Thirty-seven-year-old Melissa Ajuntas, right, moved to California from Texas for a safer and more inclusive community. She stands with her children, from left, Aleena Romero, 14, Misol Hernandez, 7, and Luna Hernandez, 4.

Thirty-seven-year-old Melissa Ajuntas, right, moved to California from Texas for a safer and more inclusive community. She stands with her children, from left, Aleena Romero, 14, Misol Hernandez, 7, and Luna Hernandez, 4. (Natalya Dreszer — Santa Cruz Local)

SAN LORENZO VALLEY >> An informal survey of voters in Santa Cruz County Supervisor District 5 suggested that disaster preparation, power reliability and housing were key issues for candidates to address in the March 2024 election. 

To understand voters’ priorities for the March 5 election, Santa Cruz Local recently interviewed 64 District 5 residents and collected input in an online survey. District 5 straddles Highway 9 and includes Boulder Creek, Brookdale, Ben Lomond, Felton, Scotts Valley, part of Santa Cruz and some areas near Summit Road.

District 5 residents will have the opportunity to vote for a candidate to replace Santa Cruz County Supervisor Bruce McPherson. McPherson has held the post since 2013 and is not running for re-election.

Santa Cruz Local heard from District 5 residents ages 12 to 82 from August to October. The survey was not intended to be a scientific study, but rather a straw poll of issues important to voters. We asked:

  • What is your biggest need from local government?
  • What personal experience makes you care about this issue? 
  • What do you want candidates to talk about as they compete for your vote? 

We interviewed District 5 residents around Santa Cruz County at places like the Felton Farmers Market, along Highway 9 in Boulder Creek and at the Santa Cruz County Chamber of Commerce’s Business and Health Expo.

We also shared our survey in our newsletter and social media channels.

Residents’ priorities below are listed in order of frequency.

  • Fire and flood preparation.
  • Power, water, communications and roads.
  • Housing affordability.
  • Child care, safety and youth activities.

Fire and flood preparation

Three years after CZU Lightning Complex Fire, fires and floods were the most frequently mentioned concerns of San Lorenzo Valley residents. Residents said they wanted local government leaders to prepare for severe storms and fires fueled by climate change. Residents also expressed a need for more support in the aftermath of disasters.

“The most important thing right now is fire preparedness,” said Travis Esquivel, 38. Esquivel said he is an environmental consultant who moved to Felton in 2020 just before the CZU Fire. “The fires are ever present and it’s going to continue to be a problem, so I think it’s very important,” Esquivel said.

Travis Esquivel is wearing shades and a blue baseball cap. He is a District 5 voter.

At a Felton Farmers Market in August, Travis Esquivel said he hoped fire safety would be addressed by candidates in the March election. (Natalya Dreszer — Santa Cruz Local)

Several residents whose homes were destroyed in the CZU Fire could not get rebuilding permits and sold their properties, some respondents said. One woman said she hoped the next District 5 county supervisor would focus on low-income residents who need help in more remote areas of the district.

San Lorenzo Valley resident Lindsay Speth, 39, said she wanted local leaders to provide “more support for the community’s rebuilding and recovery as we experience the impacts of climate change.” Many residents said their friends and family have struggled to rebuild their homes.  

“We had three homes in our neighborhood burn down,” said Boulder Creek resident Janis Tapping, 62, in August, “and only one is starting to rebuild.” 

Power, water, communications and roads

Many District 5 residents said they want candidates to address problems with power, water, communications and roads in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

San Lorenzo Valley resident Debbie Rice, 68, said she could not access medical care when she broke her foot during a storm. She said she was unable to get treatment for three days. 

“We experience frequent power outages where we lose cell coverage,” said Rice. “The roads were closed, but more importantly I could not call anyone due to zero cell coverage. I have a neighbor — whose child is on a heart transplant list — moving because of this. We need a cell tower in Boulder Creek.”

Several residents expressed concern about increased costs for electricity despite more frequent and prolonged power outages. 

Some residents wanted more communication from their local representatives about their plans to address these problems. San Lorenzo Valley resident Maggie Barr, 56, asked how the county budget would address “desperately needed San Lorenzo Valley infrastructure improvements.”

Boulder Creek resident Heather Cates Bepristis, 38, said families of students in her daughter’s class at Boulder Creek elementary had to take more than an hour detour to get to school because of road closures last winter. (Natalya Dreszer — Santa Cruz Local)

Boulder Creek resident Heather Cates Bepristis, 38, said road closures during winter storms prompted detours and delays to Boulder Creek Elementary School. (Natalya Dreszer — Santa Cruz Local)

Housing affordability

Many District 5 residents said that housing affordability was a top priority for them.

Boulder Creek resident Robert Cochran, 50, said he wants local leaders to prioritize affordable housing and not gentrification while rebuilding in the Santa Cruz Mountains. He wants to keep Boulder Creek livable for locals. “Boulder Creakans help out Boulder Creakans. That’s what I love about it.” (Natalya Dreszer — Santa Cruz Local)

Boulder Creek resident Robert Cochran, 50, said he wants local leaders to prioritize affordable housing and avoid gentrification. He wants to keep Boulder Creek livable for locals. “Boulder Creekans help out Boulder Creekans,” Cochran said. “That’s what I love about it.” (Natalya Dreszer — Santa Cruz Local)

Boulder Creek resident Janis Tapping, 62, said she wants local leaders to help rebuild housing that is affordable for homeowners and renters. 

“You have these homes that are burned, and people who end up not having a home,” Tapping said. “It’s not just homeowners but people who rented in the mountains, because maybe it was a little cheaper than being in Santa Cruz. And now they don’t have a home so, you know, they’re adding to the county’s homeless population.” 

Some residents said they wanted county leaders to facilitate new affordable housing. 

Scotts Valley resident Donna Maurillo, 78, said “Santa Cruz is growing, whether we like it or not.” She said her son grew up in Santa Cruz County and moved to Alabama to afford housing. She said her daughter, a local teacher, worries constantly about her ability to live here after she retires. Maurillo said she and her daughter want to stay in Santa Cruz County, but the cost of housing has made them consider moving “even though we are active in the community and have lived here for 50 years.”

Child care, safety and youth activities

Felton resident Melissa Ajuntas, 37, moved to California from Texas about 18 months ago. She said she wanted a more inclusive and safe environment for her children. Her daughter, Aleena Romero, 14, attends San Lorenzo Valley Middle School. In Texas, Aleena said she didn’t feel safe as a person of color and was sometimes taunted.

“School here is better,” Aleena said, in that it is “more inclusive and more accepting.” She said she is beginning to trust teachers and other students.

Ajuntas said she is struggling with the cost of living in Santa Cruz County. “I want to be able to work and provide, but it’s hard when I can’t put my kids in activities. After-school programs are almost as much as my mortgage,” Ajuntas said. “It’s hard to move forward financially.”

Several residents said they struggle to find affordable child care in the San Lorenzo Valley. They send their children to Scotts Valley for after-school care. They said they want the local government to help.

District 5 residents Althea and Rebecca are friends, they smile at the camera.

Boulder Creek friends Althea Iida, left, and Rebecca Guerrero said they want more activities for San Lorenzo Valley teens and faster law enforcement responses. (Natalya Dreszer — Santa Cruz Local)

Several residents said that responses to 911 calls can be more than one hour in Boulder Creek. “Someone might be having a mental crisis here downtown but (first responders) are off on a call,” said Rebecca Guerrero. Guerrero, 46, owns Central Avenue Salon in Boulder Creek. “By the time you can get them here, the person has already disappeared. And they’re still having a mental crisis, just not right in front of our shop.” 

Guerrero and her friend Althea Iida, 39, are both raising teens in Boulder Creek. They want more activities for young people, places they can go and better access to transportation. They would like to see more funding for teen programs at the Boulder Creek Community Center and the proposed pump track to be built in Felton.

“I’ve grown up here,” said Iida. “They’ve shut down the bowling alley, the roller rink and all these great things for teens to do.” She said she wants affordable programs not affiliated with churches because “there’s a lot of trouble that you can get into up here as a teenager.”

Savannah Robertson, 13, lives in Boulder Creek. She said she likes the strong sense of community. She said if she could add anything to Boulder Creek, it would be more places for kids and teenagers to hang out. 

“Because everywhere that we go and hang out there’s always, like, kind of drunk people and people being weird and stuff,” Robertson said.

A draft for our People’s Agenda

Our questions for the District 5 county supervisor candidates are based on themes we heard from District 5 residents. We call this list our “People’s Agenda.” 

  1. Several District 5 voters said they don’t feel safe because of recent wildfires, floods and power outages. What will you do in your first year as a county supervisor to improve evacuation plans, emergency preparation and cellular service in the San Lorenzo Valley?
  2. What long term strategies would you pursue to adapt and prepare District 5 to more frequent disasters fueled by climate change? 
  3. Some voters told us they are tired of power, heat and communication outages. How would you work toward improved power reliability from Pacific Gas and Electric Co. in San Lorenzo Valley?
  4. Several District 5 residents said county road conditions are bad. How can you get more money for road improvements in District 5? What county roads are your top priorities to fix during your four-year term? 
  5. For CZU Lightning Complex Fire survivors, what will you do differently than the current supervisor to remove obstacles to rebuild?
  6. How can county supervisors help fund and facilitate more affordable housing? Where in your district would you support more density?

District 5 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 general election in November.

Questions or comments? Email [email protected]. Santa Cruz Local is supported by members, major donors, sponsors and grants for the general support of our newsroom. Our news judgments are made independently and not on the basis of donor support. Learn more about Santa Cruz Local and how we are funded.

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