By Jayme Ackemann
Santa Cruz County’s Governmental Center at 701 Ocean Street in Santa Cruz
In the San Lorenzo Valley, it appears, 2022 voters were largely satisfied to let their elected incumbents keep doing their jobs. Incumbents seem to be holding their jobs regardless of which institution they served, with few exceptions.
* Full Disclosure, I was an appointed incumbent to the San Lorenzo Valley Water District who would have appeared on this ballot but because I had no opponent at the close of registration I was appointed in-lieu of election and am grateful to have the opportunity to continue serving.
There’s a message of unity in these election results. Hopefully it means that we can continue to speak with one voice as we head towards 2024 with a 5th District Supervisor race looming.
There has already been plenty of speculation about who will throw their hat in the ring for the race. I might even be guilty of contributing to some of that speculation. For years, I’ve been talking about the ways in which San Lorenzo Valley’s lack of engaged representation at the county level creates critical obstacles for residents in our unincorporated communities. One of the recurring themes I’ve heard is a sense that the San Lorenzo Valley is not being heard.
The CZU fire tested San Lorenzo Valley’s relationship with its County Supervisor. For many residents in our community, Supervisor McPherson didn’t pass. But it’s been largely downhill since then.
That frustration was raised repeatedly during the post-2020 census redistricting process when it felt as though special consideration was given to a last minute petition a Scotts Valley councilman brought on his own behalf. Similar frustrations were raised during a — still broken — CORE funding process when it was revealed that funding which the county had historically allocated to support Valley-based nonprofits like Mountain Community Resources and Highlands Park Senior Center would be reallocated to services elsewhere outside SLV. Echoes of underrepresentation could also be heard as Roaring Camp fought off plans to abandon freight operations in Santa Cruz County, when the Fifth District Supervisor was staying deliberately “neutral.”
In 2024, we will have another opportunity to vote on a District Five Supervisor. Surely as campaign season 2022 wraps up, there are potential candidates looking towards 2024. Some are already putting together teams and taking meetings. What San Lorenzo Valley needs is more engagement with our county representatives. Hopefully, all of those candidates having meetings are having them with people who might share some ground truth with them.
What’s that fundamental truth? Up here in SLV, We are still struggling to recover from the CZU fire and the pandemic, and things aren’t getting easier. They aren’t getting easier for the Boulder Creek residents who rely on the Big Basin Water system. The reliability of their water system is dangling by a thread, but the money and work needed to begin recovery can’t go forward until Big Basin’s current owners determine their next steps.
They aren’t getting easier for CZU fire families, some of whom may be facing mounting County and State regulatory challenges that could make it financially impossible for them to rebuild. For example, changes like those proposed for the septic code would have a disproportionate impact on unincorporated communities in Santa Cruz County that don’t have wastewater infrastructure systems.
They aren’t getting easier for local small businesses that have not recovered from pandemic shutdowns.
They aren’t getting easier for the families I see on NextDoor and on the neighborhood group Facebook pages who can’t find housing, not because they don’t have jobs or money, but because the available homes just don’t exist here.
The next Supervisor needs to help us solve these challenges. The next Supervisor must ensure that the impacts of decisions that affect SLV residents are vetted by SLV residents. This will mean creating better mechanisms through which to collect feedback. I hope the next Supervisor is from SLV. But no matter which community they hail from, I hope they will create a sounding board for feedback on the ideas that will shape our communities’ futures.
One of my New Year’s resolutions is to make clear that our community needs a forum for this. There are important local organizations where some of these conversations are happening; there are environmental groups, parks groups and water advocates. But even these groups have struggled to bring together a quorum around policy issues. We couldn’t even muster a candidate forum to better educate voters on prospective choices for fire, water, and school district races.
A community forum would bridge the gap between residents, the issues that impact them, and political representation. Let’s take a closer look at that concept as 2022 winds down and the race for 2024 heats up. And as members of communities in the Fifth District, let’s rally around our shared values and insist on authentic and participatory representation.
Jayme Ackemann is a public affairs consultant and freelance writer. She has worked on major capital investments and water infrastructure construction projects in the Bay Area. Jayme is a resident of Ben Lomond.
Featured photo: Santa Cruz County’s Government Center at 701 Ocean Street in Santa Cruz | Photo by Julie Horner