Santa Cruz City Hall

Measure E would allow district elections for the Santa Cruz City Council with six districts and a directly-elected mayor. (Kara Meyberg Guzman — Santa Cruz Local file)

Get informed on the June 7 local election

Read Santa Cruz Local's Election Guide

We break down the primary elections for District 3 and District 4 Santa Cruz County supervisor. We also explain five local ballot measures.
Get informed on the June 7 local election

What is Measure E?

Measure E would change the City of Santa Cruz’s charter to allow district elections for the Santa Cruz City Council with six districts and a directly-elected mayor. The mayor would represent the entire city for a four-year term.

Santa Cruz now has at-large elections where residents from anywhere in the city can vote for any candidate. With district elections, the city would be divided into geographical districts. Voters in each district would choose a council member who lives in their district. 

City leaders are moving toward district representation because of a threat of lawsuit in 2020. It alleged a California Voting Rights Act violation and an underrepresentation of Latinos on the city council. Other cities throughout the state have switched to district elections because of similar legal threats.  

Santa Cruz Vice Mayor Martine Watkins and councilmembers Renee Golder and Donna Meyers proposed the ballot measure in February. If voters reject the measure, city leaders will move forward with a separate, ongoing process to establish seven council districts.

What does a “yes” vote on Measure E mean?

A “yes” vote would allow the Santa Cruz City Council to establish six geographical council districts and a directly-elected mayor. Voters in each district would choose a council member who lives in their district. The council is expected to approve a six-district map this month.

  • A directly-elected mayor would represent the entire city. 
  • Measure E’s passage would let city voters, instead of the council, choose the mayor. 
  • Measure E’s passage would create a four-year mayoral term. Mayors now serve for one year. 
  • Measure E would create new term limits. Council members who have served for two consecutive four-year terms would still have to wait two years to become eligible to run again. However, the new rules would allow council members to run for mayor immediately after two terms as a council member. 

Measure E does not increase the mayor’s power, role or salary, the city attorney and a city spokeswoman said. The mayor would have the same power to set meeting agendas. The mayor would have the same “primary but not exclusive” responsibility to interpret policies, programs and needs of city government, according to the measure. 

Measure E would also create primary elections starting in 2024. The mayor and council members would be elected in two rounds, similar to the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors. The first round would coincide with the state primary election, typically in June in even years. If a candidate gets more than 50% of the primary vote, the candidate wins. If not, then the top two candidates for each seat face off in the November election.  

What does a “no” vote on Measure E mean?

A “no” vote means that the Santa Cruz City Council will move forward with a process to establish seven geographical council districts. The council is expected to approve a seven-district map this month. 

The mayor would represent their district and would continue to be appointed annually by a council vote. The mayor’s power and salary would remain the same. 

The council election schedule would be similar to what it is now: three or four council members up for election in November of even years. There would be no primary election. The new seven-structure would likely start by the Nov. 8 election.

Schedule and legal settlement

If Measure E is approved by city voters, six new districts and the new rules could start with the Nov. 8 election. If voters approve Measure E in the June 7 election but the results are not certified by July 6, then the new structure would start in 2024. 

If the city does not enact district elections by the November 2022 election, the city could face a lawsuit. The City of Santa Cruz reached a settlement with Gabriela Joseph, a resident who threatened to sue the city in 2020 for noncompliance with the California Voting Rights Act. The agreement states that if the city enacts district elections “with or without an at-large mayor” by the November 2022 election, then Joseph will not sue. 

“At large” means the mayor would represent the entire city, not a district.

The draft maps propose sequences for which districts would be enacted in 2022 and 2024.

At an April 19 special city council meeting, the council voted 5-2 to advance “Draft map 602” that would apply if voters approve Measure E. A second council vote is needed to adopt that map. The council is expected to vote again May 24.

The “Draft map 602” proposal would have the following schedule for a transition to district elections:

  • 2022 elections: Districts 4 (Justin Cummings), 6 (Renee Golder) and city-wide mayor.
  • 2024 elections: Districts 1 (Martine Watkins), 2 (Sonja Brunner), 3 (Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson and Donna Meyers) and 5 (Sandy Brown).

District boundaries

Page 1 of Maps 602 and 101
Contributed to DocumentCloud by Kara Meyberg Guzman (Santa Cruz Local) • View document or read text

If voters approve Measure E, this six-district map could be enacted. The council advanced Draft Map 602 in an April 19 vote. A second vote is needed to make the map apply to Measure E. (City of Santa Cruz)

Page 3 of Maps 602 and 101
Contributed to DocumentCloud by Kara Meyberg Guzman (Santa Cruz Local) • View document or read text

If voters reject Measure E, this draft district map could be enacted by the November 2022 election. The council advanced Draft Map 101 in an April 19 vote. A second vote is needed to adopt this map. (City of Santa Cruz)

Federal and state laws require that districts:

  • Have roughly equal populations.
  • Do not favor a racial group. Race can be considered when drawing boundaries, but it cannot be the predominant factor, according to federal law.
  • Avoid division of neighborhoods.

The council has not yet decided on the district maps that would be enacted if Measure E succeeds or fails. On April 19, the council advanced Draft Map 602 and Draft Map 101. The council is expected to vote again May 24. A second vote would make those maps official.

Read the demographic breakdown of Draft Map 602 that could be enacted by Measure E:

Page 2 of Maps 602 and 101
Contributed to DocumentCloud by Kara Meyberg Guzman (Santa Cruz Local) • View document or read text

Read the demographic breakdown of Draft Map 101 that could be enacted if voters reject Measure E:

Page 4 of Maps 602 and 101
Contributed to DocumentCloud by Kara Meyberg Guzman (Santa Cruz Local) • View document or read text

New term limits

Measure E would create new term limits.

Council members who have served for two consecutive four-year terms would still have to wait two years to become eligible to run again. However, the new rules would allow council members to run for mayor immediately after two terms as a council member. 

Mayors also would be allowed to run for a district seat immediately after two terms as mayor. The council members and mayor could not serve for more than 16 consecutive years.

—Kara Meyberg Guzman

Santa Cruz Local stories on Measure E

Stay informed on Santa Cruz County's biggest issues.

Santa Cruz Local's newsletter breaks down complex local topics and shows residents how to get involved.

Santa Cruz Local’s news is free. We believe Santa Cruz County is stronger when everyone has access to fair and accurate information. Our newsroom relies on locals like you for financial support. Our members make regular contributions, starting at $19 a month or $199 year.

Learn about Santa Cruz Local membership