingly, their first question to the hopefuls was specific to the Santa Cruz Next generation: What have you done, or what will you do once on the council, to help our generation in confronting the challenges we face and to engage us in civic life?

Foster said that he would advocate for building additional housing and for “increased density downtown” and more “urbanized” areas.

Ceballos cited local jobs as the key to helping the “Next” generation. “The city seems to be anti-business,” he said. “As a councilperson I would make the city more business-friendly.”

Bryant stressed that as a member of the demographic herself, she understood and would champion the need for more community involvement. “It’s essential we have a voice in the community and the political system,” she said.

Another question concerned city/university relations: Do you or do you not support the 2008 settlement between the City of Santa Cruz and UC Santa Cruz as it currently stands?

The query garnered “yeses” all around, some more stringent than others. While most gave solid yeses (Robinson having actually helped broker the settlement), Foster said he supports it but believes it should be taken further. “There’s no reason it can’t be a car-free campus,” he said, also citing housing and water as other areas where he thinks the university could do more. Pomerantz echoed Foster’s wavy “yes,” saying, “I don’t believe it went far enough, but the precedent has been set.”

Others focused on illuminating the positive: Terrazas expounded on how the city can foster better opportunities for UCSC students and researchers in order to retain university talent and utilize it to better the city’s businesses and economy. Pleich agreed: “UCSC is an incubator space for our high tech and green tech business,” he said, adding, “There are more things that unite us than divide us.” He pointed to the fact that when asked to reduce its water usage by 15 percent, UCSC did twice that figure; “voluntary cooperation [like this] between the city and university will make for a beautiful future,” he said. Overall, the candidates stressed that the university is pivotal to the city’s well-being and that it is possible for it to grow sustainably.

The forum also addressed public safety, which is a common theme in the candidates’ platforms. Terrazas, who earlier this year self-published a public safety door hanger that was distributed to more than 8,000 residences, said that Santa Cruz is “a small town with big city problems.” A candidate with many thought-out ideas up his sleeves, Terrazas added that he wants the city to look at best practice models, utilize public/private partnerships, and clean up blighted areas with better lighting and public art.

The participants echoed one another when it came to striking a balance between economic growth and preserving our natural resources. Pomerantz said that he supports actions like Measure H, a utility tax, and a hotel tax, for short-term economic solutions, and the rail trail for a long-term solution that would help create a “green, sustainable economy.”

Ceballos declared that, if elected, he would give the Redevelopment Agency a four-year deadline to create 1,000 new jobs.

Two days later, at the Sept. 15 “Business and Community” forum hosted by the Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Association and Convention and Visitors Council, the prospective councilmembers answered more questions about public safety and economic development, and were grilled on city budget matters. They continued the party with the Take Back Santa Cruz’s forum “Politics in the Park” on Sept. 19, Santa Cruz Neighbor’s equivalent on Sept. 21, among others.

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