Sonja Brunner, candidate for District 2

Santa Cruz city voters will choose a District 2 city council member in the March 5, 2024 election. The district includes the Lower Ocean and Seabright neighborhoods, the Santa Cruz harbor, Arana Gulch and parts of midtown.

Sonja Brunner is one of two candidates running for the District 2 seat. Read our guide to the other candidate, Hector Marin.

Sonja Brunner is running for re-election in the March 5 election.

Sonja Brunner (Contributed)

Meet Sonja Brunner

Age: 54.

Residence: Seabright.

Occupation: Incumbent Santa Cruz City Council member, director of operations at the Downtown Santa Cruz Association.

Experience: Brunner was elected to the Santa Cruz City Council in 2020. She served as mayor in 2022 and vice mayor in 2021. The mayor position rotated among city council members during those years. It is now a directly-elected position.

Brunner has been an at-large commissioner and a tenant commissioner with the Housing Authority of Santa Cruz County. Brunner described herself as a “single mom in public housing” when she served as a tenant commissioner. Experience with the Housing Authority “has been a huge asset to my council work,” she said.

Brunner has also served on the board of the Downtown Santa Cruz Association. She has recused herself from votes and council discussion directly related to Downtown.

Read about Sonja Brunner’s positions:

What will you do to make housing more affordable for families in the City of Santa Cruz?

“I’ve already done a lot and hope to continue that,” Brunner said. “In the last three years that I’ve been on council, we’ve had three 100% below-market-rate affordable housing developments that are city projects.” Pacific Station South, Pacific Station North and the Downtown library, housing and garage project are the three developments. “In addition to that, there are private development projects with affordable housing being built,” she said.

Brunner also pointed to the city’s overall housing production. The City of Santa Cruz is one of 6% of California cities and counties that has met state mandates for new homes

“It was a big feat,” Brunner said. “We don’t really see that result quite yet. All we see is some of the new development and some of the new buildings. But I think in three to five years” residents will have more options for affordable homes, she said.

Brunner said that if she is re-elected she will work to carry out the Housing Element, a plan for new homes over the next eight years. She also plans to support tenant protections and streamlining permits for in-law units, she said.

Would you support more housing density in Santa Cruz City Council District 2? If so, where specifically would you support it and how many stories? 

Housing density is “really important if we want to preserve our open spaces,” Brunner said. “Most people think of 12-story buildings, and housing density can look different ways.”

Large apartment buildings are “maybe better on streets where it’s more of a main street than in a small cul-de-sac,” she said. She supports new housing at locations and heights identified in the city’s recently adopted Housing Element, she said. 

The city needs to keep building housing to avoid triggering a state law that would allow developers to bypass height restrictions anywhere in the city, Brunner said. “I really don’t think Santa Cruz wants that.”

What short- and long-term strategies would you support to address homelessness in your district and across the City of Santa Cruz?

“It’s not one blanket solution,” Brunner said. “It’s really important to break it down even further, and look at reasons why someone’s unhoused. It’s not simply just building more housing, and then magically, everyone’s housed.” Some people will benefit from homelessness prevention programs that support people facing eviction, she said. 

“Our goal is hopefully getting more people into permanent housing or identifying why they may refuse any options,” Brunner said. She pointed to the county’s 2023 point-in-time count, which showed a sharp reduction of people in the City of Santa Cruz sleeping outside, in vehicles or in shelters. “I really think it was due to a lot of the efforts we have been making.”

Brunner said she supports building permanent supportive housing and very-low income housing, and “in the meantime, having temporary emergency options for people.”

A planned navigation center on Coral Street on the Housing Matters campus will “really be a place where people know they can connect with more resources and get stabilized,” Brunner said.

Brunner also supports “clean teams” to clean up trash from people living on the street “so that sidewalks aren’t obstructed for anyone who has mobility issues,” she said.

“It’s really important that we continue working with the community, working with our nonprofits, working with our state and county, and that we keep advocating for sustainable, continuous funding to help move the needle,” Brunner said. “We’re going in the right direction.”

Some District 2 residents said they are upset with crime, drug use and litter in public spaces. What can the city council do to help residents feel safer? 

One solution for residents with concerns is “just understanding who to call or how to report,” Brunner said. The city’s Community Requests for Service portal can be used in situations that don’t require a call to 911 or the police non-emergency line. 

Brunner said she has experience with promoting public safety without police involvement from her job with the Downtown Association. “There’s a lot of proactive work that we do, just getting to know people who participate in illegal behavior, or people who aren’t doing too well. I come from a human perspective of, ‘Hey, what’s your name? I’m Sonja. Like, what’s going on? Do you need any help with anything?’” Brunner said. 

She tries to get “people to understand that your actions affect other people, and if you leave that litter pile on the sidewalk, then my neighbor with the walker is not going to be able to get by,” she said.

Planned county efforts, like a new mobile crisis response and CARE courts that can mandate mental health or addiction treatment could also improve public safety, Brunner said. 

Public safety in District 2 also requires managing fire risk in areas like Arana Gulch and creating safer biking and pedestrian routes, Brunner said.

Some District 2 residents said they want a champion for safer cycling and walking infrastructure, and improved bus service. What will you do on the city council toward those ends?

Brunner said she supports traffic-calming devices that slow cars, such as bollards and medians, on some roads. In District 2, cyclists need either improved bike paths on major roads like Soquel and Broadway avenues, or alternative routes on side streets, she said.

“I’m excited too, because the rail-trail Segments 8 and 9 will go through District 2. That’s also going to connect the Westside to District 2, and then eventually to the county,” she said.

Brunner said she supports Santa Cruz Metro’s plan for expanded bus service. “I’ve been in some of their stakeholder meetings advocating for and giving input and supporting having the school-aged kids ride for free, having more frequent bus times and routes,” she said. She also supports expanding the city’s e-bike rental program.

Measure M would create two new requirements for housing developers in the City of Santa Cruz:

  • For housing proposals of 30 units or more, it would increase the required percentage of affordable homes to 25% from 20%.
  • For a developer to construct a building higher or denser than current limits, city voters would have to approve a change to the city’s zoning code. A height or density change could include a specific parcel or a larger area.

Do you support or oppose Measure M, the Housing for People ballot initiative

“I oppose Measure M,” Brunner said. “On the surface, I think the tagline of more affordable housing and getting to vote on heights is appealing to people. But when you look at it, I think there’s more obstacles in it, and there’s more potential consequences to us not getting affordable housing. And my worst fear, and the ripple effects from this, could be that we lose all local control,” Brunner said. If the city doesn’t have a state-approved plan to build more housing, a state law could allow most buildings with affordable housing to bypass height restrictions anywhere in the city.

Taller or denser development “makes sense in a downtown area,” Brunner said.

Sonja Brunner’s record on Santa Cruz City Council

Brunner and Santa Cruz city council members Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson and Renee Golder created the Oversize Vehicle Ordinance in 2021. It banned overnight parking of RVs and other large vehicles without permits. The city started enforcing the rule in December 2023. “We also included different tier parking programs: the emergency parking, the overnight parking and the long-term safe parking programs,” Brunner said.

Brunner supported the closure of an unmanaged homeless camp at the San Lorenzo Park Benchlands in 2022.

Brunner said she has supported:

  • The city’s three-year Homelessness Response Action Program.
  • Efforts to create the city’s Housing Element, a plan for housing development over the next eight years.
  • Affordable housing projects, including the Downtown Library project, Pacific Station North and Pacific Station South.
  • The City Arts program, which has given grants to property owners to commission murals. 
  • The Downtown Pops! program to attract businesses to Pacific Avenue.
  • Efforts to diversify city advisory commissions.
  • Other equity initiatives, including updates to the city’s website to include the history of Santa Cruz’s indigenous people.

Because of her job with the Downtown Association, Brunner has recused herself from votes directly related to Downtown, including the Downtown library and affordable housing project, the Downtown expansion plan, and a change to the Downtown Plan that could allow a hotel up to 70 feet.

Read why Sonja Brunner is running for re-election

What local issues in your district affect you that make you want to run for office? 

As a Black woman, a single parent, and a member of different boards, “I’ve had many different circles of community that have different needs,” Brunner said.

“I really hope to continue to support housing in our community, to support affordable housing, to support the arts, to support diversity and equity. And I know those tend to be labeled as buzzwords. But coming from my personal experience, and what I’ve seen over time, we’ve been able to really look at our systems and where we can improve.”

What is your dream for your district? 

“It’s never about ‘what do I want,’” Brunner said. “It’s, ‘what do we all want?’”

In District 2, “I think the dream is, really, people want to feel safe. And safety looks many different ways to different people. But what I’m hearing a lot, just walking my neighborhood and talking to neighbors, is bicycle safety, pedestrian safety, protected bike lanes and safer streets,” she said.

Small businesses in lower Seabright “really want to feel like their businesses, their employees are supported,” Brunner said.

She also wants to represent District 2’s housing needs, she said. “Some of the dream for neighbors is more affordable homes, and for others, they don’t want big buildings next to their homes. And so I think these are all topics that we have to work through together and find the middle ground.”

Brunner said she also wants to support parks in District 2 and keep residents informed of upcoming projects like the Murray Street Bridge repair.

Fun fact about Sonja Brunner

“I have been a DJ since 1988, and I also roller skate dance,” Brunner said. 

Campaign finances

See campaign contributions to Sonja Brunner and all local candidates.


Sonja Brunner’s campaign website does not include endorsements.

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