We are voting for Justin Cummings; Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson’s policies are detrimental to the unhoused

County supervisor candidates Justin Cummings (left) and Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson at a Lookout forum.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Santa Cruz Cares is against the choices the Santa Cruz City Council has made on dealing with our community’s unhoused. This includes the clearing of the Benchlands encampment and the oversized vehicle ordinance — both of which, its members write, they believe harm the unhoused unfairly and don’t offer viable, lasting or empathetic solutions to their plight. They feel Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson’s record of voting for these policies make her a poor candidate for Santa Cruz County 3rd District Supervisor. They have endorsed Justin Cummings.

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The Santa Cruz Cares organizing committee endorses Justin Cummings for Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors District 3.

Though Cummings might be an imperfect candidate in the eyes of some, we must be very clear just how detrimental Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson’s policies are to the well-being of our unhoused neighbors in Santa Cruz County.

Unlike Cummings, Kalantari-Johnson supported every anti-houseless ordinance put before her, including TOLO (temporary outdoor living ordinance), CSSO (camping services and standards ordinance) and the OVO (oversized vehicle ordinance), which the city has now lost its coastal design permit for, thanks to the collective work of Santa Cruz Cares, the American Civil Liberties Union and our broad coalition of supporters, including Santa Cruz YIMBY, Housing Santa Cruz County, the Resource Center for Nonviolence and over a dozen other local groups.

Despite claims to the contrary, we must remind readers that these ordinances were not developed with the input of houseless advocates, including the CACH (Community Advisory Committee on Homelessness), whose writings outright condemn the kind of criminalization we see in these ordinances. Countless advocates of affordable housing and unhoused people, as well as our unhoused neighbors themselves, have spoken up about the negative impacts of these ordinances.

Unfortunately, their input has had no impact on the votes cast by Kalantari-Johnson. Santa Cruz Cares has asked people living in vehicles on the far Westside what their top concerns are, and they regularly cite ticketing as the most detrimental policy. Yet we have not seen Kalantari-Johnson address these concerns or attempt to mitigate them or even include them in her public statements on these policies.

All of these ordinances prioritize law enforcement solutions to social safety-net problems, ignoring decades of evidence that affirms criminalization only entraps people deeper in a cycle of poverty.

Worse yet, in drafting these ordinances, city staff and councilmembers, including Kalantari-Johnson, have seemingly worked to normalize and perpetuate bigoted ideas about people who live in both tents and vehicles (namely that they are inherently criminal, unclean and likely to exhibit antisocial behaviors).

In stark contrast to Kalantari-Johnson’s messaging, we must be clear, the oversized vehicle ordinance is not a safe parking ordinance.

Only one provision in this 3,000-word ordinance talks about safe parking, and it is merely to say that the city manager has the right to support their establishment (a right that the city manager already held). OVO does not define what “safe parking” is, let alone what services these sites will contain, nor any number of spaces the city must keep available. This means that the existence of, and services provided by, safe parking sites are entirely at the discretion of the city manager and could be taken away at any time, leaving all of OVO’s punitive regulations in place and none of its services.

During Santa Cruz Cares’ first appeal of OVO, it was sent to the planning commission. This resulted in a set of commonsense improvements to the OVO that would have ensured it was at least implemented somewhat fairly and according to national best practices for safe parking sites. Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson rejected every evidence-based suggestion.

One of the rejected rules would have tied the punitive parking restrictions within OVO to the continued existence of no-barrier safe-parking sites. Another would have protected people from being ticketed if a safe parking vacancy did not accommodate them, like “no persons with a criminal record,” “no pets,” “no families,” “no persons with disabilities,” etc.

Another would have required that police have access to real-time data about safe parking site vacancies in order to issue tickets for noncompliance — something that is both implementable via free technologies like Google sheets and critical for ensuring fairness in enforcing criminal penalties. Again, Kalantari-Johnson rejected all these additions. This will result in an increase in the number of unsheltered people in our community.

Given all of this, we feel Kalantari-Johnson is not a good candidate for supervisor.

Reggie Meisler is a software developer and socialist community organizer living in District 1.

Joy Schendledecker is running for mayor of Santa Cruz. She is a community organizer, artist and mom living on the Westside.

Sabina Holber is a mom of two living in District 6.

Rachael Chavez is a registered nurse living in the Lower Ocean neighborhood and has been a resident of Santa Cruz for almost 30 years

Anna Paganelli is a psychotherapist and parent of two teens. She has lived in Santa Cruz County for more than 35 years.

Kayla Kumar has worked as a local nonprofit worker for eight years and as a progressive political organizer for two years.

Santa Cruz Cares is a local neighborhood group advocating for the rights of unhoused residents in the city of Santa Cruz.

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