Santa Cruz County Supervisor Zach Friend
Zach Friend, elected District 2 Santa Cruz County Supervisor in 2012, won’t run again in 2024.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Civic Life

Zach Friend won’t seek fourth term as supervisor, ushering in a new era for Santa Cruz County politics

District 2 Supervisor Zach Friend’s decision to not seek a fourth term means a new chapter for the five-member Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors, after four multiterm supervisors have retired or announced plans to retire over the past year.

After three consecutive terms as District 2 Santa Cruz County Supervisor, Zach Friend will retire from his seat at the end of his term in 2024, he announced Friday. He is the fourth multiterm supervisor to have left office or announced plans to retire since last year, helping usher the board of supervisors into a new, fresh-faced era.

Friend, who chairs the board of supervisors, called serving on the board an unparalleled honor.

“We are a region blessed with the most caring people, unrivaled natural gifts and unmatched innovation,” Friend said in a news release. “The privilege of representing our area has been remarkable.” Friend declined an interview request.

Representing a district that reachs from Capitola to Corralitos, touching parts of Watsonville and encompassing the full coastal stretch of South County, Friend counted the transformation of county libraries, the creation of Seacliff Village and Willowbrook parks, expansion of broadband access and helping to save Watsonville Community Hospital as among his greatest achievements as supervisor.

However, it was his work in securing federal funding for the more than $400 million Pajaro River levee restoration project after decades of rejection and bureaucratic negligence that Friend said rises to the top of his accomplishments. Friend as well as his colleagues say he was instrumental in convincing the federal government to put money into the project that had been deferred for more than 60 years. Although the money was committed at the end of 2022, it was too late for the residents of Pajaro; the 2023 winter storms overwhelmed the levee, causing a breach and a generational amount of flooding in the farmworker town. Recovery is still underway.

Questions about Friend’s future plans have been swirling for the past year, driven largely by his family’s situation. Friend’s wife, Tina Friend, moved to San Diego County in 2021 to take a job as Coronado city manager. Friend did not respond to Lookout’s question on whether or when he planned to move to Coronado, or what his future plans entailed.

Paired with District 5 Supervisor Bruce McPherson’s retirement, Friend’s decision to not seek reelection means a new chapter for the board of supervisors. Only a year ago, District 1’s Manu Koenig was the rookie supervisor, serving alongside three-termers Friend, McPherson and Greg Caput, as well as two-termer Ryan Coonerty, whose family name is emblazoned into the history of Santa Cruz County culture and politics. If he wins reelection next November, Koenig would sit as the most senior member of a board that will host first-term supervisors Justin Cummings and Felipe Hernandez, and the winners of the District 2 and District 5 elections.

McPherson, who, with Friend, has been the elder statesman of the board of supervisors, told Lookout he had expected Friend to not seek reelection, given the length of time he’s served and that he’s been splitting time between Santa Cruz County and Coronado.

He called Friend one of the “brightest, most well-informed public servants and politicians” he’s worked with throughout his career. McPherson spent time in the state legislature and as California Secretary of State under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“I can’t overstate how impressed I’ve been with him, Zach is really the best,” McPherson said. “I guess when you start to get into double-digit years served on the board of supervisors, it starts to seem like it’s been long enough. This will change how the board of supervisors operates. Things will be different.”

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