Quick Take:

Lookout asked the two candidates running for 3rd District Santa Cruz County Supervisor to write up to 800 words to help voters differentiate between them. We asked them two specific questions, with strict word counts. Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson’s answers are here.

Lookout: Please tell readers why they should vote for you. What specifically sets you apart from Justin Cummings?

Allow me to introduce myself. I’m a mom, a woman of color, businesswoman, city councilmember and public health professional. In this race, it is not the title I seek; it’s the work.

The Lookout logo on top of an American flag

Community Voices Election 2022

Community Voices is bringing you the direct voices of the candidates on the Nov. 8 ballot, those who want to represent you. We will also bring you the voices of those supporting and opposing local ballot initiatives.

It’s one of the most fundamental parts of Lookout’s role in democracy, and one we all prize more deeply as we witness the widening assaults on democracy across the country and the world.

We believe this will help you stay informed and make important choices about who you want to represent you and what issues matter to our community. Our Election 2022 page brings together all of Lookout’s current coverage.

We have done our best to be rigorously fair and to contact everyone running and give them an opportunity to present their views. If candidates are not in our pages, it is because they chose not to respond to our requests.

Other pieces of our coverage include our candidate forums, our letters to the editor and, in coming weeks, our endorsements. You can sign up to receive election news via text and text us your question here, and email us questions at elections@lookoutlocal.com.

Stay tuned. We have lots of election action ahead.

We look forward to your participation.

I’ve provided critical community care in private and nonprofit sectors for decades and understand how the government can help … or hurt … our pressing challenges.

We’ve fallen behind in many areas. Housing and homelessness, public health and safety, children and youth, fire prevention and response, environmental and economic stability — these areas need more attention. I will provide that.

Unlike my opponent, I have worked on these issues in our community for over 20 years. I bring experience he does not have.

Unmanaged encampments help no one.

They create unsafe conditions for neighborhoods, businesses, open spaces and the unhoused. As mayor of Santa Cruz, my opponent allowed large homeless encampments such as the Ross Camp to grow to several hundred people and failed to find alternative shelter and close the encampments.

I believe leadership means finding a way — and that is what I have done on the city council.

As your supervisor, I’ll fight for alternative shelter throughout the community, not just in the City of Santa Cruz. I’ll work to increase mental health treatment and continue successful programs for homeless youth — for which I’ve secured millions in outside funding.

We’ve seen a 61% reduction in homelessness among youth; I will continue that trend. I would also spearhead a regional approach to homelessness.

Environmental and economic stewardship are interdependent. I have supported affordable and workforce housing projects in our downtown areas, which will create walkable communities. My opponent has voted against projects that bring housing to our community.

Finally, the CZU fire revealed deep gaps in services. I am not waiting for the next disaster. I’ve been working with Firewise leaders and will continue to push this issue countywide.

I’m experienced, I have put forth effective solutions and I’m ready to serve.

Lookout: Please focus on the single most important issue to you right now and how, if elected, you will address it. Be as specific as space allows.

Answer: Mental health.

We are experiencing an unprecedented level of mental health and well-being challenges across the county. As supervisor, I am committed to ensuring Santa Cruz has a comprehensive approach to mental health services.

Decades of systemic failures have landed us here.

As a result, our community has unacceptable levels of youth suicides, street homelessness, incarceration of those with mental health disorders, and neighborhood safety issues.

This is touching everyone, but in particular it’s affecting our youth.

Last year’s surgeon general report indicated that mental health challenges were the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people, with up to one in five children ages 3 to 17 in the U.S. having a mental, emotional, developmental or behavioral disorder. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy says, “The future well-being of our country depends on how we support and invest in the next generation.”

Here in Santa Cruz County, 37% of 11th graders reported having experienced chronic sadness and or hopelessness and 13% reported that they had seriously considered suicide in the past year.

Our county is ranked as the third-least-affordable area in the U.S. We have the additional trauma and displacement from the CZU fire.

Candidates Justin Cummings (center) and Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson with moderator Jody K. Biehl (left).
Justin Cummings (center) and Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson, candidates for 3rd District Santa Cruz County Supervisor, at last week’s forum with moderator Jody K. Biehl (left). Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

And most recently, we’ve seen an uptick in youth violence, on the heels of last year’s tragic stabbing death of a student at Aptos High School.

As a parent of two teenage children, I’m acutely aware of this growing crisis.

Just the other day, I was talking to a parent who shared how helpless they feel in trying to support their child in finding a therapist both willing to take new clients and to accept their insurance. The desperation in their voice was beyond heartbreaking.

Our system is difficult to navigate and it is extremely challenging to find appropriate and timely treatment for children and adults.

With a master’s degree in social work with an emphasis on public policy and mental health, I bring over two decades of public health experience.

I currently serve on the Central California Alliance for Health commission, where we are engaged in the implementation of CalAIM, which provides whole-person care, including mental health care, to MediCal recipients.

My work has brought in millions of dollars to contribute to the solutions. And we have seen results. In 2018, I was successful in securing a competitive grant that brought in millions of dollars. These dollars provided jobs and programs, including case management and mental health support.

Youth and young adults under the age of 25 made up 30% of our homeless count in 2019. In just three years, we’ve seen a decrease of 61% among this population. Young people have been receiving support and getting stable so that they can move out of homelessness and become active and engaged community members.

We need to see more of that.

I’m ready to push for these initiatives — and much more — as your next supervisor.