Santa Cruz Local is committed to helping Santa Cruz County residents shape the issues in the Nov. 3 local elections – not just the candidates. To that end, from May to August we interviewed nearly 200 Santa Cruz County residents in person or on Zoom and more than 230 people in an online survey. We asked:

  • What do you want local candidates to talk about as they compete for your vote?
  • What do you want local government to do for you?
  • What help or services do people you know need right now?
  • How has COVID-19 affected you?

Photos by William Duncan — Santa Cruz Local


For the city council races in Santa Cruz, Watsonville, Scotts Valley and Capitola – as well as the race for District 1 Santa Cruz County Supervisor – Santa Cruz Local will press the local candidates on the priorities we heard. We compiled the following People’s Agenda based on priorities we heard the most often, in order of frequency.

Housing and development
  • Santa Cruz and Watsonville city councils: Many residents said they want more options for housing. Many said they have friends and family who have moved away partly because of the lack of options. What’s your plan to create more housing options for residents?
  • Santa Cruz and Watsonville city councils: Residents are concerned about gentrification problems that include lower-income people being pushed out of neighborhoods and people with higher incomes moving in. How do you see your role as a city council member in addressing that concern?  
  • Scotts Valley City Council: Some residents are concerned about the pace of Scotts Valley’s recent development. They love Scotts Valley’s small-town rural feel, and they say their community is changing fast. What’s your vision for Scotts Valley’s growth? 
  • Many residents said they want housing that’s affordable for people with low incomes. They want current residents to be able to keep living here. What’s your plan to create more housing options for people with the lowest incomes?
  • County supervisor and Santa Cruz, Capitola, Watsonville city councils: How do you produce more bike and walk safety infrastructure? 
  • County supervisor and Watsonville, Santa Cruz, Capitola city councils: How will you address the long commute times between South County and North County? 
  • Watsonville City Council: Respondents wanted the city council to create more public parks and outdoor recreational areas. How can candidates encourage the creation of more parks? 
Education and tech equity

Many people said they want more equity in education in the COVID era, including better and more affordable internet access, computers and more public WiFi. Because city and county leaders don’t fund education directly, what can city and county leaders do within their power to support education and tech equity?

  • How can the city, county, internet service providers and telecommunication companies provide free WiFi in more public places and high-speed internet to more homes? 
  • How can the city or county reduce the costs of home internet service?
  • Because schools will need more money for safety during the pandemic and school funding could be cut, many parents are worried. How can the city council or board of supervisors help ensure school funding and health and safety of students?
  • Many parents and children are stressed. They called for more mental health services. How can candidates address that?
  • Watsonville: Most Watsonville residents we interviewed said they want more city-sponsored youth activities. What can you do as a city councilmember to restore and expand the city’s budget for youth programs? 
Homelessness

Respondents said the city and county leaders need to further address homelessness and have fewer people living on the street and in vehicles.

  • In the context of a shrinking city and county budget, how will you prioritize homeless shelters, mental health and addiction services in the coming year?  
  • Santa Cruz City Council: We heard from current and former houseless people who need more access to public bathrooms. Other residents are tired of seeing waste in public areas. The city’s Community Advisory Committee on Homelessness also named public sanitation as a priority and came up with a plan to address it. Is the need for public bathrooms a priority for you? What’s your plan to address this need? 
  • Many people said they don’t feel safe in downtown Santa Cruz or in their neighborhoods. What can you do for people who say they don’t feel safe around the homeless? What’s your plan in your first year in office?
  • Several people said they want the city and county to be a leader with a creative approach to address homelessness. What innovative programs have you seen that you’d push in your term to address or prevent homelessness? 

The cost of rent

Hundreds of residents said they need help paying rent, especially with lost income due to COVID. Some landlords said they need help paying their mortgage. 

  • What’s your short term plan to help renters and landlords in the next six months?
  • People said reducing high rents was a priority before COVID. What’s your plan to address the rent burden after the COVID emergency ends especially if state and federal tenant protections end? 
Higher-wage, quality jobs
  • What’s your plan to bring jobs with higher wages?
  • Many residents want more job options. How can the city and county diversify its economy?
  • How can you support small local businesses and downtown businesses? 
  • How can local government support essential workers? What will you do as an elected leader to protect their health and wages?  
Police reform 

Many residents called for police reform. They question the budget size of the police departments and Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office. Generally, respondents want money redirected to social services.

  • What law enforcement functions would you want to shift from police departments? 
  • What can police do in all cities to make residents feel more safe? 
  • If elected, how will you ensure that communities of color are treated justly and fairly by local law enforcement?  
  • How can candidates support local movements for police reform?
  • What does police reform mean to you? What would you push to change in local policing in your upcoming term? 
Help for immigrants and Spanish-only speakers
  • Hundreds of residents said they or someone they knew needed food. Many are now reliant on the food bank and food distributions. What are candidates’ plans to address food insecurity, during the COVID era and after?
  • Many residents of Santa Cruz’s Beach Flats, Live Oak (County District 1), Watsonville and Santa Cruz said they want more help for recent immigrants that includes rent assistance and unemployment benefits. How can elected leaders make those resources more accessible to recent immigrants, regardless of their legal status?
  • Many residents said they want more COVID information and other government communications in Spanish. What are your plans to communicate with and serve Spanish-only speakers? 
  • Several Watsonville and Live Oak (County District 1) residents don’t feel like they have a voice in local government. They want to participate, but don’t know how. What are candidates’ plans to make local government more accessible?
COVID rules

Several people were frustrated with others flouting social distancing and mask rules. Others wanted local government to do more to protect and support essential workers.

  • How can elected leaders encourage residents to heed the rules?
  • What more can local government do to protect essential workers from the virus?

What questions do you have for the candidates? We want your input to help shape our candidate forum series Oct. 4-7.