Maggie Kelly is a District 5 voter.

UC Santa Cruz cognitive science student Maggie Kelly was placed in campus housing, but not near her student center of Merrill College. (Natalya Dreszer — Santa Cruz Local)

SANTA CRUZ >> A recent survey of Santa Cruz city voters suggested that housing, homelessness and transportation were key issues for candidates to address in the March 2024 election.

In 2022, Santa Cruz residents voted in district elections for the first time. In March, voters in Districts 1, 2, 3 and 5 will cast ballots for Santa Cruz City Council members to represent their geographical districts. This will be the first time these four districts will have directly elected representatives.

Santa Cruz residents will vote in Santa Cruz City Council Districts 1, 2, 3 and 5 in the March 5, 2024 election. (City of Santa Cruz)

To understand voters’ priorities for the March 5 election, Santa Cruz Local interviewed and surveyed 75 Santa Cruz residents from four city council districts. Santa Cruz Local heard from residents ages 18 to 84 from August to October. The survey was not intended to be a scientific study, but rather a straw poll of issues that matter 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 city residents around Santa Cruz County at places like UC Santa Cruz, farmers markets, coffee shops, food distributions 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 across all districts were:

  • Increasing housing affordability.
  • Housing development.
  • Addressing homelessness.

Residents in Districts 1, 2 and 3 also mentioned safety concerns regarding:

  • Walking, cycling and public transportation infrastructure. 
  • Crime, drug use and litter in public spaces.

Residents in District 5 also said their priorities include:

  • Access to student housing.
  • More information on local government and how to get involved.


Housing was a top priority for residents across Santa Cruz. While many residents agreed that making housing more affordable is important in Santa Cruz, people had different opinions about ways to make housing more affordable.

Mary Anne Kramer-Urner, 65, said she wanted more development of affordable housing in Santa Cruz. Kramer-Urner said she wanted housing to be accessible for “people struggling on the streets,” and “friends and colleagues.” 

Cindy Dawson, 50, said she wanted local candidates to talk about specific policies they will implement to create affordable housing. 

“I have seen friends and colleagues move away in large numbers over the past 20 years due to housing costs,” Dawson said. She believed that all city council candidates were “pro-affordable housing, pro-environmental protection, pro-sustainable transportation, pro-equity and inclusion.” However, she said, “you can’t have all those things without an understanding of how you make government work to get those things.”

Erin Wood, 43, said she and her friends had a hard time finding an affordable place to rent. She said she wanted local leaders to make housing more affordable. It’s a priority because she is worried about her friends and her having “no chance of ever being able to settle here or buy a home.”

Kathy Cheer, 80, said she wanted development of low-cost housing and temporary shelters. “Housing, not high-rise structures blocking out the sun.” She said she does not want development that “will make Santa Cruz so crowded with an ugly skyline punctuated by what appear to be government welfare housing.”

Linda Wilson, 76, said she wanted local candidates to push back against state-mandated housing development requirements. “We need fewer people, not more,” said Wilson. “We especially don’t need housing for Silicon Valley tech overflow.”


Another priority for residents across Santa Cruz was addressing homelessness. Residents said they wanted local leaders to provide short- and long-term strategies.

Jessica Evans, 55, said she wanted to know whether the city council candidates are willing to add homes by allowing denser housing along transit corridors. “I have known students who are homeless,” said Evans. “I have seen how a single illness or a layoff or a broken vehicle can devastate a person or a whole family.”

Brent Adams, 58, ran the Warming Center Program and Footbridge Homeless Services that provided emergency services to homeless people in Santa Cruz for years. He said he wanted local government to provide immediate assistance to address the “basic needs of homelessness: laundry, storage, showers, clothing, blankets and some type of emergency shelter access to every person who needs it.”

Edward Bailey, 65, said he wanted local candidates to advocate for more mental health services. “I have known and helped a mentally unstable homeless person who lived in my neighborhood for five years. This man was harmless and didn’t do drugs or drink. He was just mentally ill. I can say that this man should never have been left to his own devices on the streets, always hungry and being victimized by other homeless people,” Bailey said.

“He died 100 yards from my house at the dog park,” Bailey said.


Another priority for Santa Cruz residents was access to transportation. Many residents said they want to be safe while walking and biking. Residents said they want more infrastructure like protected bike lanes and clearly marked crosswalks across the city. More public transportation and better access to it was also mentioned several times. 

Barbara Jongewaard, 84, asked for more accessible seating at bus stops. “Sitting down is not half the problem of getting up from a seated position, and the equally low bars separating the seats offer no help,” she said. She said she recently had to stand for 25 minutes at a bus stop because she could not use the seating. 

Crime, drug use and litter

Many Santa Cruz city residents said that they want local leaders to address crime, drug use and litter in public spaces.

Bailey, who asked for more mental health services to help homeless people in Santa Cruz city, said that he also wants local leaders to address crime. “I have had items stolen from my property and I’ve had my property vandalized. My wife has been assaulted in our front yard. The crime in this town needs to be confronted and that means punishing criminals, not giving them penny bail and then releasing!”

Nancy Meyberg, 81, said she wanted local government to prioritize “maintained, beautiful and safe parks” as well as murals and public art.  “Our children and neighbors all use the parks. They are essential to a functioning community. People of all ages and abilities need to feel free to utilize the parks,” Meyberg said. She wanted local government to address “car break-ins, bike thefts and ‘druggie’ crime — it’s exhausting.”

Mark Malone, 60, said he wanted public spaces such as streets, beaches and waterways to be cleaner. “Provide resources, education and policy to drive down the need for the city to clean up after its citizens,” he said.

Hal Hansen, 45, said he wanted to know why local leaders do not talk about and urgently address crime in Santa Cruz. He said he knows victims of crimes and their crimes were not investigated by the police. “Criminals go through a revolving door and are back in the street in hours,” Hansen said.

UCSC students share housing struggles  

Several UCSC students said they had a hard time finding housing in Santa Cruz.

“Everybody that I know really struggled to get a spot,” said UCSC sophomore Kat Apostol, 19. “I’ve had multiple people tell me, ‘Oh, I’m just going to have to live out of my car if I can’t get a job,’” she said. Before she found housing, she said she felt “distressed.”

Apostol said she “got lucky through the housing office,” and “they just placed me randomly.” All of Apostol’s friends eventually found housing as well, she said. “We all kind of just randomly got placed through people that we know or just looking on Craigslist or Zillow.”

UCSC sophomore Maggie Kelly, 18, also spoke about housing. She said she did not get placed in housing in the first three rounds of housing placement at Merrill College where she gets her mail and academic advising. Instead, she was placed in The Village, a campus residence that’s a 30-minute walk from her college.

Several UCSC students said they wanted more information about local government in Santa Cruz. Apostol said she wanted to better understand the Santa Cruz community. “I feel like there’s a big separation between the students — how we’re in a bubble — and then the actual people, the townies that live in Santa Cruz,” Apostol said. “I don’t know what kind of issues that they’re having.”

A draft for our People’s Agenda

Our questions for the Santa Cruz City Council candidates are based on themes we heard from residents in each district. We call this list our “People’s Agenda.” 

Questions for Santa Cruz City Council candidates in Districts 1, 2, 3 and 5:

  1. What will you do to make housing more affordable for families in the city of Santa Cruz?
  2. Would you support more housing density in Santa Cruz City Council District 2? If so, where specifically would you support it and how many stories? 
  3. What short- and long-term strategies would you support to address homelessness in your district and across the City of Santa Cruz?
  4. Do you support or oppose the Housing for People ballot measure in the City of Santa Cruz? Why or why not?

Questions for Santa Cruz City Council candidates in Districts 1, 2 and 3:

  1. Some District 2 said they are upset with crime, drug use and litter in public spaces. What can the city council do to help residents feel safer? 
  2. Some District 2 residents said they want a champion for safer cycling and walking infrastructure, and improved bus service. What will you do on the city council toward those ends? 

Questions for Santa Cruz City Council candidates in District 5:

  1. Some UC Santa Cruz students said they are forced to live off campus after their first year. Should the city council push UC Santa Cruz to house more students on campus? If so, how?
  2. Several UC Santa Cruz students in District 5 said they felt disengaged from city government. What will you do as a District 5 city council member to inform and engage them? 

Santa Cruz 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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