aerial of downtown Watsonville

Santa Cruz Local interviewed and surveyed 40 residents of Watsonville and the surrounding areas about their priorities for the District 4 Santa Cruz County supervisor race. (Kara Meyberg Guzman — Santa Cruz Local file)

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WATSONVILLE >> Santa Cruz Local is focusing its June 7 election reporting on the issues most important to residents. To find the priorities of residents of Santa Cruz County supervisorial District 4, interviews and surveys were conducted with 40 residents from the district.

District 4 includes part of Watsonville and much of Pajaro Valley including areas east of Green Valley Road, along Highway 152 and neighborhoods along Casserly and Mount Madonna roads. The District 4 seat is held by Greg Caput, who is in his third four-year term. He is not running for reelection.

We asked:

  • What do you want local candidates to talk about as they compete for your vote?
  • What do you want local government to do for you and your community? Why is that important to you? 
  • What help or services do people you know need right now? 

We heard from people ages 12 to 70. We interviewed District 4 residents at:

  • A La Manzana Community Resources food distribution in Watsonville. 
  • Watsonville Farmers Market.
  • A Barrios Unidos food distribution in Santa Cruz.

We also sent our survey with the Santa Cruz Local email newsletter, through social media and through Rise Together, a coalition of people of color working to advance racial equity in the county.

Priorities from residents are listed below in order of frequency.

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A need for rent assistance

Rent assistance was the most frequently mentioned priority in our surveys and interviews with District 4 residents. 

Benito Perez, 66, is a registered District 4 voter and also works in the berry fields. He pays $2,300 for a two-bedroom apartment in Watsonville. 

“My dream is to buy a house, or at least find something cheaper to rent,” Perez said in Spanish.

He wants the supervisorial candidates to address the high cost of rent. He does not have an income in the winter since farm work is seasonal.

“Lower the rents. The salaries that we make are little and the rent is so high,” Perez said. “The cost of food is rising and the gas is going up. What’s going to happen now?” 

Watsonville resident Elias Lopez, 47, works in the berry fields. His wife works with children. They pay $1,800 in rent for a two-bedroom apartment for their family of five. Even with their two incomes, it’s difficult to afford. He said he would want the supervisorial candidates to prioritize rent assistance.

“The biggest problem is rent,” Lopez said in Spanish. He said he and his wife work hard, but they make very little. Like Perez, he does not have an income in the winter.

Higher wages

Many District 4 residents described a need for higher wages to afford the rising cost of living.

Josefina Reyes, 45, works in the berry fields. She said she recently got a $1 raise, but it’s not enough. She said she wants more housing dedicated to farmworkers.

“The (berry) season hasn’t started yet,” Reyes said in Spanish in early March. “What we saved is already gone to pay rent.” Costs are rising. “It’s $100 for a little bag of groceries. I need help. Low-income homes need to be built.”

Affordable housing

District 4 residents want to be able to afford to live in Watsonville. Watsonville resident Raynaldo Ramirez, 55, is a welder. He dreams of owning a home one day. He pays $1,500 in rent and says he needs higher wages and more work to comfortably afford that.

Ramirez said he’d like to see supervisorial candidates create more job opportunities and more affordable housing. About 12 years ago, Ramirez applied for a Housing Choice voucher, formerly known as Section 8. He is still on a wait list. “I have only received letters, but I’m hoping,” Ramirez said in Spanish.

Activities for youth

Some District 4 residents said they want more programs and activities for youth. Some teens described a perceived lack of safety.

Fatima Ayalah lives in Watsonville. “I don’t feel safe in the plaza,” she said in Spanish in an interview at the Watsonville City Plaza. She said that when she and her friends walk through the plaza and the Watsonville Slough trails, they are harassed by older men. “Older guys tell you things,” Fatima said. “You just feel not safe, like not secure. Even though they don’t do anything. Sometimes they tell you nasty words.” 

Fatima said she’d feel safer with more police presence. 

Watsonville resident Blanca Iris Cruz, 60, works as a caregiver in Santa Cruz. She said she wants youth programs like sports to keep adolescents away from gangs. District 4 residents don’t need more parks — they need organized activities for youth, Cruz said. “I’m from Guatemala,” she said in Spanish. “From a young age in Guatemala, they show you to be involved in gymnastics, basketball — sports. The adolescents all participate in sports. I’d love to see that in Watsonville. That help for the youth, so they don’t go into gangs.”

A 46-year-old Watsonville resident named Elvia works at a local medical facility. She said she plans to register to vote by June 7. She said she wants “more things for kids. Definitely like maybe an arcade for the kids, maybe a bowling alley. I feel like there’s nothing for the kids and they’re always running around in the streets.” Elvia said her family drives to Salinas, Morgan Hill and San Jose for activities due to a lack in the Watsonville area.

A supervisor who will advocate for South County

Some District 4 residents said they want a candidate who will be a strong advocate for resources for South County. 

Former Watsonville mayor and registered District 4 voter Oscar Rios said “it has always been, like, the North and the South. And the South has always been left, you know, to survive by its own.”

Rios compared supervisors’ achievements in District 4 with those in Monterey County. “When I hear what supervisors are able to do, it floors me,” he said of the work in Salinas by Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo. “The kinds of things [Alejo] is doing in Salinas to represent his district, to enforce programs for kids, to enforce police vigilance, to enforce housing to work, to enforce, you know, housing for the homeless, on and on and on, and he is out there in the front. Have we had that in our area? No. And that’s what’s been disappointing there for 36 years.”

A draft for our People’s Agenda

Our questions for the District 4 candidates are based on themes we heard from District 4. We call this list our “People’s Agenda.”

  1. Many District 4 residents told us they need immediate help to pay rent. They can’t wait for an affordable housing project to be developed. What will you do as a county supervisor in your first year to expand rent assistance programs? Where could that money come from?
  2. We heard from many District 4 residents that they want more affordable housing projects in District 4. What’s your plan as a supervisor to bring more affordable housing projects to District 4? 
  3. Many District 4 residents told us about their frustration and anxiety about their low wages that don’t match the cost of rent, food, gas and child care in Santa Cruz County. Is addressing low wages a priority for you? What’s your plan to attract and retain employers to create more jobs that pay enough to live here?  
  4. We heard a demand for more activities for youth and families. How can you expand programs, including parks and recreation? What will you do to attract more entertainment and leisure businesses for youth and families? 
  5. Some District 4 voters we talked to said they wanted a supervisor who will advocate for Watsonville and District 4 residents. They want a supervisor who will push the rest of the board and bring more county resources to this area. Please give an example of how you have successfully pushed for the interests of District 4 residents. We want to know how you’ll work with others on the board to improve the district.

District 4 residents, what are your thoughts about our People’s Agenda? We invite you to take our online survey. Your feedback will inform our reporting for the Nov. 8 general election.

Below is a summary of the responses we’ve received as of March 11. 

Read priorities of District 3 residents for the Santa Cruz County supervisor race

Editor’s note: Co-author Kara Meyberg Guzman is a member of the Rise Together coalition mentioned in this story. Oscar Rios, a Watsonville voter quoted in this story, was hired by Santa Cruz Local as a Spanish interpreter for this story.  

Santa Cruz Local’s news is free. Our newsroom relies on locals like you for financial support. Our members make regular contributions, starting at $19 a month or $199 year.

Kara Meyberg Guzman is the CEO and co-founder of Santa Cruz Local. ​Prior to Santa Cruz Local, she served as the Santa Cruz Sentinel’s managing editor. She has a biology degree from Stanford University and lives in Santa Cruz.