Manu Koenig, incumbent and candidate for District 1

Manu Koenig is one of two candidates running for the District 1 Santa Cruz County supervisor seat in the March 5 election. The district includes Live Oak, Pleasure Point, Soquel, Soquel hills, part of Capitola and the Summit area east of Highway 17. Read about the other candidate in this race, Lani Faulkner.

Manu Koenig (Contributed)

Meet Manu Koenig

Age: 38.

Residence: Live Oak.

Occupation: Koenig is the incumbent District 1 county supervisor.

Experience: Koenig was elected District 1 Santa Cruz County supervisor in 2020. Koenig serves on the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission and is a Policy Board member of the Housing for Health Partnership. The partnership guides homeless services policies in Santa Cruz County. 

Koenig worked with Greenway, an advocacy group that promoted Measure D in 2022. It would have changed the County of Santa Cruz’s General Plan to promote Greenway’s vision for a trail: two lanes of bike traffic, a divider and a walkway on the Santa Cruz Branch Rail line. Measure D failed with about 27% of the vote.

Prior to his role as county supervisor, Koenig worked for the Scotts Valley-based payments firm Paystand Inc and was co-founder and CEO of Civinomics. Civinomics was a mobile application that enabled users to propose and vote on government policies.

Read about Manu Koenig’s positions:

How can the county supervisors help fund and facilitate more affordable housing? And where in your district would you support more density?

Manu Koenig: “I think supervisors have a greater role to play in facilitating than funding. I’m working to create opportunities for affordable housing projects on county land. 701 Ocean St., the Emeline health complex and the Freedom health complex are all really great opportunity sites with close to 5 acres at each site for affordable housing projects. We’re pursuing public-private partnerships there and hopefully pull together some public funding for those projects as well. 

“As far as facilitating projects, that’s where I think the focus needs to be, because ultimately we need to utilize market mechanisms to create all the housing that’s necessary. I’m excited about doing something similar to what Los Angeles did with Executive Directive 1 where they made all 100%, affordable housing [developments] ministerially approved. I’m working on a similar policy for workforce housing, and public employee housing.

“The First District in general is definitely going to see a lot of housing construction, just because we effectively have the largest amount of urban area that’s in the unincorporated county. And I do think that some of the transportation corridors like Soquel Drive and Capitola Road are appropriate for some denser housing developments. And I should say that putting more housing there really creates the opportunity to create walkable communities and neighborhoods.”

Should the county supervisors help residents with rent stabilization or rent help? If so, how?

Manu Koenig: “I do. The reason is that it’s really hard to lift people out of homelessness. It takes a lot of public resources. And of course, the longer people experience homelessness, the more money it takes. So if we can spend a little bit of money on the front end and assist people with a month’s rent and keep them housed or with some legal protection services, then I think that’s a good investment, ultimately. 

“The board [of supervisors] did make a commitment to fund at least one additional lawyer with a tenant protection group this year in our budget, and it will be looking at opportunities to expand funding in the future for these kinds of programs. At the moment, a lot of the money that the county spends on homelessness is coming through state and federal grants, and so it doesn’t have these kinds of tenant protection funding carved out for it. So we really need to look at how we can get more local funds to spend on these services. I think one area we could look at is the CORE [Collective of Results and Evidence-based Investments Program] funding. I think it’ll be an opportunity as we go into the next cycle, that the board can set a priority for more kinds of protection services.”

What specific short- and long-term strategies would you support to address homelessness?

Manu Koenig: “I’ve always been a big believer that the best way to address homelessness is through community — that people not just lack a physical home, but also a social home. And we’ve seen examples of how this can work well, with places like Community First Village in Austin, Texas. Also, even in touring the 1220 River St. camp that the City of Santa Cruz runs, we learned about residents who were housed out of that camp, but still came back to hang out with their friends there because that’s the community that they had built. So that’s why I’ve been a big champion of creating more villages to lift people out of homelessness. We’re making progress. I think there’s a lot more we can do.”

Some District 1 residents are upset with crime, drug use and litter. How can county supervisors help residents feel safer? 

Manu Koenig: “This is a persistent challenge. I work with our Sheriff’s Office’s Live Oak community policing unit every day on these issues. And, ultimately, the biggest challenge we face is having places for people camping illegally to go.

“There’s a lot of new tools coming out of the state, but at the end of the day, we need places where people can go. We also just need more safe parking options for all those RVs out there. 

“So, as far as how supervisors can do that we need, first of all, to work with the state to just give us more consistent funding for homelessness with less strings attached. Right now, one of the biggest challenges we deal with are over 40 different state and federal grants for homelessness, some for a year, some for two years or five years. The next cycle, you know, what exactly we can use them for is either different or changing, and not necessarily what we really should be investing in. First, we need to get more flexibility on the state funding that we’re receiving, what kind of programs we can spend it on, and we also need to carve out more local funding to deal with this and potentially raise more local revenues.”

Many District 1 residents said they want traffic relief. What can the county supervisors do to reduce traffic and facilitate cycling and walking in District 1?

Manu Koenig: “I make an effort any time a street is improved in the First District to work with County Public Works and restripe the roads to be safer for bikes and pedestrians. We did that on Thurber Lane by working with residents and getting feedback. We also put a bike lane on the other side of the street where it hadn’t existed before. That’s what we’re doing right now on Portola and East Cliff as that road gets resurfaced — we’re improving the visibility of the bike lanes. So there’s little tactical things as well as these larger projects. 

“One of things I’m most excited about is the progress that Santa Cruz Metro is making. Within the next couple of years, we’ll replace close to 70% of the existing bus fleet with zero emissions hydrogen and fuel-cell electric buses. We are expanding service for the first time in about a decade, a 25% expansion of service next year. The Metro board will be looking at even greater expansion of service to get 15-minute headways for a few routes across town. 

“We’re also looking at making the whole system fare free. We did that for youth. This past year, high school students and middle school students can get on the bus by just showing a school ID. We’ve seen an over 400% increase in ridership in that group as a result. It’s one of the programs I hear the most positive feedback about.”

Read about Manu Koenig’s record:

Koenig was a supporter of Measure D, which county voters rejected in 2022. It would have changed the Santa Cruz County General Plan to promote Greenway’s vision for a trail with two lanes of bike traffic, a divider and a walkway. 

Santa Cruz Local: How does the defeat of Measure D change your work on the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission? Will you continue to advocate against pursuing commuter rail?

Manu Koenig: I haven’t been advocating against pursuing commuter rail. I mean, since the passage of Measure D, I actually voted to move forward with the next step of implementing passenger rail, which is the environmental impact report. I mean, that is an absolutely necessary next step. But also, as the chair of the [Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission] last year, I went to Sacramento and lobbied for money to fund that environmental impact report. We asked the state for $16 million and got $3.5 million, but nevertheless it was essential for beginning the first phase of that study.

I mean, I’m certainly skeptical that we’ll be able to actually address the cost issues and build systems that are frequent enough to be really effective for our community, but I’m willing to be proven wrong. And I think the study is going to provide the detail that our community needs to figure out the next steps.

Koenig said during his 2020 campaign that he wanted to change the culture of the county planning department to facilitate permit processing. Of at least 697 homes destroyed in the CZU Lightning Complex Fire, 62 homes have been rebuilt as of Feb. 7, according to county records. 

Santa Cruz Local: Do you think you’ve seen any change in the planning department, and is that still a priority for you?

Manu Koenig: “One hundred percent, it is a huge priority. I’ve done a lot,” Koenig said. “We’ve done a lot as a county.” During Koenig’s term, the planning department merged with the county’s public works department and is under the leadership of Matt Machado. Machado is now director of the Community Development and Infrastructure Department. 

In June 2023, Koenig and Santa Cruz County Supervisor Bruce McPherson introduced the third party plan check program, which aimed to shorten the lengthy permitting process. The program allows non-county employees to assess whether building plans conform to county rules.

More work is needed, Koenig said. “A lot of our current staff seems to think that we need to check every application against every line of our very long county code,” he said. “The plan check is really just meant to help avoid errors in the building process. Ultimately, we still send out building inspectors to go and make sure things are built to code, so there’s diminishing returns on a long plan check process. And actually, we should really be streamlining our efforts on the front end and issuing permits a lot faster. I think we’re close to ultimately achieving that, and I’m going to continue to push on it.”

In 2020, Koenig told Santa Cruz Local that he would try to increase affordable housing by loosening rules on tiny homes on wheels. County supervisors adopted new rules in December 2022. County staff have not issued any complete permits for tiny homes on wheels, said county spokesperson Jason Hoppin.

Santa Cruz Local: Have new county rules on tiny homes been effective in providing new affordable housing?

No tiny home permits have been issued in part because of the requirement for a septic system, Koenig said. “It’s been a huge cost and a huge impediment to building housing,” he said of septic requirements.

A composting toilet program could help make tiny homes on wheels more feasible, he said. In 2023, Koenig helped craft a one-year pilot program to provide composting toilets to county residents rebuilding after the CZU Lightning Complex Fire. The pilot program, administered by the nonprofit GiveLove, was scheduled to start January 2024.

Koenig said he still thinks tiny homes will play a role in addressing the housing crisis. “I did really champion the Veterans Village project, which is converting an old motel [to affordable homes] but also building some additional tiny home-like units there,” he said. “And we’re looking at opportunities for other projects. 

“The county won the $8 million grant from the state to put some tiny homes — pallet shelters — down in Watsonville to provide shelter for folks who are camping on the river levee down there. So there’s other ways I’ve been moving that forward.”

What actions have you taken during your first term to address the concerns of county voters?

Koenig said he’s been a champion for two county efforts approved in 2023: the Sustainability Update and the Housing Element of the General Plan. “Those are going to be transformative,” he said. The Sustainability Update changed county land-use rules to promote sustainable development. The Housing Element is an eight-year plan to meet state housing goals. In creating that plan, Koenig supported more sites for affordable housing, he said.

“When I took office, the parcel at 41st [Avenue] and Soquel Drive was being planned for a new car dealership, a Nissan dealership, and thanks to the changes to the county General Plan, that’s now being looked at as a site for 100% affordable housing,” he said.

Koenig said he also made bus lines in District 1 easier to navigate by supporting Santa Cruz Metro’s simplification of Soquel-area routes.

Read why Manu Koenig is running for reelection

Important local issues

Koenig said the primary reason he got involved was the environment and “my desire to address the climate crisis.”  

He added: “My name, ‘Manu,’ is Polynesian for bird. I grew up visiting my mother’s family down in the islands of Hawaii and French Polynesia. And throughout that time, I witnessed the impacts of sudden coral death first hand. And it really made me passionate about protecting our planet. I wanted to get into government and public policy in order to make a difference.”

What is your dream for the Santa Cruz community? 

Koenig said he dreams that Santa Cruz County will “be a role model for sustainability throughout the world.”

Fun fact about Koenig

Manu said he “grew up climbing at Pacific Edge” and enjoys any opportunity to climb outdoors. He said his favorite local areas are Castle Rock State Park, Pinnacles National Park and a spot called The Cemetery.

Campaign finances

See campaign contributions to Manu Koenig and all local candidates.


See Manu Koenig’s endorsements.

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