Looking to lead ‘the Highway 1 District’: Who is best for a swath of California’s most pristine coastal geography?

the candidates for Assembly District 30
A map of the new Assembly District 30 and, from left, candidates Dawn Addis, Zoe Carter, John Drake, Vicki Nohrden and Jon Wizard.

The newly configured State Assembly District 30 stretches right along the coast from San Luis Obispo to Monterey and into a large section of Santa Cruz County. Jon Wizard and Dawn Addis have some extensive experience in the 831, both having attended Cabrillo College, while Vicki Nohrden, Zoe Carter and John Drake know it mostly from visits. There are no Santa Cruz County residents among the five candidates.

Jon Wizard played up his Santa Cruz County connections in a South County candidates forum last week — from his time working for Habitat for Humanity in Live Oak to his graduation from Cabrillo College to his affection for Gayle’s Bakery.

A slate of questions Lookout sent to all the State Assembly District 30 candidates revealed that the Seaside City Council member has company in his Cabrillo pedigree, as Morro Bay City Council member Dawn Addis also attended the Aptos campus.

The longtime educator also points out her many endorsements from Democratic leadership around the state and experience dealing with the affordability and climate issues attacking much of California, but even more pressing in the tri-county coastal region she’s hoping to represent in Sacramento.

Wizard, previously a police officer and fireman before pursuing public policy, says he brings the most local knowledge not just to the needs of Santa Cruz County, but all three counties — San Luis Obispo and Monterey included — as the only candidate to have lived and worked in each one.

Vicki Nohrden, the race’s lone Republican, who resides in Monterey, is a grandmother with a background in business, nonprofit work and community service who places public safety among her top priorities. Zoe Carter, also a Monterey resident, with a business community background, says she is entering the race to provide a “fresh lens” to local issues.

John Drake is the Joe Thompson of the 30th District race — the young (21) activist college student trying to shake up the system. He identified himself as “an out gay, Latvian immigrant championing a better future” who is showing how it’s achieved by simultaneously seeking a representative voice in state government and attending school at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo.

Here are the answers the five candidates gave, edited for clarity and equal length.

On why they’re the right person at the right time

Dawn Addis: As a council member, teacher and mom, I have the background and experience needed to be a champion for the people of Santa Cruz. I am the only candidate for the new Assembly District 30 seat who is endorsed by the Democratic Party and supported by nurses, firefighters, teachers, grocery workers and over 300 organizations and leaders across the Central Coast (full list at www.dawnaddis.org).

I have effectively worked on pressing issues that matter for Santa Cruz residents. I have moved climate action forward, increased low-income housing, advocated for reproductive rights and fair representation, and worked to create long-term water security. I have a strong record of effectively building coalitions and working with others to serve the people. My ability to work well with others, to build trust and to forge relationships are assets that make me an effective leader.

Jon Wizard: I am the only one who’s lived and worked in each county in this district. Additionally, I’m the most qualified to tackle the most important issues facing our district, such as housing and homelessness, wildfire and drought, and access to affordable and high-quality health care. I have experience working for Habitat for Humanity, being the chairperson of the Monterey County housing authority, and working as the policy director at a statewide nonprofit focused on long-range housing plans in every city and county in California. As a former firefighter and as a current director of both public water and wastewater utilities, I understand the relationship between wildfire and drought. I’ve fought wildfires in Carmel Valley and taken votes to protect and grow our water supply. And as a former EMT and first responder, I know too many families are one accident away from bankruptcy.

Vicki Nohrden: I decided to run for State Assembly because Sacramento politics have forgotten the people who elected them, and I want to bring balance back in the legislature. I want to see Sacramento return to the important things, the things that make a difference, whether businesses will decide to grow their operations here, whether our children can afford to live in our state, and whether our communities are safe and strong. I’ll work to bring common-sense solutions and a willingness to work together as I did when I served two terms on the civil grand jury. I’ll bring a fresh approach to politics with long-term, broader vision goals.

Zoe Carter: The fact that I bring in a fresh perspective to this seat. I haven’t run for it before, nor am I entrenched in local government. I am truly looking at the issues that we care about through a fresh lens. I’m also proud of the fact that I didn’t start off this campaign pandering to one extreme or the other. What you see is what you get. You may not agree with me, but you’ll always know where I stand.

John Drake: Politics is about looking forward towards a brighter future. Since young, though, we — and by “we” I mean the generation coming to age in the era of mass shootings, climate change, and a century-defining epidemic that has shifted our understanding of wealth inequality, mental health and civil rights — are told that what lies ahead is us, the generation that will enter office with the wealth of first-hand experience with these current issues. When looking at the magnitude of the crises this country is facing now, though, there is no doubt in my mind that what this great country needs is young people. On this ballot, I am the youngest candidate.

On what they’ll do differently if elected

Wizard: This new district is about 50% of Mark Stone’s and 50% of Jordan Cunningham’s current districts, so there’s no incumbent. However, as the only viable candidate from the Monterey Bay region, the only candidate who’s lived and worked in Santa Cruz for longer than an extended vacation, and the only candidate with a degree from Cabrillo College, I’m particularly sensitive to the needs of Santa Cruz County and the greater Monterey Bay. Stone is a great representative for our region, and I would add to his legacy by working to secure funding for drought mitigation and green infrastructure, such as Pure Water Soquel’s completion and expansion; providing resources and new opportunities for the Live Oak School District, where 15% of the kids experience homelessness; and working with Cabrillo College trustees and administration to obtain state funds to build campus housing for the thousands of students experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity.

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Addis: I am endorsed by Assemblymember Robert Rivas, who currently represents a portion of Santa Cruz County. I am also endorsed by former Assemblymember Fred Keeley and former Congressman Sam Farr along with dozens of current and former Santa Cruz leaders such as Santa Cruz County Superintendent of Schools Faris Sabbah, Cabrillo College trustees Adam Spickler and Christina Cuevas, and councilmembers from Santa Cruz and Capitola. Santa Cruz faces a number of urgent issues and we need strong representatives who can build relationships to get things done in the state legislature. I look forward to being a problem-solver for the people of Santa Cruz.

Nohrden: Since Assembly District 30 is an open seat and has no incumbent, my focus will be on what folks across the three-county district are concerned about: public safety, which includes addressing increased crime, safe neighborhoods, wildfires, and mental health; parents want safe schools and better educational opportunities for their children; inflation, with rising energy prices and everyday basics of groceries, gas and housing.

Carter: Be more approachable and available for my constituents in the district.

Drake: Two words: action and advocacy. I am not going to idly sit by, just waiting to rubber-stamp bills that come in front of my desk. I am going to Sacramento to fight for the people of this district, to fulfill the voters’ needs, regardless of whether you cast your ballot for me. I am prepared to work with lawmakers in Sacramento on proposals regarding housing, homelessness, climate change, education and our civil rights — especially with a federal government prepared to take them away. In order to dutifully advocate for the citizens of the 30th, I am going to be motivated by one interest: you. In my pockets, there will be no big corporation, no lobbying group, no special interest aside from the people in San Luis Obispo to Salinas, and everyone in between. All of this means one thing: every bill in the State Assembly with the words “Introduced by Assembly Member John Drake” — and do not worry, there will be many — will be meant for you, not anyone else.

The map of the newly redrawn State Assembly District 30
The map of the newly redrawn State Assembly District 30.

On getting more young people into the political process

Wizard: Younger voters are burdened by stagnating wages, soaring housing costs and inflation, a lack of job opportunities, and legitimate threats to the habitability of the planet. To get young voters engaged, we need to speak to their issues and center their experience whenever and wherever possible. Status quo actions and an incremental approach to solving problems make people lose hope and give up on political solutions. We need to follow through on our promises, be convicted in our beliefs, and deliver results to the people who gave us their vote. We should also be pre-registering every newborn in the voter roll so that the day they turn 18, they’re automatically converted into a registered voter. Motor voter is a great program, but not everyone gets a license or an ID before they’re eligible to vote.

Addis: I am proud to be endorsed by California Young Democrats. As a council member, teacher, mom and community organizer I am highly experienced and effective at engaging young people. As a local Women’s March co-founder I started a student grant program to provide needed funding to students working for social and environmental justice. I also supported students to organize March for Our Lives and Town Hall for Our Lives to end gun violence. As a city council member I have engaged the local elementary, middle and high schools to bring young people to public comment and share their views with the council. As a teacher and mom, I am adept at encouraging young people to run for student government, engage in local issues and join campaigns for candidates they support. I believe that when we invite young people to take part in our democracy, and support them in doing so by honoring their voices and contributions, we get great results.

Nohrden: My leadership experience includes working with youth and young adults on school and college campuses learning early on to listen carefully, encourage, educate, and empower. Our young voters want to speak, be heard, and be validated. I look forward to speaking with them about the function of government in Sacramento and the impact that proposed bills will have on our lives, our children, our families, our businesses, housing, and our local communities. I’d engage them and discuss a local bill, invite their input, and talk about the effect their decision could have if that bill passed with their vote. I’d remind them that their vote should be thoughtful, and party-neutral, and they should thoughtfully consider the long-term effects it would have on the people in their district, the community, and the state. I’d welcome them to visit my office and watch the process of a bill being voted on the floor.

Carter: By being an example. By being the kind of candidate and representative they can see actually means what they say, and doesn’t take their vote, or their concerns, for granted.

Drake: As an out gay, Latvian immigrant championing a better future and attending college simultaneously, what brings the current youth out to strengthen democracy is the affirmation that they have a platform, a microphone, and an audience. The American experiment, arguably, is based on these democratic ideals, and to me the best way to involve young voters is by protecting their platform, their microphone, and serving as the first person ready to listen. I am staunchly for electoral reform to make it easier for Californians to vote, not harder. In office, I will encourage young people to participate in democracy not just through elections but by running for office, whether at the state, local or national level, by issuing my own individual time and support to help these campaigns. In getting elected, I would help serve as a role model for the youth to let them know that they can get elected. If this out gay, Latvian college student can accomplish the American dream, so can they.

On how they would balance the diverse needs of this district

Wizard: I’m proud of my intersectional identity and believe it lends itself well to supporting the diversity of people in AD 30. As a mixed-race Black man in a blended household, an almost-stepdad to a teenager and a pre-teen, and the son of two aging parents, there are few family dynamics I am not actively experiencing. Whether it was my time as the teacher, counselor, coach or tutor when my almost-stepkids were home during the height of the pandemic, my job driving my parents back and forth to medical appointments, or navigating spaces where I am often the only person of color and usually the only Black person, I have a perspective and experience that no other candidate in this race can claim. And I’m more prepared to meet the diverse and unique needs of this district’s residents because of it.

Addis: As a council member, teacher and mom with over 20 years of leadership and service experience on the Central Coast, I understand the unique assets and challenges of the local cities and unincorporated communities across Santa Cruz, Monterey, and San Luis Obispo counties. I am proud to have the endorsement of dozens of local education leaders, mayors, city council members and county supervisors from all corners of the district. Additionally, I earned the Democratic Party endorsement by engaging with Democratic Party leaders across all three counties in the district. This work provided me the opportunity to connect with local issues and hear about urgent needs. I think of Assembly District 30 as the Highway 1 District because it has four hours of coastline.

Nohrden: I plan to staff a district office in each county, and I also plan to host town hall meetings so people can gather to discuss their concerns as well as make comments on current bills and legislation.

Carter: Each community is unique; you can only address their needs by listening and understanding.

Drake: Although this district is vast, not just topographically but ideologically, one representative is elected to “represent,” but that is misleading. In reality, the way I see governance, that individual is elected to listen and act according to what their constituents require. To me, the best way of balancing these diverse views is by keeping a consistent track record of reaching out to every community available, from unions to students to senior citizens to parents to local elected councils, to make sure they know they have a reliable representative. Furthermore, in regards to the “action” part of representing, each plan that coalesces into legislation must ensure the benefit of all, not just some. To thrive, the community must flourish together, not apart.

What unifying themes do you see for all those geographies?

Wizard: Communities in this new Assembly district have many things in common: the dominant tourism sector in each county, commercial and public airports in the northern and southern regions, similar climate conditions across a contiguous coastline, the impact of each county’s public university and each county’s community college, etc. As someone who has lived and worked in all three counties and has experience with local and regional government in all three counties, I’m able to draw connections where others aren’t able to. This means I’m able to better serve and deliver results to the residents of this new district faster and with less time needed to learn the ropes and get myself up to speed. This translates into more opportunities, more state funding, more institutional support, and a more prosperous community. I’m not here to bandy about slogans and sound bites — I’m ready to work my tail off for this new district.

Nohrden: Across the district, people want hope and unity of purpose, they want safe neighborhoods and communities, education options, and employment opportunities. They’re also concerned about possible blackouts surrounding California’s sustainable energy infrastructure. Farmers are concerned about fertilizer prices, their labor force, and the water to grow their crops.

Addis: Traveling the Central Coast and talking to voters from Live Oak to Oceano, I have heard the following themes rise to the top. If elected, I would focus on issues such as: climate/environment, health care, housing, education, water/infrastructure, economy/jobs. Addressing the first two: (1) As a coastal area, Santa Cruz County is on the front lines of climate change. We need to work regionally across the Central Coast to address this urgent issue. I have moved forward a resolution declaring a climate emergency and put resources behind solving the climate crisis. This includes work to create more alternative energy and bicycle infrastructure. (2) For too long, California has ignored the homelessness epidemic. It’s time we fix that. As a council member I moved forward the first 100% low-income housing in 30 years in Morro Bay. I am also a member of the [San Luis Obispo County] Homeless Services Oversight Council working at the county level to end homelessness.

Carter: Our wonderful Central Coast … and the need for water, affordable middle-class housing, and more support for mental health, for everyone.

Drake: In each individual’s story, the uphill battle toward the American dream is riddled with institutional barriers that have existed since the foundation of our country. Income inequity, racism, homophobia, xenophobia and sexism did not just appear in the United States, but were rather sowed into the fabric of this nation, making it harder for every American to achieve the greatness our foundational texts outline. In doing so, the vastness of our nation, and specifically this district, disappears. Every Californian within this district, whether it be in San Luis Obispo, Monterey or Santa Cruz, and every street, block and highway in between, looks for three things: affordable housing, a safe community and protected planet. Success is the unifying theme for all of these geographies, in my eyes.

On their approach to generational inequity and climate change

Wizard: One specific approach I support to reduce generational inequity is to grow the pipeline of training programs for technical jobs and the skilled trades, like aircraft maintenance, surveying, and carpentry, so that kids who don’t want to go to college still have an opportunity to be successful and earn head-of-household wages that can support a family. On climate change, a specific approach I support is following through on the creation of offshore wind farms, beyond the limits of human sight and hidden by the curvature of the earth, which will power our communities and provide enough clean electrical energy to transition us off fossil fuels. This has the added benefit of creating new jobs and absorbing the lost jobs in the fossil fuel industry, which will be better supported by building the pipeline of skilled workers who decide college isn’t for them.

Nohrden: We have done more to cut back on carbon emissions than any other state and that’s a record I’m proud of. As we look toward California’s goal to become carbon neutral by 2045, we need to focus and invest in solar, wind, and battery storage facilities. We need a 21st-century electric grid that will handle the transition. As we lead in carbon reductions we must move with caution and make sure we have the right infrastructure in place to accomplish our smart-energy goals. Our daily lives are being impacted every year by the passing of new laws. This year alone, over 2,000 new bills by California politicians have been introduced in Sacramento. This includes employee-mandated vaccinations, job-killing 32-hour workweeks with 40-hour pay and increased gas taxes. We all want a better quality of life, not another new law placing more burdens on us. Families, marginalized communities and young people are paying the price for these restrictive government regulations.

Addis: As a city leader in a coastal community, I have experience addressing the climate crisis including working to increase green energy, build infill housing, conserving open space and preparing for sea-level rise. I will work to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and strengthen regulations and alternative approaches to advance cleaner engines, cleaner fuels and cleaner energy. I will work to increase incentives and smooth the processes for increasing alternative energy sources, focus on increasing housing infill areas to reduce carbon emissions from commuting, and increase cycling and walking access as well as public transportation. I have firsthand experience working with young people who face the hurdles of high educational costs and housing that is out of reach for too many. California needs long-term solutions such as investment in increased housing and first-time homeownership programs, lower-cost education, increased access to affordable health care, increased child care and head-of-household job creation.

Carter: Both of these issues are going to take time, hard work and a myriad of “solutions” before we can make significant progress against inequality and toward a greener, sustainable future.

Drake: Both afflict our state in tandem, rather than separately. Climate change is not new, but the action required to combat it needs to come from a new place. Our current world is run by octogenarians, reflecting the worldview of yesterday, rather than today. Although one must look toward the past to learn, it is not wise to still live in it, and many of the legislators working in Sacramento are still living in it. Generational inequity is a huge issue. Currently, the younger generation is looking to graduate with thousands of dollars in debt, enter a job market decreasing rapidly and searching for housing in a merciless, unaffordable market all while their rights, such as equal access to abortion and LGBTQ+ protections, are being removed left and right. Worst of all, as wildfire season becomes as inconspicuous as spring, summer, fall and winter, climate change cannot be ignored. Sacramento is filled with voices that feel like they can ignore all of those problems. To resolve both of these issues, I propose a simple plan that, sadly, many view as radical: get young people elected into office. Simple as that.