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Meet Joy Schendledecker

  • Age: 47
  • Residence: Westside Santa Cruz
  • Occupation: Mom, artist and community activist
  • Local government experience: Schendledecker worked as a community organizer for about 20 years. She called it “fabulous training” to be a leader in local elected positions. “You have boots on the ground experience, you know what people’s experiences are and what they themselves are saying they need from their elected officials.” Schendledecker also served on a board of governors at an elementary school in London for two years.
  • Important local issues: Schendledecker said the most pressing issue is working with people who are unhoused or on the verge of homelessness. “The fact that once somebody, generally through no fault of their own, becomes unhoused, they end up deeper and deeper into a hole that’s more and more difficult to get out of. When we enact new ordinances that are particular to people that don’t have housing, I see firsthand how terribly, negatively impactful those can be, including putting people’s lives at risk.” Schendledecker said there was a need for more transparency, more connection to local government and community-driven and community-led participatory processes. “Right now, I think the system we have, very few people actually feel like they know what’s going on and that they have a voice.”

Joy Schendledecker (Contributed)

  • What is your dream for the Santa Cruz community? Schendledecker said she wants everyone in the community to be cared for, have a place to live, have access to a social safety net, have good job opportunities and good wage opportunities, and have safe, affordable housing near where they work to help create community connection.
  • Fun fact: Schendledecker calls herself a “garbage geek,” and acknowledges her interest in “discard studies.” That relatively new field, she explained, crosses over a lot of disciplines; as an artist, she’s excited by the landscape and understanding how to view the waste through a new lens to better understand the world and power struggles.
    “Discard studies is amazing, it gets me fired up,” she said.

Here are some of Joy Schendledecker’s positions on issues brought forward by voters. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

What is the most important role of a Santa Cruz mayor?

Joy Schendledecker: In terms of the job description, I think one of the most important roles the mayor does that is distinct from the other councilmembers is that they set the agenda and the calendar. When there’s a big issue — for example, labor people have told me they want a project labor agreement — it’s really a worker’s justice issue, so people get paid fairly and well for the work that they do. It contributes to an economic culture where people can live near to where they work, and the money spent on construction projects stays in the community.

We need labor laws to protect people and for our city to have a project labor agreement put in place — as mayor I could put that in — and if we have a pro-labor majority, we could put that in. We can create a much more ethical downtown area that protects workers.

Some voters told us there is too much market-rate housing being built and not enough affordable housing. Do you agree? How should the city council handle market-rate housing proposals? 

Joy Schendledecker: I 100% agree. You hear people talking about, “Well, you have to make this project pencil out for developers, or else they’re not going to want to build it here.” This is how we’ve been doing things for 40 years — who it doesn’t pencil out for is the community. 

We have some of the most valuable real estate in the nation, and we need to be leveraging that. Developers will continue to want to build here. We need to radically increase the inclusionary ordinance and do what we can within state law to mandate as much truly affordable housing as possible for all the levels that people need, for the incomes that people have.

In reality, if we have 20% of our people that are extremely-low income or very-low income, then we need to be building that much housing so that people can live and work. This is what makes sense. With political will and people power, we can make this happen. We do not have to be beholden to the logic of the marketplace and for-profit developers. There’s many places around the world that prove this over and over again, and we can learn from them.

State rules require Santa Cruz city leaders to issue permits for hundreds of homes in the next 10 years. Do you support housing above shops on Soquel Avenue, Mission Street and Ocean Street? How and where should the city add homes? 

Joy Schendledecker: I think that we need to be adding housing in all of our neighborhoods, and I also think that building along transit corridors makes sense in a lot of ways. I’ve lived in several large cities, and it’s nice to be able to walk downstairs and get your newspaper and your toilet paper, and there’s public transportation there.

We also need choices for people, and one thing that — especially with market-rate developments along corridors — there are some major equity issues. I don’t think we should be putting affordable housing only on traffic corridors. I think we should be building a variety of sizes of housing at a variety of income levels to make it fair and mixed.

I also think there’s a problem with market-rate mixed-use buildings with commercial spaces, where the rents may not support local businesses. That’s something that, as a community, I think we need to think about.

We should develop our corridors — these are our commercial hearts in our neighborhoods. Also, we need to think about equity, environment, livability and health.

During the past year, the Santa Cruz City Council’s homelessness response has been to increase the capacity of managed shelters and adopt laws to limit overnight parking and camping. Do you agree with this approach, why or why not? What policies would you push for?

Joy Schendledecker: I think that the city and the county working together more is a great sign, and we need more of that. It’s wonderful to stop this “hot potato.” At the same time, I am concerned with the quarterly homelessness reports that I’ve seen.

I’m opposed to the two ordinances that have been passed, the (Camping Services and Standards Ordinance) and the (Oversized Vehicle Ordinance). We don’t need more ordinances, we have plenty of laws on the books. We need services, not sweeps.

We still don’t have enough space for everybody. And in many of those spaces, they’re managed camps. So people are living in tents. Of course, we need to move people out of the Benchlands right now — as winter comes, we don’t want a repeat of last year. At the same time, the way I’m seeing this clearing of the Benchlands happening is totally inadequate and inhumane. You can’t move people when there’s not enough spaces for them, and there’s no trust between people and the service providers, and you have people who decline to take those spaces. We need a lot of trust building between the people who live outside and the service providers, the city, the county. We need to be changing the narrative we’re having.

In the spring, the city was budgeting for a well-paid position in public relations. That is not what we need to be spending money on. We need more service providers on the ground, more case managers, and more community-led problem solving and relationship building so people aren’t so scared.

We can do better and we can provide the services without the ordinances, and without dangling a carrot with the threat of punishment over people. I would like to see alternative emergency responses. We need to work with the county to provide more mental health services. If the county doesn’t have the capacity to collaborate on that with us, then we should be finding the funding for our own emergency response programs.

Editor’s note: Schendledecker is part of an appeal to the California Coastal Commission against the Oversized Vehicle Ordinance. The law has not been enforced because it needs Coastal Commission approval. 

Do you support the current plan to reshape the Downtown Plan? How do you feel about maximum building heights downtown of 50 to 85 feet, three buildings allowed at 150 feet and one building at 175 feet? 

Joy Schendledecker: My approach to development is more cautious and tempered than my opponent’s. I do think we need development, but it needs to be for people who already live in neighborhoods and for increasing diversity. When we have a working-class neighborhood, when we build there, we need to make sure we are not gentrifying the area. Put more emphasis on truly affordable housing and less emphasis on market-rate residential and commercial building and entertainment zones or luxury zones.

This is an equity issue, and it’s part of the 2022 California Democrats’ platform. When we build, we build with sensitivity to the neighborhood that’s there, and we don’t steamroll over them. We work with them and we respect these communities.

In terms of neighborhoods that are historically single-family homes and less diverse socio-economically, we also need to introduce more diversity into those neighborhoods, and hold those in perpetuity for affordable housing. I think we need to be protecting all of our neighborhoods from increased gentrification, whether working class or middle-class, at multiple levels, we need to be protecting people from gentrification and rising housing costs. 

In terms of the heights, I want to see more investment in the Downtown that we already have. We have a lot of empty commercial spaces, and people interested in opening businesses downtown are asked to invest tens of thousands of dollars for their new businesses, before they can build out the space. That doesn’t seem right to me. We need to help commercial and nonprofit tenants in the spaces that we already have.

Why does the Logos property sit empty for so long? We need to figure out how to invest in that, and invest in our community and make it great. When we do build in “new” areas, let’s do it in a way that’s fitting and not overwhelming and environmentally sensitive and sensitive to neighbors. Eight to nine-story building heights in the current Downtown Plan, I don’t see why we need to radically change that.

In the Nov. 8 election, Santa Cruz city residents will choose a directly-elected mayor. Joy Schendledecker is one of the two candidates who are vying for the role. Read Santa Cruz Local’s Election Guide for the other candidate:

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