The football field at Cabrillo College
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Cabrillo College

Everything you need to know about Cabrillo College’s Monday vote to delay name change until at least November

Cabrillo College’s board of trustees had originally been scheduled to vote Monday on a new name for the school, but is now instead slated to push the decision back. Here’s an overview of how the board arrived at the current moment.

The Cabrillo College board of trustees is scheduled to vote Monday evening on how to move forward with the school’s name-change process — a three-year project that began with a petition in July 2020.

In November 2022, when the board voted 7-1 (including the then-student trustee) to change the name of the college, it agreed to vote on selecting a new name by its Aug. 7, 2023, meeting.

However, following several months of community engagement — which included soliciting new name suggestions, publicizing five name candidates and receiving input on those names — a board subcommittee last week recommended the governing board delay its renaming plans until at least November.

Committee members cited concerns including the divisiveness of the name-change process, a lack of funds to pay for the name change as well as a need to better assess the community’s sentiment.

A name-selection task force made up of 24 community members helped narrow down the list of suggested names and worked with the Name Exploration Subcommittee — which includes trustees Christina Cuevas and Adam Spickler — on a recommendation to the governing board. They finalized their suggestion during a July 28 meeting.

“Having assessed community feedback regarding the name of our college in tandem with considerations shared by our Name Selection Task Force, the Name Exploration Subcommittee recommends the Board defer selecting a new name for the college at this time, so that we may explore options for and recommend how we better assess and engage the wider community on a naming timeline and process that unifies rather than divides the greater college community,” reads the subcommittee’s August report to the governing board.

The governing board will meet at 6:15 p.m. on Monday at the Aptos campus’ Horticulture Center to decide on the path forward for the name change process.

Here’s everything you need to know about the name-change process ahead of Monday’s vote.

Timeline of the name-exploration process

After receiving a petition from more than 100 community members to change the college’s name, the board of trustees created a name-exploration subcommittee on July 20, 2020. The subcommittee included a student trustee in addition to trustees Cuevas and Spickler — who are both still subcommittee members.

The board then agreed in September 2020 to create an advisory task force to help the subcommittee engage with the community, estimate the costs of a potential name and develop educational strategies about the name-exploration process. The subcommittee and the task force worked throughout the 2020-21 and 2021-22 academic years organizing educational forums, conducting surveys and doing research about the costs of a name change.

The subcommittee submitted a report on its findings with a recommendation to change the name of the college in November 2022. The board of trustees then voted at its November 2022 meeting to accept the recommendation of the subcommittee, which included agreeing to select a new name at the August 2023 meeting.

An aerial view of Cabrillo College's Aptos campus.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

From January to February of this year, the board solicited suggestions for a new name and also asked for community volunteers to participate on a task force to help narrow down the list of names to ultimately make a recommendation on a new name.

The subcommittee appointed 24 members to the Name Selection Task Force, which met five times between April and June to narrow the 350 names down to five names: Aptos, Cajastaca, Costa Vista, Santa Cruz Coast and Seacliff.

From June to July, community members were then invited to vote on those five names through online surveys and also were invited to attend in-person or virtual meetings to learn more about the names and the process.

The Name Selection Task Force met a final time July 28 to decide on its final recommendation to submit to the board of trustees. The task force members expressed concerns about the name-change process as well as the “the divisions that exist among segments of the larger community that became apparent” in media coverage, social media, survey responses and messages to the trustees.

On Thursday, the agenda for the board of trustees’ Monday meeting was released, showing that rather than recommending a new name, the subcommittee recommended delaying the name-change process. If the board agrees to the recommendation, the subcommittee will provide a new recommendation for engaging the community and a new name-selection timeline by November.

Who was Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo?

Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo was a 16th-century explorer who sailed the California coast and, by some historians’ accounts, was born in Spain. He fought with Spanish armies in Latin America, which ultimately brought down the Mexica Empire (or Aztec Empire) and also profited off of the enslavement of Indigenous peoples who worked land he was given in Guatemala.

He died in 1543 from an infection after injuring his leg on Santa Catalina Island.

His expedition and description of the coastline is considered the first European and oldest written report about the West Coast of what is now the United States.

How the college was named

Cabrillo College was founded and named in 1959 — shortly after the state of California designated Highway 1 as Cabrillo Highway.

In a lecture hosted by the college, local historian Sandy Lydon described this history highlighting that the name was considered a unifying one at the time — as the highway connects Santa Cruz County. In addition, he said the founders did little research on who Cabrillo was.

The costs of changing the name

Based on preliminary estimates, Cabrillo President Matt Wetstein says the name change could cost between $400,000 to $600,000 and would be funded by donations, not public money.

While Wetstein estimates the higher end could reach $600,000 he said the college is looking at ways to save costs that could bring that number down significantly. For example, he said the college could have students and faculty from its digital facilities lab use their 3D printing technology to make new signs. By doing this project in-house, Wetstein estimates that the costs could go down as far as $132,000.

He said these are only preliminary estimates, which were compiled in 2021, and final estimates would take time to narrow down once there’s a new name.

Not having the costs finalized raised concerns for board trustees Dan Rothwell and Rachael Spencer — who spoke up about this during a July board meeting — as well as for community members opposing the name change.

This was also raised as a concern for members of the Name Selection Task Force, according to the subcommittee’s recommendation.

Community members listen to a discussion of the five potential new names for Cabrillo College on the school's Aptos campus.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Additional concerns from the Name Selection Task Force

The 24-member Name Selection Task Force voiced a range of concerns at its final meeting with the Name Exploration Subcommittee on July 28. While the majority of the task force supports changing the name, members also said that more community engagement is needed before proceeding with renaming the college.

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According to the subcommittee, the task force expressed concerns about the lack of funding for the name-change costs before voting on a new name, as well as the college’s need to more accurately assess community sentiment, the lack of student engagement in the process, the potential for Cabrillo College Foundation donors to end their support because of their opposition as well as the potential that future ballot measures about bond issuances could fail because too many voters oppose the name change.

In addition, task force members said the 2020-23 time period was a challenging time to try to fully engage the community. Those years spanned unprecedented challenges including the pandemic, the CZU fires and this past winter’s storms.

“Engaging in education and dialogue regarding the college’s name was not a priority for enough of our students and community members,” the subcommittee’s report reads. “We agree with this most important consideration.”

The survey

The college conducted a name-exploration survey, which was open to the public between the fall of 2021 and March 15, 2022. In total, the college received 818 responses of which 225 were from current students, 125 were from Cabrillo employees, and 304 were from Cabrillo College Foundation supporters — many of whom are former students.

Among those respondents, “57% of the respondents lean toward keeping the name of the College the same ... while 32% support changing the name of the College,” according to the subcommittee’s report. The remainder were unsure or neutral.

The subcommittee emphasized that because the survey was not representative of the community and it was not a random sample, the subcommittee believes that the survey was limited and should be used only as one additional data point in their findings.

Meeting details

When: Monday, 6:15 p.m.
Location: Cabrillo College Horticulture Center, 6500 Soquel Dr., Aptos
Parking is free.

The August 7 Cabrillo College at 6500 Soquel Drive.
Monday’s Cabrillo College board of trustees meeting will be held in the Horticulture Center (seen in the red box) on the school’s Aptos campus, located at 6500 Soquel Dr.
(Via Cabrillo College)