From the increase in the women’s jail population to needles in parks to the Rail Trail, John Leopold seems to know a little something about everything. The supervisor from Santa Cruz County with the vivid blue eyes and easy-going demeanor is throwing his hat in the ring for yet another term at the helm of the First District, which covers Live Oak, Soquel, Santa Cruz Gardens and Carbonara, and runs east along Highway 17 to Old Summit Road. Leopold and an aide set up shop for an hour at Hope Church in Scotts Valley on January 22nd to engage with and answer questions from his constituents. With five challengers entering the field against the incumbent in the upcoming election, it seemed like good marketing to invite God to the table.
Leopold first snagged his supervisory seat in 2008, and was re-elected in 2012 and 2016. During that time, he’s made great strides in bettering the lives of those he serves. His webpage on the Santa Cruz County site details his work with the Redevelopment Agency, his interest in sustainability and neighborhood safety issues, and his efforts in improving public access to locales in and around the county. At this meeting, though, Leopold came prepared to address a variety of issues that he deeply cares about.
- After having a deep discussion with the Board of Supervisors in response to women’s needs while incarcerated, Leopold worked with his cohorts to set up a task force on Justice and Gender. About 20 people from different agencies with varying specialties studied issues around incarceration and sentencing, and how to help support families and children during maternal incarceration. The result was a list of recommendations including a review of domestic violence issues, increased contact between kids and their jailed parent, and the potential for restarting the Domestic Violence Task Force after a 5-year hiatus.
- The opening of 4-acre Chanticleer Park in Live Oak was a terrific success, and Leopold was thrilled with the reception the project received. This fully inclusive park opened to 500 people, and since its inauguration, Leopold said the facilities have been packed with children and families each day. The bike pump track there will be rebuilt in the spring, and it also features a house on the property that will be renovated and used for education around inclusivity. Leopold is a big believer in parks and open spaces; he led the effort several years ago to raise a small $9/year fee for county parks in order to reopen the parks department.
- In terms of housing, Leopold cited statistics regarding homeless individuals in Santa Cruz County from a January 2019 study. The homeless population in Santa Cruz decreased by 2%, which isn’t statistically significant, but is indicative of efforts to address the issue. An increase in rent subsidies to keep people in their homes is a big focus for Leopold—as he said, roughly 70% of the people who became homeless in Santa Cruz used to be homeowners in Santa Cruz. As Leopold said, “When you see a homeless person in Santa Cruz, they are us.” There’s also a push to require developers to include affordable housing in their upcoming projects instead of paying in lieu fees, which had previously been an option. Leopold also mentioned a change in rules to the usage of land owned by churches and schools to encourage them to utilize open land for high-density, low-income housing.
- Measure Z was discussed at length in the meeting. The $3M deficit in the City of Scotts Valley means that the city needs to get their financial house in order; passage of Measure Z would raise the city sales tax to 9.75%, which is equal to the Santa Cruz rate. The measure must pass in order for city services to remain viable, so it needs our support!
- Finally, the Rail Trail was brought up, and Leopold took a moment to take a bow. “I led the effort to purchase the rail line. We’ve been talking about it for 20 years,” said Leopold. “There was a bond measure in 1990 that generated money for us to purchase the rail corridor. When I got into office, I said we should go ahead and do it—we’d been paying a negotiator for ten years. For about 20 years, we had a fight over the widening of Highway 1 versus the purchase and development of the Rail Trail. And now, it’s finally moving forward.” Leopold went into detail on the travel corridor and the type of potential equipment that will be used to transport residents and tourists alike. While the groundbreaking of a 1.3-mile portion of the trail was celebrated on January 25th, there are a lot more opportunities to celebrate the success of the project. Additional information can be found at www.santacruztrail.org.
Leopold plans to use his experience and breadth of knowledge to win another 4-year term as District 1 Supervisor, and he welcomes you to join in his cause. For more information on learning about his platform, visit www.friendsofjohnleopold.com.