From left, Nancy Macey, Sandy Rintoul, Peter Gelblum and Evan Morrison share priorities for the November election at a Santa Cruz Local listening session on June 12 in Boulder Creek.

From left, Nancy Macey, Sandy Rintoul, Peter Gelblum and Evan Morrison share priorities for the November election at a Santa Cruz Local listening session on June 12 in Boulder Creek. (Marcello Hutchinson-Trujillo — Santa Cruz Local)

BOULDER CREEK >> San Lorenzo Valley voters want a county supervisor who will fix roads, help prepare for disasters, increase power reliability and improve communications between the county and residents, according to a recent straw poll. 

Residents said they wanted more town halls with elected officials, regular office hours with the county supervisor and a leadership incubator for residents to take on more civic responsibility. They also wanted help with the rising cost of living. 

In the Nov. 5 election, San Lorenzo Valley residents will choose between Christopher Bradford and Monica Martinez for District 5 Santa Cruz County supervisor. Supervisor Bruce McPherson is retiring.

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At a June 12 listening session that Santa Cruz Local hosted at Boulder Creek Branch Library, 18 San Lorenzo Valley residents discussed their concerns and ways the valley could improve. Twenty more area residents provided input online. The session and online survey were not intended to be a scientific study, but rather a sounding board of what some valley voters want candidates to address in the Nov. 5 election.

Santa Cruz Local asked:

  1. What is the most important issue to you today? 
  2. What do you want to understand about the other side of this issue?
  3. In an ideal world, how would this issue be resolved?

Respondents’ top issues included: 

  • Natural disaster preparation and a housing crunch since 2020’s CZU Lightning Complex Fire.
  • Increased cost of living, including home insurance and Pacific Gas & Electric bills.  
  • Frequent road closures and unreliable power, especially during storms. 
  • Lack of access to health care.
  • Lack of leadership and communication between local government and residents.

“Current outreach in this area is spotty and at the same time duplicated by multiple agencies,” said Mary Andersen, of Felton. People said they wanted more communication before, during and after natural disasters.

“We have an amazing set of communities up here,” said Tess Fitzgerald of Boulder Creek. “People come together like no other.”

From left, Tess Fitzgerald, Justin Acton and Michele Estrin-Gelblum discuss San Lorenzo Valley issues at a Santa Cruz Local listening session on June 12.

From left, Tess Fitzgerald, Justin Acton and Michele Estrin-Gelblum discuss San Lorenzo Valley issues at a Santa Cruz Local listening session on June 12. (Marcello Hutchinson-Trujillo — Santa Cruz Local)

Disaster preparation and rebuilding

San Lorenzo Valley residents have coped with the effects of major storms the past two years, including floods, road closures, slides and days or weeks of power outages. Wildfires remain a threat, and residents have sharp memories from 2020’s CZU Lightning Complex Fire.

“We keep living this biblical nightmare of like disaster after disaster after disaster, whether it be Covid or fires or wind storms or floods. Over and over,” said Justin Acton, 39, of Ben Lomond. 

Many residents called for more deliberate and permanent disaster preparation, including more opportunities for residents to prepare for wildfire with free yard waste hauling and chipping programs. They also wanted authorities to better maintain vegetation on escape roads, and add new fire lanes on roads out of the San Lorenzo Valley.

Residents also reiterated their frustration trying to rebuild homes destroyed in the CZU Fire. Of the hundreds of homes destroyed on nearly 700 properties, 104 homes have been rebuilt and 155 permits are in process, county records showed on June 27.

“It seems clear that we may never regain all that housing stock,” said Kristen Sandel, 54, of Ben Lomond. Residents said the loss of homes further stressed an already tight housing market, and named permitting as a major barrier to rebuilding. 

Lauren De Sylva, 37, of Felton, said she wanted to build but can’t due to the difficulty of obtaining a permit. “I have funds and am willing to build on vacant land, but the permitting usually is far too onerous and time consuming compared to most areas,” De Sylva said. 

Child care, cost of living

Almost all residents reported that the cost of living in San Lorenzo Valley has increased dramatically in recent years, driven in part by rising power costs, home insurance rates, and the cost of child care. 

Echoing many other residents, Julia Sauer, 64, of Boulder Creek, reported that her PG&E bill tripled in the past year. She said she has taken all cost-cutting suggestions offered by PG&E and was at a loss of what to do. 

Like many residents, she said she is committed to staying in the area and was worried she will not be able to afford it. “Will I be able to live in the San Lorenzo Valley until I die? Because that’s what I want to do,” Sauer said. 

Major insurers have not renewed many homeowners’ policies, forcing residents to buy more expensive policies. Some residents have seen increases of 400%, leaving them unable to afford to stay in their homes.

Michele Estrin-Gelblum writes a response during a June 12 Santa Cruz Local listening session at Boulder Creek Branch Library. (Marcello Hutchinson-Trujillo — Santa Cruz Local)

Michele Estrin-Gelblum of Boulder Creek said that she and her husband are “just waiting to get our non-renewal notice.” She said “insurance has the ability, the consequence, to force people to leave. No one can afford $12,000 or $15,000 to insure their home.”

Some renters said they had been forced out of their rentals after rising insurance rates prompted their landlords to sell.

Residents also reported that child care costs have risen over the last years. Lower-cost child care options, such as YMCA programs, fill up quickly. Parents who don’t make it in are forced to choose between working out of the home or leaving children with neighbors or in other, less regulated child care options.

“Those things fill up so fast because everyone’s in need,” said Dawn Harker of Boulder Creek.

Peter Gelblum speaks to fellow San Lorenzo Valley residents at a discussion hosted by Santa Cruz Local at the Boulder Creek Branch Library. (Marcello Hutchinson-Trujillo — Santa Cruz Local) 

Roads, power and health care

Residents cited roads as a top issue. Residents find roads in poor condition daily, and roads off Highway 9 often are not well maintained. Roads are frequently under construction and occasionally impassable during storms, leaving residents stranded in their homes.

“Our roads fail whenever there are storms, potentially trapping thousands of people and keeping food and supplies from being delivered to us,” said Evan Morrison, 41, of Boulder Creek. 

Frequent and prolonged power outages also persist.

“I work from home and every winter, power and internet reliability are a problem,” said Mary Andersen, of Felton. Parents also reported their children are not always able to access the internet to do schoolwork. Some residents blamed PG&E. PG&E representatives have described their efforts to put some power lines underground and improve others, but projects have been small so far in San Lorenzo Valley and the Santa Cruz Mountains. 

“My wife and I suffer power outages at least three times a year due in part to PG&E’s unwillingness to upgrade their power lines properly,” said John Matezier, 71, of Boulder Creek. 

Another pressing issue for residents was the lack of health care in the valley. 

There is one health center in the San Lorenzo Valley, Santa Cruz Mountain Health Center, which is a clinic of Santa Cruz Community Health. It has been operating at limited hours but is set to open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday starting July 1. Residents report difficulty obtaining care when they need it. 

Peter Gelblum, 72, of Boulder Creek, said a friend “hit her head, and she had nowhere to go. [My wife] is a retired nurse, so she came to our house, and she was OK, but she was going to have to go to Santa Cruz to go to an urgent care place and wait for several hours. And that’s a serious, serious problem.” 

Lack of communication with county, State Parks, Caltrans

On the day of Santa Cruz Local’s listening session, State Parks conducted a controlled burn at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park and smoke wafted through the valley. Many participants said they were frustrated that they had had to go to community Facebook groups to determine if it was a controlled burn or wildfire, instead of hearing directly from government officials. (Find State Parks controlled burn info here)

Tess Fitzgerald, of Boulder Creek, says her biggest concern has been “the lack of leadership.” She thinks communities in the San Lorenzo Valley “haven’t had inclusive leadership that really goes forward and pursues and communicates back all these other issues,” like planning and PG&E.

Solutions and responsive leadership

Residents were excited about the idea of more grassroots local leadership. They said they wanted a leadership incubator to support community members who wanted to take on more responsibility. 

Residents also said they wanted more town halls with elected officials, and bringing back regular office hours with the county supervisor.

Residents want a supervisor and supervisor staff who understand life in the valley. Residents discussed a desire for at least one of the supervisor’s staff to live in the San Lorenzo Valley. Residents also expressed a desire for a supervisor who lives a lower income or middle class life, and can understand the struggle of living in such an expensive area. 

“It would be nice to have someone in our community who understands the pain that we feel trying to make it here,” said Justin Acton, 39, of Ben Lomond.

Residents were hopeful that change could be made. Almost all residents expressed a desire to continue living in the San Lorenzo Valley for as long as they could. Many expressed gratitude for the community spirit in the mountains. 

Julia Sauer writes questions and advice for the incoming county supervisor at the Boulder Creek Branch Library. (Marcello Hutchinson-Trujillo — Santa Cruz Local)

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