What’s At Stake in the Next City Council Election?
Neighborhood Integrity, Truly Affordable Housing, Protecting the Natural Environment
Voter Issues Redux
If you remember last week I started a list of issues that progressive candidates might run on, or pay close attention to during the upcoming November, “off-year” election. The issues discussed last week, (which can be found by scrolling down to last week’s http://brattononline.com column), were neighborhood integrity or livability; creating truly affordable housing; and protecting and enhancing our precious Santa Cruz natural environment. This week it’s about city-university issues; traffic and transportation; enhancing the pedestrian-bicycle experience; and what I like to call, Santa Cruz foreign and domestic policy stands.
So, how many issues can a candidate actually run on?
In the old days it was perhaps simpler, but no less daunting for anyone running a serious city council campaign. The issues were usually water, traffic, and housing, in that order. Now, there’s less emphasis on water, although H2O is always a significant piece of most local political discussions. But it is HOUSING and homelessness that have just sucked all the air out of Santa Cruz politics. It is, without a doubt, THE campaign issue and it began in earnest in 2016 and will likely continue through 2024. Of course, traffic, quality of life–livability–and the environment are close behind. So how to choose?
Each candidate must try to get up to speed on the myriad of issues Santa Cruz faces by setting up loads of meetings…with homeless advocates (McHenry, Kramer, Adams, and Conable) city department heads (at least the city manager, police chief, and planning and finance directors); reaching out to past winning, and losing, candidates…there are enough ex-mayors out there to field possibly an entire 12-person basketball team (Lane, Bryant, Beiers, Scott, Fitzmaurice, and soon, current Mayor Terrazas come to mind); seek out UCSC honchos, if you can get ahold of them (Blumenthal, Tromp, and Latham among others); visit our Sacramento reps (Sen. Monning and Assembly member Stone), and try to shadow US Rep. Panetta for a day if he will let you; and check in with SEIU reps Urrutia, Nathanson, and Colby, and Monterey central labor council political rep, Glen Schaller as well). And if housing is the issue, meeting with for-profit (Swenson’s Nickell and Devcon’s Lawlor), and non-profit (Mercy Housing and Mid-Peninsula) housing developers, as well as rent control advocates (Jagadeesan, Cavooris, Hochman, and Smedberg) and anti-rent control SC Together (Renshaw) too. So many meetings, I know. But if you’re a candidate, this is what you do. I suggest choosing 2-4 issues, developing a 1-2-minute stump speech on each, and bringing all future forum
Election Issues, Part II
Make no mistake, UC Santa Cruz, Inc. represents the single largest political issue candidates will have to deal with because it’s attached to all others. UCSC usually is, and likes to act as, the elephant in the room–a player flicking at the levers of local power, and hoping to be unseen while it works the back rooms of the housing, traffic, and water political landscape. The gargantuan growth of the U over the past decade has come to represent all of our housing, traffic, and water woes. So, consequently the more than 40,000 students, faculty, staff and other support services locally attached to UC, Inc. present huge impacts on the quality of life for everyone in town, crashes, bumps, and bangs that are not so easily mitigated away.
It is up to the next city council to continue the foot-in-the-door dialogue recently begun as a result of the Long-Range Development Plan (LRDP) process. It is past time for the council to work diligently alongside the university in approaching the regents with the perhaps unwelcome line in the sand: No más UCSC growth past 19,500! This message has to be given in unity (77% of voters agreed on June 5th), full-throated, and with integrity and the understanding that you as a candidate and future councilmember are representing the 65,000 residents who live here now. The message must be delivered resolutely, zealously at times, and with commitment. This continuing communiqué must include that scaling back the growth of the university will have positive impacts on the UCSC education brand.
Next, traffic is a LOS–Level of Service–“F” on several thoroughfares throughout the city at many times during the week and on weekends. Boardwalk traffic has never been adequately dealt with; I suggest an independent analysis of on-campus and off-campus traffic counts (given that UCSC traffic honchos say cars on campus have not increased since 2005…?!?) Getting people out of their cars by providing alternatives remains a constant challenge for the next city council. And all those who say that cars are not going away anytime soon should support as many car-alternatives as possible so when they want to drive there will be less congestion. More parking garages, additional freeway lanes, and larger numbers of cars streaming ever-so slowly to the Boardwalk are not solutions progressives seek. Closing Pacific Avenue to cars, ordering up a thousand more e-bikes (half placed on the UCSC campus), parking more beach-goers at the county building, and perhaps using the now half-dozen Google-Apple-Amazon buses patrolling Pacific each morning to pitch in and bring Boardwalk patrons from Silicon Valley to Santa Cruz on weekends may offer some relief to our traffic woes.
Of course, shoring up Metro Bus funding and demanding the Regents pay more to transport students around campus and town instead of continuing to raise their tuition could simply be called: councilmembers performing constituent services. Besides closing Pacific to autos, we need to focus on moving bike lanes away from traffic. The green lanes were a good start, but now comes the tough decisions of how to shield bikes from the internal combustion engine. If we can do that it will be another game-changer in getting people out of their cars. In addition, let’s bring back the “free parking” for all e-cars. It’s an incentive that went away two years ago after having what appeared to be a successful 13-year run.
The People’s Republic of Santa Cruz Foreign Policy Office
Over the years, the Santa Cruz city council has taken many stands–against nuclear power, off-shore oil drilling and invading Iraq, El Salvador and Nicaragua. We’ve supported recognizing, and protecting our immigrant population, the Amah Mutsun (Ohlone), the Sioux at Standing Rock, and medical marijuana patients. We’ve demanded Granite Rock not bid on Trump’s border wall (success!) and that the state ban fracking (unsuccessful, so far). These issues are usually brought to the council from various community interest groups. What happens is the council provides a forum for debate and discussion and then votes, up or down, whether they believe the community is benefited by supporting the issue before them. Despite periodic criticism, developing these “foreign and domestic” policy stances takes little council time and from my experience really aids the community in providing an outlet for residents who anxiously want to do something about world issues that go beyond 7th Avenue. I like that our residents are active and concerned about life outside of Santa Cruz.
There’s much to say and do concerning housing the homeless and providing more mental health, drug, and alcohol abuse programming. The state of California has passed some major bills that will allow cities to apply for funding. The next council must hit the ground running in directing staff to secure this funding. In the area of social services there is much more progressives can do. The fact is, progressives came to power in Santa Cruz advocating for more social services funding. I say, how about a Department of Social Services? Berkeley does it, maybe it’s time we do too.
BERNIE TWEET OF THE WEEK
(Goes to Democrat primary winner, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who is currently on a tear to reshape the Democratic Party and make it work for her generation (and mine too!).