By Michelle Fitzsimmons
City News Editor
Nine of the 10 candidates running for Santa Cruz City Council convened for an election forum Oct. 22 at the Santa Cruz Police Department.
Lisa Molyneux was the only candidate not present in the capacity-breaching community room. The event, sponsored by Santa Cruz Neighbors, Inc., gave the candidates an opportunity to present their platforms and address concerns burning in the minds of many Santa Cruz citizens.
Issues at the forefront were the local economy, sustainability, the city’s relationship with UC Santa Cruz, and, most vociferously, the conditions of downtown Santa Cruz.
Katherine Beiers, running for a third time after serving on the council from 1989 to 1999, acknowledged the shift in her priorities for the city as her campaign has evolved since August.
“I’ve been walking neighborhoods and there are different priorities,” Beiers said. “The big one is downtown. I’ve been going door-to-door and every fifth house says, ‘Downtown.’ So we have to fix that.”
Each candidate touched on the issues of drug use, dirtiness, and aggressive behavior that have come to characterize downtown Santa Cruz in the last several years.
“I was walking in a neighborhood and came to a house of eight or nine college kids who didn’t want to come downtown because one of them was at the Taco Bell and got jumped by gang memebers,” incumbent Tony Madrigal said.
Blas Jacob “Jay” Cabrera, a UCSC graduate, proposed turning downtown into a vibrant public space where people would feel welcome and safe.
“I propose actually, physically, cleaning it up,” he said. “The sidewalks haven’t been cleaned in years. Get all the grunginess out. Let’s create a friendly space for people to hang out in.”
Ryan Coonerty, running for re-election, has received criticism from some who believe the policies he has implemented during his tenure as mayor unfairly target homeless people.
“We are not talking about homelessness, but aggressiveness,” Coonerty said. “We want to make [downtown] a public space because if you have a situation where parents won’t bring their kids downtown, that’s not a public space.”
Coonerty drew gasps from the audience when he related a conversation he had with a friend who had just moved from Santa Cruz to Manhattan.
“I asked her how she was liking it and she said, ‘Oh, it’s great. I feel a lot more comfortable walking in Manhattan than Santa Cruz,’” he said.
Each candidate offered solutions varying on the same theme, namely greater police presence, to counter the behavior that is pushing many members of the community away from Pacific Avenue.
However, almost every candidate advocated communication as a means of creating a long-term solution.
“I want to see merchants have a dialogue with poor and homeless people,” said second-time candidate Simba Kenyatta, the city’s former youth outreach coordinator.
Don Lane, who is running again after serving as mayor from 1991 to 1992, encouraged citizens to take action into their own hands.
“Instead of going to the city council, we all have to be willing to say, ‘What are we going to do to clean downtown up?’” Lane said.
The forum also discussed the university, its relationship with the city, and student-resident relations.
A recent settlement was brokered between UCSC and the city regarding university expansion, and while some candidates are satisfied with the agreement, some said it does not solve substantial problems for the future.
Tim Fitzmaurice, who lectures at UCSC, poked fun at the rare compromise between the city and university.
“It’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” he said, eliciting chuckles for his reference to the film “Casablanca.“ Fitzmaurice continued, “I don’t think it goes far enough. It’s great George Blumenthal actually sat down to agree to something. As long as the university continues to grow, it’s going to impact the community.”
J. Craig Canada, a first-time candidate, is pessimistic about the possibility of birthing a peaceful relationship between UCSC and Santa Cruz city.
“I think there’s always going to be an adverse relationship between the city and university,” he said. “The university is so big, it can push the city around.”
A solution offered by most of the candidates to improve students and long-term resident relations within Santa Cruz’s neighborhoods is the development of low-income housing for students.
Affordable housing has become a priority in recent years, not just for students but for low-income families and individuals as well.
“For me, housing is the biggest concern,” said Canada, who was formerly homeless.
David Terrazas, a member of the city’s Transportation Commission, emphasizes sustainable transportation in his campaign. His response to the question, “What does sustainability mean to you?” summed up most candidates’ sentiments.
“To me, sustainability means not just environmental sustainability but economic sustainability and sustainability of our neighborhoods,” Terrazas said.
Coonerty related sustainability to a strong local economy.
“I don’t believe it’s sustainable when 12,000 citizens need to drive to work,” Coonerty said. “We need to have jobs and housing and retail outlets so people can live, work, shop and raise their kids in the community.”
Santa Cruz’s economy is the most important issue of this election for forum attendee Al Richard, who has lived in the city for 25 years.
“The biggest issue is economics,” Richard said. “I like the idea of building hotels so we can attract more people who come into town and improve the vibrancy of the city.”
Brad Barhim has different priorities.
“The biggest issue for this election is street people,” Barhim said. “I think it’s everyone’s biggest issue. You can’t have street people taking over downtown. You just can’t have it.”
Brahim and Richard said they were most impressed with Coonerty.
“I like Ryan. He represents my views,” Richard said.
Peter Pethoe, a member of the Santa Cruz Hostel Society, supports candidates who look out for the interests of lower-income people and who will bring new energy to the city council.
“I like Simba because I’m always for the underdog,” Pethoe said. “He seems to be an intelligent person and it’d be nice to have a fresh perspective on the council.”