Scotts Valley City Councilmember Donna Lind is approaching a big half-century milestone.
The small-town politician will be celebrating 50 years with the city on Sunday, Aug. 12. She began working for Scotts Valley in 1968 as a recent high school graduate, when she took a job as a secretary and became City Hall’s fourth staffer.
The city had only been incorporated two years earlier. The offices were in a two-story house, she recalls. The police department was downstairs, and the City Hall was upstairs.
After about a year, Lind began working as a dispatcher for the police, where she rose through the ranks to sergeant during her 39-year career with the department. In 2008, she retired from the force and ran for the Scotts Valley City Council, where she’s served ever since.
She remembers Scotts Valley’s time as an especially quiet town with lots of fruit stands. There was a lumberyard where the Kmart is now. She remembers President George Bush landing at Sky Park, which she describes as more of a hassle than anything else.
When Lind began, she says Scotts Valley only had 4,400 residents. It now has about 12,000.
How has Scotts Valley changed in your time there?
DONNA LIND: In those early days, kids rode horses on Scotts Valley Drive. I had a horse and rode in the Scotts Valley Days Parade. When I first started working, there were no stoplights in Scotts Valley at all.
I remember when the first stoplight went in at Mt. Hermon Road and Scotts Valley Drive. We thought, “Wow, we’re a real city! We’ve got a stop light!” Pretty famous people, like Alfred Hitchcock, flew in and out of Sky Park. We would see him drive down.
I was gonna ask if you ever saw Hitchcock, who spent much of his time in Scotts Valley.
There would be police calls I went to at his house for trespassing. He wasn’t there, but his caregiver and other people were. Since then, I’ve gotten to know his family members. He was somewhat reclusive, but he would come down. He usually had someone driving him. It was such a cool community. And yet along the way a lot of high-tech companies, like Netflix, started in Scotts Valley.
But in the early days, Santa’s Village was here. We had the Barn, a theater, where the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, very famous rock bands, played. Back in the ’60s, there was a lot of LSD, many residents weren’t thrilled. They talked about beatniks hanging out there. Later, the Smothers Brothers had their vineyards up on Vine Hill. A police partner and I stopped Dickie Smothers on Highway 17 and Granite Creek Road and investigated him for a DUI and ended up following him home.
Was he over the limit?
No, he was not. We just said, ‘We’ll follow you to your exit.’ It was a mile away, and we made sure he got there OK. He was very friendly and cooperative. It was our way of saying, “Stay safe and be careful.”
What is it like being on the force?
I remember the first time I went to a call in uniform in a police car. The man, when I got there, said “I called for a police officer.”
When I tell the story, people ask, “Well, did you get mad?” I go, “No, I probably would’ve asked for the male cop, too.” I was small and young-looking, and you couldn’t get upset or take it personally. I just said, “Would you see if I could help you?” As it turned out, he ended up going around town bragging he was my first call.
You couldn’t have thin skin. No one was used to seeing a 5-foot-3, 110-pound female in uniform. I had to learn to do things differently. You learn to use verbal skills. And I was gymnast. I worked out hard.
It sounds like, as the city’s first woman police officer, you weren’t too troubled by the sexism you experienced at the time. Looking back now, does it seem unfair?
There were times—I hated this—when I would stop someone, and they would say, “Hey sweetie, what do you want?” That was demeaning. Officers would joke that they would roll around and back me up. They would tease. I would feel disrespected, but I came up at a time when I really learned to handle it. My first chief was like a father figure, and he made a clear message that he would not tolerate it within the department.
The big policy item in Scotts Valley over the past decade has been the Town Center project. The City Council picked a developer last year. Has the plan been hurt by the decline in retail across the United States, and what challenge does that pose going forward?
There’s been talk for over 20 years. I remember saying, “I’m never gonna see this,” and then, when I got elected in 2008, I said, “Wow, it’s really gonna happen! This is cool.” I thought about how cool it would be to be a part of the Town Center, and then the economy crashed. The developer walked away, and it fell through. Then several years ago, there was another offer that looked like it started to come together. Some of it has been the economy. Some of it has been the change in retail. Some of it has been because the city of Santa Cruz owns part of that land, and the developer has to negotiate with them and with us. There have also been some issues with soil contamination from decades in the past that had to be dealt with and cleaned up.
Now the proposal for a current Town Center is very different. Personally, I’m not sure if this is the right direction, but we’re in the early stages of the plan. We’re having community meetings and working with the developer. But if we’re not happy as a community and a council, we can continue to wait. We can walk away. It’s nice to see a developer that’s had some success locally, but again, with the change in retail, we’re gonna need to go slow and make sure we work out something. This is not a done deal.