Justin Cummings
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Updated: Cummings, Meyers, Glover Elected to Santa Cruz City Council

What a far-left wing majority means for rent control and the city’s trajectory

Environmental educator Justin Cummings is in first place after an extended Santa Cruz City Council vote count.

Update, Nov. 27, 5:30 p.m. – This story was updated with additional information, including new results, which were posted Tuesday, Nov. 27.

Original story:

With the vast majority of the ballots counted, environmental educator Justin Cummings is the top vote-getter in the Santa Cruz City Council race. Community organizer Drew Glover, who ran on a slate with Cummings, is third in the race for three seats, which would be good enough for a majority for the council’s far-left wing, currently led by councilmembers Chris Krohn and Sandy Brown. Environmental consultant Donna Meyers is in second.

Cummings remembers feeling overwhelmed and “pretty shaken” the day after the election—he was in second place in the early ballot counting, and it was starting to sink in that the hard work on his campaign had truly paid off. The more Cummings had time to recuperate from the campaign trail, the more excited he became. “I’m just trying to figure out how I’m gonna organize my time,” says Cummings, who already works long hours at his day job.

Customarily, the top two vote getters each serve one year as mayor, although the decision is ultimately left up to the council. There are a few thousand provisional ballots left for election workers to research and count, but Meyers is currently 1,300 votes ahead of Glover for second place.

Before deciding how he would approach his year as mayor, Cummings says he wants to get to know city staff, and continue thinking about the issues. If selected to serve a term as mayor, Meyers says she would focus on homelessness issues, climate readiness and housing affordability—especially in light of the affordable housing bond failing to earn a two-thirds majority at the polls.

Glover and Cummings have been steadily rising in the vote count since results first started coming in. And in the tally announced the Tuesday, Nov. 20, Glover finally inched ahead of Larson, who wrote on Facebook shortly after that it looked unlikely that he would surpass Glover.

Although optimistic about the returns, Glover hasn’t announced victory. “I try not to focus on things that are totally out of my control,” he says.

Assuming the results hold, Cummings and Glover will be the first two black men to serve on the Santa Cruz City Council, where they’ll join Vice Mayor Martine Watkins, who became the first African American ever elected to the body two years ago.

Incumbent Councilmember Richelle Noroyan is currently in fifth place, 180 votes behind Larson. Psychotherapist Cynthia Hawthorne is sixth.

Going forward, the arrival of a new majority would call into question several important projects, including the future of a mixed-use parking garage and library, as well as solutions to the housing crisis. (Krohn cast the lone dissenting vote this past summer against a robust housing plan initially kick-started by Councilmember Cynthia Chase’s outreach as mayor.)

There is talk of passing a rent control ordinance, now that the rent control ballot measure, which Cummings and Glover supported, failed at the polls. That initiative, Measure M, earned 40 percent of the vote, according to the most recent tally. “Rent control by ordinance, here we come!” local activist James Weller wrote Tuesday in a Facebook in post, in which he tagged both Cummings and Glover.

Glover says that if the council chooses to pass a rent control ordinance, he believes it would want to tone down some of the more controversial elements of Measure M to address concerns from opponents.

People are sure dissect the election looking for takeaways, and one lesson may be that fundraising isn’t everything. Glover set a surprisingly low fundraising limit for himself of about $10,000. He ended up raising $12,800, as of Oct. 31, according to reporting forms submitted to the city of Santa Cruz.

Glover feels that voter response to his candidacy sends a powerful message. “It’s more in the connections you make in the world than the money you raise in the campaign,” says Glover, who grew up in Santa Cruz.

Glover wouldn’t recommend his strategy to everyone, however. He says that a candidate needs deep roots in the community in order to pull it off.

In Larson’s campaign effort, the city management consultant went in the opposite direction. Larson broke the voluntary campaign spending limit of $39,900, after initially signing on to it when kicking off his campaign. City Council candidates have yet to submit their final round of paperwork, but Larson says he ended up spending more than $50,000.

Larson says he felt he needed to raise lots of money to make up for his late start in the campaign, which he launched in August, shortly before the filing deadline. He believes that if he had launched his campaign earlier, he would have had a different result on election day, but says that he wasn’t able to announce sooner because of business and personal reasons. Although the field looked crowded on paper, Larson felt at the time that there were only a few serious candidates, and he believed that was good enough to provide an opening for him. He says he didn’t expect any other candidates to drop out after he threw his hat in, and that the fact that he got so close has him considering another run  in 2020 or 2022.

Splinter Effect

There may be lessons in the race’s crowded field, too. The election had 10 candidates vying for just three seats. Other than Cummings and Glover, all of the candidates were either relatively moderate or right-leaning.

Supporters of the public safety group Take Back Santa Cruz, which doesn’t make endorsements, had their eyes on four candidates, all of whom were active and popular on the group’s Facebook page: Larson, Noroyan, Ashley Scontriano and Paige Concannon, the race’s only Republican. All of them came up short.

Those four were also the only candidates that the local public safety blog Santa Mierda—which covers crime and complains about progressive politics—wrote about favorably in its election guide.

Even aside from that core group, there was still disagreement and confusion about who the strongest public safety candidates were. Meyers, for example, wasn’t typically lumped into that group, but did earn endorsements from the Police Officers’ Association, the local firefighters’ union and the Police Management Association.

“They splintered each other,” Glover says. “There was infighting going on. There was combativeness that was made public. There were all of these obstacles that they basically put up themselves. The question I would pose to voters is, ‘What kind of leaders are you looking for? Do you want leaders who would lift each other up and work together or rip each other down in a conquest of power?’”

Former Mayor Mike Rotkin endorsed three of race’s centrists: Meyers, Larson and Noroyan. He gives credit to Cummings and Glover for running on a united front.

Rotkin, a Marxist UCSC lecturer, says both Cummings and Glover were popular on campus, and he figured that the two candidates would do well with voters who chose same-day registration at their polling places, he says. In late returns, which included same-day registration ballots, both Cummings and Glover made major gains.

“Those guys were united, they were the only candidates who supported M,” Rotkin says.

Rotkin agrees that Larson, who he called the most qualified candidate in the race, probably should have entered the race earlier. If he had, Rotkin says, Larson’s presence may have dissuaded other candidates from jumping in. In hindsight, Rotkin suggests that instead of declaring late, maybe Larson should have just sat the election out.

“You run seven or eight candidates for three seats,” he says, “you’re gonna get your butt kicked.”

Update 11/26/18: A previous version of this story mis-reported Mike Rotkin’s position at UCSC.

News Editor at |

Jacob, the news editor at Good Times, won the 2014 award for best local government coverage from the California Newspaper Publishers Association. A longtime basketball and football fanatic, Jacob has evolved into a shameless fair weather fan and band wagoner for hot West Coast sports teams. He also enjoys arguing with others about where to find the best burrito in town.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Joe Citizen

    November 28, 2018 at 5:57 pm

    “That initiative, Measure M, earned 40 percent of the vote, according to the most recent tally.”

    This is misleading. M has been failing by a higher margin throughout the vote count process. Per the election results website Nov 27, the date this article was last updated, the percentage of votes on M was 36.96% yes to 63.04% No.

  2. Michael Deely

    November 24, 2018 at 1:14 pm

    I like how politics that helps working-families instead of rich families is considered “far-left”

  3. Jean Brocklebank

    November 24, 2018 at 9:26 am

    What I truly feel good about is that we now have real conservatives on the council. You read that right! By conservative I mean in a “conserver” sense; that is conservation, based on environmental principles. Cummings especially brings scientific credentials to the council. We now have a majority on the council who care for a community of all living things, not just humans. I see council decisions that will lead Santa Cruz into a near future with care for San Lorenzo River wildlife habitat, care of all City open spaces to preserve not “activate” whats left of the natural world, care that will minimize destruction of the night sky with overlighting, development actions based on repurposing and rehabilitation of existing city structures, rather than demolition and always building new. I look forward to creative and compassionate ways to house people without destroying the homes of other species. I think it can be done and this New Council seems qualified to do it. Congratulations all.

  4. Dave

    November 23, 2018 at 9:28 pm

    Looks like we just took back Santa Cruz from Take Back Santa Cruz. Let’s return some real values back to this town!

  5. Bet You Never Post this, the III

    November 23, 2018 at 7:44 pm

    “Far-left,” “Marxist UCSC professor*,” and tossing in FB remarks by “local activist James Weller.” Yeah, no bias here.

    *Does he teach a course in Marxism also known as ECONOMICS, or does he happen to be a Marxist?

    • Daniel Dowell

      November 27, 2018 at 7:20 am

      Yeah, if this kid thinks these are far left candidates, he’s never encountered the far left.

  6. Matthew Barnes

    November 23, 2018 at 6:42 pm

    Yaeh. Let’s institute laws that are GUARANTEED to reduce the quality AND quantity of housing.

    Sounds like a wonderful idea.

    • Reggie

      November 23, 2018 at 10:28 pm

      Actually, if you look at recent studies like the one done by Berkeley Haas, they found that neither quality, nor quantity, of affordable housing is affected by rent control.

      If anything quality is improved, due to the introduction of a rent board, where tenants feel comfortable reporting serious problems with a unit without fear of retaliation or being dragged to court.

      As for quantity— if you are talking about permanent social housing (the only truly affordable housing that matters, given that it’s regulated to be affordable), then obviously rent control has no affect on the number of those units. Those aren’t something you can take off the market. They are often deed restricted and on public land.

    • Adam Russell

      November 24, 2018 at 1:02 pm

      What is your proof of ypur assertions ? I call B.S.

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