With voting less than three months away, an early look at candidates for the city of Santa Cruz’s new at-large mayor position and candidates in Districts 4 and 6 in the new districted city council setup.
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Three seats — one of which is a brand-new elected office for Santa Cruz County — are up for grabs Nov. 8 in the city of Santa Cruz, along with three city ballot measures.
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Meanwhile, the newly formed city council Districts 4 and 6 will see races for their seats. Councilmember Renee Golder, who resides in District 6, will see her term expire in 2022, but will seek reelection on this November’s ballot. While Councilmember Justin Cummings, who resides in District 4, could have sought another term after his current one expires this year, he chose not to due to his candidacy for District 3 County Supervisor. The four other city council seats will remain governing at-large until 2024.
Lookout talked with each of the candidates. Here is a first look at those who have filed for the two new, districted council seats.
The new District 4 is designated as the area bounded by Bay, High, Front and Beach streets. Four candidates — Greg Hyver, Hector Marin, Scott Newsome and Bodie Shargel — qualified for the race as of the Aug. 12 filing deadline. None has previously held elected office.
Having spent most of his life in the Bay Area, Hyver, 62, arrived in Santa Cruz County at the turn of the 21st century. Hyver received a math degree from UC Berkeley and a Master of Business Administration from Santa Clara University. He has worked in real estate, property management and business development over the years.
A self-described moderate who supports traditional liberal causes, Hyver expresses his quest for office this way: individualism over collectivism through a strictly nonpartisan campaign.
“I think people are giving up a lot of their personal choices to the government and letting it make a lot of decisions for us,” he said. “When I was growing up during the social movements of the 1960s, it was all about individualism and finding your own path. Bottom line, I’m trying to give back the power of choice to individuals because I think there’s an imbalance right now.”
Believing that what he calls “censorship” has gone too far, Hyver created his own Santa Cruz-based nonprofit, the First Amendment Rights Preservations Society (FARPS).
“Over time, I noticed that there’s a lot of censorship in the country, much of which comes from social media during election cycles,” he said. “It’s one-sided and doesn’t allow the alternative voice to come out.”
This viewpoint, Hyver says, is what drove him to enter the city council race.
“I felt there was no platform for the political minority in Santa Cruz, and I thought that running for city council was the best way for me to get my message out there,” he said. “We need to take back the power that’s misused by the government and give it back to the people who owned that power in the first place.”
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Hyver said did not wish to comment on local measures, such as the empty homes tax or the downtown library project, as he believes that it obscures his main message. Rather, he said he wishes to develop a software policy engine to aggregate community opinions and ideas to then process them into policy.
“I’m not running a local policy campaign, but attempting to transform the way local communities govern themselves and ensure that every voice is heard, but also that every voice is equal,” he said.
While Marin, like the rest of his opponents, has never held elected office, he told Lookout he believes that is no impediment to his campaign. Anyone should be able to run for elected office, he said.
“If there was a service worker out there or someone who was living paycheck to paycheck and was truly involved with the community,” Marin said, “they have every right to participate in this democracy.”
Marin isn’t speaking hypothetically. The 24-year-old graduated from UC Santa Cruz last year with bachelor’s degrees in politics and sociology and now works as both a food service worker and local activist. Before that, in Southern California, Marin attended Moreno Valley College and then Riverside Community College. Marin was born in Anaheim and spent his early childhood in Santa Ana, but said his family moved to the Moreno Valley after being priced out of Orange County.
“I see Santa Cruz heading down the same direction as Santa Ana went through,” Marin said. “I just don’t want to see gentrification in Santa Cruz at all. I want to make sure that when we pass on the mantle towards the youth, who will preserve this movement, that we make living [in Santa Cruz] much easier and much more equitable for them.”
Marin said that in more ways than one, coming to Santa Cruz was like leaving the nest. Following Bernie Sanders’ campaign in the 2016 presidential primary began what Marin describes as his “radicalization” — a process he continued at UCSC, protesting in 2018 and 2019 with striking university workers affiliated with AFSCME 3299, a union that represents a wide array of university employees. By radicalization, Marin means implementing ideas that are outside the norm of traditional politics, such as grassroots organizing and mutual aid.
While at UCSC, Marin co-founded the university’s chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) and was elected chair of the UCSC NAACP. He also interned for the City of Santa Cruz and AFSCME 3299, and now serves as a member of the Circle on Anti Racism, Economic and Social Justice — an advisory body to the Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County.
As the only candidate for city council from the BIPOC community, Marin said he wants to expand the electorate to include more young and Latino voters. In doing so, he hopes to represent voices that, in his view, go ignored in local government.
“The storm is a-brewing,” Marin said. “And we are getting ready for that storm to arrive.”
Newsome, like all three of his opponents for the District 4 seat, is a newcomer to elected office. He came to Santa Cruz a little over nine years ago from Knoxville, Tennessee, to study at UCSC, and said the community opened its arms to him and his family. His campaign, he said, is about giving back.
“We chose to support our home by working to ensure it remains a vibrant, supportive and family-friendly place for everyone, and livable for everyone,” Newsome said.
Newsome, 40, is a lecturer at UCSC, and in 2020 earned a Ph.D in political science and government. A resident of the Westlake neighborhood, Newsome said he has been following local politics in Santa Cruz closely for several years, and decided to throw his hat into the ring at the close of the previous election cycle.
While his campaign doesn’t have a specific focus — he said that if elected, he would work with stakeholders and other members of the council to set the tune of his term — his background studying the way federal policymakers respond to economic recessions would lend him expertise in dealing with the city’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Newsome’s dissertation was titled “Legislating in the Slump: The Politics of Economic Policymaking In Congress During Recessions, 1946-2009,” and was an overview of the way the rising tide of presidential power in the United States has affected federal economic policy.
But primarily, Newsome’s is a bread-and-butter campaign. The parent of two young children, he said he wants to work on “creating safe and vibrant neighborhoods for everyone to enjoy, building more housing that aligns with our community’s character” and “preserving our parks and open spaces for everyone to enjoy.”
Shargel, 19, is a lifelong Santa Cruz County resident and current UC Santa Cruz student. He grew up in Felton, and though he’s always been interested in politics, his passion grew even more just last year.
As co-chair of UCSC’s Young Democratic Socialists of America and an executive committee member of Santa Cruz’s DSA chapter, Shargel has tabled, canvassed and rallied for a number of causes over the past year, including housing, labor, reproductive rights and encouraging fellow Slugs to vote.
“After beginning UCSC last year, I’ve spent a lot of time doing quite a bit of organizing,” he said, citing Bernie Sanders’ rise on the national political stage as an additional major source of inspiration. “Whether it was pushing for better housing policy, working with Joe [Thompson’s Assembly District 28] campaign, or campaigning for the empty homes tax, I’ve learned a lot about the world around us and the way we need to improve.”
Housing is, of course, at the front of Shargel’s mind, and will be one of the big talking points throughout his campaign.
“It’s such a multifaceted issue and it’s pressing in many people’s lives, and I want to make sure to speak to working-class issues as much as possible,” he said, adding that the environment, public transit and city development are important topics, too. “These issues feed into the planning of our city and that’s something that I don’t think we talk about enough.”
Though young and a newcomer to electoral politics, Shargel says he has learned through organizing that surrounding oneself with the right people can make all the difference.
“A lot of the time with politics, at the end of the day, it comes back to a group of people willing to work hard to make the world a better place,” he said. “I’ve learned that we underrate that power of a few smart, committed people that are ready to put in the work.”
Having qualified for the race early, Shargel is ready to show people he belongs on the local political stage.
“Getting on the ballot as soon as possible was important to show people that I’m serious, capable, and ready to do this,” he said. “The others that filed are serious and capable as well, and I hope we can have a good-faith type of campaign that fosters productive dialogue.”
Two District 6 candidates — Renee Golder and Sean Maxwell — have qualified for the race.
Golder is seeking a second city council term, and if victorious would transition from at-large governing to representing the district designated as the area encapsulating the lower Westside, bounded by West Cliff Drive, Columbia Street and the circles, extending up Western Drive and covering the western side of the UC Santa Cruz campus.
The 44-year-old was first elected to city council in a special election in 2020. She’s been teaching for 20 years in the Santa Cruz City Schools system and took on the role of principal at Bay View Elementary last year.
She says her priorities include children’s well-being, public safety, housing and homelessness as well as environmental conservation.
She told Lookout she believes she’s the right candidate because she’s lived in Santa Cruz her whole life and cares about the community.
“I have started some progress, and I’d love to see it to completion,” she said. “I’m a very active community member that cares deeply about Santa Cruz.”
Golder puts child safety and public safety high on her list. She said she’s been working with local law enforcement and city officials on finding a CAHOOTS-like model that would work best for Santa Cruz County. Golder said by taking mental health-related calls off the hands of law enforcement, police can focus on serious offenders.
One of her motivations for pushing forward on that initiative comes from an incident that she says left her niece traumatized. While riding her bike with friends, her niece was approached by a man who “grabbed her and threw her off her bike and threatened her and her friends and stole her bike.”
Golder said having an improved public-safety response structure could have helped to prevent that incident. She hopes a different system can intervene earlier in the lives of people who need help before they cause harm to others.
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In her time on city council, Golder said among her proudest accomplishments were passing the Santa Cruz Children’s Fund, hiring new City Manager Matt Huffaker, affordable housing projects such as the downtown library development and the work the council has done finding a permanent location for the Santa Cruz Warriors.
Maxwell says he comes at issues like housing and homelessness from a different angle than Golder. A carpenter by trade who now runs Cornerstone Construction, a design-build firm specializing in single-family homes, Maxwell considers himself a member of the working class, and says he aims to be a progressive voice for families and renters on the city council.
Now 44, Maxwell moved to Santa Cruz in 2002, spending the first half of his life in Long Beach before traveling internationally and doing maintenance work in Yosemite National Park in his early 20s. He said he understands Santa Cruz on several different levels: as a construction worker; as a renter; and as the parent of two children.
“I’ve seen a lot of my friends have to leave this town,” Maxwell said. “And they have kids and they’re trying to raise their family here and it just became cost-prohibitive to do that. I know that it’s like trying to swim up a river, but I feel like this is my chance to at least give it a try.”
Maxwell made his political debut in January 2020, when he was appointed by the city council to serve on the planning commission, the advisory body that deals with local zoning laws. Notably, the planning commission was the body that reviewed a controversial ordinance passed by the city council banning overnight parking on city streets — though this ordinance is in limbo after it was appealed to the California Coastal Commission. Maxwell was part of the four-member majority who voted in March to uphold the plan, with certain modifications.
Maxwell said his perspective on outdoor parking is far from black and white. He told Lookout that while he voted to uphold the parking ban because of the environmental threat posed by vehicle campers emptying waste into the city’s drainage stream (which feeds into the ocean) simply evicting people from their parking places won’t solve the homelessness issue. The city council, he said, denied the planning commission’s recommendation that the city work with the county to designate safe locations for people displaced by the ban to park their vehicles.
Maxwell situates himself somewhere in between the NIMBY and YIMBY divide that seems to monopolize conversations about housing issues in Santa Cruz. While building affordable housing is the main focus of his campaign, he said development in Santa Cruz needs to be mindful of its surroundings — both natural and otherwise.
“We need to do it in a responsible way,” Maxwell said. “It’s not like we want to build 20-foot skyrises in neighborhoods where it doesn’t really work.”
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More broadly, Maxwell said the city council needs to rebuild trust among its voters. He pointed to the failure of Measure F on the June ballot — which would have increased sales taxes in the city by half a percent — as evidence that the people of Santa Cruz lack trust in local government to spend money wisely. Maxwell said his agenda will take a back seat to hearing the concerns of his constituents.
“I talk to people,” Maxwell said. “I listen to people. That’s why I’m doing this.”
FOR THE RECORD: This story has been updated with details on the status of Santa Cruz City Councilmembers Renee Golder and Justin Cummings and their respective districts of residency, and on the city planning commission and its input on the ordinance banning overnight parking.