Fred Keeley has worked to better this community for 44 years. He has served as county supervisor, county treasurer, state legislator and on numerous countywide task forces. He’s also a professor, a member of numerous local nonprofit boards and the largest Democratic fundraiser in the region. He’s a man with connections, experience and plans. Here, he explains how, if chosen as the city’s first directly elected mayor, he will tackle homelessness, affordable housing (hint: it’s a bond measure), neighborhood integrity and water issues. He also offers key ways his thinking differs from his opponent’s.
The four major issues facing our Santa Cruz community are homelessness, affordable housing, neighborhood integrity and climate change.
Those are the issues, in that order, that the hundreds of voters I have recently spoken to want to see acted upon.
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So let’s discuss them.
The most recent point-in-time survey suggests about 3,000 folks are homeless in our county. About 1,500 are living outside Santa Cruz proper. As with the housed community, the homeless community is complex. When the City of Santa Cruz asked me to serve as the convenor of the Council Advisory Committee on Homelessness (CACH), that became abundantly clear.
The big question is: How does a compassionate community deal with this?
I quickly learned that the solutions are as complex as the problem. On CACH, I recommended short-term and long-term actions. Short term, providing assistance such as access to restrooms, clean water and hygiene were essential. On a longer-term basis, shelter, social service access and permanent supportive housing were vital. That work included persons experiencing homelessness and is a good guide.
Which level of government should do what?
In order to get the best outcomes for those experiencing homelessness, each level of government must fulfill its primary role. Counties are subdivisions of the state and are, therefore, designed to deliver federal and state health and human services. Cities build things, such as shelter, navigation centers and permanent supportive housing. The City of Santa Cruz can be of most assistance by staying in our lane — and getting those facilities constructed.
Where do I stand on clearing the Benchlands homeless camp?
The existing homeless camp in the Benchlands is a dangerous place for anyone to be.
The Benchlands is not primarily a park, but a part of the flood-control system for the San Lorenzo River. Those who have been in town for a few years know that the Benchlands flood in regular rains. Now, with climate change, such flooding events will occur more frequently and be more severe.
That is no place for anyone to be living.
The other candidate opposes clearing the Benchlands. That is a stark difference between us.
How about affordable housing?
Clearly, affordable housing is on everyone’s minds. We know why housing — ownership or rental — is so expensive here. We live next door to the world’s most dynamic economic engine, Silicon Valley. Consistent demand, and a limited supply of housing, is a market function. While increasing supply would seem logical, the amount of supply that would bend down the price curve is simply unacceptable.
So how can Santa Cruz address the need for low- and very-low-income housing?
A few years ago, former Santa Cruz mayor Don Lane and I authored a multimillion-dollar affordable housing bond, Measure H. It was offered to voters countywide, and needed a two-thirds vote to pass. It did not.
But Santa Cruz voters approved it by nearly 70%. I think a properly drafted affordable housing measure for the 2024 ballot would provide the funds for building hundreds of affordable housing units and the “brick and mortar” needs for sheltering homeless folks.
As mayor, I pledge to work with colleagues on the city council and the community to negotiate the contents and size of such a bond.
How do I differ from my opponent on neighborhood integrity issues?
Neighborhood integrity is an important concept. Like most cities our size, we have dozens of neighborhoods. Some are primarily older housing stock, some are newer, some are mixed. Some have neighborhood commercial and retail businesses, some do not. Some are largely upper-income, like where the other candidate lives. Many, like where I live in Midtown, are decidedly mixed. In other words, neighborhood integrity means something unique based on where you live.
Given those differences, I support greater density and more housing development in our urban core, rather than forcing significant development into neighborhoods. The other candidate says that each neighborhood should “step up” and accept new homeless camps and shelters. That seems fairly wrongheaded to me in terms of neighborhood integrity.
What about climate change?
Climate change is clearly upon us and a key step we can take is drought-proofing our water system.
For many years, Santa Cruz has sought a solution to its water supply challenges. Several years ago, the community rejected desalination of ocean water as the drought-proofing solution. There is no reason to return to that debate when we have a much better option.
That solution is contained in a series of policy actions already taken — or about to be taken this year — by the city council. Those actions rely heavily on the Pure Water Soquel project under construction now, as a joint project of the Soquel Creek Water District and the city. We need to expand that strategy.
What qualifies me to be mayor?
Since 1977, I have dedicated my life to public and community service. For 24 years, I served you as a county supervisor, county treasurer and state legislator. For another 21 years, I served as convenor of the Transportation Funding Task Force, the Public Safety Task Force, and the Council Advisory Committee on Homelessness. I teach in the graduate program in public administration at San Jose State University, am a professor at the Panetta Institute, and the Osher program at Cal State Monterey Bay. In the nonprofit world, I am a board member of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, Working Partnerships USA, and a co-founder of Housing Santa Cruz County.
It would be an honor to serve as your first directly elected mayor.