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Do or Die

2nd District Supe race will decide board's majority

By Michael Mechanic

THE RESULT OF the 2nd District runoff in the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors race will either maintain the board's delicate balance of power or tip it into the lap of local progressives. The race comes at an important time, with California counties facing annual losses of at least $500 million in the aftermath of the federal welfare reform bill. The board will be forced to tighten budgets and show strong pecuniary restraint during the upcoming term.

Incumbent Walt Symons, 67, a retired military man and school-district superintendent, describes himself as a social moderate and a fiscal conservative who belongs to no party and has no higher political ambitions.

Challenger Paul Elerick, 59, a community activist and former engineering manager at IBM, is a "lifelong" Democrat running on the mantra that the board needs to return to the progressive majority it had before Symons captured his seat from incumbent Robley Levy.

On controversial land-use and other issues, Symons typically votes with conservative District 4 Supe Ray Belgard, or vice versa. Supervisors Mardi Wormhoudt and Fred Keeley--who is being replaced by progressive supe-elect Jeff Almquist--often take the opposing position, while 1st District Supe Jan Beautz is the deciding vote. An Elerick win will lock up progressive control of the board.

Incumbent Symons says voters are concerned with public safety and the ability of people living on fixed incomes to deal with the "increasing cost of government." He cites service-area fees and assessments, and the high cost of doing business with county bureaucracies, which, Symons complains, have too much discretion under existing ordinances.

Juvenile Hall and the District Attorney's Office are overburdened, Symons adds, and need additional staff. The challenge, he says, is figuring out how to pay for these, as well as social services, given the cuts the county faces.

Symons wants to pick up the slack by reducing "unnecessary spending" and perks within the county bureaucracy and by reducing management.

Elerick criticizes Symons for what he calls "lack of leadership," and assails him for not getting involved in key community battles. "Walt sat on the sidelines for the two issues that have been of major interest to people in our district," he says. The challenger cites an attempt to incorporate Aptos, which he characterizes as a ploy by developers to skirt Measure J--a slow- growth measure Elerick actively supported. According to Elerick, Symons was also silent in the battle over Measure A--a 1988 measure that would have allowed development on prime coastal property.

Symons believes he brings a "broader background of experience and common sense to the board than my opponent. We need a diversity of ideas and voices."

For his part, Elerick lists constituents' biggest concerns as traffic and overdevelopment. "There are some big land-use issues coming up," Elerick says. "People are concerned about out-of-scale buildings being put up in small residential neighborhoods."

The candidates differ on transportation issues. Symons is skeptical about rail and lists his accomplishment of having secured $110,000 from the air district to complete the San Andreas Bike Trail--money that was originally slated for a fixed-guide rail feasibility study. The funds were supposed to be used to reduce auto travel, but the bike lane in question was exclusively recreational.

Elerick says the rail studies should continue. "Walt has ruled out light rail, period," he says.

The candidates also differ in their approach to housing. Symons says the county should repair existing structures spread around the county rather than build high-density affordable housing. Elerick says the community should consider "clean, affordable apartment complexes like the new one on Merrill Road. It's not another Villa San Carlos."

Symons views himself as a filter for his constituents' needs. "I feel like I have to represent the conservative, the liberal, the moderate, everybody," he says.

Elerick says he, too, is capable of representing the entire district. "Walt spreads the story that I'm a rubber-stamp person for the progressive community. I will have my own views," Elerick says. "There are a lot of difficult decisions to make next year on human services, mental health and other areas, and there's not going to be enough to go around."

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From the October 31-November 6, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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