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Six Women Candidates Line Up for Santa Cruz City Council

Brown and Watkins both seek re-election this November

Santa Cruz City Hall. PHOTO: JACOB PIERCE

With the November election approaching, the Santa Cruz City Council race now has six confirmed candidates, all of them women.

Santa Cruz City Councilmember Martine Watkins, who served last year as mayor, and Councilmember Sandy Brown are among those running for reelection. There are also four relative newcomers competing so far in the race for four seats.

Maria Cadenas, the executive director for Santa Cruz Community Ventures, formally announced her candidacy Tuesday.

Under her leadership, Community Ventures launched programs like Santa Cruz SEEDS, a college savings account program for newborns. She says the most central issues in Santa Cruz over the next couple years will revolve around the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. “This is a key moment for us as a community. We’re looking at this moment, and we’re thinking, ‘Where are we?’ We’re all struggling. As hard as it’s going to be, we have to think about equity,” says Cadenas, who recently finished third in a California Senate primary behind John Laird and Vicki Nohrden

Sonja Brunner, director of operations for the Santa Cruz Downtown Association, is also running. With the country in the grips of the pandemic and a potentially very deep recession, Brunner says the political moment will steer many of the city’ s top priorities. She would like to bring some positivity to the process. “I am very committed to this community, and a lot of my work over the past 20 years has been serving in different ways, and I want to serve in this capacity, and I think I offer a good perspective,” she says. 

Another candidate, Kayla Kumar, the development director for FoodWhat?!, says the pandemic has created a turning point and opened up deep discussions about injustice. “We need leaders in our community who are running toward that turning point, and that’s what I’m doing alongside our community,” says Kumar, who serves on the boards for Salud Para La Gente, Santa Cruz Community Ventures and Santa Cruz County Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Commission.

Kelsey Hill, who works at the Romero Institute, a law and public policy nonprofit, is running because she says Santa Cruz has been very generous to her, and she wants to give back. “I can be a part of that fight to build a better world,” says Hill, who hopes to focus on housing affordability, an equitable recovery from the pandemic, climate sustainability and reimagining public safety.

Councilmember Brown says the dueling crises of health and housing affordability put the city at a significant crossroads. That’s part of why she’s running again. “We need to think about how we can protect renters. Mortgage holders and landlords are also suffering. So we need to talk about how we can leverage resources to support them,” she says.

Councilmember Watkins, who made Health in All Policies a focus during her term as mayor, says navigating the challenges that lie ahead will take collaboration. She hopes to be a part of that work.

“It’s a time when our city depends on leadership,” she says, “and so as we enter this next stage, I’m hopeful we can have a good council to do that.”

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