Santa Cruz County First District Supervisor Manu Koenig is sworn in during a ceremony at the supervisor chambers.
Santa Cruz County First District Supervisor Manu Koenig is sworn in during a ceremony at the supervisor chambers, Monday, Jan. 4, 2021.
(Patrick Riley/Lookout Santa Cruz)
Government

Homelessness, affordability pillars of Koenig’s swearing-in speech, but what about Rail Trail?

Santa Cruz County has to lead when it comes to dealing with homelessness, including building new housing and developing new work programs, said Manu Koenig, the county’s newest supervisor. But he said little about his trail-only vision.

Santa Cruz County’s Board of Supervisors welcomed its newest member Monday with the swearing in of First District Supervisor Manu Koenig, who outlined a host of priorities — from tackling affordable housing to homelessness — during a brief swearing-in ceremony.

Koenig, 35, defeated three-term incumbent John Leopold in the Nov. 3 election, garnering close to 57% of the vote in the most hotly contested countywide political race in recent memory. His district includes Live Oak, Soquel, the Summit Area, Santa Cruz Gardens, and Carbonera.

“We are here today to celebrate new beginnings for county government,” Koenig told the half-dozen people in the supervisor chambers and others who watched the ceremony via videoconference.

The need for a supplemental water supply in Santa Cruz during dry years has only grown with the increased impacts of...

As the former executive director of Greenway Santa Cruz County, a non-profit advocating for a bike/pedestrian-only trail on the rail corridor that runs the length of the county, Koenig emerged as one of the most prominent voices for a trail-only vision in the lead-up to the election.

And now that he’s been sworn in, he’ll have a seat on the county Regional Transportation Commission, which ultimately will decide the corridor’s fate. The RTC includes all five county supervisors, one member each of the Watsonville, Santa Cruz, Scotts Valley and Capitola city councils and three members appointed by the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District, as well as the CalTrans District 5 Director.

But during his roughly 10-minute speech Monday, Koenig early on focused much of his attention for the work ahead on affordable housing and homelessness, though he did mention the need for “a trail that connects our homes to schools, to work.”

The No. 1 issue he heard from voters on the campaign trail was homelessness, Koenig said, adding that residents said they don’t come downtown anymore “because they don’t feel safe and they miss it.”

He alluded to the recent confrontations between police and activists at a
homeless encampment at San Lorenzo Park. A judge last week granted a temporary restraining order, forcing the city of Santa Cruz to stop clearing the encampment.

“Just outside from here today, there’s over 100 people unsheltered, sleeping in tents, cold and damp during this rainstorm,” Koenig said. “And that community faced a confrontation with city police in the last week over the location of their camp site. The county must lead on this.”

Santa Cruz County First District Supervisor Manu Koenig is sworn in during a ceremony at the supervisor chambers.
Santa Cruz County First District Supervisor Manu Koenig is sworn in during a ceremony at the supervisor chambers, Monday, Jan. 4, 2021.
(Patrick Riley/Lookout Staff)

The county has to find new locations, build new housing and develop new work programs to help the homeless, he said.

Among Koenig’s other priorities is dealing with the rising cost of housing in the county.

With a “proliferation of commercial for lease signs all over our community,” he said there is an opportunity to take strip malls and vacant commercial centers “and reimagine them as community centers, walkable communities and village centers with squares.”

If “we do that, we can create the housing our community so desperately needs and promote the economic recovery we need, as well,” Koenig said.

The county needs to streamline processes and be more creative in permitting Accessory Dwelling Units, tiny homes and “off-grid housing solutions,” he added.

Koenig said Santa Cruz County also needs to change its approach to public safety, supporting officers “with new forms of emergency response that offer clinical support, health services and a warm bed instead of sirens, guns and jail bars.”

To further cut down on emissions, the county should build more protected bike lanes, Koenig said. And better support is needed for rural, private roads managed by the county. “Because our roads are also our first line defense against fire,” he said.