Four more candidates enter the 2014 Santa Cruz City Council race
Like the city of Santa Cruz itself, the many candidates running in the city council race are unique and elude definition. For one, Cynthia Chase, a social worker, former probation officer and recent addition to the candidate roster, wants to make it clear she won’t fall squarely into any one category.
“People are trying to put me in a box. They want me to either be the social services candidate, or they want me to be the law enforcement candidate, and I’ve been spending my entire career trying to not be in a box,” says Chase. “Trying to box me in one place or another is a disservice, and not really a good descriptor of who I am, and what I bring to this.”
Since GT last checked in on the Santa Cruz City Council race for the November election, councilmember Hilary Bryant announced that she would not seek another term, and Santa Cruz County Planner Tim Goncharoff dropped out.
Now, four new contenders have approached the starting line: former Mayor Bruce Van Allen, detective Michael Pruger, City Councilmember David Terrazas, and Chase, who has received a wide range of bipartisan support since she pulled election papers in early July.
Some of Chase’s early endorsements include seven former Santa Cruz mayors, four county supervisors, Sheriff Phil Wowak, Watsonville Mayor Karina Cervantes, County Treasurer Fred Keeley, and activist Rick Longinotti.
Chase worked for seven years as a Santa Cruz County probation officer and received a graduate degree in social work from San Jose State University before becoming program director at Gemma, a nonprofit program based in Watsonville that helps people transition back into society from incarceration. Chase has also taught social work courses at San Jose State and CSU Monterey Bay.
Chase, also a UCSC grad, says her experiences have taught her to study every facet of an issue before coming to a decision. This unbiased method of problem solving is one she hopes to bring to the city council if elected in November.
“Being able to work with both the victims and the perpetrators of the same crime really taught me to look at this broad context and know that the answers weren’t simple. They aren’t black and white,” says Chase. “It really takes a balanced approach to make sure we’re not missing one side or the other.”
If elected, Chase will be motivated to create more jobs and affordable housing opportunities for recent UCSC grads. Chase herself was once a benefactor of the Measure O housing initiative, which allowed her to remain in Santa Cruz when she had just finished college.
“That was huge for me as a twenty-something,” says Chase, “and programs like that are the things we need to focus on to help a broad spectrum of our community be able to be homeowners here, to be able to live here, and really invest in the community the way that they want to, and not have to struggle paycheck to paycheck to support themselves or their families.”
Another recently announced candidate who believes strongly in prioritizing subsidized housing is former mayor Van Allen, who has endorsed Chase. Since his last stint in public office in the early 1980s, Van Allen has remained active in local politics, and makes a living as a freelance software developer.
In his role as a programmer, Van Allen created one of the first online interlibrary loan systems, once employed in schools, universities, and libraries around the Monterey Bay. But he’s probably best known in the community as a campaign consultant, where he utilizes software he designed to identify voting trends in political campaigns both large and small.
Van Allen was inspired to run for city council in part by the encouragement of community members, and also because he feels the current council has lost touch with certain aspects of the city.
“The council has done some good work in economic development, although I have some concerns about it, but they have neglected things that are important to the people of Santa Cruz like maintaining a social safety net locally, protecting the environment, and taking the environment into account when they make decisions about economic development,” Van Allen says.
Van Allen wants to steer the council away from projects like desalination, which he believes would have negative long-term effects on the community and the environment. Van Allen would also like to see the city employ more technology in their decision making and problem solving.
Van Allen speaks strongly on the issues that he cares about, like social services and restoring the San Lorenzo River.
The latest candidate to pull papers for the election is Michael Pruger, a detective at the Santa Cruz County Sheriff-Coroner’s office. Pruger served as a Santa Cruz police officer for almost 20 years, and made the rank of sergeant before transferring to the coroner’s unit at the Sheriff’s Office. Through his former roles with the Police Officers’ Association and current station as president of the Santa Cruz County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, Pruger cultivated an interest in local politics, which inspired him to run for city council.
“Public service is all I know,” says Pruger, “and this is just another way of me to give back.”
If elected, Pruger would like to find a middle ground to address the issues he feels strongly about, like public safety and the continued economic revitalization of downtown and the Soquel Avenue corridor. On his time away from work, Pruger has started opening up dialogues with community members, but he’s new to the campaigning game.
“The initial process of being a candidate is the toughest thing so far,” says Pruger.
One candidate who needs no training in the art of campaigning is incumbent David Terrazas. Terrazas says that the challenges the council has overcome during his term inspired him to run again.
The councilmember highlights his work with the Neighborhood Grant Program, which led to projects like the mosaic on the Barson Street stairs, and his effort to initialize a Parks Master Plan, which will come out later this year—the first update in thirty years.
“I look forward to serving again to make sure that we continue this work in a more comprehensive way, and see these results come to fruition,” says Terrazas.
Although the race has brought some fresh contenders with distinct approaches, it hasn’t brought many concrete solutions yet. Perhaps it’s early, and the new candidates are still warming up to their roles.
Former candidates Steve Pleich, a homeless advocate, and UCSC community relations employee Richelle Noroyan announced their candidacy earlier this year, as did first-time candidate Leonie Sherman, a self-defense instructor and journalist.
Sherman looks forward to meeting and hearing from the crew of other candidates at upcoming forums and events.
“I think there are some really qualified, wonderful people that are also willing to take on this exciting, scary challenge,” says Sherman. “I think there’s a great chance there will be three awesome people elected in November.”