What do kids’ soccer games, a bougie Westside winery and a Whole Foods parking lot have in common? They’re all contested ground in Santa Cruz’s increasingly vitriolic foray into recalling city councilmembers over a rabid aversion to homelessness.
With three weeks to go until an Oct. 22 deadline to submit several thousand petition signatures and kick off a recall election for Councilmembers Drew Glover and Chris Krohn, Santa Cruz United has ramped up both old-school door knocking and more unconventional outreach.
A Facebook offer for on-demand petition delivery by an “amazing surfer dude” named Jason, for instance, went over well with ladies quick to slide into the comments under a headshot of what appears to be an animate Ken Doll. More controversial for the recallers: setting up a table to stump for the cause at a kids’ soccer game.
“I’ll take my kids to a protest I believe in any day, but I’m not gonna take my kids’ whole team,” one parent tells Nuz. Of mixing youth sports and divisive local politics, they add, “I personally feel like those things should be separate.”
Peter Cook, a realtor and Santa Cruz United campaigner who ran the table at the Harvey West soccer fields last month, says “maybe three parents” objected to the sideline signature drive. It’s only unethical, he says, “if me being concerned about the well-being and safety of my kids is unethical,” since he opposes encampments that could impact the safety of his three young children.
More broadly, the campaign has revolved around using ever-harder-to-ignore encampments as a dog whistle to scare up support for the recall. One recent online post suggested that Glover is “OK with Main Beach becoming Ross Camp 2.0.”
Elsewhere in petty politics, a left-wing writer named Autumn Sun set off a social media frenzy by posting dozens of TMZ-style photos of polo-clad attendees (Is that you, Jason?) at a September Santa Cruz United event at Stockwell Cellars. The event at the winery, which also hosted an anti-rent control campaign party last fall, was advertised with an incentive: “10 signatures and we’ll buy you a glass of wine!” Though the photos appeared to be taken from a public area, they incited allegations of “stalking” and measured exchanges, like “Karin, calm your tits.”
Day to day, Santa Cruz United volunteers like Carol Polhamus also say the campaign has gotten uglier. The retired high school teacher, who joined the recall effort after organizing against RV parking that “trashed” the Westside, has been called “lots of expletives about being racist, facist,” she says.
“Truthfully that kind of stuff motivates me,” Polhamus adds. “It speaks to the level of dysfunction that’s in the atmosphere now.”
On Monday, Sept. 30, the city of Santa Cruz had a deadline to respond to a legal complaint under the California Voting Rights Act. The notice of violation argued that local Latino voters hadn’t gotten proper representation on their City Council. It called on Santa Cruz to implement district elections, but the city hasn’t formally responded.
A lawsuit is not imminent, though, according to California Voting Rights Project President Lanny Ebenstein, who’s been involved in numerous complaints, including this one in Santa Cruz. He says his group won’t proceed with a lawsuit while the recall effort is underway. Out of dozens of California cities hit with this type of voting rights complaint over district elections, none have won in court. The vast majority haven’t bothered trying—opting instead to settle and pay a hefty fine to the firm that sent the complaint. Also, Ebenstein says, even if a city were to prevail in a suit, state law prevents it from recouping legal fees from the plaintiffs.
Sounds like a pretty sweet gig for the prosecuting team! No wonder so many cities are getting sued.