The topic before the Santa Cruz City Council was homelessness. Neighbors of the burgeoning encampment behind the Ross department store had been calling on the city to close it. Meanwhile, $10 million in state funding for homelessness was set to come down the pike for local communities like Santa Cruz.
But before getting into the details, Mayor Martine Watkins reminded everyone that councilmembers need to be honest, open-minded and respectful of one another. “Perceptions that are unnamed and go unaddressed can further divide us,” she said, “and my hope is to bring us together.”
Reading from a prepared statement in front of her, Watkins glanced down occasionally while addressing the crowd. She said she felt that Councilmember Drew Glover had been trying to bully her into placing his own list of homeless-related items onto that evening’s agenda. His list included reopening city parks, overhauling overnight parking rules, creating new transitional encampments, and reconsidering an additional 20-odd homeless ordinances. Glover had support on those items from fellow councilmembers Chris Krohn and Sandy Brown, but he submitted a rough draft of his ideas after the deadline. Watkins got the list on the day of her agenda review meeting, and the schedule for what would go on to be a 13-hour meeting was already full. So after the agenda got finalized without his items, Glover took Facebook and Twitter, writing a blog post titled “The Fierce Urgency of Now.”
Glover accused his colleagues on the council of showing “a severe lack of urgency.” He called on his supporters to write Watkins and pressure her to prioritize the items he called for as soon as possible. The mayor stood her ground.
As she spoke at the Tuesday, Feb. 12 meeting, Glover and Krohn whispered to each other. At one point, the audience at Santa Cruz City Hall guffawed at the notion that Glover tried to “smear” her character. Watkins told the crowd that it was her turn to speak.
“I also understand,” Watkins continued, “that there are perceptions that my colleagues, both Councilmember Krohn and Councilmember Glover, are intentionally bullying me because I’m a woman.”
Glover threw his head back and let out a heavy sigh in apparent disbelief.
Watkins intentionally didn’t say whether or not she agreed with these perceptions, but the statement was clear.
The tension comes a few months after Glover prevailed, along with new Vice Mayor Justin Cummings in a November election, where he had promised big changes. The new four-person majority has the authority to implement policy shifts, but the procedural framework haven’t changed, nor has the makeup or size of Santa Cruz’s city staff.
Former Santa Cruz Mayor Cynthia Chase supports Watkins’ decision to speak up, although she says that not everyone has been so encouraging. In the days following the meeting, Chase, who served alongside Krohn, heard a lot of second-guessing of Watkins, who was the top vote-getter in the 2016 City Council election and works for county’s Office of Education. And it hasn’t sat well with her.
“And this is supposed to be a liberal community? You don’t have to agree with Martine’s comments, but you can at least listen to her,” Chase says. “Would she actually say this if it wasn’t true? She has done nothing to show that she would make up a story.”
Most local officials who have spoken about the issue in the weeks since the meeting have defended Watkins.
But Glover says his feelings were hurt when Watkins singled him and Krohn out publicly. Glover felt blindsided by her comments, he says, but has tried to move past them. While he stops short of saying that he deserves an apology, he invokes Martin Luther King, saying that he’s forgiven Watkins for what she said.
“For me one of the first steps is forgiveness, and I want to move forward in the centering of forgiveness,” he says. “Not only for the mayor, but also for myself, to be as constructive and productive as possible.”
Glover says that he’s an avowed feminist, noting that he served for more than a year on the Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women (CPVAW). Krohn and Brown both nominated him in 2017.
Glover also says he’s hoping to chat with Watkins about what he did wrong, and how to prevent incidents like this in the future. Watkins, who stands by her comments, says she has spoken with Glover, and that she would be happy to do so again.
Though Watkins has declined to go into detail about what specifically happened between her and the other councilmembers, some community members feel that a troubling pattern has begun to emerge.
One councilmember has filed a formal complaint against Glover, who took office in early December, under the Respectful Workplace Conduct policy, which the council adopted two years ago. GT made a request under California Public Records Act for complaints against councilmembers under the city’s Discrimination and Harassment Policy, approved by the council less than two years ago. Records Coordinator Kelly Thompson says in an email that all relevant records are currently in draft and note form and therefore not public. “The public interest in withholding the record clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure due to the particular details and nature of the records,” she writes.
Other individuals have stepped up to defend Glover. The Santa Cruz Sentinel ran a letter on Feb. 16 from former City Councilmember Micah Posner arguing that Watkins was wrong not to agendize Glover’s submission. “Instead of bringing up gender politics,” the mayor “should apologize for her error,” he wrote.
“People of all genders make mistakes,” Posner explained.
A couple of days later, the paper ran a response letter from District 3 county Supervisor Ryan Coonerty defending Watkins. “Micah Posner’s letter asking Mayor Watkins to apologize for saying she felt bullied by Councilmen Glover and Krohn is a disgrace,” wrote the two-time Santa Cruz mayor.
He noted that it is the mayor’s job to set the agenda, and Coonerty felt that “she did her job well.”
“More importantly, the mayor called out a pattern of bullying over the last months, not just related to political differences of the last week,” Coonerty wrote. “I’ve heard the same concerns from a dozen women who’ve watched or are involved with city government. Their concerns need to be respected.”
Over the next few days, Councilmember Donna Meyers voiced her support for the mayor in a letter of her own, saying that Watkins was right to speak out. Former Mayor Don Lane and his wife Mary Howe wrote their own letter reminding readers that claims of sexism should be taken seriously. Former five-time Mayor Mike Rotkin reaffirmed that it’s the mayor’s job to set the agenda—and for good reason, he argued, so that individual councilmembers can’t force their own ideas onto an agenda to the detriment of all other priorities.
Then, the Sentinel ran a pro-Watkins op-ed from nine women—some of them deeply involved in politics, including local Democratic Women’s Club President Carol Fuller, School Board Trustee Deb Tracy-Proulx, Capitola City Councilmember Yvette Brooks, and Rachel Dann, a county analyst for Coonerty. (Brooks is a coworker of Watkins’ and also ran her 2016 council campaign.)
Glover says members of the political establishment are only criticizing his behavior because he is “challenging the power structure” in local government. He draws a parallel to how critics at the national level have lobbed criticisms for newly elected democratic socialist U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), who’s taken strong stances on taxes, immigration reform and climate change.
“I’m disappointed in Supervisor Coonerty,” he says. “I’m disappointed in former Mayor Lane. I’m disappointed in Mike Rotkin, but that is what was to be expected when I came into this office.”
Other politicians have weighed in, as well. Former Councilmember Richelle Noroyan, who lost a reelection bid in November, put up a Facebook post summarizing stories she had heard two years earlier. Noroyan says that during her time on the council, three feminist women requested that she not support Glover’s appointment to the Commission for the CPVAW. Each recounted stories of how he spoke to them in a harsh manner compared to how he addressed men, she says, but they asked her not to reveal their identities.
Glover dismisses those claims as “vagueities.”
“I find it hard to appreciate Richelle Noroyan’s criticism,” he says.
In all, Glover says he enjoys being on the council, “minus all this unnecessary drama from people who are supposed to be ‘leaders in our community,’” he says, flexing his fingers to signify air quotes.
Gender aside, former Watkins says she sees another troubling trend. They draw parallels between Glover’s recent political approach and that of President Donald Trump—using a divisive, scorched-Earth strategy to declare crisis, create a villain, and try to secure funding as quickly as possible. Chase says she has seen Krohn use similar tactics.
Glover calls such charges against himself and Krohn “laughable,” and says that his critics are only trying to compare him to Trump because the president is so reviled. “What’s worse in Santa Cruz than being compared to Trump?” he asks.
MEET AND GRIT
Chase does not look back on certain aspects of her four-year run on the City Council—which ended in 2018—fondly. For one thing, she says she recalls Krohn putting constant pressure on her to do what he wanted, demanding long meetings with her every week and talking over her in City Council meetings.
“His behavior was incredibly aggressive—very harassing, bullying—to try to get his own agenda to happen,” says Chase, acknowledging that she wasn’t always able to get items heard at Krohn’s preferred meetings. “For me, it’s never personal about those things. I’m always trying. Nobody gets special treatment. We’re trying to do the business of the city, not no one individual’s agenda.”
She adds that the behavior of her former colleagues, Krohn included, was one reason she decided not to run for re-election last year.
During her year as mayor in 2017, Chase remembers one time in particular, when she says Krohn asked to attend an agenda-review meeting. Agenda review is the when the mayor meets with staff to decide which items will be discussed at any given council meeting. The two argued about whether or not Krohn could join, with Chase explaining to him that it would it would be unfair to extend that courtesy to one councilmember without also extending it to all members. When Krohn showed up at the meeting unannounced, Chase says she asked Krohn if the two of them could speak privately, and when he said no, she decided she had no choice but to cancel the meeting.
Krohn says he doesn’t understand why those agenda-review rules are such a big deal, and that he sat in on an agenda-review meeting during his previous stint on the council many years prior. He pushed in recent years for a change to the agendizing rules, so that three councilmembers at a time would rotate in and out of the review meetings, but it failed.
In general, Chase says she was surprised that Krohn was so pushy with her. She felt like the two of them shared progressive values and concerns about the homeless. The following year, her fellow councilmember David Terrazas took over as mayor, serving for one year just like she did. Chase felt that Krohn went far easier on Terrazas in council meetings than Krohn had been on her—interrupting him less and being less disruptive—even though he and Terrazas have less in common politically. Noroyan agrees. Chase says, in recent council meetings, that Krohn has been treating Watkins the way he treated her.
Terrazas says he’s not sure that’s true. Although he generally enjoyed working with Krohn, he says he’s not sure that Krohn treated him any differently. Terrazas explains that he tried to handle any potential issues before council meetings got underway. “I did my best to and schedule one-on-one discussions and address his concerns to prevent them from spilling out into the public,” says Terrazas, who adds that he fully supports Watkins and says there should be an investigation into whether there was misconduct.
Krohn says in an email that he’s “very sorry Mayor Chase felt disrespected,” and that he has no ill will toward her. He campaigned for her in 2014, he says, and had one of her signs on his lawn.
Krohn says he appreciated that Terrazas made a point of reaching out to him even when Krohn was in the minority, as he often was last year. Krohn adds that he hopes that he has been equally direct with each mayor, regardless of gender.
Chase says that she wasn’t the only councilwoman who bore the brunt of Krohn’s hard-nosed tactics. She says she saw Krohn be “verbally abusive” to Councilmember Sandy Brown, one of his allies, pressuring her to vote the way he wanted her to.
“I care for Sandy as a person, but we all witnessed it. It’s not a secret. But there’s not a lot we can do about it,” Chase says. “It’s very shitty to be in her position: ‘I wanted you to do something, and you didn’t. How dare you.’”
Brown disagrees, telling GT she has no problem with Krohn’s behavior or political style.
“There are different ways of communication,” says Brown, who adds that she misses Chase dearly. “Chris and Drew have a much more direct way of communication. That makes a lot of people uncomfortable. It’s never made me uncomfortable.”
Internal disagreements aside, some of the homelessness proposals that Glover suggested are moving ahead with the blessing of the City Council (see page 14). Other items have stalled, due to lack of interest from other councilmembers.
When it comes to gender equity, Noroyan, a former chair for the Santa Cruz County Democratic Party, says she hopes what transpired last month can be “a teachable moment” for Glover and Krohn. She believes that sometimes men on the political left are so confident in the feminist politics they preach that they don’t take time to self-reflect and ask themselves if they are truly living up to the values they espouse.
“They don’t ever question themselves, because, ‘Look, I’m so woke when it comes to women’s issues. I couldn’t possibly do those bad things,’” she says.
That, she believes, is what’s going on with Glover and Krohn.
Noroyan admits that she had her own mea culpa moments when she was on the council. She earned scorn, for instance, when she lost her temper at a 2016 Coastal Commission meeting and was asked to leave. She says she always tried to learn from her mistakes. Noroyan isn’t sure she sees a self-reflective approach in the way Glover and Krohn carry themselves, but she hopes they can do the same.
Krohn writes that “of course” he believes he has the capacity to look back and grow from any missteps.
Glover says that, at the end of the day, the commotion has served as little more than a distraction from the work that he and his colleagues want to get done to improve the lives of city residents. There seems to be consensus on that idea.
Watkins says she wants to move forward as well. The City Council, she says, has work to do.
“We have work to do on so many issues that are important for our city,” Watkins says. “I hope that this can allow us to move in a positive direction. There are so many possibilities. That’s the beauty of local governance. You can see and feel ways to have an impact.”
Update 3/6/2019 11:09 a.m.: A previous version of this story misstated a detail of Glover’s appointment to the Commission for Prevention of Violence Against Women.