Mayor Cynthia Mathews talks about Santa Cruz’s challenges and future
For Christmas this year, Cynthia Mathews got a black-and-white pin from her daughter Amey that she has been proudly wearing around. It reads: “Feminist With a To-Do List.”
Mathews, who is thinking about running for re-election to the City Council this year, was sworn in for her fourth term as mayor last month, and GT caught up with her to talk about politics, city infrastructure and basketball.
You seem to enjoy being on the City Council as much as anyone I’ve ever seen. Why is that?
CYNTHIA MATHEWS: I love Santa Cruz, and I do find it rewarding, because there are so many people who feel equally invested in the community in a lot of different ways … As a community we have a good attitude, good diversity and good engagement, and we see the results.
After years of study, no one knows how to fix the high rates of E. coli in the water under the Santa Cruz Wharf, or even what’s causing it. What’s next on that front?
We just keep working on it, and we have eliminated some of the possibilities. We have fixed some problems. And I thought the latest report we got gave us additional information. It was very clear from the beginning that there was not an easy fix, because the source wasn’t even known. It seems at this point that the source is birds in a very localized area, and we’ve given direction to see what we can do to reduce or eliminate that source. We’ve made some improvements already and we will continue to do that.
What are you excited to do this term?
We have some big plans ahead of us. Given that the economy is beginning to recover, I hope we move forward with some of those. The broadband [Internet] I hope we move forward with [see “Catching Fiber,” this page]. We have studies on the arena, the Civic—the future of those institutions. I think we will try and look at doing what we can for workforce housing. The housing problem comes up in every discussion.
You mentioned the Santa Cruz Warriors basketball arena and the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. The council should be looking at plans for both of those facilities soon. What might their futures be?
We’re trying to be extremely thorough in the studies that lead to the options presented to us—pretty conservative fiscally. We don’t want to jeopardize the city’s overall financial health. We may look at a facilities revenue measure at some point. I don’t see that in the immediate term, but taking a look at what are the things that we have on our list—both critical infrastructure and public projects have strong support.
Additionally, there may be a measure for our libraries on the ballot this year. What is their place in our changing world?
The way libraries serve their communities is changing. And that’s part of the impetus for the revenue measure—that our existing libraries are well-used, but can be better used, and the trend now is to have libraries assume more of a role of a place for community meetings, classes, events. We have dramatically overhauled our whole access to electronic media that’s a huge part of library systems now. Another big role that libraries play is in helping to bridge the digital divide. The role and functions of libraries have grown enormously, and our libraries are both aging and old-fashioned—many of them. A few of them are totally inadequate.
The topic of vacation rentals has come up a lot this past year. The council took some action to keep people from using accessory dwelling units (ADUs) for short-term rentals. When do you look at the bigger picture?
That will come back to us in the springtime. This is not unique to us, and the ADU piece was, to my mind, a very small piece of the larger picture. So, I have no prediction where that will end up. The impact on housing stock is real, and the impact on neighborhoods is real. But where we strike a balance on that—communities are all over the map.
What do you think of the idea of having warming centers in the city limits for homeless to go to on cold nights?
I much prefer that we focus on our coordination with what the county is doing, and using our resources where they will do the most good. We added funding for the winter shelter a couple of months ago, and that’s not fully occupied. So, I think we want to look to what the county is doing. What are the funding trends? What’s available in the community? And I just did not see that proposal as one where we should focus our resources.
Now that the Santa Cruz Warriors have re-acquired Aaron Craft, last year’s D-League defensive player of the year, what can we expect from him this season?
I don’t know anything about Aaron Craft. [Laughs] What I appreciate about the Warriors is that they’ve made Santa Cruz their home. They have reached out. They have been embraced by the community. They are integrated into practically every aspect of community life. It has been an amazing fit that I think no one could have conceived before it happened. So, what do I expect of the Warriors? Another great year of partnership.
FAMILIAR FACE Cynthia Mathews was sworn into her fourth term as mayor last month. She says economic development, city infrastructure and housing will all be big issues this year. PHOTO: KEANA PARKER