Meet Mrs. Mayor: Yvette Brooks hopes to lead Capitola into a more diversity-minded future

Yvette Brooks shows off her new title.
(Courtesy Yvette Brooks)

Yvette Brooks, 37, is Capitola’s new mayor. And she brings with her a perspective that may help expand the thinking around diversity and inclusiveness in a city that is 60% white.

Yvette Brooks’ relatives seem to think she hit some kind of lottery by achieving the status of Capitola Mayor.

The working mom balancing her job at the Santa Cruz County Office of Education with her new mayoral responsibilities knows better, of course.

“Six hundred a month — and it’s taxed,” she said of the job she was voted into by her fellow city council members earlier this month.

As she takes on her new role, Brooks is thinking beyond the basics — supporting small business and healing the financial damage COVID-19 has wrought — to enact long-term changes that reflect who she is and what she has experienced.

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Brooks, 37, wants to use lessons she learned in her childhood, during her upbringing as a Mexican-American girl in San Jose, to make Capitola a more equitable and livable place for everyone.

But she’s also grappling with how feasible it is to bring about those shifts in policy and mindset in a city of 10,000 that is 60% white, and how to balance it all as a working mom.

Lookout sat down with Brooks over Zoom to discuss how she’s thinking about the year ahead — and how she was going to tackle both her jobs while still cleaning up after the cat.

Yvette Brooks
(Courtesy Yvette Brooks)

What’s on your mind right now, heading into 2021?

I feel like it’s my responsibility to be a resource to our community as we move through this pandemic. I’ve heard a lot of talk about recovery at this point. We’re still in the planning stages because we need to dig our way out of the $4.6 million deficit in the city of Capitola. We do have some reserves. Just at the last city council meeting, we recognized that we did pretty well in our last quarter, so we could have backfilled all discretionary cuts but as we know, the state and the feds are coming up with money to support our cities. Besides ending the furloughs and giving the staff the (cost-of-living increases) that we had promised them, gosh, almost two years ago, we were able to set aside another reserve.

Another thing that I want to focus on and continue to bring forward is the support of families and children in our community. So often people think we’re just this elite retirement community. It’s very different. And so, when I proposed the out-of-school program to the parks and recreation department, we were the first ones to jump on that to support essential workers and their families. Soon thereafter, other cities followed in our footsteps. It was terrifying to open up a childcare program while schools were closed, and nobody knew really what was going on with COVID.

Foundationally, we have to support our families and our citizens and our community members in order to be a healthy and thriving community that can shop and be able to stay home and be safe from COVID and so that we can pay our workers. For all of those things, you have to have a healthy, thriving community. And by that, you have to offer social programs. And so that’s where my lens is. [Brooks’ daughter, Sedona, interrupts offscreen.]

My daughter just informed me that my cat pooped on the carpet.

Yvette Brooks and daughter Sedona, 6.
(Courtesy Yvette Brooks)

This is real life.

You know, it’s not like glitz and glam. It’s not like I have somebody (to clean it). We make $600. (My family) they’re just like, ‘You’re going to be so rich.’ I’m like, $600 a month. Six hundred. And it’s taxed. So, you tell me.

Everyone always asks me, like, ‘Why did you run?’ Or, ‘why are you running?’ It blows my mind that I’m here. I live in this beautiful community, we bought a teeny, tiny condo (800 sq. ft.) in Capitola. And we were able to buy it. And, sure enough, we had to borrow from like 15 million different people, call dad and mom and all of that sort of stuff to make it happen. But I’m here. And so while I’m here, I have to invest back in my community.

The idea of having one year to leave your mark as a mayor, does that stress you out at all? How are you thinking about that?

In my last couple of years, I’ve tended to be the motion-maker or bringing these ideas forward, like how to use a dedicated Children’s Fund or creating a code of conduct ... using my time to talk about equity and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Now as mayor, I don’t get to do that as much. I’m now the moderator, if you will. So I’m learning really quickly how to bring things forward in that sense. Maybe at the end of this year, I might be like, I’d rather be the other thing.

What do you think is your biggest strength when it comes to governing?

A lot of my experience, just in life in general, comes from my upbringing. I grew up in a community where the percentage of white was 0.1%. And all of my neighbors were Black, Korean, Hmong, Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino … and so being raised with that kind of awareness, being raised in such a diverse community, being raised in such a big community, really helped me have a different lens and perspective while I govern in such a small community.

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So when people say to me, ‘Racism doesn’t exist in Capitola.’ I’m like, well, wait a second. It does. You just don’t see it. And how could you, when you don’t live in a community where there’s such diversity?

Even though you may think our community’s not diverse, best believe diversity enters Bay Avenue every single day. How are we treating those people? How are we making ourselves aware of people’s differences and not bringing forward biases that we didn’t think we ever had? So that’s really important for me.

Yvette Brooks
(Courtesy Yvette Brooks)

You’ve said a focus on equity is a priority for you as mayor of Capitola. What does that look like?

I actually had a conversation with some community leaders, and I used that time to ask them.

I told this group, ‘I don’t know what I’m asking for.’ I can’t say to you, ‘I want you to be like me.’ I would never want someone to know what drive-bys and home busts are. But I want them to feel this kind of vulnerability for others. And, and so as we talked about that, they said, ‘Well, you’re seeking diversity, and you want to work with people that look different next to you,’ and I’m like, yes, but where are all those people in Capitola? And why aren’t they getting involved?

What else has been lingering on your mind lately?

I’ve been thinking a lot about women in office. Women taking the lead in so many different areas, maybe not just in office, but on boards and commissions, and in private and public sectors. We’re finding balance. I get to be here on Zoom, and I don’t have to schlep my kid along to go to a meeting or something like that.

I want to create an environment in the city of Capitola that makes it feasible for women to get involved. I want to be an example, that if someone like you moves and ends up buying a beautiful place here one day in Capitola or rents here in Capitola and you want to run for office, I want you to be able to look at me and be like, dang, if she can do it and find balance, then I can do it.

That’s really what’s important for me — to not go up there and feel like I’m stretched apart and thin. I want to create an environment ... for women to feel that it’s possible. And hopefully, we can bring diversity along the way as well.

Yvette Brooks and family above their hometown.
(Courtesy Yvette Brooks)

How are you able to free yourself of that heavy responsibility, even for brief periods of time, in order for it to be sustainable?

I do have a supporting husband. He works full time for AT&T, so he’s at the ground level, in people’s houses, which is terrifying during COVID. But he plays a huge part. And one of the things we decided on six or seven years ago, when we wanted to have a kid, is everything was going to be equal. During that time, I didn’t know I was going to run for office. But it was really about finding that kind of partnership and somebody that really was gonna understand, no, when the baby’s crying and it’s the fifth day straight, she’s going to you. So when he gets home, I’m like, ‘Here you go. I’ve been here all day doing this, here you go’ – without any guilt.

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The other thing is finding other people to bounce things off of and finding time for myself just to turn things off. I’m learning. This is not even a year in, and it’s been an ebb and flow. Some days I feel super overwhelmed and exhausted, and some days I feel amazing and I can’t believe I had so much great time. And, you know, in a couple of minutes, I’m gonna go clean cat poop off my carpet.

Life humbles you really fast.

I mean, it is what it is. To have people saying nice things about you and believing in you is also what drives me. We have to uplift women, instead of bringing them down or focusing on what the heck they’re wearing or what their red lipstick looks like that day. We have to focus on what we’re actually doing, so we can get away from all that crap.