Lookout candidate forum: What we heard and saw from Santa Cruz City Council, Assembly District 28 candidates

Lookout Community Voices editor Jody K. Biehl (left) with California State Assembly candidates Liz Lawler and Gail Pellerin.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Lookout’s final forum of election season went down Monday night at Hotel Paradox, with District 4 council candidates Greg Hyver, Hector Marin and Scott Newsome, District 6 council hopefuls Renée Golder and Sean Maxwell and state Assembly District 28 foes Liz Lawler and Gail Pellerin mixing it up on the issues.

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Lookout hosted its third and final forum of the election season Monday night at Hotel Paradox in downtown Santa Cruz, on the heels of an event featuring candidates for Santa Cruz mayor and 3rd District Santa Cruz County Supervisor and one in which the in-person and Zoom audiences heard from those on each side of Santa Cruz city ballot propositions Measure N and Measure O.

Monday’s forum brought together two sets of candidates for the Santa Cruz City Council — Greg Hyver, Hector Marin and Scott Newsome in District 4 and Renée Golder and Sean Maxwell in District 6 — and the two hopefuls for California State Assembly District 28, Liz Lawler and Gail Pellerin.

We’ve segmented the most vital dialogue of the evening in video shot and edited by Kevin Painchaud, with short explainers from our correspondents Max Chun, Christopher Neely and Mark Conley. You can also watch each session in full, broken into two parts; you’ll find links to those at the end of each of the following sections.

Santa Cruz City Council District 4: Greg Hyver, Hector Marin and Scott Newsom

Lookout’s final forum featured Santa Cruz City Council District 4 candidates Greg Hyver, Hector Marin and Scott Newsome, in discussion with Lookout Community Voices editor Jody Biehl.

The men’s commonality of electoral inexperience is offset by their rather disparate ideas for how they would approach a role on the city council.

Hyver, a property manager, said he hopes to restructure local governing and implement a direct democracy model for his district. Marin is all about reallocating funds and resources to the community, pushing for a more equitable Santa Cruz in the process. Newsome, a UCSC politics lecturer, calls himself a pragmatist, and advocates for transparency and cooperation across local, state and federal levels of government.

The three men took stances — hard and soft — while on stage Monday evening, and made their differences clear.



As a UC Santa Cruz politics lecturer, Newsome knows the campus housing crisis well. Should he be elected, he said he hopes to push the UC regents to build more housing by getting the city and state representatives involved.

This could prove to be contentious, as Biehl follows up with the question of how he’d deal with possible lawsuits between the community and the regents.

Newsome said he believes you have to cross that bridge when you get there, and before that point is reached, there must be a strong effort to make the UC regents commit to substantial housing.

“Once we get to that point, we can work to get across that hurdle,” he said.



Greg Hyver’s ideas are nothing if not unique.

Here, he shares his unusual vision for District 4 — and his hope for structural change to how local government works in Santa Cruz. Rather than District 4 acting as one piece of the municipal puzzle, he envisions the area transitioning to a semi-autonomous body that operates under a strictly “direct democracy” model. This is where his idea of a software-based policymaking platform that captures the voices of residents in his district comes in.

He asserts that he would have rejected the latest Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) numbers immediately had he been on the city council during that time. Should he be elected in November, he hopes to work towards giving District 4 the ability to reject council votes on occasion, but only if the community truly wants it.

Hyver is skeptical of the government, and said he hopes his residents will share his viewpoint.



Marin takes the opportunity to discuss his vision for homelessness response. Rather than police responding to homelessness calls, he wishes to work towards a division of health specialists trained in deescalation for these matters.

The idea is well-intentioned, but finding money to fund said service is obviously a difficult task. Enter #CommunityRefund.

Marin’s part-hashtag-part-motto means that, rather than aiming to raise more money to fund services like the one he envisions, the city should look to reallocate the funds it already has into rebuilding communities. He says that the police budget would be one of the first to examine.

Of course, he says that he would consult the community to determine how to spend those funds.

Find the full video of the debate among the District 4 candidates here: Part 1 and Part 2.

— Max Chun

Santa Cruz City Council District 6: Renée Golder and Sean Maxwell

With Santa Cruz City Council moving for the first time to a district-based form of government, voters in the Westside’s District 6 have the opportunity this fall to directly elect their own city council representative.

On the ballot this November are incumbent Renée Golder and challenger Sean Maxwell. Golder, principal at Bay View Elementary School, comes with three years of city council experience after winning in the 2019 recall election, in which voters chose to replace Drew Glover and Chris Krohn with Golder and Katherine Beiers. Maxwell, a general contractor and carpenter by trade, enters the race in his second year of a four-year term as outgoing Councilmember Justin Cummings’ appointee to the city’s planning commission.

Golder considers herself part of an informal moderate slate up against a progressive push in this year’s election. Maxwell, similarly, sees himself as part a progressive effort willing to push further on policies aimed at affordability and development.

The candidates met during a Lookout forum on Monday and covered a range of topics, from affordability to crime and public safety.



The road to affordable housing tops the list of divisions between Sean Maxwell and Renée Golder and this clip offers a view into their differing visions.

Maxwell says the city’s existing inclusionary housing rate, which requires new housing developments to preserve 20% of their units for low-income residents, doesn’t go far enough. However, Maxwell doesn’t advocate that the city push the rate to 30% or 40%. Instead, he says the city can keep the 20% rate but change its policy so the rate extends to the extra units projects are sometimes granted through density bonus programs.

The density bonus program works like this: If a developer of a 100-unit project sets aside 20% of the units (20 units) for low-income tenants, the developer can increase the project’s total units by 35% (35 units) without increasing the total affordable units. Maxwell’s argument (though he uses different numbers in this clip) is that in the end, only 20 units (14.8%) are affordable in a now-135-unit development.

Golder emphasizes her opposing position, which is that the city’s 20% rate works as is and she is firmly against increasing it. She explains that, since she joined the dais in 2019, the city council has approved hundreds of affordable units using the existing system. Her main concern echoes that of other moderates running in this election: pushing the inclusionary rate past 20% would be so restrictive that nothing would get built.



In the moment leading up to this clip, Maxwell and Golder found agreement in their opposition to the Benchlands homeless encampment, both saying that the area adjacent to the San Lorenzo River should have never been set up as a camp for people experiencing homelessness.

However, the candidates exchange fire over the city’s oversized vehicle ordinance; it’s a policy both see as important, but again their paths toward it diverge. The city council passed the oversized vehicle ordinance in November 2021, aiming to curb recreational vehicles from crowding along city streets. The ordinance has since been held up in the city’s coastal zone by the California Coastal Commission because it is seen as restricting access to the coast.

The OVO was approved and recommended by the city’s planning commission, but with language that said, in a nutshell, RV owners could not be ticketed and told to move unless there was a designated place for them to go. Maxwell says Golder’s city council ignored that language, which opened up the ordinance to litigation.



When asked about crime in Santa Cruz, neither candidate attempts to quell any fears about public safety in the city, and both instead share personal experiences they’ve had locally with crime, whether it is a family member being assaulted or robbed, or experiencing a vehicle break-in.

Maxwell said the crime rate in Santa Cruz is “inextricably tied” to the homeless population in the city. He said he felt crime rise after the city cleared the Ross survival camp in 2019.

“We can’t talk about one without the other,” Maxwell said.

At one point, Golder asks the audience to raise their hand if they’ve been a victim of crime in the community and a number of hands shoot up.

“Most people I know have been a victim of crime in this community,” Golder said. “I’ve been to a lot of places in the world and I feel like Santa Cruz is one of the most dangerous places that I’ve been, quite frankly.”



A question from the audience contends that Golder, as the principal of Bay View Elementary School, is too busy and doesn’t have time for the job of city councilmember. Golder clearly hates this question.

“I love that question. It’s so insulting, would you ask that question if I was a man?” Golder said. “I’m proud I am able to take time to do this and my work supports me in that. … Yes, I’ve missed a couple of votes and I still think I did a pretty damn good job on my time.”

Maxwell shoots back with a claim that Golder has missed many more than just “a couple” of votes.

“This is kind of the reason I’m running. Someone went through the agenda minutes of the city council and it’s 45 votes, not a couple,” Maxwell said. “That’s more than the whole city council combined.”

Golder fired back that a typical agenda has 20-something items and that she never missed a meeting, but was late to two — one on the first day of school and another for an emergency. She says she let the mayor, city clerk and city manager know she would be late. She also doubled down on how much prep she does for each meeting, saying she does “20 hours” of reading and is always prepared.



Next to affordable housing, the other major gap between Maxwell and Golder is in how they say they will vote for the ballot measures this fall. Maxwell is a yes on both Measure N (empty home tax) and Measure O, which is a plan to abandon progress on a downtown library mixed-use project with 123 affordable units in exchange for a commitment to preserve eight city-owned lots for future affordable-housing development.

“Yes I love [the affordable units], and I would love a brand-new library,” Maxwell said. “But what really changed my mind on it was the city-owned lots and the retention of those being owned by the city. If we have chances to get 100% affordable projects on city-owned property, why are we going to sell the property to private developers when we can use that land for affordable units?”

Golder says she will vote against Measure O because she doesn’t want to throw away the 123 units “that are ready to go” for a “maybe of a maybe of a maybe.”

An important note here is that the library mixed-use project, which would bring the 123 affordable units downtown, is not a done deal or a “bird in the hand” as some have made it seem. In a forum last week, former mayor Don Lane, leading the Measure O opponents, said the project was not a sure thing; however, he said it is much further along in what can be a yearslong process in standing up affordable housing in Santa Cruz.

Find the full video of the debate between the District 6 candidates here: Part 1 and Part 2.

— Christopher Neely

California State Assembly District 28: Liz Lawler and Gail Pellerin

Longtime Santa Cruz County Clerk Gail Pellerin and Monte Sereno City Councilmember Liz Lawler faced off in the June primary and now compete head to head in the November 8 runoff.

They run to represent the California State Assembly District 28, 70% of it in Santa Clara County and 30% in Santa Cruz County. Democrat Pellerin and Republican Lawler engaged graciously during Monday’s Lookout forum. Here are excerpts from their debate.



Gail Pellerin is uniquely qualified to address the mental health crisis. She lost her husband, Tom, to suicide in 2018.

She wants to see mobile mental health, more beds, more workforce training and “vital mental services in our schools.”

Pellerin has been a champion of the new 988 mental health support system locally and said she has already been making inroads at the state level. Assembly Bill 988 will set up an advisory committee and put together a five-year plan on how California can become “a leader in addressing our mental health crisis.”



Lawler said the “community-based organizations on the ground” need support. And she believes helping individuals with mental health and addiction problems in a single setting rather than trying to send them back and forth is also key.

She cited a program called Beyond Homelessness, which set up a one-stop campus with on-site services recently in San Antonio and is set to launch in San Francisco, as “an exciting model.”

Pellerin said she wants to see better efficiency at the state level and said “the bottom line reason why people are homeless is they can’t afford housing.”

She cited the Homeless Garden Project and Housing Matters as groups doing good work in Santa Cruz County.



Lawler says Proposition 1 is redundant and unnecessary, also “hastily written and poorly written” and could actually provide legal entanglements for women seeking an abortion.

Pellerin said she believes Prop 1 is important because the overturning of Roe v. Wade was an “assault on the rights of individuals to control their own bodies.”

“In my view: What is next? Same-sex marriage … use of contraception … interracial marriages?” Pellerin said.

Several interesting rebuttals ensue between the two. Pellerin punctuated the topic with the one applause-inducing moment of the forum.

“Government has no business in the doctor’s office, period,” she said.

Find the full video of the debate between the District 28 candidates here: Part 1 and Part 2.

— Mark Conley


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