Watsonville plaza on Dec. 15, 2020.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Civic Life

Watsonville special election: Vanessa Quiroz-Carter wins District 2 council seat

UPDATE: Vanessa Quiroz-Carter will represent District 2 on the Watsonville City Council after being confirmed as the winner of the Dec. 7 special election. Quiroz-Carter received 216 votes to Francisco “Frank” Barba’s 151 in balloting that saw 15.36% voter turnout.

The numbers reflect a total of 371 votes — including four write-ins. Quiroz-Carter will be formally introduced in her new role, replacing Aurelio Gonzalez, on Jan. 20 at the council’s first 2022 meeting.

The What: The city of Watsonville held a special election Tuesday, Dec. 7, to fill the District 2 seat left vacant when former Councilmember Aurelio Gonzalez unexpectedly stepped down Sept. 14. With early votes in as of 6 a.m. Wednesday, Vanessa Quiroz-Carter held a 59-vote lead over Francisco “Frank” Barba, with 14.03% voter turnout — 339 total votes from among 2,416 registered.

The So What: Who wins the vacant seat could change the political balance on the seven-member council on several hot-button issues, including:

  • Considering the recommendations from the Ad-Hoc Committee on Policing and Social Equity, created in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.
  • Housing projects, possible changes to the permitting process and regulations for accessory dwelling units.

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 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.

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: Both candidates are Watsonville natives, with early leader Quiroz-Carter having connections across the area.

An adjunct professor at Hartnell College, she has made inroads with the community and county through work on the Women’s Commission, Watsonville’s Parks & Recreation Commission, and as a board member for Families in Transition. For this election, she was endorsed by County Superintendent of Schools Faris Sabbah, five members of the current city council, and Gonzalez himself.

Barba has served as a Watsonville Parks & Recreation commissioner, and counted County Supervisor Greg Caput among his endorsements.

What’s next: Quiroz-Carter will represent District 2 for the remainder of Gonzalez’s term, through December 2024.