Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson, candidate for District 3

Santa Cruz voters will choose a city council member to represent District 3 in the March 5, 2024 election. The district includes parts of the Upper and Lower Westside.

Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson currently holds the seat, and is one of two candidates vying for the role. Joy Schendledecker is the other candidate.

Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson (Contributed)

Meet Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson

Age: 46.

Residence: Lower Westside.

Occupation: Small-business owner in public health and social services, Santa Cruz City Council member since November 2020.

Experience: “I have a master’s in social work, and I’ve been doing public health policy and community organizing work in this community for over 20 years,” she said. “I’ve worked on policies with every single jurisdiction in our county, including with the county board of supervisors. And I’ve done organizing work with nonprofit organizations around youth wellbeing issues.”

Read about Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson’s positions:

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

“One of the things that we haven’t done well in the past that we’re working on right now is reducing barriers to building all types of housing,” Kalantari-Johnson said. “We need very-low-income, we need low-income, we need moderate-income” housing, she said. The city council could support the construction of more housing through “policies that provide ministerial approval of certain projects like 100% affordable housing, or streamlining construction of accessory dwelling units,” she said.

Kalantari-Johnson is “inclined to support” a proposed city sales tax hike “that will bring in additional revenue for us to actually build affordable and moderate-income housing,” she said. Sales tax revenue can be used for a variety of city purposes. 

She also has worked with state legislators to advocate for policies such as standardizing application forms and fees for housing. “Tenant protections that include investing in programs that provide rental support and security deposits are important as well,” she said.

Would you support more housing density in Santa Cruz City Council District 3? If so, where specifically would you support it and how many stories? 

“I support housing density in general, and I believe we need all types of housing throughout our community,” Kalantari-Johnson said. In District 3, she supports the construction of more accessory dwelling units. “It’s really important to continue to streamline the building and construction of ADUs, which I know we’ve made some improvements on, but there’s still some blockages there.”

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

“We have to do both ends, right?” Kalantari-Johnson said. “We have to think, what are the long-term solutions that get folks into stability and housing? We have to think about, how do we prevent folks from becoming unhoused to begin with? And then also, what are we doing in the immediate future?”

For short-term strategies, she supports the city’s Homelessness Response Action Plan, which includes policies to not allow large unmanaged encampments. “We’ve stood up over 150 shelter beds, and then connect (participants) to case management — we work closely with the county — and then hopefully move into permanent housing.”

“It’s not enough, it’s a start,” Kalantari-Johnson said. “But we’ve seen some changes. We’ve seen a 29% decrease in unsheltered community members in the City of Santa Cruz in a year. I mean, that’s kind of unheard of.”

Longer-term strategies she supports include building more housing, including affordable housing and permanent supportive housing. She also is in favor of creating a navigation center to connect homeless people with resources. “There’s a lot of research that shows (a navigation center) gets folks stabilized and it gets folks into a pathway to permanent housing,” she said.

Efforts for “upstream prevention” of homelessness include policies that increase well-being for youth, Kalantari-Johnson said. She proposed the city’s Children and Youth Bill of Rights and advocated for a 2021 ballot measure that directed cannabis tax money to the Children’s Fund, which pays for resources like after-school programs and child care.

Kalantari-Johnson said these efforts can help decrease substance abuse and mental health challenges, which she sees as “major causes of street homelessness.”

Some District 3 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? 

“Encampment management, I think, is a huge part of it. But not just going out and breaking it up and saying ‘go to the next spot.’ I feel really strongly that we’d send an outreach team first, which is what we do,” she said. “Not everyone living in encampments participates in illegal behavior, but unfortunately, there is a good percentage of folks who do.”

For maintaining public spaces, “We have a program that’s called Adopt a Park, and so community members can partner with the parks and rec commission, with the city, and you could do all kinds of things,” she said. “I support those programs.”

Some District 3 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? 

Kalantari-Johnson has worked with transportation staff on creating safer pedestrian and bicycle routes on Bay Street and has supported a program to help children safely walk and bike to school, she said. She has advocated for protected bike lanes, including on Soquel Avenue, she said.

The rail trail is an important part of improving transportation options, she said. “We’re now working on the phase where we connect the Westside to the downtown, so I’m in support of that, and support staff and community in our efforts to get that moving.”

As the board chair for the Santa Cruz Metro Transit District, Kalantari-Johnson has worked to improve public transportation, she said. “We have set three goals for the Metro. That’s the development of affordable housing along transit corridors, doubling our ridership in five years, and transitioning to zero-emission buses. The work that we have done on the Metro to accomplish those things has been quite significant.

A program that began in March 2023 allows youths to ride buses for free. “We’ve already seen ridership increase because our young people are using our public transportation,” she said.

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

Kalantari-Johnson: “To be honest, I’m hearing a lot from community members, both in District 3 and outside District 3, that they’re concerned about height. Santa Cruz is Santa Cruz. And we love Santa Cruz for certain reasons, and tall buildings are something that people have opinions about. So I’m listening, I’m watching, and I’m going to see what happens with this initiative. What I hope for is that we have accurate and fair information out there so that voters can make a really informed decision. But at the end of the day, and ultimately, it’s the voters and the courts will decide on this measure, not the city council. So I’m going to respect that decision, whatever way it lands.”

Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson’s record on Santa Cruz City Council

Kalantari-Johnson said she is proud of city council actions she supported to directly help unhoused people. “We stood up 150 24-hour shelter beds. We have overnight, long-term safe parking programs that’s one of a kind in our region. We have an encampment outreach and case management team that has contributed to this 29% reduction in street homelessness in a year. I think that’s a huge accomplishment.”

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

“I’m very, very proud of my record on the council in supporting housing and supporting affordable housing,” she said. “I’ve supported investments in community programs, so that again, we can do upstream services and prevent folks from becoming unhoused.” Kalantari-Johnosn serves as a city council representative on the Community Action Board, which provides “an array of services that helps folks stabilize and prevent homelessness,” she said.

Kalantari-Johnson: “I’ve heard from a lot of community members, not just in District 3, but throughout the the city, about the impacts of oversized vehicles, environmental degradation, impacts on the community with fire hazards, blocking of sidewalks, some other illegal activities as I discussed earlier, and no real pathway to permanent housing for individuals residing in RVs.

“We brought forward a comprehensive framework that includes safe parking, and includes overnight parking and includes 24/7 parking. And that’s been highly successful, the 24/7 parking has been really successful.

“And here’s the thing, it’s not enough. And this is an invitation to my colleagues in other cities and my colleagues on the board of supervisors to join in on what we’ve seen as a successful framework with our safe parking program, and stand these up throughout the county. So that’s why I supported it. If it were in a vacuum, I would not have supported it, but it’s part of a comprehensive framework that ultimately gets folks into a pathway to get the help that they need.”

Kalantari-Johnson has supported the downtown library, parking garage and affordable housing project.

She said the project would provide “over 120 units of affordable housing, a modern library that I know my family and so many other families use, and a child care center. So, I mean, all of those components are just amazing. The farmers market will have a permanent home. I’m actively working with our city staff and the farmers market,” Kalantari-Johnson said. 

“I know the garage was one of the contentious pieces. And the reality is when all is said and done, when we build on surface lots — which I am a huge supporter of and we will be doing — we’re going to lose parking. And while I support public transportation and bicycle safety, while we are shifting the narrative and the culture around using public transportation and bicycle safety through programs like Youth Cruz Free, we still have a ways to go,” Kalantari-Johnson said. 

She added: “We are a car-reliant community. I am a car-reliant person, I’ll own that. And we have some ways to go until we’re not car-reliant. And I don’t know that we’ll ever get 100% not car-reliant. So we need parking spaces is what it comes down to. And this project provides a whole package of everything that we need.”

In 2023, the Santa Cruz City Council changed the Downtown Plan to remove housing requirements in some locations. The changes paved the way for a proposed six-story hotel on Front Street.

Kalantari-Johnson said she supports more affordable housing downtown, and she said other kinds of development are needed.

Kalantari-Johnson: “We need grocery stores, we need open spaces, we need places for kids to go. So this change in the downtown plan, yes, allows for the hotel to come in and allows for a wide range of uses.” 

“When you look at what other communities have done to create a vibrant downtown, which is sort of a dying thing now, unfortunately — I’ve listened to a number of podcasts where cities of all sizes are losing their downtowns — but what makes a vibrant downtown is a downtown that has a variety of things. A downtown that brings both community residents to the area as well as outside visitors. So that’s what this would allow. It would allow local restaurants and retailers and service providers to thrive,” Kalantari-Johnson said.

“I know the question isn’t specific to a hotel, but the hotel would allow for that to happen,” and it would bring in hotel tax revenue for the city, she said. “It would help us continue to have our homelessness division, it would help us invest in the community programs that provide tenant protections, it would help us make sure that we pay our workers fair wages. So I’d like to take a step back and look at the holistic view and look at how it’ll impact the entire city.”

Read why Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson is running for re-election

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

“I’ve lived here in District 3 in my house for almost 17 years now, and I raised my kids here, I started my business here,” she said. “My kids are 14 and 15, and they go everywhere on bikes for now. So making sure they can get around safely. Protected bike lanes, traffic calming, all of that is important to me.” Kalantari-Johnson is also concerned about “bigger-picture issues” like housing and homelessness, she said.

What is your dream for District 3? 

Kalantari-Johnson’s “big-picture dream” is “that everybody has their needs met, everybody can live every day to their fullest potential,” she said. “If we get more granular, I would like to see improved public transportation. I would like to see enhancement of our parks and open spaces. I would like to see focus and emphasis on pedestrians and biking that allows for people to get around safely. I would like to see a true diversity of demographics and income levels in District 3 and all over our community. “

Fun fact about Kalantari-Johnson

“I like to sing Persian pop songs,” Kalantari-Johnson said. “I’m not necessarily good at it, but I like to do it.”

Campaign finances

See campaign contributions to Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson and all local candidates.


See Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson’s endorsements.