GT’s guide to this year’s local candidates and measures
District 4 County Supervisor
Among many South County residents, Greg Caput has earned the reputation of being a working person’s candidate. He’s donated $65,000 of his salary over the past four years to charity. He tried unsuccessfully to cut supervisor pay, and unsuccessfully again to keep it from from going up. Caput often goes to bat for everyday constituents who have a hard time navigating government bureaucracy. Caput has also worked on flood safety around the Pajaro River. Many county politicos have chastised Caput, however, who has been on the losing side of many 4-1 votes, and branded him an ineffective voice for South County for not getting more resources to his under-developed district.
Former Watsonville Police Chief Terry Medina has openly criticized Caput’s leadership, and says the sitting supervisor isn’t tackling the region’s pressing problems. “The issues here are really critical: water, labor, and the economy as it relates to jobs,” Medina says. A moderate conservative (like Caput), Medina wants to pursue recycled water and explore the possibility of sharing Moss Landing’s proposed desal plant. He also wants to retain important businesses, support citizenship for immigrant workers in local fields, and hire a new county economic development coordinator—one specifically for south county.
Santa Cruz City Council (3 Open Seats)
Santa Cruz City Councilmember David Terrazas was elected to the Council in 2010, running on a campaign focused largely on public safety and economic development. Additionally, Terrazas, the only incumbent in the race, is focusing efforts on improving Cowell Beach’s water quality, which frequently ranks as the worst in the state. Terrazas created a neighborhood grant program to fund a community-led improvement project and got the ball moving on the forthcoming Parks Master Plan, too. “We haven’t done enough to maintain and protect our parks,” says Terrazas, who calls them the “city’s most important resources.”
Out of all the Santa Cruz City Council candidates, Craig Bush certainly has the biggest ideas. He has a vision for water that would create “super filtration,” recycled water, which could be put in the river during the summer to restore salmon habitat. During the winter, he says the water could recharge the Purisima Aquifer or be exported to other regions. Bush, who declined all financial contributions, also wants to tear up the coastal railroad tracks and put in a bike highway instead. Underneath the tracks, he wants to put a pipeline for water, and, alongside them, organic farms.
Cynthia Chase is the director of Gemma, which works to integrate incarcerated women back into society. In the past, she worked as a probation officer. Now that she has seen both sides of criminal justice, she says her background has fostered an “understanding that issues are far more complicated than we give them credit for.” Chase says her perspective of seeing both sides has helped her in all policy discussions, not just ones about public safety. Once a beneficiary of Measure O housing, Chase credits affordable housing with allowing her to stay in Santa Cruz. In order to keep rents affordable city-wide, she’s interested in revisiting the rental inspection ordinance and relaxing regulations for accessory dwelling units—makeshift housing units that include converted garages.
Gary A. Knutson
Gary A. Knutson, a retired county auditor, is pushing for greater financial transparency. He has suggestions for the city’s water supply, too—including recycled water, increased storage, and tiered rates to encourage conservation. Knutson would also like to provide vocational training options to the city’s addicts, homeless and mentally ill. Knutson hasn’t accepted any donations in his campaign. “What I’m most interested in is people looking at my record and my ideas, and making a decision about what they want,” he says.
Richelle Noroyan supports a tax to fund local roads, a temporary moratorium on evicting people from safe accessory dwelling units, and continued oversight of the local needle exchange program. She would also support a roaming needle exchange that lessens the impact on the Emeline neighborhood. Former chair of the Santa Cruz County Democratic Party, Noroyan ran for City Council two years ago. This time, she has stressed public safety more in her campaign, but she says her views haven’t changed. “I was just as concerned about these issues last time,” Noroyan says. “I am trying to be clearer about how I feel, and learning to express myself better.” Noroyan, a member of the city’s transportation and public works commission, works in community relations at UCSC.
Leonie Sherman, a self-defense instructor, supports a four-pronged approach to dealing with homelessness. It includes treatment for people suffering from mental illness, treatment for addicts, the continued expansion of the Project 180/180 program’s “housing first” model, and early intervention for people showing signs of antisocial behavior with a recuperative care center. Sherman, also a water activist and longtime opponent of desalination, says fixing the city’s water shortage will take a multi-pronged approach too. She says conservation will be only part of the solution and that recycled water and water-neutral development will likely play important roles, too.
Bruce Van Allen
Former mayor Bruce Van Allen has long been a champion of the San Lorenzo River, looking for ways to activate it, enliven it, and make it a crown jewel of the city. “The river is a back alley, when it should be the centerpiece of Santa Cruz,” Van Allen recently told the Chamber of Commerce. Van Allen, a water activist, was a vocal opponent of the city’s proposed desal plant, partly for its big carbon footprint. Van Allen has also said the city’s focus on economic development and public safety has marginalized some of the town’s less fortunate, including the homeless.
Watsonville City Council – District 3
A retired educator with more than 30 years at the Pajaro Valley Unified School District, Councilmember Lowell Hurst taught agriculture and agricultural science at Watsonville High School. Hurst, who is running unopposed in district 3, is the longest-serving member of the city council. He serves on the Solid Waste Countywide Task Force and is an alternate for the Regional Transportation Commission. Hurst says he looks forward to working on public safety, crime prevention and economic improvement initiatives during his next term.
Watsonville City Council – District 4
A bus driver with Santa Cruz Metro, Eduardo Montesino was elected to the city council in 2010, having run unopposed. He is more politically savvy than his “Vote for the Bus Driver” campaign posters would suggest. Incumbent Montesino out-fundraised opponent Jimmy Dutra by almost two-to-one, and he secured the endorsement of the county’s Democratic Party. He was against Measures H, I, and J—all of which passed in June 2014. Those charter amendments limit a city councilmember’s ability to fill vacancies, establish a mayoral rotation, and restrict the council’s ability to name new public places, respectively. Montesino is a proponent of youth programs and, while on the council, oversaw the implementation of the Youth City Council and a summer youth job program.
Third generation Watsonville resident Jimmy Dutra is passionate about his hometown and wants to change the city’s narrative to one of prosperity and opportunity. The first person in his family to graduate from college, the Santa Clara University alumnus interned in the Bill Clinton White House administration and worked on gubernatorial campaigns. He won an endorsement from Watsonville Regional Airport Promotion, which opined that Dutra “brings fresh independent thinking to managing Watsonville City affairs.” Dutra wants to work with the local agricultural industry and tech sectors to bring innovative and sustainable jobs to Watsonville. He believes the city’s downtown improvement initiative, which in part calls for transforming a stretch of Main Street into two lanes from four, is a waste of city funds. He would rather see money spent on business development and incentives.
Watsonville City Council – District 5
Daniel Dodge has been a part of the civic fabric of Watsonville for decades, having served on the Planning Commission for more than 10 years before he won a city council seat in 2010, after helping to bring district elections to Watsonville in the 1980s. A certified paralegal, Dodge worked in the local cannery industry for many years, and was active in the labor movement. As city councilmember, he has served on the governing boards of the Santa Cruz Metro Transit District and the Local Agency Formation Committee (LAFCO). He wants to continue to work on improving the city’s infrastructure and regional transportation issues, if elected.
Retired educator and school administrator Rebecca Garcia worked at Pajaro Valley Unified School District for 18 years. Garcia is an active volunteer and advocate for education in the county. Currently mentor for Cabrillo College students, she serves on the board of the Second Harvest Food Bank and the Watsonville Parks and Recreation Commission. Garcia believes the council should build an educated workforce and provide linkages between businesses, agriculture, local schools and Cabrillo College, thereby promoting sustainable technical jobs. On issues of public safety, Garcia wants more patrols on the city’s extensive slough trail system and an increase in neighborhood watch groups, as well as coordination between neighborhoods and the city’s neighborhood services division.
Watsonville City Council – District 6
Director of Watsonville/Aptos Adult School, Councilmember Nancy Bilicich has deep ties to the community: both her parents were born in Watsonville, and she is a Watsonville High School alumna. Appointed to the City Council in 2009 to fill a vacancy left when Councilmember Dale Skillicorn died, Bilicich was elected to the City Council in 2010, running unopposed. Bilicich is running unopposed this time as well. She wants to continue to work on flood control and levy issues in the city’s east side, as well as work to bring additional fire protection to Districts 6 and 7, which saw much development in recent years. Bilicich also wants the Council to be “business-friendly” and to build on the introduction of a new McDonald’s downtown by attracting new businesses to help renovate downtown.
Scotts Valley City Council (3 Open Seats)
I want to keep working for the community,” says Stephany Aguilar, a Scotts Valley councilmember of 18 years. “That is always my inspiration.” Aguilar has also worked 10 years in personnel and training at the city of Palo Alto. Aguilar wants to continue strengthening public safety, affordable workforce housing and the sustained economic vitality of Scotts Valley. Aguilar worked to initiate the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and also founded Parks and Recreation Advocates, which raises funds for the implementation of the city’s parks master plan.
If re-elected, Scotts Valley Mayor Jim Reed hopes to complete Scotts Valley’s Town Center project, and plans to maintain a keen focus on the city’s sense of fiscal responsibility. “We have to be extremely vigilant in our spending decisions as we go forward,” says Reed. When it comes to accomplishments from previous terms, Reed points to spending cuts he pushed through during the recession, and repairs he helped to facilitate at Vine Hill Elementary School. Prior to his first term on the council, Reed worked as a marketing executive in tech and served a stint as the general manager and editor of the Scotts Valley Press-Banner.
The only newcomer in the Scotts Valley City Council race, Russ Patterson says the council would benefit from some new blood. “I think that we need a change on the council,” says Patterson, a retired Campbell police captain, and 28-year Scotts Valley resident. “Santa Cruz has term limits. We don’t have those here, but I think that, after an amount of time, we need to bring new life to the council.” Patterson has served on the board of the Red Cross of Santa Cruz County, works independently as an emergency preparedness consultant, and is the current chair of the Scotts Valley Planning Commission. He wants to prioritize bringing in successful businesses, making improvements to the city’s permitting process, and creating a deal to bring recycled water for Pasatiempo Golf Course. “I know the ins and outs of government fairly well,” says Patterson. “Plus, with my experience as chair of the planning commission, I know where Scotts Valley is going.”
Capitola City Council (3 Open Seats)
Stephanie Harlan, 24-year veteran of the Capitola City Council, was the city’s first female mayor. She wants to maintain the distinct character of Capitola by focusing on public safety, improving city streets, and keeping the city’s fiscal activities sound through careful planning. She believes that the experience she has gained as a councilmember for more than two decades gives her the foresight to succeed during another term. Before her long career as a councilmember, Harlan worked as a registered nurse for Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital for 18 years, and moved to Capitola in 1972. She then began to volunteer in the community before being elected to the city council in 1984. She currently serves on the Criminal Justice Council and the Santa Cruz County Conference and Visitors Council.
Capitola City Councilmember Mike Termini is a big supporter of the county library system, and is determined to see the groundbreaking of a new library in Capitola in the next couple of years. He is also committed to improving roads and sidewalks, and wants to put more money into maintaining the Capitola Wharf. “Someday, the right storm could take that wharf out, and I don’t know if we’ll ever have the money to rebuild it,” he says. “So we have to be careful and sink some money into the wharf. No pun intended.”
Although Capitola City Council candidate Jacques Bertrand has yet to win a seat on the city council after two attempts, he has worked with many community organizations since he moved to Capitola 16 years ago. He has experience on the General Plan Advisory Committee and the Finance Advisory Committee. An engineer by trade, Bertrand, who recently got a master’s degree in public policy, is concerned with the future of the Capitola Mall and the walkability of city streets, among other issues, but his primary goal is to develop more avenues for the Capitola government to engage city residents.
Joe Clarke has 27 years of experience working in local law enforcement, 19 with the Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Office. An avid lover of the ocean, Clarke helped to organize the Santa Cruz Scholastic Surf League, and has worked as a surf instructor for wounded veterans. He also helped develop activities for local youth like the Live Oak baseball and soccer leagues. Clarke is focused on public safety issues, and opposes Measure M, which would increase the Capitola Transient Occupancy Tax from 10 percent to 11 percent. If elected, Clarke would make himself readily available to Capitola residents. “I think city councilmembers need to be very approachable and out there in the community.”
First-time candidate Richard Fitzpatrick, who served as a social worker for 15 years in New York before moving to Capitola in 1972, says that although he is running for city council, he is not a politician. “I’m just an everyday person,” he explains. He believes that what he thought was a non-partisan election is far from it. “It was a rude awakening,” he says. Fitzpatrick is against the proposed roundabout on Capitola Avenue, and would like to see improvements to the city’s beaches, namely a walkway that cuts through the sand so that mothers with strollers and the elderly can better access the shore. Fitzpatrick, who also worked as a real estate broker for 15 years, supports Measure M, and points out that surrounding areas like Santa Cruz have already adopted similar tax increases.
Although this year’s Capitola City Council race is Laurie Hill’s first, she comes equipped with an extensive, 35-year career in local governments. She retired as a senior personnel analyst in labor relations for Santa Cruz County. Hill’s experience wasn’t the only driving force behind her decision to run for city council. She became immersed in the community through her involvement with the Capitola Begonia Festival. “That’s what really lit my fire,” says Hill. “I suddenly found myself in a place that I feel passionate about.” If elected in November, Hill wants to facilitate the repair of Capitola’s streets, and will seek to revitalize the council’s engagement with the city residents, so that they are better aware of local government’s plans before they are implemented.
Measure K: County Cannabis Business Tax
Measure K, a 7 percent tax increase on the sale of medical marijuana in the unincorporated regions of the county, would bring in $900,000 annually to Santa Cruz County’s general fund. The measure, which was unanimously approved by the county’s board of supervisors, would tax medical marijuana dispensary owners—and not growers—on a monthly basis. Financial records of the marijuana businesses would be subject to scrutiny by the county, and any misrepresentations of income or a failure to pay up could result in a misdemeanor. If found guilty of violating the ordinance, business owners could be fined up to $500 and serve upward of six months imprisonment, possibly both. Supporters argue the tax could offset costs of medical marijuana regulation, although the ordinance states that the money obtained through the tax is not intended for medical marijuana regulatory purposes, but for services like police, fire, and health. Opponents say the tax is discriminatory against medical marijuana patients.
Measure L: Santa Cruz City Cannabis Business Tax
Much like Santa Cruz County’s Measure K, Measure L would add an additional 7 percent levy on the sales of medical marijuana by dispensary owners within Santa Cruz city limits. Each Santa Cruz City councilmember voted in favor of the change. The city estimates that the general tax, if enacted, could bring anywhere from $66,000 to $93,000 annually to the city’s general fund, which could then be applied to city services like public works projects, parks and recreation development, and other community programs. Supporters, including Deputy Police Chief Rick Martinez, say the revenue gained could boost city services that were hit by the recent recession. The wording of the proposed Santa Cruz ordinance is nearly identical to that of Measure K. The financial records of all “cannabis businesses” operating within the city would be accessible by the city’s finance director, and subject to punishment if not paid on a timely basis.
Measure M: Capitola City Transient Occupancy Tax
Measure M would increase the Capitola’s Visitor Services Fee, or Transit Occupancy Tax (TOT), from 10 percent to 11 percent if passed by a majority vote, and bring the town in line with TOT rates in the City of Santa Cruz, as well as the county. All of the funds generated by the ordinance—estimated at $125,000 annually—would be placed in the Capitola general fund, and would be implemented for capital improvement projects in the city. Those in favor of the ordinance, like Capitola City Councilmembers Mike Termini and Dennis Norton, highlight that city residents themselves are not being taxed, and say that a modest increase in hotel and motel rates would not be a burden to visitors. Still, it could help make up for the costs incurred by the hundreds of thousands of tourists who flock to Capitola each year. Opponents of the measure argue that Capitola is not a destination for well-paid business travelers, but families who may be on a limited budget. Those against the proposed ordinance, consisting mostly of business owners in the area, feel that the sales tax revenue gained from the passage of Measure O in 2012 provides ample funds for capital improvements.
Lompico Water District (2 open seats)
Lompico Water Boardmember Sherwin Gott first ran for office four years ago in opposition to a proposed merge with San Lorenzo Valley Water District (SLVWD). He’s running on that platform again, arguing that if the neighboring district hikes its fees way up, Lompico Water District will share the cost. Contrary to the Lompico Water Board majority, he believes the high projected costs of staying independent (instead of merging) are inflated.
Mark Meachan isn’t necessarily against a merger with SLVWD. But he certainly doesn’t like the terms SLVWD has laid out—requiring Lompico Water District to replace much of its infrastructure and meters at a high cost. “I just have some ideas about how the water company should be run. I think the terms of the merger are totally unfair,” Meachan says.
Merrie Schaller, a longtime member of the Lompico County Water District Citizens Advisory Committee, says Lompico doesn’t get to make the terms for the merger, because it is not coming from a position of power, and that SLVWD isn’t getting anything much out of the deal, in the first place. Without merging, she says, Lompico Water District would never be able to replace its crumbling infrastructure and hire a manager—something it hasn’t had in five years, unless it keeps passing exorbitant rate increases.
John Schneider, a middle school teacher, first got involved in Lompico Water Board meetings when Liberty Mutual called to cancel his home insurance. “They told me that this area had been red flagged due to fire dangers in the area, and they read about the water issues in this area, so they canceled my insurance.” A supporter of the merge, he’s running as a slate with Schaller. Together, they’ve gathered an impressive list of endorsements, including Assemblymember Mark Stone and two county supervisors.
San Lorenzo Valley Water District (3 open seats)
If re-elected, SLVWD Boardmember Larry Prather would be the senior most member on the board. “I think somebody senior needs to be on the board to provide that institutional knowledge,” the electronics engineer says. SLVWD recently approved terms for a proposed merger with Lompico Water District, re-built a fish lab, and began work on a Coho recovery plan. It was also the subject of scathing grand jury report, which criticized its lack of financial transparency.
Chuck Baughman first became interested in the SLVWD last year during rate hike protests, before rates went up in January. Although he says the district leaders made some changes in the month following the grand jury report, Baughman, an active environmentalist and retired engineer, says the board still has room for improvement in financial oversight. “I was hoping for more agreement with the report, and I think it was a lost opportunity to turn over a new leaf,” he says.
Karen Brown is the secretary and treasurer of the Ramona Woods Association, which maintains some mountain roads and used to also be a water company before SLVWD took those responsibilities over. Brown is a big critic of $9 million “campus project” strongly supported by incumbent Larry Prather to consolidate district trucks, administrative offices, and other resources at one site on Highway 9. She says it has been a contentious election season and that she has to keep replacing campaign signs that others have been tearing down.
Bob Fulz, a 25-year San Lorenzo Valley resident and former member of its school board, says he and the voters he’s talked to don’t have a problem with hikes in rates, which are scheduled to go up another 11 percent in January 2015, in principle. But he adds that voters don’t have a complete picture of the district’s infrastructure needs, and the recent grand jury investigation that slammed the district’s financial mismanagement has further bred mistrust. “It isn’t that people are opposed to spending money on a rate increases per se,” Fulz says. “If rate payers can be convinced that the board is spending money as tightly as they do at home, that increases their trust and allows the board to fix its infrastructure.”
Eric Hammer, a longtime resident of the San Lorenzo Valley has served on a number of boards, including the county’s Treasury Oversight Commission, the Boulder Creek Recreation and Park District, and Community Bridges Board of Directors. After his bid for county supervisor in 2012, he’s hoping to join the SLVWD board and says he’s interested in financial stability for the district.
Gene Ratcliffe is the third and final member on a slate with Prather and Hammer. Formerly a planning commissioner in Orange County, she wants to prepare the district for the worst possible droughts. “Since we rely mostly on surface water, we need to be prepared for whatever nature hands out,” she says.
Soquel Creek Water District (3 open seats)
To combat overdraft, Soquel Creek Water District has focused its water efforts on three tactics: water-neutral development, conservation, and finding a supplemental water supply, like recycled water, to recharge wells. Bruce Jaffe, a 12-year member of the Soquel Creek Water Board, has helped lead that direction. It’s conservation that is having the biggest impact, both on the lifestyles of district residents and on the Purisima Auquifer underneath them. The already prudent customers of Soquel Creek Water District cut back usage 26 percent this past August from the previous year.
Soquel Creek Water Boardmember Rick Meyer, who’s running on a slate with Jaffe, is stressing the importance of recharging wells, largely through conservation, to protect the city’s fresh groundwater supply from saltwater intrusion—until the district can find bigger solutions. “When a well is lost, it’s lost for hundreds of years,” he says, “and it further reduces the groundwater.”
Carla Christensen, a biologist and 25-year resident of Soquel Creek Water District, is very concerned about overdraft in the basin. A staunch environmentalist and big advocate of conservation, Christensen is the only candidate proposing a controversial moratorium on all new hookups in the district. She says there’s no returning to the “good old days” when the water appeared plentiful and flowing cheaply.
Douglas Deaver is running as part of a three-person slate of residents who were encouraged running by local politicians and business leaders who worried about the focus of the current board. “We had never met until we all volunteered to run,” Deaver says. He says board leaders are not paying enough attention to the need for a supplemental water supply and are focusing too much on intense conservation and water-neutral development, at the expense of their customers and of economic growth.
James “Bill” McGowan
Another member of the challenging slate, Bill McGowan is an employee of Granite Construction and was a member of the company’s bid for a desal plant in Watsonville—experience he says would come in handy, should the district go the desal route. McGowan says the district has done a poor job of collaborating with the users outside the district who are pulling water out of the aquifer. “Clearly we need collaboration and cooperation with other people who are using the same aquifers as us,” McGowan says.
John Prentice says there’s plenty still time to find a supplemental water supply, and that the water district’s current focus on conservation could be catastrophic, without even solving the region’s water shortage problems. The third and final member of the slate with Deaver and McGowan, Prentice says current board members haven’t built important relationships with neighboring agencies to tackle solutions together.
Maria Marsilio writes in her candidate statement that a number of solutions should be “vigorously evaluated,” including groundwater management, water transfers, aquifer recharge, rainwater catchment systems, and robust conservation. Marsilio, works in management at Sunridge Farms, a local health foods company. She says her conflict resolution skills and consensus building approach to problem-solving would come in handy on the board.
Michelle Roy, who doesn’t expect to win, moved to the county recently and once served as Pitkin County Supervisor in Colorado. As an elected official, she once championed many of the anti-growth ideas now popular in Santa Cruz County—like moratoriums and water-neutral development. In Colorado, policies designed to protect the character of small towns like Aspen, she says, ended up ruining them, when hardly anyone could afford to live there anymore. Roy also says Santa Cruz County needs to step in and force collaboration between districts in order to fix local water woes.
Additional reporting contributed by Brendan D. Bane. PHOTO: Retired Watsonville Police Chief Terry Medina is challenging incumbent Greg Caput in the Santa Cruz County Supervisor’s race for District 4.