THE VOTE IS IN: 10 questions on what happens next

No on D leaders (from left) Matt Farrell, Mark Mesiti-Miller and Melani Clark.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Full vote counts from Santa Cruz County’s primary election aren’t expected until Friday, but we’ve seen enough of the results to begin looking ahead to next moves in the rail-trail debate and what’s ahead in the county supervisor and state Assembly races.

Greenway concedes. A new four-year mayor for Santa Cruz. The race narrowing in November for both the two open county supervisor seats and two California Assembly seats. While the county won’t have final vote tallies until Friday, we mostly know what our vote on Tuesday meant. We’ve got that full detail in Election 2022 coverage, with up-to-date vote totals, well-charted.

On this day after, while we have some answers, we also have some new(er) questions.

Here are Lookout’s 10 questions on what happens next:

1. With Measure D soundly defeated and its leaders conceding that the voters have spoken, will the next Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission meeting on June 16 be a first flashpoint of what happens next? The commission went into Tuesday’s vote divided 6-6 on railbanking. RTC chief Guy Preston tells Lookout that the topic will not be on the yet-unpublished agenda but “there will likely be public and possibly commissioner comments.” Will that bring a concession speech of sorts from Commissioner Manu Koenig? How much public comment will be active lobbying? The no vote is indeed decisive, but what does the no mean? Look for lots of theorizing — and spinning — soon.

2. Will the RTC staff recommend railbanking — and how soon? RTC Director Guy Preston has made it clear that he believes the public interest is served by railbanking — but it was vociferously attacked by the No on D campaign, and especially by Roaring Camp’s Melani Clark.

3. Measure D exposed unprecedented fissures among Democrats in the county. The Democratic Party Central Committee led a strong “No” effort, which alienated a number of Democrats, in part those in and around tech. Will that schism persist, and what are the implications of that, as the other ongoing tussle between the Democratic mainstream and the progressives continues?

4. Santa Cruz’s Gail Pellerin leads narrowly in the four-person race for the new both-sides-of-the-hill Assembly District 28. Republican Liz Lawler of Monte Sereno (adjoining Los Gatos) has shown surprising strength, leading the Santa Clara County voting and down by 2,000 votes to Pellerin overall. At the current vote, it looks as though these two will emerge to compete in November. With Pellerin taking a majority of the Santa Cruz vote (about 30% of the new district), will her Santa Cruz ties prove decisive in the fall? Can she plan on picking up the 10% of the votes that went to 21-year-old Starbucks union organizer Joe Thompson? Look for a major fundraising battle in this race.

5. Joe Thompson ran as a progressive, as did 21-year-old student John Drake, who contested and placed fifth in the Assembly District 30 contest. Both ran vote-for-the-next-generation, out-with-the-old-in-with-the-new campaigns. Neither won, nor really expected to. Will they and others of their age and passion stay in the politics of the moment in California? Are they a kind of American Greens movement?

6. Dawn Addis’ impressive 43.4% of the vote so far in the new Assembly District 30 seat puts her in the driver’s seat for November. That’s particularly true because her likely opponent is Republican Vicki Nohrden, who made a very strong showing on a relatively little fundraising. If Addis wins, how will she make good on her promises to really serve a good part of her district in Santa Cruz — some 162 miles and 2½ hours away from her Morro Bay base?

7. With Justin Cummings and Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson now set to go head to head, without a third choice, in November for the 3rd District County Supervisor seat, how bitter might that contest become? Things tensed up between the somewhat collegial city councilmembers during the primary campaign, as charges of gerrymandering flew.

8. The District 4 Supervisors race looks like a nail-biter, Jimmy Dutra leading and Felipe Hernandez not far behind, with Dutra having an outside chance to win outright. It’s likely, though, that this goes to November, and after that election raises some key questions about county governance. How important will consensus-building be in the process of making sure District 4 feels less like the forgotten stepchild in county affairs, and what do we know about either candidate’s reputation and demonstrated experience in dealing with such situations?

9. Make no mistake: The two new supervisors will become part of an unprecedented shakeup on the county board as we head toward the 2024 election, when we expect the seats of both incumbents Bruce McPherson and Zach Friend to become open. That will mean Manu Koenig, elected in 2020, and if reelected, would become the senior supe, with four newbies sitting alongside him. What does that mean for county policy on key issues — affordability and equity among them — into the rest of the ‘20s?

What you need to know about the measures facing Santa Cruz County voters on the June 7 ballot.

10. Santa Cruz voters decided that they want to begin a life with district elections that includes a stronger role for a mayor than the city has had. While this doesn’t technically turn Santa Cruz into a “strong mayor” system, it is a crucial time for a strong leader to emerge and lead the city into a brave new district-by-district world. Can we expect an unexpected name to soon emerge, someone who might be ready to take on a fraught job at a fraught time, for just $50,000 a year?