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April 12-19, 2006

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Jonathan Boutelle

Photograph by Leyna Krow
Passion Minus Fashion: Boutelle suggests that having been president of two local unions is as valuable as his competitors' political experience.

The Anti-Politician

County supervisor candidate Jonathan Boutelle sees his outsider status as one of his strengths

By Leyna Krow

This is the second in a three-part Metro Santa Cruz series featuring candidates in the race for District 3 county supervisor. You can find our profile of Chris Krohn here, and look for a profile of Neil Coonerty in the weeks ahead.

Jonathan Boutelle is not a politician, and that's what makes him interesting. In a flier announcing his candidacy for county supervisor, Boutelle boasts that he has "neither run for nor served on the Santa Cruz City Council." He has no public record of past decisions to draw upon, and next to nothing comes up when you type his name into Google.

But untainted by previous political dealings, Boutelle is straightforward, pragmatic and willing to give his opinion on just about anything, whether you ask him for it or not.

"I've never run for public office," admits the ruddy-faced retired carpenter and union activist. "But I was president of two local unions in Santa Cruz, and I thought I did a pretty good job."

Armed with the convictions of a man who knows what he wants for his county, Boutelle has thrown in his bid for the District 3 supervisor's seat along with former Santa Cruz mayors Chris Krohn and Neil Coonerty.

Boutelle's mixed feelings about his fellow candidates have fueled his enthusiasm for his own campaign.

"Let's take a look at where the city is right now," Boutelle says. "Each of them served one term [as mayor]. Individually, on individual issues, they've certainly done a good job, but on the other hand, each of them gave it up after one shot, which I don't understand."

Just two weeks into his campaign, Boutelle already has a solid grasp on the issues that will be at the forefront of this political contest. Indeed, they aren't hard to come by--they're the issues that have carried the most weight for Santa Cruz County supervisors for the past decade. Topping off the list are affordable housing, transportation and the ongoing battle between preservation and development.

Regardless of where they fall on these issues, all three candidates seem to agree that sustainability will be the buzz word for this race.

A father of three, Boutelle expresses concern about the lack of affordable housing for young people in Santa Cruz County.

"If we don't figure out a way to house the younger people in a stable fashion and make it so they can eventually own something here, we're going to suffer locally what California is suffering right now: brain drain. Talented, educated young people will move to an area where they can actually own a house, instead of just dream of owning one someday."

The trick to this, he says, is jobs that make people want to stay in the first place. Stronger unions, fair wages and apprenticeship programs will help young workers to feel invested in the community, argues Boutelle.

"We need to work on providing good jobs for people in Santa Cruz County who don't necessarily have university degrees, jobs where people can make a living."

Boutelle also weighs in on one of the city's most contested topics--the proposed widening of Highway 1. Despite the concerns of environmentalists that widening the highway will be costly and damaging, Boutelle maintains that this measure has become a necessity to accommodate the county's commuters.

"I certainly want to do everything possible to encourage people to commute by bicycle and bus once they're here, but Highway 1 is a major thoroughfare," says Boutelle. "People who happen to live in midcounty and happen to work in San Jose--neither of these are sins--are often stuck for quite a bit of time with motors running, fuel being used, which isn't too good for the environment either."

His willingness to continue the debate on Highway 1 speaks to Boutelle's pragmatism about future growth.

Critical of those who wish to limit the city's expansion, Boutelle says, "There seems to me to be a tendency for some people in this county to say, 'Now that I've arrived, Santa Cruz is complete.' I'm not going to encourage vast migrations into this area, but some growth is going to occur and it needs to be managed smartly."

For Boutelle, sustainable growth in Santa Cruz County means not only transportation solutions, but also an investment in long-term, sustainable industry.

"No, I'm not going to recreate Pittsburgh here," says Boutelle. "I mean appropriate industry--light industries that are clean and green."

Boutelle suggests focusing on tourism and agriculture as well as an expansion of Santa Cruz's fledgling fishing industry and an increase in timber harvesting.

"Occasionally we get confused and start to think that every tree in the forest is there for our enjoyment, but logging and forest products have always been a part of Santa Cruz's life," insists Boutelle who, as he is quick to point out, is a longtime member of the Sierra Club and a proponent of environmentalist policies.

Still, in a town where, for many, every tree is literally sacred, this is a bold proposition. But then, Boutelle isn't one to shy away from a hard sell.

"It has just occurred to me that I might be unfashionable," quips Boutelle, "although it never occurred to me to care."

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