Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson narrowly lost the race for District 3 Santa Cruz County Supervisor and is still reeling from the negativity and personal attacks that characterized the November contest. But, she insists, it’s time to put the hurt behind and do the work she cares about most: making our community better. Here, she outlines some of what’s needed from our public servants as she prepares for another year on the Santa Cruz City Council.
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A month has passed since the November 2022 election and the results have been certified.
A campaign is a race to the finish, but the work that we are trying to accomplish doesn’t begin or end on Election Day. As public leaders, we strive to make a difference every single day.
Through my journey serving as a Santa Cruz city councilmember and as a candidate for county supervisor, I’ve heard, seen and learned much about our city — a place I have had the privilege to call home for over 20 years.
One mother, with her children hanging on her while standing in the doorway talking to me, expressed her concerns about letting her kids ride their bikes to the neighborhood park. An older couple said their single-family home was too big for them now, but they didn’t feel they had other practical and affordable housing options. A middle-aged couple shared the heartbreaking story of their adult child who was suffering from mental health and substance use disorder, revolving into and out of jail and homelessness with no real treatment options.
I heard their stories, their frustrations, their hopes. I learned that ultimately Santa Cruz residents are consistent in what they want — a vibrant, thriving community for our families, our children, our seniors, our most vulnerable.
It’s how we get there that we often disagree on. Sometimes, we get so stuck in the weeds we lose sight of the larger goals.
It has been a divisive and difficult past several months for many of us, including for me. During this long campaign, some people sadly resorted to personal attacks, misinformation, finger-pointing and false accusations. It will take time for our community to heal.
But here is the thing: We can’t take too long. The work remains. And it’s urgent.
I remind myself why I put myself in this race in the first place — why all of us in public service do this. What are we trying to accomplish? And how can we come together as a community — not just in a campaign slogan — to meet our community’s needs?
Here are some of the most pressing topics I heard about from you, my community, as I canvassed, went to events and hosted community dialogues:
- Homelessness: It’s a top issue. In the past two years, the City of Santa Cruz made strides by rethinking its policies and beginning the hard work of establishing accountable measures, while providing support to the needy. We began relocating unhoused people from unmanaged encampments and into safe shelter. Some have accepted the support and some haven’t. Those who have have been connected to case management and housing navigation. For the first time, our city has a thoughtful, step-by-step plan. In the past, some leaders haven’t taken action because they know it’s a topic that is charged and they will be criticized. Criticized or not, we are elected to make these tough choices so that ultimately we can help make our community better for everyone. Much work remains and the city needs help from the county and the state to create humane, sustainable policies.
- Children: People are worried about their kids. I’m a mom. I understand. I’m worried, too. I heard the stories during my campaign and I also hear them regularly within my circle of moms. The depression. The anxiety. Our children are exhausted, bottomed out, crying out for help. The city and schools and mental health professionals will need to work together to help families thrive. Our kids need safe and accessible parks, safe routes to schools, recreational programs and after-school opportunities, and more mental health counseling in school and less red tape to get it.
- Housing: We need more of it. It’s simple and clear. I believe we can do that while preserving the natural beauty and open spaces that make our home so special. That’s why I vote as I do — always with my eye on upping the number of affordable and workforce homes in our community while maintaining the integrity of our community’s character.
There is more, of course. We desperately need to modernize our transportation system. We need to think holistically about our climate response. Our downtown and small businesses need us and we have to be proactive about fire prevention and response.
We must and can address all of these issues. However, it will require us to move past divisiveness, take a step back and remember why we’re in it, why we care so much and work side by side, despite any past differences.
Although I did not win the race for supervisor, I will continue to serve as a city councilmember, a grant writer and a public health professional. My commitment goes beyond any elected position or title. My commitment is to the well-being of Santa Cruz and this incredible community. And that commitment is unwavering.
Whether you voted for me or not, if you care, like I do, about creating a thriving, vibrant Santa Cruz, I invite your partnership.
Please reach out. Let’s work together.
Shebreh (pronounced SHEB-rah) Kalantari-Johnson is a grant writer who provides organizational development, facilitation and program management. She is the co-founder of Impact Launch, a social enterprise working for equitable and sustainable outcomes. A graduate of UC Santa Cruz and San Jose State University with a master’s degree in social work, Shebreh has served on the Santa Cruz City Council since December 2020. She ran for District 3 county supervisor in November. She has lived in Santa Cruz for over 20 years.