Quick Take:

Lookout Endorsement: Fred Keeley can’t sweep in and fix all of Santa Cruz’s problems. However, given his deep experience and wide connections, he is well suited and well qualified to be the city’s first directly elected mayor in this time of great stress. Politics is about timing as much as policy, and Keeley matches this moment well. What we would expect from him over the next four years can be summed up in one word: leadership.

Election 2022: Santa Cruz County

Editor’s note: A Lookout View is the opinion of our Community Voices opinion section, written by our editorial board, which consists of Community Voices Editor Jody K. Biehl and Lookout Founder Ken Doctor. Our goal is to connect the dots we see in the news and offer a bigger-picture view — all intended to see Santa Cruz County meet the challenges of the day and to shine a light on issues we believe must be on the public agenda. These views are distinct and independent from the work of our newsroom and its reporting.

Santa Cruzans have a lot riding on whoever is their first citywide elected mayor.

The title carries a significant burden and — in our view — requires an experienced hand.

The city is split on issues of huge import — how to handle its growing unhoused population, where to promote growth and when to curtail it, how and where to build affordable housing and make the community a welcoming place for service workers, teachers and the wide diversity of people we have long prized as locals.

Let’s make no mistake. The questions before us are fundamental to our local identity. What will the next Santa Cruz look like — and who will live here? Can we retain our unique, quirky charm and beach-town vibe as we make hard decisions on housing, homelessness, transportation, the city skyline and more? What will the next Santa Cruz look like — and be for?

We think Fred Keeley is the person for the moment.

His experience, demeanor, and, yes, Rolodex (we hope by now it’s digital), make him the candidate we need right now.

We applaud Joy Schendledecker’s entry into this race. She’s right; even someone of Keeley’s standing and clout shouldn’t waltz into such an important office at such a crucial time.

As an activist but a novice to electoral politics, she has done admirably as a candidate. We expect to see more from her in the future. She has challenged us to focus on key issues of equity, fair treatment of the unhoused and representing those who feel left out of politics as usual. She has earned significant name familiarity as she eyes a city council seat in 2024. We can expect her to stay well involved on the issues of the day through then.

And we will be glad to have her voice.

She showed bravery standing up to run against Keeley — when no one else would.

It’s not hard to understand why.

Keeley looks like he was sent from central casting for the role of the City of Santa Cruz’s first four-year mayor.

Into the high-angst times of a pleasant seaside community beset by seemingly intractable problems ambles a veteran politico who’s seen it all, his bald pate sometimes matched with a boutonniere, a septuagenarian compelled to listen to the getting-by woes of generations several his junior.

Can Fred Keeley soothe the increasingly roiling waters of Santa Cruz? That’s a tall task for anyone in these fraught times of the affordability and homelessness pressures that consume our conversations and agendas, against that bigger backdrop of fundamental questions of local identity.

Fred Keeley is no savior.

What we would expect from Fred can be summed up in one word: leadership

He is as well suited and well qualified to become the city’s first mayor as we could hope in this time of great stress. Politics is about timing as much as policy, and Keeley matches that moment well.

We see his value especially as the number of experienced public officials is actually declining locally. Santa Cruz County’s board of supervisors, the most impactful body locally, is witnessing unprecedented turnover as we approach 2024. In this environment, in this time and place, Santa Cruz residents essentially backed into a new structure of city governance — forced by the threat of lawsuit — and grudgingly voted on an imperfect districted model of local representation in the spring. The new model creates six representative positions, each standing for about 10,000 residents and, in some cases, neighborhoods. It also establishes one elected citywide position, the mayor.

It’s a four-year, ridiculously underpaid position ($41,048.28), with limited administrative powers.

But the city’s new, splintered system of representation could mean more parochialism, a kind of NIMD (not in my district) attitude on the council, which could make governing as a body harder. That’s why we need someone with Keeley’s experience for consensus-building and compromise.

We face real challenges and a city divided by our left-of-center and way-left-of-country politics.

We need a “great conciliator,” someone who can help us see how minor our differences actually are — particularly compared to the larger national, and global, extreme-right pressures.

In his four-decade political career, first serving as a county supervisor, later as speaker of the State Assembly as a Santa Cruz representative and, finally, as county treasurer, Keeley has found ways to get things done, in the always-changing art of the possible.

Fred Keeley (right) listens as opponent Joy Schendledecker speaks
Fred Keeley (right) listens as Santa Cruz mayoral race opponent Joy Schendledecker speaks during a recent Lookout candidate forum. Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

What’s needed: a calming, results-oriented, more collaborative approach. That’s what Santa Cruz needs him to do now.

Keeley’s outline for 2023 makes sense.

  • Clearly delineating city and county responsibilities on homelessness. “Cities build things,” he’s repeated, “and the county provides services.”
  • Building affordable housing: He has plans for a 2024 city housing bond.
  • Aiding local/small business success.
  • Drought-proofing the water supply.

We like that wider view of priorities, beyond what’s in the news of today.

We’ve seen too little public voice on the problems facing our local small-business community, both long-standing and newly entrepreneurial — and what the city can better do to encourage homegrown enterprises.

Water and fire are elemental to our lives here, and we need a steady, experienced hand to navigate these mounting pressures. Keeley brings impressive environmental credentials, particularly with his long and continuing work on Monterey Bay.

He is a politician with a 47-year track record of service to our community. He not only understands the 1970s environmentalism that safeguarded our community’s beauty — he was part of the movement.

Today, he also recognizes and freely discusses how that movement — in part — fed our current affordability crisis.

And he is prepared to take action to remedy it. That shows admirable political growth. It’s the sort of accountability we need in our leaders.

Talk with any officeholder, and they’ll tell you how much harder it’s become to serve. Civil discourse has turned increasingly vitriolic and personal. Too few people are putting themselves forward to represent us.

But when someone of Keeley’s stature does so, we should take him up on his offer.

Don Lane is a former mayor of Santa Cruz. He serves on the governing boards of Housing Santa Cruz County and Housing Matters and has been a homeowner for 40 years.