A number of "I voted" stickers.
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Civic Life

Watsonville City Council special election window closes Tuesday — here’s what you need to know

Following the unexpected departure of District 2 Councilmember Aurelio Gonzalez in September, two people are vying in a special election to replace him on the Watsonville City Council: Francisco “Frank” Barba and Vanessa Quiroz-Carter. Early voting started last month, but ends on Dec. 7.

The What: The city of Watsonville is holding a special election to fill the vacant District 2 seat, after former Councilmember Aurelio Gonzalez unexpectedly stepped down Sept. 14. Early voting began Nov. 8 and concludes with in-person voting this coming Tuesday.

The So What: The vacant seat could change the political balance on several hot-button issues, including:

The Background: On Sept. 14, Gonzalez announced his resignation from his District 2 seat, citing a family emergency but providing no additional details. In a public letter, he said he was no longer “able to perform my duties in presenting District 2 and the City of Watsonville as it so deserves.” Last month, however, he told his former colleagues that it was because his wife had been diagnosed with cancer.

Gonzalez was first elected in 2018 — taking over for Councilmember Oscar Rios, who himself stepped down after accusations of sexual assault — and reelected in 2020. During his tenure on council, he was a proponent for the arts, transportation, economic growth and affordable housing. He additionally chaired the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission, and was part of the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District Board of Directors, the Arts Council of Santa Cruz County, and the Pajaro Valley Arts Council.

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He was also a member of the 16-person Ad-Hoc Committee on Policing and Social Equity working group, aiming to inform the future of policing and community services in the city.

Following Measure H’s passage in 2014, the city is required to hold a special election to fill the vacant seat within 90 days.

The candidates: The seat could be filled by one of two candidates, both Watsonville natives.

  • Healthcare outreach worker Francisco “Frank” Barba has worked in the community through many roles, as commissioner for Watsonville Parks and Recreation, a member of the Lions Club, and a former longtime member of the local United Food and Commercial Workers union. He’s been endorsed by county Supervisor Greg Caput, Watsonville’s Mayor Pro Tem Ari Parker, and county Board of Education Member Ed Acosta.
  • Adjunct professor Vanessa Quiroz-Carter, who teaches at Hartnell College, also has a list of community bona fides, having worked on the county Women’s Commission, Watsonville’s Parks and Recreation Commission, and as a board member for Families in Transition. She has been endorsed by County Office of Education Superintendent Faris Sabbah, five members of the current city council, and Gonzalez himself.
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What’s next:

Voting in the special election began Nov. 8, with the final chance to vote this coming Tuesday, Dec. 7. The Santa Cruz County Clerk’s office and the Watsonville City Clerk’s Office will be open this weekend from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for voters to drop off their ballots or vote in person.

“Everyone registered in District 2 has received a mail-in ballot,” said County Clerk Tricia Webber, noting that the district was fairly small with only 2,433 registered voters.

Still, Webber noted, fewer than 200 ballots have been returned. “We hope to see an increase in people coming in over the weekend,” she said.