A photo of Leslie Nielsen at the listening session for residents to express concerns for Capitola council candidates to address in the Nov. 5 election.

Leslie Nielsen, center, speaks at a June 4 Santa Cruz Local event that listened to concerns from some Capitola voters. Nielsen is a board member of Capitola’s Business Improvement Association. (Kara Meyberg Guzman — Santa Cruz Local)

CAPITOLA >> A recent straw poll of Capitola residents ahead of the Nov. 5 election showed a need for traffic flow improvements, increased bike safety and better transparency in local government.

Capitola voters in November will elect two city council members to four-year terms. 

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At a Santa Cruz Local listening session at Capitola Branch Library on June 4, residents shared  concerns about Capitola and discussed potential solutions. The group of nine community leaders included two former mayors, two local business owners including the owner of Shadowbrook restaurant, a former city planning commissioner, the city clerk, and organizers from Concerned Citizens of Capitola. Other residents provided input in a written survey. 

Respondents’ top issues included: 

  • A lack of trust between residents and city government and a need for increased communication, collaboration and transparency. 
  • Traffic, bike safety, and concerns about a potential influx of cyclists from the rail-trail project.  
  • The high costs of housing relative to incomes.

Transportation was a top local issue. Like many communities in Santa Cruz County, Capitola residents said they felt constrained by Highway 1 traffic.

“I do things and don’t do things just because of transportation,” said Ted Burke, owner of the Shadowbrook restaurant. He said he sometimes felt trapped.

Corrine Kappler addresses nine participants of the listening session who expressed their concerns for Capitola council candidates to address.

Corinne Kappeler leads a Capitola listening session of nine Capitola residents. (Kara Meyberg Guzman — Santa Cruz Local)

Participants were also concerned about bike safety, particularly for electric bikes. Sue Campbell, 59, said she is “concerned for the safety of the kids” when she frequently sees students ride electric bikes on her street at high speeds. She and others said they wanted to understand what city council candidates will do to keep bikers and pedestrians safe with a potential influx of bikers from a future rail trail.

Separately, rules to keep e-bikes off sidewalks that would apply to neighboring Live Oak and other unincorporated county areas are in the works. Santa Cruz County supervisors are expected to finalize the rules at their Aug. 13 meeting. 

Unaffordable housing and insufficient income were also problems mentioned by Capitola voters.

“For those of us who are new to this area, it’s hard to get a foothold in this county,” said Julia Gautho, Capitola’s city clerk. 

The listening session included small group discussions to identify a local issue and propose a solution. Independently of each other, all three small groups named lack of trust between residents and city government as a top issue. 

Government transparency

Residents felt the solution to Capitola’s issues lays in increasing trust and communication between residents and elected officials and city staff. 

“I don’t feel like what the community wants, and the people in the city who are responsible for executing it, are in as much alignment as they need to be,” said Leslie Nielsen, a member of Capitola’s Business Improvement Association’s Board. 

“I feel like it’s this us against them mentality,” added Christine McBroom, a local business owner, “and I want to get away from that and get back to working together.” 

Participants voiced support for a range of solutions aimed at increasing communication between city council, staff and residents. Solutions included increasing public participation in city meetings by holding city council meetings, town halls, and other public gatherings at the Capitola Community Center in Jade Street Park rather than at city hall.  

“Getting some of the city business away from council chambers, to the community room, lessens the charge, lessens peoples anxiety about going to council,” said Gayle Ortiz, a former Capitola mayor and founder of Gayle’s Bakery.  “It wouldn’t seem like it was being held by the council, it would be held by the community.”

Jacques Bertrand, a former mayor of Capitola, shares his thoughts at a June event at Capitola Branch Library. (Kara Meyberg Guzman — Santa Cruz Local)

Potential solutions to Capitola problems

Another proposed solution was holding a participatory city budget process to allow residents to co-create the budget. The city budget is now set every two years in a city council meeting. The “process is basically unknown to the public,” said Jaques Bertrand, a former Capitola mayor. “People in the city need to know what our problems are. People need to know what our budget is,” Bertrand said. 

Gautho, the city clerk, proposed an onboarding process for city staff that would include a resident-led “orientation” to Capitola and resident issues. “I know as a new employee I would have loved to have done that,” she said. 

Other proposed solutions included:

  • An expanded and more accessible Local Government Academy for Capitola. 
  • Increased pay for city staff to decrease turnover and allow staff to live in Capitola.
  • Citizen-led initiatives to make change in Capitola, like a resident-funded retrofitting of the Capitola trestle bridge to allow safer bike and pedestrian traffic. The rail-trail plan has proposed replacement of the bridge.

Some residents said they wanted the Capitola trestle bridge to be safer for cyclists and pedestrians. (Stephen Baxter — Santa Cruz Local file)

Some respondents said they wanted city council candidates with experience relevant to managing a city. They wanted candidates who understand the Capitola community and who are committed to communication and transparency. 

Residents had several questions for candidates for city council, including:

  • What’s your experience in management? 
  • What would you cut from the city budget?
  • Would you support increased staff salaries?
  • How would you spend money raised by the proposed half-cent sales tax?
  • Would you put the priorities of the community over your personal agenda?
  • How do you view the role of government? 

Santa Cruz Local plans to compile residents’ questions for the Capitola City Council candidates this summer, then press the candidates on those issues in interviews. A Santa Cruz Local Election Guide for the Nov. 5 election is expected to be published in October.

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