What’s on the ballot for Santa Cruz city voters, explained

A voter submits a ballot at a drop box
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Just like that, the Nov. 8 general election is less than three months away. With three measures coming before voters in the city of Santa Cruz this fall, we take a look at what they mean.

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It seems like the June 7 primary was just a few days ago, yet here we are already gearing up for Round 2 on Nov. 8. The election will prove to be a historic one in the city of Santa Cruz, as it is the first election under the new districts setup.

The newly introduced at-large mayor position marks the first mayoral election in Santa Cruz history, with Fred Keeley and Joy Schendledecker as the only two candidates.

Three seats — one of which is a brand-new elected office for Santa Cruz County — are up for grabs Nov. 8.

With voting less than three months away, an early look at candidates for the city of Santa Cruz’s new at-large mayor...

The newly formed city council Districts 4 and 6 will see races for those seats. The seats opened up due to the expiration of the undistricted terms of Councilmembers Renee Golder and Donna Meyers. Golder seeks reelection in District 6. Meyers lives in the district with the seat currently held by Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson, so she is ineligible to run. District 4 will be represented by a new face come 2023. The four other city council seats will remain at-large until 2024. Then, each councilmember will represent one of six city districts, as shown below.

The Santa Cruz City Council's six districts.
(Via City of Santa Cruz)

Golder’s opponent in District 6 is Sean Maxwell.

In District 4, designated as the area bordered by Bay, High, Front and Beach streets, four candidates — Greg Hyver, Hector Marin, Scott Newsome and Bodie Shargel — are in the race.

As for local measures, there might be no Measure D drama on the upcoming ballot, but a few city measures will undoubtedly raise eyebrows.

This explainer offers a broad overview of the city ballot as fall approaches. Lookout will thoroughly cover all these issues both in our news section and in our Community Voices opinion section.

What’s on the ballot?

There are three city measures currently set for the general election ballot. Two of these — the empty homes tax and Our Downtown, Our Future’s (ODOF) proposed amendments to the city’s general plan and downtown plan — have received plenty of attention thus far, and are poised to remain hot-button items through Election Day. In addition, the city has added a transient occupancy tax (TOT) hike to the ballot that mirrors the county measure seen on the June ballot.

Empty homes tax

If approved by voters, the empty homes tax would establish a tax on residential properties that are unoccupied for eight months or more in a calendar year. The measure would also require the owner of a residential property to submit an annual document to the city regarding the property’s vacancy status. The tax would apply to single-family residences, multifamily residences, condos and townhomes.

As proposed, the annual tax rate would differ depending on the property. As of now, these rates would be:

  • $6,000 per vacant single-family residence;
  • $6,000 per residential parcel with six or fewer units, where all units are in use for fewer than 120 days per calendar year;
  • $3,000 per vacant residential unit of a condo or townhome;
  • $3,000 per vacant residential unit on residential parcels with seven or more units.

Proponents say it could add at least $2.5-$4 million annually to city coffers; opponents challenge the math and have begun to raise a number of questions about the intended and unintended consequences of the measure.

ODOF amendments to the city’s general plan and downtown plan

In June 2020, the Santa Cruz City Council approved the downtown mixed-use library project to be built on Lot 4, bounded by Cathcart, Cedar and Lincoln streets.

The current plan, long in the works, calls for the modern, 40,000-square-foot library to include:

  • 100-125 units of affordable housing.
  • 310 parking spaces.
  • A child care facility.

The project is opposed by a citizen initiative spearheaded by ODOF, the downtown library opposition group.

The downtown mixed-use library project has been in motion for development since 2016, with construction of the new...

If the measure passes, it would block the project and require the city to renovate the downtown branch library where it currently stands on Church Street, across the street from City Hall, a proposition numerous city leaders and staff believe is inferior to a new facility. The new or renovated downtown Santa Cruz library is funded by the voter-approved 2016 Measure S bond money, which has led to replacement or renovation of 10 branches across the county.

The proposed amendment touches on many issues the city faces, including housing affordability overall, parking downtown and the placement of the weekly farmers market.

City transient occupancy tax (TOT) increase

Unanimously approved by the city council last Tuesday, the city of Santa Cruz’s TOT hike would be identical to one approved via the June county measure. If passed, the city’s TOT would increase from 11% to 12%, generating approximately $1.4 million in additional revenue for the city’s general fund.

With the Santa Cruz City Council looking for new revenue after a proposed sales tax increase narrowly failed in June, it...

Since the hike effectively increases tax on tourism only, TOT hikes have historically passed with ease. This measure is expected to be no different.