Port commissioner candidates cite harbor capacity, Murray Street bridge construction plans as biggest issues

A view of the Murray Street Bridge in January 2022.
A view of the Murray Street Bridge in January 2022.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz )

The Santa Cruz Port District Commission, the five-person governing body for the port district, has two open seats and three candidates, two of whom are incumbents and veteran commissioners. Reed Geisreiter, incumbent and current chair, served from 2009-2018 and then was elected again in 2019. He worries that the harbor has reached capacity. Toby Goddard, the other incumbent, has served for the past 16 years and cites concerns about planned Murray Street bridge construction. Dick Starr, the challenger, is the son of a commissioner and is a newcomer. Lookout asked them two questions and their responses are here. Starr did not respond to Lookout’s requests.

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The Santa Cruz Port Commission promotes boating and public water-related activities in the harbor. It is part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the largest marine sanctuary in the United States. Port commissioner terms last four years. Commissioners attend monthly public meetings and make decisions for the port. In 2024, the port intends to transition from at-large elections to district-based elections.

Reed Geisreiter

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

The Santa Cruz Harbor provides commercial and recreational fishing, boating, beach activities and environmental stewardship for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Most of all, the Santa Cruz Harbor has become a local and regional amenity.

I have roots in Santa Cruz County for four generations. I have managed commercial and residential real estate projects and I have a broad working knowledge of finance and commerce. These experiences have been valuable to the harbor as it has managed its 45 landside leases and funded capital projects. Under my leadership, we created a reserve policy for the first time and we financed the new dredge and other capital projects on advantageous financing terms.

The harbor suffered a tsunami in March 2011 and again in January 2022. My experience at the harbor and as a board member of several other organizations provided me the background to help the harbor weather these disasters. My network of community leaders, as well as local legislators and business owners, benefits the harbor as resources are needed.

Please focus on the single most important issue facing the port district and how, if elected, you will address it. Be as specific as space allows.

Santa Cruz Port District Commissioner Reed Geisreiter.

Answer: Capacity.

The single most important issue facing the Santa Cruz Port District is that we are essentially at capacity. On a sunny summer weekend, users will notice that parking is full, the boat launch bustling, harbor restaurants are packed and vast numbers of beachgoers are enjoying the neighboring beaches. Management of conflicting uses in a fair and equitable manner is essential.

The harbor is a small but complicated organization. It operates essentially as a small city or private business. I encourage effective use of all harbor resources, and ensuring that access to harbor users, families and area visitors is a great, memorable experience.

The harbor is a business as well as a government entity. The harbor receives no general tax revenue, meaning revenues come from harbor businesses and users. Yet the port district is also a California special district and has a duty to operate as a well-regulated organization with inclusive amenities for the public benefit. It is a balancing act to manage these two often competing needs. As a port commissioner, I listen carefully and vote to always protect the harbor and ensure equity and fairness.

The harbor has several opportunities to achieve economic expansion to provide additional public benefit and to further diversify harbor revenue sources. My leadership has led the harbor to a more viable financial foundation and sustainable mission as a service to the public.

Toby Goddard

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

Santa Cruz Port District Commissioner Toby Goddard.

The mission of the port commission is to ensure Santa Cruz harbor is a viable operational and financial entity, providing a wide array of boating and marine opportunities for the public. As an elected port commissioner for 16 years, I am dedicated to making sure that the harbor continues to be a successful, vibrant, and accessible public facility serving the entire community.

Many significant improvements to the harbor have been realized in recent years, fulfilling our mission. Docks have been rebuilt and a new dredge acquired to maintain safe access to the waters of Monterey Bay. The port’s financial position has been strengthened through diligent business management and infrastructure planning. The harbor has earned recognition for government transparency and environmental stewardship.

What sets me apart from other candidates?

  • Experience: I have the most experience — 16 years — as a port commissioner overseeing the harbor’s management and operations.
  • Community relationships: I have extensive community involvement gained through 32 years’ public service in local government and nearly 50 years of activity in the harbor community.
  • Leadership: I have earned recognition in special district governance from the California Special Districts Association.

Please focus on the single most important issue facing the port district and how, if elected, you will address it. Be as specific as space allows.

Answer: Murray Street bridge project.

The single most important issue facing the harbor and surrounding community is the proposed seismic strengthening and widening of the Murray Street bridge. This is a Santa Cruz city project funded by the state. The bridge project is a necessary infrastructure improvement, yet the construction impacts will be felt widely for the next several years.

In addition to disrupting local traffic, the project will have extensive impacts on the harbor. Docks will need to be removed. The rowing club, UC Santa Cruz sailing center, Chardonnay charter boat and others will need to be temporarily relocated. The boatyard, an essential service, will be dramatically reduced. Pedestrians, bicyclists and others who use the harbor’s service roads will be forced to find alternative routes.

The steps I have already taken to address it, and will continue to take, include the following:

  • Communication: I will ensure that the harbor staff provide ample notification to the community and affected users when the project finally starts and make sure that extensive outreach continues throughout the construction process.
  • Collaboration: I have already worked with some of the most impacted users, along with harbor staff, to explore options for temporary relocation that meets their critical needs.
  • Cost recovery: The port district is negotiating with the city to cover the costs of easements, relocation expenses and lost revenue that will result from the project. As port commissioner, I will scrutinize the final settlement agreement to make sure the harbor is made whole for costs and losses it incurs.
  • Listen: Space is tight at the harbor. Not everyone will be happy with being relocated. The commission’s job will be to adjudicate conflicts that arise over priority for limited space. I pledge to listen carefully, treat everyone respectfully, and find fair and balanced solutions that best meet the overall needs of the community.

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