A Lookout View: Vote Renée Golder for Santa Cruz City Council

Renee Golder, incumbent and candidate for the Santa Cruz City Council's District 6 seat.
Renée Golder, incumbent and candidate for Santa Cruz City Council District 6.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Lookout Endorsement: How well is Santa Cruz’s new system of districted council seats working? As we assess the first set of candidates, it’s problematic. We need experienced representatives with knowledge of how things work. In District 6, we endorse Renée Golder. Unfortunately, in District 4, we’re unable to recommend any of the candidates.

Editor’s note: A Lookout View is the opinion of our Community Voices opinion section, written by our editorial board, which consists of Community Voices Editor Jody K. Biehl and Lookout Founder Ken Doctor. Our goal is to connect the dots we see in the news and offer a bigger-picture view — all intended to see Santa Cruz County meet the challenges of the day and to shine a light on issues we believe must be on the public agenda. These views are distinct and independent from the work of our newsroom and its reporting.

Leadership is an increasingly elusive thing in Santa Cruz County. As we’ve surveyed the political landscape this election season, we see more uncontested offices, fewer experienced people willing to step up and the forthcoming departure of incumbents, who will take years of experience with them as they leave.

Amid all the other crises we witness — affordability, homelessness, developing distrust in government among them — this emerging leadership crisis will sap our ability to solve community problems. It’s a wider issue that we will tackle at Lookout.

Most immediately, we see this question playing out in the newly districted seats on the Santa Cruz City Council. Despite concerns, the city pushed forward with districting its seats quickly, out of fear of a lawsuit. Some have criticized the process as unfair, as splitting neighborhoods and communities that belong together, as dividing the Latinx community to limit representation.

Yet the hope persisted among many: Districting would produce both better and more equitable representation than the citywide vote that had long elected city councilmembers.

Unfortunately, that’s not the result we see.

It’s the Westside of Santa Cruz, divided somewhat awkwardly into Districts 4 and 6 that are first up in the scheme, which also puts the four-year position of mayor on the ballot for the first time. The council’s other four districts will be up for vote in 2024.

In those two races, we have five candidates, and we find two of them worthy of your vote. Unfortunately, they are running against each other, in District 6.

In that race, we endorse Renée Golder, the incumbent.

With nearly three years on the council and an impressive résumé of diverse community involvement before that service, the feisty Golder has taken forthright stands on affordability and homelessness, aiming to break through stalemates that had slowed city response to worsening issues over the past decade. Though, as her opponent points out, some of the headwinds that those solutions continue to face might have been avoided, it is the resolve of Golder, along with the majority of the current council, who have charted a sensible course forward for the city. She opposes both Measures O and N, for good reasons.

Golder’s day job as principal of Bay View Elementary School, her sensitivity to family issues as a parent and her Santa Cruz roots combine to inform her work. She also speaks to what’s been a behind-the-scenes, but growing, debate about crime in the city and its repercussions. The current environment “doesn’t make me feel safe,” she told a Lookout forum, to the agreement of the audience.

Santa Cruz City Council District 6 candidates Renee Golder (left) and Sean Maxwell
Santa Cruz City Council candidates Renee Golder (left) and Sean Maxwell at a Lookout forum.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Sean Maxwell, a member of the Santa Cruz Planning Commission, is her opponent, and a worthy one. His work on the commission has provided him a deepening background on the nuances of housing, abetted by his day job as a general contractor. That’s the area in which his knowledge is deepest, and we hope will be well used over the next two years as the city council and the planning commission must find better ways to work together.

Maxwell, a renter, represents many who see themselves increasingly squeezed by our affordability issues. His knowledge in other areas is growing. Most important, he speaks for those who feel left out of the contentious discussions, saying, “I think that we all need to listen to each other a little bit more, understand each other a little bit more, no matter what our backgrounds or the type of person we are.”

Though we disagree with it, his reasoning in supporting Measures O and N is understandable and well articulated. We hope he plays a positive role in our politics ahead.

If District 6 voters have a good choice, we’re sorry to say, we can’t say the same for the new District 4. Here we have three candidates, but none with sufficient experience or knowledge of issues to do the job the district needs. None has run for elected office before, and they have scant public policy experience among them.

Santa Cruz City Council candidates (from left) Hector Marin, Scott Newsome and Greg Hyver
Santa Cruz City Council District 4 candidates (from left) Hector Marin, Scott Newsome and Greg Hyver.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Hector Marin is a 25-year-old recent graduate of UC Santa Cruz. He brings real passion to his candidacy, speaking to the frustrations of his generation and to the need for better representation of the city of Santa Cruz’s Latinx and nonwhite residents. He speaks to the need for better mental health services as well as homelessness and affordability solutions, but offers few specifics on how he would tackle such issues on the city council. He suggests reallocating police funding to create a team of mental health first responders, without study of the budget. He raises excellent, necessary concerns, but does not have a plan to meet both legitimate public safety concerns and to assist those needing mental health intervention. He supports Measures O and N.

Greg Hyver is a property manager who is not suited to the job, largely by his own admission. Though running to represent the new district, he is oddly focused on creating a now-on-paper-only, direct-democracy system to replace the current city council way of governance. It’s not an idea that makes sense to us, but more important, the job ahead is to be a city councilmember tackling those tough issues — and representing the voters in the next four years. We understand Hyver’s frustration with the current system, shared in part by many, but what the city and his district need is roll-up-the-sleeves engagement with the issues of today.

Scott Newsome’s candidacy is a bit of a puzzle. A lecturer in politics at UC Santa Cruz, he speaks to the issues of the day — affordability, homelessness and economic recovery — but offers scant details about how he would tackle the gnarly specifics within each. While we largely agree on the broad stands he has taken, we’re troubled by his lack of diligence and knowledge on those issues, their history and the question of with whom he would have to work to best help solve. When asked why he has decided to run this office as a first-time candidate, he cites his family, certainly a worthy foundation for any politician, but only a starting point for the commitment and thinking voters should expect in a newly elected representative. He opposes Measures O and N.

In fact, District 4, as an early test of the new districting system, and the first without an incumbent, might show us the mathematical weak point of the new structure. In the past, voters elected their representatives citywide, allowing any adult within the pool of 63,000 to toss their hat into the ring.

Now, each district draws from a pool of about 10,000, and with so many reluctant to step forward — a leadership crisis plagued by public vitriol, long hours and low pay — we might be seeing the results. We’ll know more in two years when the other four newly districted seats come up for election.

For now, District 4 voters will have to place their bets. That might mean going with the candidate whose stands they most agree with, and putting aside that question of inexperience.

For District 6, we endorse Renée Golder as the best choice for the uncertain four years ahead.

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