District 3 forum fireworks: Sparks fly as Kalantari-Johnson, Cummings speaks out on homelessness, district

As things heated up on the stage at the Paradox Hotel where she sat next to Ami Chen Mills and Justin Cummings on Thursday night, Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson had Michelle Obama on her mind.

“When they go down, you go up high,” the Santa Cruz County supervisor hopeful told the assembled crowd firmly, punctuating his response to a question about personal inspirations.

It drew some cheers – maybe even small fist-pumps – from his supporters seated in the live audience of 75 who turned out for a candidate forum hosted by Lookout’s Voice of the community editor, Jody K. Biehl. The audience also included around 75 other participants via Zoom.

The internal and Zoom audience actively engaged, coming up with more than a dozen questions at an event co-sponsored by Lookout, Santa Cruz County Business Council, Santa Cruz County Chamber of Commerce, Santa Cruz Works, Downtown Santa Cruz and Hotel. Paradox.

Justin Cummings, Ami Chen Mills and Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson.

Justin Cummings, Ami Chen Mills and Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson.

(Kevin Painchaud / Belvedere Santa Cruz)

The two-hour forum focused first on the race for the newly drawn State Assembly District 28 and its four candidates, then on the District 3 County Supervisor contest that will determine who will replace Ryan Coonerty and will look after the interests of most of Santa Cruz, Bonny Doon and Davenport.

The 3rd District speech confirmed that tensions had reached a constant level in a race between two frontrunners who sometimes found themselves on different sides of the Santa Cruz City Council voting aisle over the past year and a half. Lookout’s coverage of the race includes a two-part series of answers to key questions, here and here.

While Kalantari-Johnson has almost doubled Cummings’ fundraising efforts and veteran local politicians believe the progressive slates of Cummings and Chen Mills could be competing for the same electoral bloc, no one denies that the two city council members are good candidates for the job and that the June 7 primary is far from decided.

So with just over three weeks until the votes are counted, it’s no wonder things are heating up. A moderated live event that emphasized rebuttal time set this forum apart from others, all candidates subsequently agreed.

“It’s never been more intense,” Cummings said. “But it was great.”

“I welcome that,” Kalantari-Johnson said. “It was healthy.”

“I’m just glad I don’t have a voting record,” joked Chen Mills, who sat between the two, a well-placed buffer in the middle of some of the more heated exchanges.

Chen Mills has spent much of her time responding to pressing concerns about climate change, going so far as to say she would not travel to her dream destination, Bali, due to the carbon emissions needed. She also strongly urged more action on the lower end of the affordable housing crisis.

“We are in the midst of a housing emergency,” she said. “I think the county should declare a housing emergency and then move quickly to try to house as many people on the labor force and low-income people and provide permanent, supportive housing. support for people who are already here. That would be my priority. »

The main categories of contention between Kalantari-Johnson and Cummings: response to homelessness and urban redistricting.

While Cummings has been in the council’s minority voting block on issues related to the oversized vehicle ordinance and mobile encampments such as the controversial Ross Camp which overran the area where the San Lorenzo River meets the freeway 1, voting down responses that critics call “criminalizing.” homelessness,” Kalantari-Johnson has made action on these issues an important part of its slate.

She criticized Cummings for voting against the Ross camp cleanup multiple times in 2019 while he was vice mayor. Cummings said there were issues about where to move people safely and cited several legal stipulations. Kalantari-Johnson said there were no excuses left.

“The crisis continues to grow and no solution is offered,” she said. “It’s just, ‘Let it be.’ This is not acceptable, especially for people who live in these conditions.

Under the new action plan in response to homelessness signed into law by the Santa Cruz City Council in March, Kalantari-Johnson said measures to move the homeless population indoors have been proven to work. “Not a single person has been criminalized, but they have been moved from the streets to safe spaces,” she said.

Justin Cummings answers a question Thursday night.

Justin Cummings answers a question Thursday night.

(Kevin Painchaud / Belvedere Santa Cruz)

Cummings’ biggest blow to the Kalantari-Johnson record centered on the final redistricting cards that were voted on in April. The intention of redistricting, who was imposed on Santa Cruz under the threat of a lawsuitwas to create fair voting blocs that would encourage more minority candidates.

He said his downvote on the final six-district map chosen was because Beach Flats — where he once rented — was separate from Lower Ocean and other contiguous “neighbourhoods of interest” that have larger Latinx populations. high.

He cited a similar split in the Asian American population when dividing UC Santa Cruz on the map. The most recent census data shows that UCSC has 4,135 Asian students, or 21.6% of the population.

“Something was going on there,” Cummings said, suggesting politics dominated the final mapping decision over fairness.

Both during the forum and afterwards, Kalantari-Johnson fired back at what she called “ridiculous accusations of gerrymandering.” She cited her work as a grant writer and social worker in underserved and minority communities.

“I’ve done more work for the Latinx community than either of my opponents. That I’m here to stifle Latin votes is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” she said afterward, “My challengers really grasp things.”

It underscored a tension she said was growing between the candidates.

“It’s been tough, I’m a human being and when people make these kinds of false accusations…I aim higher,” she said. “But I have to remember who I am and why I’m doing this and it’s because I love this community.”

* * *

Assembly District 28 candidates are vying to oversee a newly revamped geography that covers a diverse range of two counties: Santa Cruz North of the Harbor to the North Shore and Bonny Doon; the small towns of the San Lorenzo Valley and the Scotts Valley; and an area of ​​Santa Clara County that includes Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, and small parts of San Jose and Morgan Hill.

A crowd watched Liz Lawler, Gail Pellerin, Rob Rennie and Joe Thompson answer questions from Jody K. Biehl.

A crowd watched Liz Lawler, Gail Pellerin, Rob Rennie and Joe Thompson answer questions from Jody K. Biehl.

(Kevin Painchaud / Belvedere Santa Cruz)

The Santa Cruz County nominees are longtime Santa Cruz County clerk Gail Pellerin and UC Santa Cruz student and union activist Joe Thompson. The Santa Clara County candidates are Los Gatos Mayor Rob Rennie and former Monte Sereno Mayor Liz Lawler, the only Republican among the four.

Lawler diverged from his competitors primarily on the use of the $68 billion surplus the state finds on hand. While Thompson offered a universal basic income which would pay $1,000 a month to every California resident and provide free preschool and college to every Californian, Lawler said she would focus on owner-occupied housing, water supply infrastructure and the construction of facilities to address mental health, homelessness and addiction – “especially for our teenagers. ”

“It would be nice if taxpayers got refunds,” she added. “But that’s wishful thinking right now.”

The contestants also answered a series of questions from Biehl ranging from affordable housing to climate change to mental health.

And while all four candidates turned out well, it was Thompson, the 19-year-old barista who just won a major union victory the day before, who garnered the most buzz.

Thompson noted without any hint of bravado or disdain that the youngest of those challengers, Lawler, has 37 years of life experience on him. But it didn’t air on Thursday night. Thompson used no notes and addressed the crowd most directly while holding court on whatever topics were offered to them.

“He’s impressive,” said Pellerin, who earned big name endorsements in the race.

Mental health was a major topic of discussion, and although Pellerin was an obvious strong advocate on the subject given that her husband, Tom, died by suicide, Lawler spoke openly about the struggles of a younger generation, including in his own family.

She said her daughter was 5,150 – the legal term for a 72-hour psychiatric detention – giving her first-hand insight into the state of the youth behavioral health system.

“They’re terribly ill-prepared for teenagers who are really struggling,” she said. “I’ll tell you, it’s scary. You don’t know what to do for your child. So having these resources and support available is critical to ensuring that our young children are healthy in the future.

Visit Lookout’s Community Voices for opinion pieces written by each of the candidates above.

Melvin B. Baillie