District 4 supervisor candidates battle for ground in Watsonville, citing infrastructure and proper representation as area’s greatest needs

Santa Cruz County Supervisor candidates Felipe Hernandez (left) and Jimmy Dutra.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Jimmy Dutra and Felipe Hernandez, both Watsonville natives and veteran politicians, are competing for the District 4 seat on the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors, a seat held by the retiring Greg Caput. The two squared off in the June primary, with Dutra receiving 3,003 votes to Hernandez’s 2,539. Here, Dutra and Hernandez answer two Lookout questions.

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Jimmy Dutra

Please tell readers why they should vote for you. What specifically and concisely sets you apart from your opponent?

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Some important factors that differentiate me from my opponent is that I have been continuously employed over the years. Having a job throughout my life has given me the necessary tools to be successful. I’m able to make decisions in the moment under pressure and have the stamina needed to complete all tasks for the day. My workday won’t end at 5 p.m. It will conclude when I have accomplished what needs to be done. A job also teaches a person to be on time and show up. These important qualities are cultivated and fine-tuned through employment.

I also don’t flip-flop for votes. I have always supported protecting our farmland. I didn’t change my position in an attempt to win a campaign. I pride myself on being authentic. I’m not a puppet. I can make decisions without feeling I owe favors. I’m the only candidate who can truly fight for the people of our valley. My campaign wasn’t financed by special-interest groups, developers or any other big-dollar industries. We need to elect someone to the board of supervisors who can be a voice for our valley without reservation. I’m that person.

Please focus on the single most important issue to you right now and how, if elected, you will address it. Be as specific as space allows.

Answer: Fixing infrastructure.

Improving, fixing and rebuilding our infrastructure will be one of my top priorities. I will focus on fixing our roads, gaining access to the internet in rural areas, adding bike lanes, putting sidewalks and lighting throughout our district, and working to provide infrastructure projects that improve our quality of life.

In 2016, we taxed ourselves through what was then called Measure D. This self-help tax was meant to address infrastructure projects equally throughout our county. I do not see that happening. Some projects I will focus on include the Holohan Road/E. Lake Avenue intersection upgrade. We were promised this project would be addressed for years. It is time it happens.

I will also work to help get the internet throughout our region. We witnessed the negative effects it had on our community during the pandemic, when many couldn’t access the internet. Ensuring we have the fiber-optics needed to provide these services is paramount. I would like to work with the City of Watsonville in finishing to implement this project throughout the city.

Unfortunately, we have had several vehicle-pedestrian accidents in our region. I will work to create more bike lanes for our growing number of bicyclists, thus creating a more friendly biking community. Also, I want to create safer crosswalks. Using the new flashing crosswalks brings more attention to the pedestrians crossing the street. We need to continue moving in this direction and creating safer streets.

Our infrastructure is failing. We need someone who will advocate for our community when it comes to projects, resources and our fair share of funding. I know I am the most qualified to address these concerns, along with the many other issues facing our community. I would be honored to represent our valley, so that we can make a difference together.

Felipe Hernandez

Please tell readers why they should vote for you. What specifically and concisely sets you apart from your opponent?

Accessibility and clarity are two things voters will always get from me.

First, I believe elected officials should be accessible. I will hear you out, whether I agree with you or not. I have an open-door policy. I give out my cell phone number so that constituents can reach me. Honestly it just makes more sense for practical problem-solving. I stand by my record as a councilmember, mayor, as an alternate for the Regional Transportation Commission, Cabrillo College trustee, and commander of the American Legion and trustee for the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

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I am clear about the positions I take. You will know that I am for public safety, preservation of agricultural jobs and farmland by supporting a yes vote on Measure Q in Watsonville, that I support local businesses, access to health, solutions for the unhoused, housing, light rail and trail, road repair, bike and pedestrian safety. I will be direct with you about where I stand. You will not have to guess with me. Because I am clear about my priorities, that makes it very easy for me to collaborate with others to find good solutions where we intersect.

Lastly, I have been working on environmental justice issues in the Pajaro Valley for the Fresno-based LEAP Institute as a project coordinator and have over 20 years working as a community organizer.

Please focus on the single most important issue to you right now and how, if elected, you will address it. Be as specific as space allows.

Answer: Proper representation.

I get things done. The most important issue facing this district is making sure we have someone who will take action to secure the future we want. Specifically, our land-use planning needs to match what we want to accomplish. Everything comes down to location.

Affordable housing, transportation, agriculture and job growth all depend on having good policies. My voting record on housing, affordable housing and farmworker housing is very clear: I am for it. When I was on Watsonville City Council, I voted in favor of them, unlike my opponent, who has voted against such opportunities. We cannot allow the families who have lived and worked here for generations to be pushed out to Hollister, Castroville, Salinas or Los Banos because there are no housing opportunities here.

To address the housing crisis, we can use tools like infill development, pursue local, state and federal housing grants, create opportunity zones in census tracts eligible for preferential tax treatment, leverage new state legislation for housing and transit-oriented development and streamline the permit process for workforce housing, and affordable housing, as well as ADUs.

These projects will create new jobs, generate much-needed sales tax revenue and provide housing for our police officers, firefighters, nurses, teachers, retail workers and agricultural workers. Opportunity zones will help us cultivate more local business to diversify our district and create our next micro job creators.

We need to get our logistics ready for infill development. One of the barriers to this is archaic parking restrictions. Let’s stop telling developers, investors, and potential local business entrepreneurs how many parking spaces they need. Less restrictive parking minimums and additional density near other transit and transportation corridors can help us solve housing needs locally.

We need to increase transportation opportunities, from the Santa Cruz METRO’s circular bus route, ride-share programs, e-bike share programs — to fulfill that last-mile gap.

We also need to make the state highway that goes right through our downtown safe. Let’s find opportunities with Caltrans to prioritize complete street planning, speed calming, road rechanneling, active transportation and bike and pedestrian safe infrastructure. I campaigned for No on D and will continue to strongly advocate for modern transportation options.

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