Get informed on the Nov. 8 local election

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Get informed on the Nov. 8 local election

Meet Sean Maxwell

  • Age: 44
  • Residence: Lower Westside
  • Occupation: General building contractor and carpenter
  • Local government experience: Maxwell joined the building trades in Santa Cruz County in 2002 and started a small business in 2021. Maxwell has served on the Santa Cruz Planning Commission since early 2020.
  • Important local issues: Maxwell believes that representation is the biggest issue, especially equal representation as a long-term renter and a working family person. “I’m seeing a lot of my fellow young families who have had to leave this area. It’s come to my attention that we need representation for those types of people in Santa Cruz. We’re still here and I think we still need a voice.”

Sean Maxwell (Contributed)

  • What is your dream for the Santa Cruz community? Maxwell’s primary dream is equality. “I think that we all need to listen to each other a little bit more, understand each other a little bit more, no matter what our backgrounds or the type of person we are. It’s important that we come together. We need to really start working together. And I think that my dream is that we work together to solve problems because we all have experienced the same problems here in Santa Cruz. How we go about solving them, we can talk about it. There’s multifaceted issues that we have, so it’s not one quick answer. I think the way we do that is reaching out to each other, talking about it being uncomfortable sometimes to talk about it, but still engaging. I think that’s important.”
  • Fun fact: Maxwell calls himself a “closet chef,” especially in Japanese cuisine. His favorite dishes to make are chilled soba noodle salad and bacon-wrapped okra skewers.

Here are some of Sean Maxwell’s positions on issues brought forward by Santa Cruz voters. Maxwell’s responses have been edited for length and clarity.

What does your city council district want? How do you know? How will you represent your district on the council?

Sean Maxwell: What my district wants is representation — somebody who’s going to show up, somebody who’s going to be there and listen, before meetings and between meetings. Representation and transparency are two of the most important things we need on city council.

Because we’ve now moved to district elections, it’s even easier to reach out to people in our districts to really listen and to hear their problems. This district, we go all the way up to Western (Drive) and to family-student housing. Really engaging with the people in your district is important, but the most important thing is showing up and using all the voices that you’ve heard to make a decision that is going to affect not just the district, but also the whole city.

Editor’s note: Maxwell’s opponent is the incumbent Santa Cruz City Councilmember Renee Golder. Golder talks about her record in a separate interview here.

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? 

Sean Maxwell: This is very near and dear to me, as I’ve been working as a (Santa Cruz) planning commissioner for the past two years, and I’ve been working solely with my main goal right now to increase affordable housing for working-class people, low and very low income people in this town.

The landscape has changed with all the state bills that have passed — SB 330 and SB 9 — and we’ve now been in the world of objective standards, where we cannot prohibit development without having these objective standards. What’s going on now, there’s so many developments in this town with market-rate housing. I don’t think the issue is building market-rate housing. The real issue is, are we going to be building enough low- to very-low affordable housing?

We’re seeing a lot of people have to leave, or we can’t even house the working-class people that literally work in this town. They have to come from Watsonville, come from out of the area, to work here. 

I agree there is too much market-rate being built. It’s not just the amount. It’s the style of the building. Do we want to have 17 stories downtown? Do people realize how tall 17 stories is in Downtown Santa Cruz right now? I don’t think so. What we need to do is be responsible with our development and the way we’re developing. Not just rubber stamping anything the city says, but holding the city accountable and listening to the neighbors and engaging with the people in those communities where that building is going to be built. That’s another huge part of it. You know, I feel like there is this need, we have a need, it’s very clear. But how we go about doing it is — the process is really, really important. And without that process, you’re gonna have people really upset.

Editor’s notes: In June, the Santa Cruz City Council advanced a plan to expand downtown and allow one building at 175 feet or 17 stories and up to three buildings at about 14 stories, said Santa Cruz Senior Planner Sarah Neuse. For comparison, the Palomar building is 90 feet and seven stories. 

Maxwell supports an increased inclusionary rate for density bonus projects. Read more about the planning commission’s proposals in a Santa Cruz Local story and a city staff report.

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

Sean Maxwell: This is a “yes” question, and I want to explain: Process is really important. If you put a big building next to a single-family home and it gets shaded, that quality of life is diminished drastically.

There will be tradeoffs, which is what comes from the objective standards — how we deal with shading, for instance — but we need to engage with the people and the local businesses. We want to make sure they don’t have to move or get displaced because of all the building that needs to happen. 

We need higher density, No. 1. We have a goal, and how we get to it won’t be done without community involvement. Again, we need affordable housing. We need to include that automatic affordable housing, it’s doable.

We need to start meeting those low and very-low income numbers. If we can find a way to make all the development happen — for our teachers, workers, etc. — this town will get better, it will prosper.

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?

Sean Maxwell: As someone who lives on the Lower Westside, this is a big issue over here. This is on the top of a lot of my constituents’ list.

I support the council’s effort, but I do want to remind everybody that the shelter capacity hasn’t actually increased in the city. What we’re really doing is backfilling shelter programs  that have been closed when the county ran out of funding. This is a multi-faceted approach. The city alone is not going to remedy this issue. We have to deal with the upfront and the visceral parts of it. We can’t just keep kicking the can down the road, when it comes to budget issues and not paying workers enough. We ask why we are continually moving camps and why we have to pay for the cleanup.

We need to really work together for a long-term solution. Infrastructure is really important. We can talk about the [Oversized Vehicle Ordinance] which, again, is another waste of money after it got appealed by the Coastal Commission in 2016. I think we need to think before we act, this can’t just be a knee-jerk reaction. It’s a really complicated situation — we have the city, we’ve got people and we’ve got the county, and we still have no plan.

This is not a new problem, and I know it’s just that we have to work together. We have to discuss what is the long-term solution here, so we can start using our money in different ways. I’ve been here 20 years in Santa Cruz. It hasn’t gotten better and it’s definitely gotten worse.

This isn’t a Santa Cruz problem alone. I wouldn’t want to take away money from another essential service, but I want to unburden them.

Editor’s note: The City of Santa Cruz has added new managed homeless camps and shelter this year. A plan for 60 city-sponsored beds at the National Guard Armory in DeLaveaga Park would replace a similar county-run shelter that closed in June.

New Santa Cruz City Council districts

In the Nov. 8 election, Santa Cruz city residents will choose a new District 6 representative for the Santa Cruz City Council. This is the first election where Santa Cruz voters will choose candidates from their geographical districts. District 6 includes: 

  • Areas south of Mission Street and west of Younglove Avenue and Columbia Street.
  • Areas along Western Drive.
  • A western part of the UC Santa Cruz main campus. View a district map.

Santa Cruz City Council District 6 candidates

Sean Maxwell is one of the two candidates up for the role. Read Santa Cruz Local’s Election Guide to learn more about the other candidate:

Santa Cruz mayoral candidates

District 6 residents also will vote for a directly elected Santa Cruz mayor in the Nov. 8 election. Read Santa Cruz Local’s election guide to learn more about those candidates:

— Grace Stetson

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