A Just COVID-19 Recovery
We must pursue a just and equitable approach to how we rebuild our local economy.
It is clear that navigating the road ahead will be challenging. With the public health and fiscal emergencies brought upon us by the COVID-19 pandemic, we need policy, program, and budget responses that put those who are struggling the most first. This means workers and their families, marginalized and vulnerable people, and those who are currently unhoused or at risk of becoming homeless. As a sitting council member, I have successfully advocated for implementing a temporary eviction moratorium and worked with community partners to increase funding for eviction prevention, food distribution, child care, and small business support. I will continue this work as we move forward through the uncertainty and toward recovery. Here are some of the ways the City can support people struggling during the COVID-19-induced recession:
Fighting to make sure that our budget is not balanced on the backs of working people; to prevent cuts to the critical services we need to stabilize our community; and to work with the community about how we rebuild our local economy.
We can implement a “Vacancy Tax” on second homes and vacation homes. Action like this will not only help us rebuild our budget but can discourage speculative investment in our already strained real estate market. We can use these funds to help restore our deficit while ensuring that as few homes as possible are taken out of the rental market. We need homes that sit empty to be turned into rentals or used as residences by their owners, we don’t need them remaining vacant as passive income for the already wealthy and/or housed.
We can create rent forgiveness programs. Many residential and local business tenants have been unable to pay rent since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and, even if their evictions have been prevented they still owe months and months of back rent to their landlord. There are only two ways out of this situation - mass evictions or rent forgiveness, and I support the latter.
We can adequately fund programs aimed at eviction prevention, like the Community Action Board's Rental Assistance Program and Tenant Legal Services. Eviction is not a rare occurence in a community with ever-rising costs of living and limited affordable housing. We must use this time to establish, codify, and protect programs that are helping those on the brink of losing their homes - not only during this public health emergency but in response to our ongoing affordability crisis.
Affordable Housing and Accountable Development:
We know that Santa Cruz has become one of the least affordable places in the world (the data from the UCSC “No Place Like Home” Study and “Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey underscore the problem). While development is creating more housing units, the cost of that - and all - housing continues to rise. Santa Cruz will always be a desirable place to live and moneyed interests will keep driving up housing costs. We need to be strategic about what we build and where, so that we can balance neighborhood needs with the need to diversify and expand our housing stock. I believe we all benefit from building and sustaining a community with economic, racial, and cultural diversity and inclusion, where people across the economic spectrum can afford to live where they work.
Housing affordability does not just happen. It is produced through deliberate, intentional policy. Local government has limited resources, but I also know that there is much more that we can do with what we have. Our efforts must focus on getting housing built that is affordable, to those who work and live in our community.
Here are some of the policies I know will better our community:
- Expanding policies that force developers who are building new housing to always include a percentage of permanently affordable units, like inclusionary zoning and replacement housing requirements.
- Using city-owned properties and the city's affordable housing trust fund to subsidize broader and deeper affordability in new projects;
- Ensuring that city projects are built and operated with unionized labor and that living wage and prevailing wage policies are enforced.
- Building out accessible, sustainable, and realistic alternative transportation infrastructure, while maintaining our roads and trail system.
- Turning our full attention to aggressively seeking state and federal funds to build affordable housing.
- Engaging with community members to develop rules for new development that comply with new state laws to develop policies that address neighborhood concerns rather than developer profits. There needs to be authentic community participation in fashioning area plans across the city, and specifically for the East Side corridors. The Water Supply Advisory Committee provides a model for getting consensus among stakeholders with different, and sometimes, conflicting interests.
- Form-based codes, which will allow our city to plan for combination of uses and housing types to make them more livable for people of all ages
- Universal design, which generates housing that can be used by people of any age
- Fighting for responsible UC Santa Cruz growth:
UCSC enriches our community in many ways. By employing our friends and neighbors, educating the sharp, critical minds of our eligible young people, and serving as a hub of public services. However, with an over 30% increase in student enrollment proposed without a meaningful commitment to tie growth to the development of critical infrastructure, UCSC’s ever-expanding place in our community - and city - will have negative impacts on its students and our long-term community members.
Santa Cruz is the smallest host city in the UC system, we offer the most expensive rental market for UC undergraduates, the second least-funded campus, and the lowest off-campus vacancy rate.
We value the students and we value our community. I will work to secure a legally-binding commitment between the city, county and UC to house every new student on campus, with enrollment growth halted if that commitment is not met. That is what voters overwhelmingly supported with the passage of Measure U in 2018 and what I will continue to fight for as a member of the Santa Cruz City-County Task Force to Address UCSC Growth.
Environmental Justice, Protection, and Neighborhood Quality of Life
We have worked hard to establish and protect our green and blue space. It's integral to who we are as a community. We need to take the devastating impacts of climate change seriously and swiftly enact policies to ensure that our coveted places are protected and that our most vulnerable communities are protected (e.g. from sea level rise and fires in our greenbelt). We must continue to maintain and expand access to parks and open spaces. I will promote policies that directly address the climate crisis that we are already living through:
- Moving more aggressively towards zero carbon emissions;
- Mitigating the negative impacts of sea level rise and wildland fires; restore wetlands;
- Creating good jobs with living wages and benefits as part of a Green New Deal;
- Ensuring conservation and access are maintained for: parks, open spaces, habitats and ecosystems;
- Developing and funding sustainable transportation by leveraging state and federal transportation funding, investing in public transit, and increasing support for alternative transit options that allow people to safely get out of their cars and move around by other means;
- Creating a municipal composting program;
- The city should create our distributed solar program, so that all homeowners and renters can have access to solar energy. Solar is not only about climate change, it is also about fire & natural disaster safety and affordability. Generators are expensive. When power has to be turned off during a natural disaster, solar power that is stored can ensure that residents still will be able have electricity;
- Add protected bike lanes and bike infrastructure on congested corridors
- Expand and invest in Santa Cruz’s urban forest by ensuring that the city applies for and receives continuous and increased funding for tree-planting:
- Trees purify the air
- Trees cool the streets - both with their shade and water evaporating off their leaves
- Trees reduce energy costs for nearby homes
- Trees great for our mental health
- Trees change our behavior for the better - trees have been shown to improve moods, lift local economies, and reduce crime
- Encourage and incentivise residential grey-water to support trees and landscapes to save water;
- City purchase of land for a permanent community garden;
- Transforming our city parking lots and other city-owned properties into community-centric spaces with affordable housing.
Rethinking Community Safety
The fight for racial justice has placed the role of law enforcement at the forefront of national and community conversations. I believe this moment provides us with an opportunity to critically examine what constitutes public safety and redirect and prioritize community programs that address the structural and root causes of crime in our community. We invest a large amount of our city budget into paying police officers to fulfill roles in our community that should not be part of policing - roles such as providing crisis intervention and social services referrals. This has been the model for a long time, and we know it’s simply not working.
We need to implement policies that:
- Redirect policing funds to community needs around mental health and addiction recovery, health services, homelessness and supportive housing.
- End the ongoing strategy of constant fines and citations for our most vulnerable community members;
- Work with our community partners to develop new ways of doing crisis intervention. Invest city staff resources into creating or supporting a local program based off of models such as CAHOOTS, STARR, HUD-VASH, others;
- Advocating for the fair pay of our service providers.
In order to change the status quo, we must change how our local government operates. I have seen first hand how the flaws of our local city government structures have led to serious consequences for people living here. I will work to ensure we move towards a more effective model for governance. Because a functioning, responsive and responsible city is one where we can all participate.
For me, this means:
- Ensuring city staff is given clear communication and support around the directions given to them by the City Council and then holding them accountable to following those directions.
- Ensuring the future districts created for city-wide voting are drawn equitably and do not disenfranchise entire communities within our city.
- Establishing mechanisms for community input and responsiveness to the community’s concerns and proposals
- Holding the Council and city staff accountable to proposals given to us by our citizen commissions.
- Lead with transparency and through co-governance
- Using my voice, this position of privilege and attention, to cast light upon and advocate for the issues our community members, not just the most listened to, find important.