In the News


Watsonville, Santa Cruz: New mayors, continuing stories

By Sentinel Editorial Board
Santa Cruz Sentinel, 12/13/12

Do new leaders and new faces on city councils much matter?

Tuesday saw shifts on the elected councils leading Santa Cruz County's two largest cities, Santa Cruz and Watsonville. And though the councils at first glance hardly look the same, both face several similar issues in 2013.

Watsonville, with a Latino majority population, has a council that looks like its demographic makeup. Even so, the new mayor, somewhat surprisingly, is Lowell Hurst, who returned to the council by appointment in 2011 before being re-elected in November for another two years.

Hurst, who spoke Tuesday about uniting the community and further inclusiveness, will have challenges in his role as council spokesman. The city perennially faces challenges in finding enough decent jobs for its growing population. High unemployment and a perceived lack of opportunity for young people contribute to gang and substance-abuse problems that have proved difficult to suppress.

It was a welcome sign Tuesday that the council gave 6-0 approval for a land deal that is part of a new Walgreens development for the city's struggling downtown.

Hurst will serve on a council that loses a veteran member, Oscar Rios, first elected in 1989. Rios will be replaced by Karina Cervantes, who recently married Democratic Assemblyman Luis Alejo. Also joining the council are Trina Coffman-Gomez, who replaces the often-absent Emilio Martinez, and Felipe Hernandez. Remaining on the council are incumbents Eduardo Montesino, Nancy Bilicich and Daniel Dodge.

Probably the most debated issue coming up for the city will be a ballot measure sponsored by Dodge -- who many expect to run for county supervisor in 2014 -- that will ask voters to amend Watsonville's growth plan to annex farmland for possible commercial development to provide badly needed jobs. The proposal could be on a June ballot.

In Santa Cruz, incoming Mayor Hilary Bryant also faces a community searching for the kind of economic development city voters favor. At the same time, Bryant, who replaces Councilman Don Lane as mayor, has supported efforts to make the city safer, an issue that has continued to make headlines in recent weeks as organized cleanup parties have been urging the council to take an expanded role in combating the drug culture long ascendant in Santa Cruz.

The council loses veteran environmentalist Katherine Beiers and Tony Madrigal, who did not leave much of a mark, perhaps because of frequent absences. Also stepping down is Ryan Coonerty, whose two terms marked a shift in council priorities, away from the preoccupation with taking stands on national and global issues and more toward policies akin to Bryant's.

Bryant and Lane, long an advocate for homeless services, will be joined by new council members Micah Posner and Pamela Comstock, along with incumbent Lynn Robinson and veteran Councilwoman Cynthia Mathews. On the face of it, Posner would seem to be in a distinct council minority on issues such as building a $123 million water desalination plant -- though the longtime advocate for alternative transportation might be more in step with a majority of voters. A vote looms in Santa Cruz as well -- on desal, in 2014.

Expect a year when the council balances requests for helping the city's homeless population, while responding to the renewed focus on drug- and alcohol-fueled criminal problems -- as Bryant helps sound the call for finding enough money to pay for social programs and public safety.

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