Candidates clash at electoral forum – Santa Cruz Sentinel

SANTA CRUZ — On June 7, the top political hopefuls in the next two North County races squared off Thursday night in front of in-person and virtual crowds.

In separate sessions, four candidates for State Assembly District 28 — including Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties — took the stage at the Paradox Hotel ahead of a busier back-and-forth of emotion between three candidate supervisors of the county of Santa Cruz of the 3rd district.

The event was co-hosted by the Santa Cruz County Chamber of Commerce, Santa Cruz County Business Council, Downtown Santa Cruz Association, Santa Cruz Works and Lookout Santa Cruz.

Supervisor candidates Justin Cummings, Ami Chen Mills and Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson are vying for the four-year seat of Supervisor Ryan Coonerty, who announced more than a year ago that he would not seek a third term. A Coonerty – Father Neal Coonerty before Ryan – has continuously governed from the Santa Cruz border with Live Oak north to Davenport and Bonny Doon since 2007. Cummings and Kalantari-Johnson currently serve on the Santa Cruz City Council, along with Cummings , an environmental scientist, reaching the end of his first term on the body in the fall, after four years. Kalantari-Johnson, who runs a consulting business, was elected to her seat in November 2020.

In seeking a new face for the county board of supervisors, voters will nominate a first — either the first black, Chinese-American or Iranian-American to serve on the board.

County concerns

Candidates compared their positions on further residential development in areas prone to flooding and fire, their ideas for supporting affordable housing and the level of support for homeless encampment policies.

Chen Mills, who works as an educator and nonprofit director with no elective office experience, differentiated herself from her opponents by describing herself as a “climate activist,” compared to Cummings’ description of a “climate scientist.” Chen Mills said she did not see enough climate change mitigation leadership from her two competitors during their tenure.

Cummings and Kalantari-Johnson, who often come face to face on opposing sides on major Santa Cruz City Council issues, each took umbrage at the other’s comments at least once Thursday. Kalantari said she introduced homelessness ordinances from which “no homeless people were criminalized”, while, she said, her opponents “supported keeping the Ross camp open, even when it has been declared a public health crisis.” Cummings replied that he wanted to ‘dispel any lies and misinformation’, saying he opposed closing the homeless camp behind the Gateway Shopping Plaza in 2019 only when there were no another location for them and a court order prevented him from doing so. .

At a North County Candidates Forum on Thursday, Gail Pellerin, candidate for the 28th Assembly District, second from left, answers a moderator’s question. Pellerin was joined by, from left, fellow June 7 primary candidates Liz Lawler, Rob Rennie and Joe Thompson. (Jessica A. York – Sentinel of Santa Cruz)

Later, the candidates were asked how they plan to involve the local Latino population in their decision-making. Chen Mills said she would continue her anti-racism education work and revive a former commission focused on county inclusion. Kalantari-Johnson said she plans to introduce a county racial equity resolution similar to the one she co-wrote for the city and do better community outreach for diverse representation. in county committees and commissions.

Cummings fired back with concerns about the City Council’s recent approval of electoral precinct maps that would divide the UC Santa Cruz campus and the Beach Flats and Lower Ocean neighborhoods, diluting the respective concentration areas of Native Americans. Asian and Latinos, he said.

Kalantari-Johnson said the maps were brought to the council by an expert demographer and took into account community feedback.

“There have been blatant accusations from my opponent and some of his supporters regarding gerrymandering and the undemocratic process,” Kalantari-Johnson later replied. “It really undermines the work that’s being done across the country by people like Stacey Abrams, who are working on the Voting Rights Act.”

New state leadership

Earlier in the evening, the public heard from candidates seeking to fill the seat vacated by incumbent Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley. In Santa Cruz County, the 2021 statewide redistricting process shifted the northern portion of what was traditionally the 29th Assembly District to the 28th Assembly District. In March, Stone announced her intention not to seek a sixth and final term, offering concurrent endorsement to one of Thursday’s candidates, retired Santa Cruz County Clerk Gail Pellerin.

The new 28th District headquarters will cover Santa Cruz, the San Lorenzo Valley and the Scotts Valley and extend north to the Los Gatos and Willow Glen areas.

Liz Lawler presents herself as the only Republican. After the open primary, the top two voters – regardless of party preference – move on to the general election.

In the nonpartisan county supervisor race, the candidate winning more than 50% of the vote will be selected for the position. If no candidate obtains a simple majority, the first two candidates proceed to a second round in November.

This publication, along with the Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce, Santa Cruz County Board of Trade, and Santa Cruz County Chamber of Commerce, will co-host a similar forum for candidates in the southern county on Tuesday evening.


What: South Santa Cruz County Candidates Forum.

When: 6-8 p.m., Tuesday.

Where: Watsonville Civic Plaza Community Center, 275 Main Street, Sixth Level.

At issue: California’s 30th Assembly District and Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors’ 4th District.

Registration: Free event, registration required at for in-person or virtual participation.

Melvin B. Baillie