Susie O’Hara, candidate for District 5

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

Susie O’Hara is one of two candidates running for District 5. The other candidate is Joe Thompson

Susie O'Hara is a District 5 Santa Cruz City Council candidate.

Susie O’Hara (Contributed)

Meet Susie O’Hara

Age: 50.

Residence: UC Santa Cruz.

Occupation: Civil engineer.

Experience: O’Hara worked for about 11 years as a Santa Cruz city employee until 2021. She worked in the water department and the city manager’s office. She has served on the Santa Cruz Water Commission, worked as a board member of the nonprofit Coastal Watershed Council, and serves on the Santa Cruz County Homeless Action Partnership Board. 

O’Hara has lived in Santa Cruz for about 17 years, she said. “During that time, I have been involved in the local community, basically, the entire time as a public servant.” 

O’Hara now works as a water engineer at a nonprofit group “focused on providing technical assistance for underserved tribal and underrepresented water and wastewater utilities,” she said. This work is based in “smaller communities, some very similar to our communities here in Santa Cruz County,” she said.

Read about Susie O’Hara’s positions:

Some UC Santa Cruz students said they are forced to live off campus after their first year. Should the city council push UCSC to house more students on campus? If so, how?

“The short answer is absolutely, and we’re already doing that,” O’Hara said. “The city of Santa Cruz is currently in litigation with UCSC over this very issue.” 

The city’s perspective is that the university planned for a huge increase in student enrollment “without appropriate engagement with the community, and especially on the environmental impacts of that growth,” O’Hara said. “I think we are doing a lot to push for more on-campus housing, especially with the projected enrollment growth.”

The city should also “be prepared to negotiate and make concessions,” she said. “We find that lawsuits can linger on for many, many years and progress cannot be made. So I think, really, it’s the responsibility of the council members to stay very vigilant and in communication with the campus and the UC leadership.” 

“It’s a matter of being at the table and being very focused on how to build consensus on what’s going to work for the community and for the campus,” O’Hara said.

Several UC Santa Cruz students in District 5 said they felt disengaged from city government. What will you do as a District 5 city council member to inform and engage them?

Student engagement in local politics “happens when students feel a sense of connection and a sense of care on behalf of the community,” O’Hara said.

“Of course, we want to push for big sweeping change around affordability and housing and workforce development, all of that,” she said. “But what I think needs to also happen is we need to prepare our students that are currently living on campus to be prepared to move into the community.” 

Students should be offered events with property managers to learn how to navigate the rental market and “how to integrate with the community,” she said. Events could also seek to prepare students for the summer job market, she said.

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

There must be nearly 4,000 new homes built in the next eight years to meet state housing goals. “That’s a huge increase of housing units,” O’Hara said. 

“What I think it is going to be important for the city council to work on is thinking about that huge number of units within the context of all of the different neighborhoods that we have in Santa Cruz, and preserve the character of those different neighborhoods in different areas as much as possible. So with regard to working families, and generally workforce housing, it makes sense to do high-density housing where we already have high-density housing, and where there is walkability and services that we can access and transportation. In our downtown it makes sense to do mixed-use development, along our corridors, and to do smaller development in our neighborhoods,” O’Hara said.

Would you support more housing density in Santa Cruz City Council District 5? If so, where specifically would you support it and how many stories?  

Susie O’Hara: “My big emphasis is we have to be pushing forward as much housing as we possibly can, but it has to be within the context of the character of the neighborhood. And we have to build really good engagement processes with neighbors to ensure that ultimately, we don’t fight about one development project and cause everything to halt when ultimately, the entire community needs to be behind what we’re trying to do with increasing housing across the community. 

“So, you know, I think it really goes back to, of course, high density where it makes sense. The level of stories or floors is really dependent on the character and community, kind of, neighborhood constraints within wherever you’re hoping to site high-density development. And that goes for all other types of housing units as well.”

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

Susie O’Hara: “I would suggest thinking about the city’s homeless response in two different categories. One is the mitigation and of the impacts around unsheltered encampments in our community is one big bucket. And the other bucket is really facilitating and helping the county to create more pathways to housing for folks that are experiencing homelessness in our community. I think we weave those together, and they require very different responses.

“In terms of short-term ideas, we should capitalize on what is working and really foster as much connection between our unhoused residents and our housed residents. One particular project that comes into mind, or program, is the Downtown Streets Team. Folks that are on the Downtown Streets Team that are working every day in our downtown corridor and along the levee, up midtown, are truly integrated into the community and have a sense of pride and ownership of the community at large. And I think that that program could be expanded.

“I think also, all of the re-envisioning of Coral Street is going to be important to push forward. Housing Matters has a permanent supportive housing project that they are trying to continue to raise funds for to get that developed. The city purchased a property where we can create a navigation center. I think all of that re-envisioning for Coral Street needs to be also within the context of neighbor impacts and suitability for neighbors. We have some businesses that have been long sited there that need to be considered as well.

“Ultimately, the bigger piece of work around homelessness is ensuring that the city and the county and all of our local and regional agencies are focused on the same outcomes. And that is making sure that we are creating pathways to housing, wraparound services, have a focus on mental health and substance use disorder treatment, and making sure that we are creating as many affordable, deeply affordable housing units as we possibly can.”

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 don’t support the Housing for People ballot measure. I haven’t fully formed my opinion about all of the aspects of it. It’s really tricky,” O’Hara said. “We have a long history of putting ballot measures on the ballot that stymie progress and confuse voters. And I think that we have a sector of the community that is really pro ‘no growth,’ and that isn’t my position,” she said.

“If we stymie progress with the developments that are already in the pipeline and make it nearly impossible for other projects to come into the fold, it’s going to slow everything down and force a lot of development outside of the areas where high density development is really most suitable,” she said.

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

O’Hara said she moved to the UCSC campus in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said she “saw a really strong need for the community of students that were moving back to campus to have an advocate.”

“There’s kind of a long history of some adversarial positions between the students and neighbors, especially around rental housing and competing for rental housing in our community. And I don’t think it needs to be like that,” O’Hara said. “I really saw an opportunity to forge a connection between the community of students up here that now I live amongst, and the community of families and neighbors in Santa Cruz that I’ve been a part of for the last 17 years.”

What is your dream for your district? 

“District 5 is a really very diverse and interesting district” that includes UCSC students, artist housing at the Tannery, single-family homes on the Upper Westside, an industrial area in Harvey West and a mobile home park, O’Hara said. “My dream for District 5 is to have strong representation at the council that can really create connections between all of those different groups of folks in the district,” O’Hara said.

“Everybody comes from a different perspective, but I think we all want the same thing for our community,” she said. “For all us, everybody to thrive and feel like they can live here and, and have a supportive experience.”

Fun fact about O’Hara

“I’m super obsessed with interior design and house plants,” O’Hara said. “I really enjoy that aspect of family life in terms of creating a space where everybody feels comfortable.”

Campaign finances

See campaign contributions to Susie O’Hara and all local candidates.


See Susie O’Hara’s endorsements.