Joy Schendledecker for mayor: Santa Cruz needs truly progressive ideas and a mayor who will fight for justice in housing, jobs and the environment

Santa Cruz mayoral candidate Joy Schendledecker.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Joy Schendledecker is a community organizer, member of the Santa Cruz chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, co-founder of Santa Cruz Cares and Sanitation for the People, as well as an artist and a mother of two teens. Her leadership skills, she says, are “generally not recognized in our culture” and include grassroots organizing and neighborhood consensus-building and care work for family and community. She believes Santa Cruz needs new ideas and to elect someone who is rooted in the community she represents: the underpaid and overworked, tenants, workers and unions, families, elders, people with disabilities, our LGBTQIA+ community, students and young people.

I am a community organizer, artist and mother. Since the 1980s, like the rest of the country, Santa Cruz has experienced a turn towards neoliberal policies, austerity for working- and middle-class people and greater policing to manage expanding inequality.

Continuing the practices that have gotten us into this mess will not get us out of it.

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We need creative ideas and grassroots leadership to reinvest in the everyday people of our vibrant community.

For the past 18 years I have primarily worked on community organizing around environmental issues and social and housing justice. Prior to becoming a parent, I worked in arts administration for a nonprofit art center in Baltimore. I also lived in London from 2005-15, after my husband took a job there.

In London, I was active in multiple community groups and served on the local school board of governors for two years.

Living in the United Kingdom (plus a year in Brussels) was an incredible learning experience. But existing as a noncitizen without voting rights for 10 years and depending on restrictive work visas was challenging, especially when political activism (even joining a climate or women’s march) could threaten residency status.

The experience helped me appreciate the political security I’ve enjoyed in the U.S. and contributed to my drive to be more involved in advocacy and politics.

In 2015, our family moved to Santa Cruz (my husband took a job at UCSC), where I soon immersed myself in local community organizing and mutual aid projects.

Living internationally, and in different U.S. cities, I’ve learned to recognize the barriers to progress — and to appreciate how widening political involvement is essential to improving living conditions for all.

I am running for mayor because, like so many, I want more transparency, accountability, fiscal responsibility and true consultation processes from our elected and appointed leaders.

We need governance from below, not an opaque system with big decisions routinely made without participation from a majority of residents. The people who are most impacted by decisions need to have a seat at the table; they know the problems and have the solutions.

In early 2021, I co-founded Sanitation for the People, which does cleanups with unhoused people and advocates for waste services for all. I also co-founded Santa Cruz Cares, a community group formed to fight anti-homeless ordinances and advocate for evidence-based best-practices in responding to the housing and houselessness crisis. And, as a member of the Santa Cruz chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, I’m working with many others toward improving the lives of working people in our community.

The immediately apparent differences between career politician Fred Keeley and political newcomer Joy Schendledecker...

What differentiates me from my opponent?

For starters, I’m not a professional politician. It’s true I don’t have decades of experience in political office.

But I do have decades of leadership generally not recognized in our culture: family and community care work, initiating grassroots projects, and listening to and building consensus with diverse groups of neighbors. Most important, I focus on intersectional justice in housing, jobs and the environment, which necessarily includes racial, gendered and class-based justice, too.

We will not “solve” our intertwined economic, housing and climate crises if we continue business as usual. We must take these existential threats seriously and face them head-on.

This means we must moderate market-rate developments and prioritize affordable housing at lower income levels. Neighborhood development must respect and increase diversity, rather than gentrify.

Joy Schendledecker (center) listens to a question during Thursday's candidate forum as mayoral opponent Fred Keeley looks on.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Let us be bold in creating new funding streams dedicated to affordable housing, reinvesting in our social safety net and building a more equitable and inclusive community.

As we densify our neighborhoods, we must also invest in frequent and inexpensive (ideally free!) public transportation, preserve public green spaces, and make sure our local businesses and community spaces have affordable rent. When we design our city for people with disabilities and those with limited mobility — youth, elders, parents with small children — all of us benefit.

Other issues I’ll focus on as mayor include: campaign finance reform, public oversight and demilitarization of the Santa Cruz Police Department, reforming our planning and permit department so it works better for homeowners, increased tenant protections, a just Green New Deal, regenerative agriculture, neighborhood-level renewable microgrids, public banking, preserving and adding to our publicly owned land, raising wages and lowering rents, improved labor protections and increasing representation in governance.

As we choose three new city council leaders this November, let’s think about who we want representing us: Is it people serving the agendas of real estate and big business, whose proposals are driving gentrification and unaffordability? Or is it people with grassroots support from everyday Santa Cruzans aiming to make life more fair, inclusive and sustainable? People with creativity, commitment, compassion, and ethics: These are true leadership skills for representing the majority and breaking free from the status quo.

A few final thoughts, inspired by a performance I recently saw at the Museum of Art and History (by artist Sarah Kanouse): How can we be responsible to our ancestors, and to our descendants? How can we work to repair the harms of the colonial past, and what choices are we making today that will either hinder or help future Santa Cruzans?

Artists are trained to be keen observers and critical thinkers. For me, the best art is poetic, ethical and relational, helping others see new possibilities for justice and organizing through community connections. Being an artist can be training for many occupations, including politics, and I will bring that training to my leadership role as mayor of Santa Cruz.

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