Inside the budding campaigns for the Third District seat
Bob Lamonica, a local tech marketer and, so far, politico Ryan Coonerty’s only active contender for Santa Cruz County’s Third District Supervisor seat, is running an almost gleeful campaign against what he calls “Santa Cruz’s progressive establishment.”
His campaign plan, while covering issues like public safety, the economy, and water security, is predominately about making a point. That point? That he views Coonerty’s well-backed campaign for the same seat that his father, Neal Coonerty, who is retiring, holds as an “unethical” and “insincere” lockdown on local government power.
“Perhaps it will be a sweep,” Lamonica says of the election—Coonerty has racked up a varied and lengthy list of endorsements and about $40,000 in contributions; Lamonica, meanwhile, has contributed to his own campaign fewer than $2,000—“but I’m in this to the end. I’m going to present things that need to be presented and abuse of power is key to this. If we cannot recognize and stand up to that, then we’ve lost everything.”
Professional surfer Ken “Skindog” Collins filed a statement of intent to run, but did not respond to Good Times’ request for comment by press time.
Lamonica’s main accusation is that the progressive establishment—which he says includes Coonerty and, generally, the Democratic party—conducts government with such a degree of double standard that it constitutes an “abuse of power.” As an example, he cites the 2010 sentencing of Wes Modes, a former organizer of the unsanctioned “Do It Yourself Parade,” for participating in a different unpermitted event. Lamonica says other participants included former city officials but that they went uncharged.
Lamonica, whose civic background includes an unsuccessful run for East Palo Alto City Council in 1990 and advocating for a medical marijuana measure in the early ’90s‚ says he offers the Third District something new: “how to think; not what to think.” As an independent, he says he is not beholden to the People’s Democratic Club or the local American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), while the progressive establishment carries allegiances to these groups that amount to “disingenuous baggage.”
The 63-year-old, who would like to bring “honest” discussions to the table about homelessness, poverty, and taxation of the wealthy, has worked for 30-plus years in the technical fields of medical plastics and manufacturing parts for military Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV).
Coonerty, a former Santa Cruz mayor and councilmember, co-founder of NextSpace, lecturer at UC Santa Cruz, and author, says he assesses the role as a supervisor through a more pragmatic lens and doesn’t worry too much about labels. He recalls his first bid for city council, when he regularly heard that he was either not a real progressive or that he was far too progressive for the city’s own good.
“I would hear those two comments almost on a daily basis,” he says. “I don’t think these labels matter much anymore. I think one of the best parts about local government is that it’s mostly just problem solving—the trash has to get picked up, there needs to be water available, the police and fire [departments] have to respond. So I see my job as a problem-solving one.”
Interestingly, aside from the differences in political vantage points and labels—the independent verses the progressive establishment’s golden boy, as Lamonica sees it—some of their views on mainstay policies do not differ greatly. Both would like to embrace the county’s place as an emerging tech hub and both view desalination as an unideal solution to water shortages but worth keeping around as an option.
Coonerty, 39, believes Santa Cruz County has the potential to emerge as an economic engine for the place where technology and food production meet. With our position between Silicon Valley, the Salinas and Pajaro valleys’ agricultural production, and the Monterey Bay, Coonerty says “we have a tremendous opportunity to be the future of food here. There is big opportunity and we need to support the companies that are coming up here, from farms to processing to restaurants.”
Part of that support would be working to expand broadband Internet across the whole county, which he says is a vital resource for small businesses.
One of Coonerty’s previous tech contributions was his work as mayor in helping to facilitate the City of Santa Cruz’s program OpenCounter, which allows business owners to register, apply for permitting, and pay fees online. In the spirit of OpenCounter, Coonerty would like to help establish more user-friendly systems for the community on the county level, such as moving some services online.
“The county has been a little bit slower in adopting technology,” he says. “There’s a big opportunity to make it a better customer experience.”
In Lamonica’s version of the county’s tech future, he would like to see new business in the form of intelligent car prototyping for Google, agricultural drone research, and robots.
“We have an incredible advantage for stuff to be tested here,” he says. “Why don’t we get on the edge of that?”
On water security, Coonerty says the county must establish better regional agreements, determine the infrastructure for ongoing water supply from Soquel Creek Water District, conserve more, and secure an emergency water source. Only then, he adds, should desalination be allowed to re-enter the conversation.
He believes that the job of the supervisor for the Third District—which includes the North Coast, UCSC and most of the City of Santa Cruz—is to both “traditionally” and “morally” protect the Monterey Bay and the North Coast, up to the San Mateo County line.
“Before we move forward, I have to know that [desal] doesn’t have any impact on the bay and that we’re able to offset the considerable carbon footprint,” he says. “The initial studies say that you can do that, but I think that there is a long way to go and a lot of other measures that we need to take first.” Short of taking a firm stand one way or the other, Coonerty defers to voters: “At the end of the day, elected officials won’t make this decision; members of the public will.”
His campaign agenda offers ideas on the public safety front, such as having various entities collaborate to deal with chronic offenders, and homelessness, for which he would like to see a variety of approaches, like the housing-first model and “Homeward Bound” programs, come together to lower numbers.
“We’re a small community with a big problem, so it’s probably not going to take just one solution but 15 different ones being constantly evaluated to see what works best,” he says.
Lamonica’s key issues include a re-allocation of funds on the county level, landowners’ rights to logging, and instigating a conversation about topics such as homelessness, poverty and public safety, which he accuses “the progressive establishment” of tiptoeing around. He says that if he wins the election, it would be the end of this group—which he says is predominately represented on the Board of Supervisors in the form of John Leopold. Though he says local politics seem to be trending closer to his view of “center.”
“I do not like the progressive establishment,” he says disdainfully. “I think they play duck and cover too often and they think that they ought to be taken seriously—for what? For looking the other way, time after time?”
Both Coonerty and Lamonica say they are looking forward to forthcoming public forums where they can openly discuss their stances on various policies. This is where Lamonica says he will truly shine. For his part, Coonerty says that the challenge from Lamonica is good for the democratic process and helps to broaden the territory of discussion for both candidates.
As Lamonica tells it, Coonerty’s bid for supervisor 10 months in advance was a political move to prevent other candidates from running and his election would be a father-son handoff.
“Whatever the outcome of this is,” Lamonica says, “I think that aspect will always have the appearance of impropriety.”
Coonerty says that, while he shares many core values with his father, it will not be himself or his dad who determines the outcome of the June 3 Gubernatorial Primary Election. It will be the voters.
“And that’s how it should be,” he says. “I see no handoff. I have to go out and knock on doors and listen to people and try to run the best campaign I can.”
A lot can be said about a person, and political candidates, in particular, based on who they draw inspiration from.
In Coonerty’s office at NextSpace, there is a large framed photo of Robert Kennedy, a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968 before being assassinated that same year. Coonerty thinks of Kennedy as his hero.
“He’s always really resonated for me,” he says. “I admire his determination and his way of articulating the values of our country.”
During a meeting with Lamonica at the De Anza Manufactured Home community on Saturday, Feb. 22, he was reading a biography of Andrew Jackson while waiting for potential supporters to show up. He said he normally reads the Bible or fiction, such as William Shakespeare, but that Jackson is intriguing to him. He believes Jackson, who became the seventh president of the United States in 1829, is too often dismissed for his campaigns against the Native Americans, such as the “Trail of Tears”—“he was a product of his times,” Lamonica says—but that the man was especially compelling as an underdog. Jackson was an orphan by age 14, a frontiersman, and ultimately became a very powerful, self-made man—“the guy just came outta’ nothin’.”