No final vote tally until next Tuesday as Santa Cruz sales tax hangs in the (hand-count) balance

Election worker Kristie Downs sorts through ballots at the County Clerk's office.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

“We’re not optimistic”: Santa Cruz City Manager Matt Huffaker says the city must begin plotting alternatives to the loss of potential Measure F funding that was expected to create up to $8 million a year in revenue.

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It’s not over yet. We won’t know the final vote tallies in the June 7 primary election until next Tuesday, July 5. Next week is the deadline for California’s county clerks to certify their election totals with the Secretary of State’s office.

Santa Cruz County plans to use all the time up to July 5 to finalize its results.

As of late Tuesday afternoon, there were more than 1,000 votes countywide that were still being processed, County Clerk Tricia Webber told Lookout. The final count is a motley assortment of checks and double-checks her office does to make sure the count is right. That “tail end of the canvas” work, the unglamorous work of democracy, includes:

  • “Finishing the manual tally, duplicating damaged ballots, investigating anomalies, tagging voter records with history, and reconciling the voting locations,” Webber said. There were nearly 200 ballots that had to be finalized because they were ripped or torn.
  • “Finishing the adjudicating of the same-day registration ballots and the provisional ballots. We are waiting for people to cure their signatures on vote-by-mail ballot envelopes. They have until Sunday to cure them,” she said.
  • “Doing on Friday a manual tally of all Measure F ballots since it is close,” Webber added. If not completed Friday, that manual recount will be finished next Tuesday.

It is Measure F — the effort to add a one-half-percent sales tax within the city of Santa Cruz — that has proved to be the closest race. The latest numbers, reported last Wednesday, showed “no” leading “yes” by 100 votes.

Thus the headcount.

“I want to make sure that the totals I certify are correct,” said Webber. “I will be inviting the city to come assist with that recount.”

When all the counting is done, we’ll have the completed list of winners, losers and who advances to the November general election. That list is almost complete, and we’ve detailed it, with charts, here. At the bottom of this story, you’ll find a sum-up of the results.

Measure F: The $8 million question


Measure F would authorize the City of Santa Cruz to increase its general fund by levying an additional 0.5% — one half of 1% — sales tax, estimated to raise about $8 million annually.

With the city’s 2023 general fund estimated to total about $127 million, Measure F would account for about 6% of the potential spending. If Measure F were to pass, city officials would have more latitude on what to spend more on — to respond to expressed public needs, as noted below in a recent poll — or less.

With the “no” votes ahead by 100 with final counting underway, city leaders are preparing themselves for the likely reality that the additional $8 million annually won’t be materializing.

“While it’s a razor-thin margin,” Santa Cruz City Manager Matt Huffaker said, “based on current trends we’re not optimistic.”

A “yes” vote would authorize the city to raise its sales tax by 0.5%, from 9.25% to 9.75%. The new revenue would go to the city’s general fund, and the city council would determine where to allocate the money.

“Those dollars could have gone towards supporting critical services for the community from addressing our public safety staffing challenges to mitigating wildfire risks,” Huffaker said. “It’s a big loss.”

The measure, originally proposed by the budget and revenue subcommittee of the city council, required a fiscal emergency vote, indicating that the council recognized a major disruption in operations or services due to an unforeseen or sudden decrease in funds.

The city intended to use the additional tax funds to address key areas of concern, according to city spokesperson Elizabeth Smith.

Ahead of the June primary vote, the city conducted a poll of residents, asking for their priorities in city funding. Those wants — including an emphasis on impacts of homelessness and the need for housing, adequate local water supplies, and wildfire prevention — would be much harder to satisfy with a Measure F loss.

Results from a survey of June 2022 likely voters regarding serious issues in Santa Cruz.
(City of Santa Cruz)

While funds would go into the general fund with no specific earmark, Huffaker told Lookout this week that, in lieu of a late vote turnaround, numerous city initiatives will be under the microscope after fiscal year 2023, which has already been budgeted. That includes homelessness response, which largely relies on much one-time funding.

“Much of our proactive investments in homelessness response are being funded by one-time state and federal funding,” he said. “Without new and expanded revenue sources, these efforts are at risk as one-time dollars run out.”

Other city services are in question as well, with some departments already being told to cut budgets for the coming year. Even though city leaders understand it was “a challenging economic environment to ask the community to increase taxes,” it doesn’t change Santa Cruz’s post-pandemic fiscal realities, said Huffaker.

“We will be exploring other revenue opportunities, increasing cost recovery for city programs, and take a hard look at what level of staffing and services are sustainable,” he said. “We cannot sustain the current levels given the lack of resources and the rising cost to provide those services.”

The penultimate results of the June 7 primary election


Among the ballot measures, the big-ticket rail-trail Measure D trails by a nearly 3-to-1 margin, with its Greenway proponents having conceded defeat June 8; Measure B (a countywide tax on tourists), Measure C (county disposable-cup tax) and Measure E (city of Santa Cruz district elections) all look to be passing handily.

In the races for Santa Cruz County Supervisor, Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson and Justin Cummings are headed for a District 3 showdown in November, when Jimmy Dutra and Felipe Hernandez will face off in District 4.

And in State Assembly contests, former Santa Cruz County Clerk Gail Pellerin got a big boost on her home turf to secure a spot on the November ballot for District 28, against former Monte Sereno Mayor Liz Lawler, the only Republican among the four candidates. District 30, meanwhile, will pit Democrat Dawn Addis against Republican Vicki Nohrden.