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(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Santa Cruz

Cannabis for kids: Santa Cruz residents have chance to make children’s fund permanent in Nov. 2 election

Measure A would nearly double the amount flowing from the city’s cannabis business tax to the fund dedicated to childhood development programs, and would insulate it from possible future elimination in a city council vote by writing it into the city charter.

On Nov. 2, Santa Cruz city residents will vote on Measure A, which if approved would permanently establish and give more funding to the Santa Cruz Children’s Fund via the legalized marijuana industry.

The fund dedicated to childhood development programs currently receives 12.5% of the revenue from the city’s cannabis business tax; the measure would increase that amount to 20%.

“There is no smarter public investment that we can possibly make than in children, and in young children in particular,” David Brody, director of First 5 Santa Cruz County, said of Measure A.

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If it had been implemented prior to fiscal year 2022, the measure would have increased the revenue allocated to the children’s fund from about $212,000 to about $340,000 for that year, according to an analysis from the city attorney’s office. The potential for added funding comes amid an extended period of hardship for families brought by the pandemic.

In addition to the increase, the measure would make the fund permanent by writing it into the city charter instead of it remaining a council policy, as it has been since 2017.

Council policies could be changed or eliminated by a future decision by councilmembers, whereas a measure approved by voters would have to be changed by another election.

The measure the Santa Cruz City Council put on the ballot in June would not increase the cannabis business tax, which was set at 7% of gross receipts when it was adopted in 2014.

Martine Watkins, one of the councilmembers who proposed the measure, said she is looking forward to having the voters make this decision, and to continue providing much-needed funding to children.

HOW TO VOTE

Via ballot: Santa Cruz County Elections officials mailed registered voters in the City of Santa Cruz ballots for the Nov. 2 election earlier this month. Ballots can be returned at a 24/7 ballot drop box, the Santa Cruz County Clerk/Elections Office or the Santa Cruz City Clerk’s Office. In addition, ballots can be returned to any in-person voting locations between Oct. 30 and Nov. 2. If you will be mailing your ballot, it must be postmarked on or before Election Day, Nov. 2.

In person at the Elections Office: Early, in-person voting began Oct. 4 and ends Oct. 29. Early voting can be done at either the Santa Cruz County Clerk/Elections Office, located at 701 Ocean St., Room 310, in Santa Cruz, or at a Vote Mobile location.

Click here for information.

“There’s nothing better than to have the power of the voters to affirm our value to dedicate these resources to kids for years to come,” she told Lookout, adding that Santa Cruz will be the first city in the state to have a dedicated fund using cannabis revenue.

In previous years, the city council has allocated $5,000 to the Santa Cruz Toddler Care Center and $3,000 to a local foster grandparent program, with more going to scholarships for summer and after-school initiatives for underserved youth .

A total of $30,317 was also previously allocated to Thrive by Three, which then distributed money to 11 child care providers that served a total of 178 children, according to data provided by City of Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation. The cash amounts ranged from $1,365 to $5,110, depending on the number of children served.

Brody, whose public commission stewards tobacco tax money for child care service systems, has worked with Thrive by Three and county officials since late 2016.

The Thrive by Three Early Childhood Fund comes from Santa Cruz County’s general fund, Brody explained. He said the county has approved a flat amount of $350,000 each year for the fund since it was launched in 2017.

Supporters like Brody and Watkins see the goal behind city and county’s children’s funds as serving youth who because of economic hardship are not able to access early development resources and youth programs. And by funding summer and after-school programs, parents are receiving child care services they couldn’t otherwise access.

The city council recently approved a recommendation that half of the funds will go to Thrive by Three to serve children up to 5 years of age and the other half of the funds will go to the city’s parks and recreation division to serve adolescents who would otherwise be unable to attend summer and after-school programs.

“During COVID, we saw an increase in requests for scholarships due to layoffs, lack of child care options, and a need to provide enrichment and social engagement opportunities for kids due to impacts from distance learning,” Recreation Superintendent Rachel Kaufman told Lookout. “Families have described appreciation for the opportunity for their children to explore their interests which they would be unable to afford without the scholarships.”

If approved, Measure A would be effective July 1, 2022. The city council would also create a community oversight panel to recommend other potential uses of the funds, such as allocations to the city’s parks and recreation commission, the Santa Cruz City Schools district, First 5 Santa Cruz County and youth organizations.

The resolution prohibits the use of funds for several purposes, such as the maintenance of any property not for primary use by youth or any service which “merely benefits children and youth incidentally.”

Santa Cruz City Schools Superintendent Kris Munro, County Supervisor Ryan Coonerty, Watkins and Brody are among officials urging residents to approve the measure.

“A YES vote will make early education and childcare more affordable for working families which supports kids through a critical period of brain development,” they wrote in a letter supporting Measure A. “This past year, [the fund] was successfully used to provide needed childcare for essential workers during the pandemic as well as scholarships for lower-income youth.”

No arguments against the measure were submitted to the city. The ballot measure needs a simple majority to pass.