For the first time in Santa Cruz history, voters will have a direct say in determining who their next mayor will be.
Measure E, approved by voters on June 8, established at-large mayoral elections, along with a six-district map. Previously, the mayor was appointed annually by the City Council from its members and rotated yearly between council members.
Fred Keeley and Joy Schendledecker are the two candidates running for election. City on a Hill Press spoke to Keeley and Schendledecker about Santa Cruz’s most pressing issues, such as transportation, houselessness, and policing.
Before Santa Cruz voted to establish at-large mayoral elections, Fred Keeley, 72, had no intention of becoming the mayor. After serving in the California State Legislature, he shifted focus to his various professorships and non-profit work. In June, his colleagues began asking him to run.
“I don’t want to overstate this,” Keeley said, “But I started getting phone calls and people were […] saying, ‘Hey, if we’re going to have six districts and a directly elected mayor, that first mayor better be somebody who knows what they’re doing.’”
Just a month later, Keeley announced his candidacy.
Keeley served as the County Supervisor for eight years, the County Treasurer for 10, and was a member of California’s State Assembly for six. Moreover, his connections within Santa Cruz’s political realm are extensive and long-standing. Keeley is endorsed by current Mayor Sonja Brunner and several members of the City Council, including Renee Golder and Sandy Brown.
At the heart of Joy Schendledecker’s campaign is her two decades of work as a community organizer. To her, both social activism and electoral politics require empathy and dialogue.
“We can’t just be pushing on our own agenda so much that we’re not taking the time to listen to people, especially the people that are most affected by whatever we’re working on,” said Schendledecker.
Schendledecker, 47, co-founded Santa Cruz Cares, a collective that works to address local issues in Santa Cruz, along with Sanitation for the People, a mutual aid group that works toward waste management and sanitation for all citizens.
Before moving to Santa Cruz, Schendledecker served on a board of governors at a public school in London for two years. If elected, this will be her first time serving in elected office. She has received endorsement from the People’s Democratic Club of Santa Cruz County, Santa Cruz for Bernie, the California Nurses Association, and the Campaign for Sustainable Transportation.
Now that you’ve gotten an overview of their resume, where do they each stand on the issues?
Keeley notes that addressing houselessness requires collaboration from the County and the City of Santa Cruz, each having their own responsibilities.
“The fact that homelessness manifests itself so clearly in the City of Santa Cruz does not make it solely the City of Santa Cruz government’s responsibility to solve the problem,” Keeley said. “It’s really two governments that need to do this. [Counties] exist to deliver Federal and State Health and Human Services […], cities are designed to build things.”
If he is elected, Keeley plans to negotiate a public bond for the 2024 ballot, which would address the city’s responsibilities in combating the housing crisis: providing shelter, navigation, and permanent supportive housing to its residents.
To Schendledecker, addressing the houselessness crisis in Santa Cruz requires a shift away from criminalization of housing status and narratives that paint houseless people in a negative light.
“We need more safe places for people to exist, whether it’s transitional encampments or safe parking programs,” Schendledecker said. “We just have to find ways to break through neighborhood fears about having services located in our neighborhoods. That’s going to take a little time because previous council members have tried and had an incredible amount of pushback. So I think we need to get the community at least more on board with that.”
Schendledecker also voiced her opposition to the Camping Standards and Standards Ordinance and the Oversized Vehicle Ordinance, two controversial Santa Cruz laws primarily targeting houseless residents. If elected, she stated she would do everything in her power to repeal these measures.
Long Range Development Plan (LRDP)
In a recent questionnaire sent to Schendledecker by UC Santa Cruz student leaders, Schendledecker problematized the UC Board of Regents’ role in perpetuating housing instability, labeling them as “for-profit landlords.”
“[UCSC] didn’t invest in housing for students for such a long time. And now they’re doing some which is great, but it’s too little too late. And they’ve contributed to this crisis,” said Schendledecker.
For future campus expansion, Schendledecker called on the UC Board of Regents to take environmental sustainability into consideration by prioritizing infill construction, which builds mainly on underutilized land in urban developments.
Keeley described previous experience working on the LRDP as a Santa Cruz County Supervisor, County Treasurer, and California Assembly Member. When asked about the 2021 LRDP in the UCSC questionnaire, Keeley remains critical of the UC Board of Regents, and the negative impact that university has had on the local housing community.
“In my opinion, the University of California Board of Regents have failed the Santa Cruz host community in one big way: On-campus housing,” Keeley wrote.
The current Long Range Development Plan hopes to accommodate 28,000 students by 2040. Keeley finds these numbers to be a bit ambitious, given the size of Santa Cruz and the landscape of its current rental market.
Keeley demonstrated an interest in working alongside students to develop a coherent and fair Long Range Development Plan, highlighting the critical role that student voices have in the negotiation process.
Keeley believes that his time as a former Santa Cruz County Supervisor and member of the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District Board has allowed him to identify the limitations of the bus system – it is composed of three different branches, so funding is spread quite thin.
He also stated that he will work alongside the Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District to make the system as robust as possible.
When asked in the questionnaire sent by student leaders, Schendledecker called for the expansion of bus services and routes.
“As Mayor, and as a potential member of the SC Metro Board, I would advocate strongly for free, frequent bus service for people under 26, over 65, low income, or with disabilities, with the ultimate horizon being free multimodal public transportation for everyone,” Schendledecker wrote.
Schendledecker also identified increasing the Real Estate Transfer Tax — a one-time state- or local jurisdiction-imposed tax based on the sales price of a property — and re-investment in de-funded infrastructure and community services as key parts of funding increased transportation accessibility.
For Schendledecker, uplifting marginalized resident voices, such as Black and Latinx people, and their experiences with policing, is vital to addressing issues of policing.
“Our residents who advocate for re-allocating some police funds to a CAHOOTS-style alternative emergency response program should be taken seriously by our Council and Police Chief instead of [being brushed off],” wrote Schendledecker.
The CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets) Model refers to a hybrid city crisis alternative response to non-criminal mental health emergencies, substance abuse, and poverty.
When asked about how funding and manpower is allocated to the Santa Cruz Police Department, Keeley expressed restraint in budget cuts. If he is elected, Keeley hopes to bring forth a model of shared policing. In shared policing systems, responsibilities are circumstantially shifted from officers to mental health professionals.
“I am not in favor of reducing the police department’s budget. I am in favor of working with the county, because those are the folks that hire mental health workers,” Keeley said.
To register to vote and partake in Santa Cruz’s first at-large mayoral election, click here.