By Toan P. Do
City on a Hill Press Reporter
Bill Domhoff has been a sociology professor at UC Santa Cruz ever since its establishment in 1965. Now the esteemed professor emeritus is the co-author of “The Leftmost City,” a book which studies how Santa Cruz’s history has led to it becoming one of the most progressive cities in the entire country.
“The Leftmost City” began as Richard Gendron’s dissertation in the early 1990s. Gendron, now a sociology professor at Assumption College in Massachusetts, has known Domhoff for two-decades.
“He was my adviser for my MA thesis,” Gendron said. “My interest in the hot-button topic of development and the politics of growth in Santa Cruz was piqued by writing that thesis, so when the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake devastated downtown, I realized that the subsequent rebuilding effort would likely prove to be an ideal window into how political and economic power operates in formulating and implementing public policy, in this case, redevelopment policy.”
After finishing his dissertation in 1998, Gendron recalls his old professor urging him to do more with it. Gendron finally agreed, but he had a stipulation: Domhoff would have to co-author the book.
“Writing this book was such a labor of love,” Domhoff said. “It was so exciting to go back and write a book about what I’d lived through.”
Indeed, Domhoff has seen some interesting times. He was in Santa Cruz to see the establishment of the university, and he was around in 1972 when the Vietnam War threatened to draft every male student on campus. He lived through the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that leveled Santa Cruz’s downtown and watched businesses rise out of the rubble.
“He certainly talks about the important role that students played in the history of Santa Cruz,” said Andy Schiffrin, an administrative analyst for county supervisor Neal Coonerty and a part-time environmental studies professor. “In the class that I teach, I talk about 1972 being the critical turning point in Santa Cruz history because it was the year that the Supreme Court approved the 18-year-old vote.”
Schiffrin helped Domhoff by reading an early draft of the book and was particularly interested in its review of Santa Cruz’s early history. He also said one of the most important things the book does is highlight the important role that students played in changing the political climate of Santa Cruz.
“Giving the 18-year-olds [the right to] vote on campus essentially shifted the whole Santa Cruz spectrum, which was traditionally conservative,” Schiffrin said.
Domhoff agrees that the year 1972 brought much change in Santa Cruz. He even gave the university a nickname due to its progressive contributions that year.
“I like to say the campus became a ‘Trojan horse’ in 1972,” Domhoff said. “Ninety-something percent of the students registered and 90-some percent of them voted for the Democrats. So that was one of the most concentrated voter precincts there ever was. And then people looked around and said, ‘If the students are interested in voting in city elections, we can change the city.’”
On his side of the state, Gendron eagerly awaits academic critiques of “The Leftmost City.”
“I think we have written an excellent political and social history of the city,” Gendron said. “I think UCSC alumni especially, but perhaps even current students, will find the book of interest, particularly as it chronicles the history of the campus and documents the importance of the student vote to the progressive movement in Santa Cruz.”
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