To better inform our readership for the upcoming elections, we reached out to both First District Supervisor Candidates.  Over the course of a few weeks, we reached out several times to give them ample time for thoughtful responses to these questions:   

1. What skills, experience, and perspective would you bring to the First District Supervisor position? 

2. What do you see as the biggest issue currently facing Santa Cruz County?

3. What is one policy that is entirely unique to your candidacy?

Our candidates had the opportunity to reply with no more than 300 words. Below are their responses.  

Manu Koenig

1. I've worked in public engagement for the last decade on behalf of Santa Cruz County, cities like Scotts Valley and non-profits. My experience is in understanding what voters want and making sure we're hearing from a representative portion of the population, not just the loudest. I think when people collaborate they truly can come up with the right solutions. Today, not enough of those solutions are being implemented - just look at the Civil Grand Jury reports and the County's responses. In contrast, I see it as my job as an elected representative to make sure the will of the people is done. Add to this my experience working for four different tech companies. That has taught me the importance of pilot projects where we try stuff out, learn quickly and improve.

2. Housing. I hear about people struggling with the cost of housing every day. We are the 5th least affordable community in the entire world. 52% of renters are "rent-burdened." COVID-19 and the fires have exacerbated this situation by making it harder for people to afford rent and destroying homes.

3. Streamlining the County Planning Department. We have over 900 homes that need to be rebuilt after the fires. Fire victims are struggling to come up with the thousands of dollars needed for permits and the County's infrastructure requirements are excessive. We need to establish a better process that takes into account the low impact way that people are living on the land. We need to be allowing long term use of tiny homes. The process for rebuilding after the fires should then become the new normal county wide. "Democratizing" building and allowing more people to invest in housing for our community will also support economic recovery. 

 John Leopold

1. As a resident of Live Oak for 27 years, graduate of UCSC, member of the Cabrillo Board, and executive director of the Santa Cruz AIDS Project I bring a broad understanding of the issues facing all aspects of County life. For 12 years I’ve advocated for the First Supervisorial District as Supervisor. I have crafted policy at the local, state and national level. This experience is critical as we face the COVID-19 pandemic.  I wrote our Eviction Moratorium to help local residents and businesses.  I secured $1 million in rental assistance funds to provide support for renters and landlords. I re-wrote the code to allow businesses to operate outside legally and I helped form the partnership with UCSC to expand COVID-19 testing.

2. Recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and the fires are the biggest issues facing our county. While we have kept our COVID-19 case counts low, we still face challenges with colder weather and the flu season.  Our expanded testing and tracing are critical to helping our community recovery efforts until there is a vaccine.

After consulting with colleagues in other counties who faced devasting fires, we are putting those best practices to work to rebuild after the fires. Expedited permit processing, shared services and allowing people to live in temporary structures will help the rebuilding of housing our neighbors have lost.

3. Unique to my candidacy is my lifelong commitment to social justice. I have been working on criminal justice reform to reduce over-incarceration and instead use a public health response to over 60% of crimes committed due to substance abuse while keeping our community safe. I drafted the resolution for our Board declaring Racism a Public Health Crisis and I am now working with community leaders to ensure that we successfully address this issue at the County.

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