Capitola in December 2020
Capitola in December 2020.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Capitola’s first Latina mayor takes office, council now majority women

Capitola will be led by a Latina for the first time in its history, after Yvette Brooks was elected mayor Thursday night by the newly seated city council.

It’s also the first time in recent history that Capitola has a city council that is majority female, with the reelection of 2020 Mayor Kristen Petersen and the election of political newcomer Margaux Keiser.

Keiser received 33.6% of the vote to fill the seat vacated by Council Member Ed Bottorff, who ended his eight years on the city council this week.

Capitola leaders
Clockwise: Kristen Petersen, Yvette Brooks and Margaux Keiser.
(Courtesy city of Capitola)

Brooks served as vice mayor to Peterson in 2020. Council member Sam Storey will serve as the vice mayor in 2021.

In all, three of the new council’s five members are women. This puts Capitola in the same league with other Santa Cruz County municipalities that made historic strides on diversity issues this week with their new groups of elected leaders.

The Santa Cruz City Council that took office is 86% female and is led by the city’s first openly lesbian mayor, Donna Meyers. It also has a majority of seats held by people of color. In Watsonville, the city’s first openly gay mayor, Jimmy Dutra, took office on Tuesday.

“It is a very exciting and special day for me and my family, my six-year-old daughter especially,” Brooks told Lookout Santa Cruz before the meeting. “We are seeing women enter into elected positions in numbers like never before. And it is my honor to be part of such a significant time. But more importantly, I am humbled to sit next to all of my colleagues on the dias. Each one of them brings something forward that Capitola needs.”

During the meeting, County Supervisor Zach Friend, whose second district includes parts of Capitola, described Brooks as a fierce advocate for its citizens. “[She] doesn’t really take no for an answer,” he said. “In fact, she doesn’t even ask. She tells you how things are going to be.”

Brooks’ interest in public service and government began when she was a fifth grader, walking across a busy San Jose road to school every day. With the encouragement of one of her teachers, she wrote a letter to her city council representative. And, soon thereafter, the city added a sign at the crosswalk to indicate there were children crossing, she said Thursday night.

It was the first time Brooks witnessed the power of her voice — “a true testament to democracy,” she said. And it set her on the path toward becoming mayor.

Brooks said her top priorities are helping Capitola find “balance and security” as the pandemic continues and as the recovery stage begins.

“It is so important to me that we focus on supporting all people in our community, and focus on equity in all aspects of our city planning,” she said.

Petersen, who ended her one-year mayoral term on Thursday, was praised by her colleagues for having been a voice of calm for the city in a chaotic time. She received 50.8% of the vote in the general election, a figure she said “shocked” her, given how challenging it was to campaign this year.

This summer, Petersen also served as a mentor to Keiser, a first-time candidate.

“I told her what I tell all women: If you’re running your personal finances, then you understand the basics of running a city budget. If you’re managing relationships in your life, then you understand the basics of managing relationships with constituents,” Petersen said. “Margaux is clearly committed to the community.”