At Lookout’s first forum of the season Thursday evening, 75 Santa Cruzans packed a room at the Hotel Paradox to see mayoral candidates Fred Keeley and Joy Schendledecker and county supervisor candidates Justin Cummings and Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson face off. Community Voices editor Jody K. Biehl moderated the two panels, which covered the serious issues of the day and produced some sparks.
With the election less than a month away, Lookout’s first candidate forum Thursday focused on two of the highest-profile races of the season.
As the city of Santa Cruz selects its first four-year mayor, candidates Joy Schendledecker and Fred Keeley contrasted their stands and plans.
With the 3rd District county supervisor’s seat set to be without a Coonerty after 16 years (father Neal, then son Ryan have held the seat), Santa Cruz City Council members Justin Cummings and Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson squared off.
You can catch up on the action in two ways:
- We’ve segmented the most vital dialogue of the evening in video shot and edited by Kevin Painchaud, with short explainers from our correspondents Christopher Neely and Mark Conley.
- You can watch the sessions in chronological order, with each of the two panels broken into three parts.
Sign up here for our next two forums. The forums are free and these next two will be available via Zoom; here’s the link for Monday’s forum on Measure N and Measure O, propositions on the ballot for residents of the city of Santa Cruz.
Fred Keeley and Joy Schendledecker, candidates for Santa Cruz mayor
WHAT DOES SUCCESS LOOK LIKE IN JANUARY 2027?
This moment speaks to the considerable gap between not only Keeley’s and Schendledecker’s respective approaches but also the candidates’ experience in elected office. Keeley knows this question is coming and has boiled it down to measurable goals voters can hold him accountable to: new shelter space and permanent housing for the homeless; establish a public funding source to finance construction of affordable housing; drought-proof the water system; revitalize the small business core of the community.
Schendledecker takes the question to espouse her values, which, as clear as they are, paint a vague picture of success and offer fewer metrics. She wants to see, among other goals, “a city that puts people over profits” and “serves the people that already live here and who we want to live here.” She talks about using a “justice lens” to address issues, and wants to see “environmental justice, housing justice, economic justice.”
DO PEOPLE LIVING OUTSIDE HAVE A RIGHT TO CAMP ON CITY SIDEWALKS?
Schendledecker and Keeley skirt the yes-or-no question here to talk about their own ideas about homelessness. Schendledecker explains her views on the hyper-financialization of housing and the systems at play that put people on the street. Keeley talks about the city’s role in addressing homelessness, which he sees as building brick-and-mortar facilities.
Lookout followed up with both candidates to clear up their answers regarding the right of the homeless community to camp on city sidewalks.
“No,” Keeley said. “That’s pretty clear, huh?”
“Well, where are people going to go? People have to go somewhere. Are they supposed to kill themselves? They have a right to exist,” Schendledecker said.
HOW WOULD YOU MAXIMIZE AFFORDABLE HOUSING?
Schendledecker offers some tangible solutions, including increasing the real estate transfer tax to finance affordable housing projects. Keeley sees multiple paths toward standing up more affordable housing. He wants to see the city partner with nonprofit affordable housing developers, as well as negotiate an affordable housing bond for 2024 to get a steady affordable housing revenue stream.
HOW IS THE CITY RESPONDING TO FENTANYL?
Keeley makes it clear he wants to turn up the dial on how the local criminal justice system treats fentanyl and those dealing it. “You come into this community and you are dealing fentanyl … then, absolutely, the criminal justice system should treat you with no mercy whatsoever … you should go to jail and get the hell out of town,” Keeley said.
Schendledecker distanced herself considerably from Keeley on this question, wary of not repeating the mistakes of the so-called War on Drugs. In a follow-up interview, she said she was interested more in addressing fentanyl from a community perspective than from a policing one.
HOW DO YOU PICK YOUR SHOES?
Let’s just say that when it comes to sartorial matters, one candidate values fun above all.
Justin Cummings and Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson, candidates for 3rd District Santa Cruz County Supervisor
‘DON’T ELECT HIM — HE DOESN’T LIKE DESSERT’
The best line of the night came from Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson in response to Justin Cummings’ most stunning admission: He is not a sweets guy.
THE DUAL CHALLENGE OF HOMELESSNESS AND MENTAL HEALTH
Cummings and Kalantari-Johnson elaborate on how they perceive the struggle to get people — particularly the unhoused — the help they need.
‘YOU’RE TRYING TO GET US GOING, AREN’T YOU?’
Kalantari-Johnson responded to whether the two candidates generally agreed on homeless by saying that she supports more bold action rather than passivity and finger-pointing. “It’s all of our problem,” she said.