New Kid : Political newcomer David Terrazas has won a number of key endorsements, including four sitting councilmembers.
Left and Center
Vying for Santa Cruz City Council this year it's the Young Turks vs. the Old Hippies vs. the Even Older Hippies, and it's going to be close.
By Curtis Cartier
With two unpopular wars, a president worse than Nixon and the country one blond hair away from a depression, America has hit the skids. And while Barack Obama and John McCain promise change in Washington, local leaders in towns across the country--towns like Santa Cruz--are promising change in city hall. In addition to a $5 million budget shortfall and an area unemployment rate of 6.2 percent (a shade worse than the national jobless rate of 6.1 percent), Santa Cruz has seen the exodus of some high-revenue businesses like the Volvo and Subaru dealerships (the latter moves to Capitola this month). So whether by sense of duty or masochistic indulgence, 10 candidates and neighbors are volunteering--scratch that--fighting to pull their hair out fixing things. Business owners, professors, marijuana patients and marathon runners people this year's crop of City Council candidates. Some are household names and others have been under house arrest, but all live in Santa Cruz and think they can make it a better place.
Under the Centrist Flag
As with the nation, in Santa Cruz the economy has taken center stage in this year's race for City Council. With the shift toward fiscal concentration, candidates willing to rub shoulders with developers and ax a few social niceties have risen to the top as Santa Cruz's famed leftist agenda swerves to the center.
Leading the way under the moderate flag is Mayor Ryan Coonerty, along with Don Lane, David Terrazas and Tony Madrigal. Coonerty makes no bones about his middle-of-the-road views, although, he says, "compared to other parts of the country I'm still far to the left." At the end of his first term on the council, one year of which he spent as mayor, Coonerty has proven a popular figure among the hard-to-please voters of Santa Cruz. With a busy tenure marked by strong support for a citywide public sleeping ban and an ironed-out land use agreement with a lawsuit-happy university, Coonerty has earned high expectations for this year's election. And though some progressives see him as too chummy with developers, his call to the center has been answered by a large bloc of voters.
"The economy has shown itself as the big issue of this campaign," says Coonerty. "We have to be willing to work with all sides of our community to build a sustainable infrastructure and a sustainable economy."
Tony Madrigal, a former farmworker from Turlock and a major proponent of union labor and equal rights for the Latino population, is also seeing the end of his first term on the council. And though Madrigal has been plagued by occasional foot-in-mouth syndrome, his popularity among Latinos and working-class people can't be denied. Madrigal has also taken perhaps the hardest position, among the other candidates, against gang activity and is pitching the idea of a countywide gang task force to be headed by several law enforcement agencies in an effort to crack down on street violence.
"Stopping gangs comes down to prevention, intervention and suppression," he says. "You can't hope to solve the problem without all those steps."
One of three former City Council members looking to rejoin the fray is Don Lane. After his 1988-1992 council term was dominated by earthquake recovery efforts, Lane says he left public service "exhausted by rebuilding."
Since then, the community organizer and former owner of the Saturn Cafe worked as chair of the city's General Plan Commission in 2006 and is hoping to treat the City Council like his former work group by integrating different factions of the community into the process. But while he admits to having been a staunch liberal during his term 20 years ago, Lane says he's moved to the center because the times have called for it.
"One of the great dilemmas of Santa Cruz politics is that people get involved too late in the process," says Lane. "I'd like to add an intermediate step in the approval process for projects, so at the first meeting people can give suggestions, then by the second meeting they can come out and support or not support a project. I just think when you concentrate on the final date it's too much to get through."
Perhaps the most surprising candidate in this year's race is newcomer David Terrazas. The 39-year-old transportation manager has put together an extensive campaign and turned the heads of some established movers and shakers. With a strong background in transportation and graduate-level education, Terrazas has championed sustainable and alternative transportation as his mainstay while projecting a socially liberal, fiscally conservative platform on other issues.
"As the only candidate running who has young children, I have an inherent interest in making Santa Cruz the best place it can be for kids to grow up in," he says. "I'm also willing to take risks with green technology that could make Santa Cruz a world leader in the industry."
Both Katherine Beiers and Tim Fitzmaurice are looking to return to city politics after serving as councilmembers and mayors. For Beiers, the homecoming was inspired by "accomplishing everything I wanted to at home and then feeling like I was ready to serve again."
As the oldest candidate on the ballot, the 76-year-old career librarian is promising she is far from a typical grandma. And as a fiery liberal and competitive marathon runner, who's going to argue with her? Protecting neighborhood integrity and fighting excessive development were mainstays of her previous tenure and continue to dominate her political agenda.
"I'm clearly one of the big environmentalists," she says. "I've been a longtime supporter of green belts and I'm interested in protecting the natural beauty that makes our town special."
Tim Fitzmaurice, a writing professor at UCSC a and proud progressive, served two terms on the City Council, including one year as mayor in 2000. As another strong proponent of environmental issues, he's looking at green technology as a morally responsible way of building and growing but also a financially sound way of keeping the city coffers full. He says with the community's shift toward fiscal priorities, the council needs someone to make sure the bar on environmental standards continues to be held high.
"I'm no moderate," Fitzmaurice says. "I'm supported by most of the progressive groups in town, but I'm never interested in closing the debate. I want all sides heard so we come up with the best possible solution."
The Long Shots
Winning the hearts and minds of Santa Cruzans is no easy task. With one of the most vocal populations of any American city, no one can expect to be elected in Santa Cruz without running a brutal gauntlet. Blas Cabrera, Craig Canada, Lisa Molyneux and Simba Kenyatta may be running small campaigns with smaller chances of winning, but they've each got big dreams and all have plans to keep at it.
The most articulate and charismatic of the long shots, Blas Cabrera wants to change the basic fabric of how Santa Cruz functions as a city. The 28-year-old holistic healer is a graduate of UCSC and has radical ideas like participatory budgeting, in which each neighborhood of a community compiles a list of requests for the budget, and green health care that abandons traditional pharmaceutical-based treatment for an all-natural holistic approach to medicine.
"I'm representing drastic changes on almost every issue," he says. "I want sustainability and community involvement at every level. The changes I'd like to see may take decades, but it's never to early to start."
As a longtime medical marijuana advocate and patient, Craig Canada has made drug policy reform his central issue. The formerly homeless candidate has a background in accounting and a penchant for wisecracks. His platform is "progressive by default," and Canada is not only hoping to protect environmental resources and enrich education, he's also hoping to shake off the cops he says are making his life miserable.
"I've been harassed and hounded by police for smoking marijuana in public because I needed to medicate," he says. "When I was homeless I experienced just how broken the system is. I think the council needs fresh perspective from someone who has been through the system like I have."
Community organizer and youth advocate Simba Kenyatta says he needs money. As the only African American candidate, he says he represents minorities in the city who can't afford to run for office--something he says he'll change.
"By requiring candidates to raise $1,000 to run, we're eliminating a huge amount of talented people who simply can't afford to run," says Kenyatta in reference to the city's requirement to spend or raise $1,000 or collect 250 signatures in order to be mentioned as a candidate on the city's website. "I'm here to offer more diversity on the City Council because our city is much more diverse than the faces you see up here already."
With strong ties to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, Lisa Molyneux, like Canada, is a vehement supporter of medical marijuana and opened Santa Cruz's first dispensary in 2005. The 48-year-old nonprofit worker has shown a strong liberal stance on every issue.
"I think the GLBT community is underrepresented in our town, which is surprising given how many of us there are," she says. "The council needs new perspective."
Adding It Up
If voters dismiss the long shot candidates for being exactly that, the six remaining hopefuls should be in for a photo finish come Nov. 4. But for voters like Larry Pearson, Don Webber or Pravin Patel, having 10 candidates fighting for four spots is a blessing. And while La Bahia opponent Webber may have different baseline views than hotel mogul Patel, they both agreed that improving the economy is issue No. 1.
"I think the most important issues are economic growth and eliminating crime," says Patel. "As a bridge between the candidates and the Indian hotel owners, I'd be willing to look at a reasonable raise of the hotel tax for extra revenue as long as we saw that money being reinvested into the tourism industry."
Raising the hotel tax, or Transient Occupancy Tax, has been suggested by almost every candidate as a way to bring in extra revenue, but similar proposals have been shot down by hotel owners twice before.
Larry Pearson, owner of Pacific Cookie Company, says he's a liberal on the national stage but a borderline conservative locally. He calls Coonerty "the best mayor we've ever had" and says Don Lane and David Terrazas have also impressed him, although he's yet to make up his mind on who will get his vote. Longtime community advocate and political gadfly Webber, meanwhile, says he thinks the race is a "toss-up," and while he's counted out some of the lesser-known candidates, he says, "in Santa Cruz you never know what could happen."
"It's definitely a tight pack this year. Normally you have leading figures and strugglers, but this year is too close to call," says Webber. "The race is also taking place in this unprecedented fiscal mess the city is in."
Amid the debris of the nation's collapsing financial institutions and plummeting international reputation, residents of Santa Cruz can forget America for moment and just be Santa Cruzans. Because if Obama is right and "change happens from the bottom up," then the next seven City Council members will start a revolution. But it takes a spark to start a flame, and this year it takes a vote to start anew.
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