The streets of Santa Cruz are filling up fast with RVs parked for days on end with nowhere to go, houseless camps residing in public spaces, and worried residents wondering if they’ll be able to make rent next month. With these concerns at the forefront of Santa Cruz politics, this year’s November election may impact how resources will be allocated towards the houseless and the future of housing in Santa Cruz.
The two candidates running in this year’s District 6 City Council election are current Council Member Renee Golder and newcomer Sean Maxwell. Golder and Maxwell are running for Santa Cruz City Council within District 6, an area that encompasses a majority of Westside Santa Cruz.
Golder was initially elected in April 2020, following the recall of Council Members Drew Glover and Chris Krohn. During her first term, she helped pass the Santa Cruz Children’s Fund of 2021, better known as Measure A, and voted in favor of a draft law that would further limit where and when houseless individuals can camp.
In 2021, she also voted to deny an affordable housing project proposed at 831 Water St. but later voted to rescind the decision and reevaluate the proposal.
Golder is running for Santa Cruz City Council as a standing member of the Santa Cruz Public Safety Citizen Task Force for the second year, after previously serving on the task force during her first term. If re-elected, Golder pledges to advocate for at-risk residents of Santa Cruz while supporting the entire community.
Golder declined an interview with City on a Hill Press, stating that she would only accept questions that come through the district. When presented with a questionnaire by UCSC student leaders, she instead responded with a general comment.
“As you probably know, in addition to being on city council, I am the principal of one of the largest minority-serving elementary schools in the city. As such, my professional and political record is clear,” Golder wrote in an email. “I have consistently voted to create more housing, better public transportation and increasing mental health support strategies in our public safety services.”
Golder’s current term expires in December, making her the sole returning candidate on the ballot. Aside from her local political involvement, Golder is the principal of Bay View Elementary School and has spent 20 years working in education.
Golder, 44, reflected on her experiences as a long-standing leader in the community. “I’m younger than other candidates, and I think it’s important for youth to have a voice, somebody that understands them,” she said.
Meanwhile, Golder’s opponent, Sean Maxwell, also 44, is a new contracting business owner and a renter, residing in the District 6 area. As a self-identifying working-class member of the City’s Planning Commission, Maxwell spent his term pushing for affordable housing.
Maxwell has lived in the Santa Cruz area for over 20 years and is a 13-year resident of Westside Santa Cruz. In his time living within the city, Maxwell has been lucky enough to rent two places.
“It is really difficult to live here. My wife is a nurse, and I’m a small business owner. And I don’t think we could move right now if we had to,” Maxwell said. “That is really why I am running.”
Maxwell started on the Planning Commision two and a half years ago in an effort to push the City to build more affordable housing. As an advisory body, the Planning Commission does not enact actual change, but rather suggests changes and plans to the City Council who can actually enact those changes.
Additionally, as a part of the Planning Commission, Maxwell worked to restructure the wording of the Oversized Vehicle Ordinance (OVO), which prohibited the parking of oversized vehicles from 12 a.m. to 5 p.m. With many people relying on their vehicles as a form of housing, the wording of the original ordinance gave these residents nowhere to go.
The Planning Commission sought to include measures which would offer additional parking and other city services to those who might seek residence in these oversized vehicles.
Golder, along with Council Members Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson, Donna Meyers, Vice Mayor Martine Watkins, and Mayor Sonja Brunner, voted to stick with the original ordinance without the measures proposed by the Commission. The OVO was appealed by the California Coastal Commission, and now faces litigation by the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Right now the current Council majority does not listen to us, and I’m not okay with that,” Maxwell said. “It felt like my time to step up so that I could be a voice for people like me, working people, students, and people who don’t own their homes and need a voice on City Council.”
With houselessness being an issue that both candidates have touched on in their campaigns, the necessity for more shelters and armories are at the forefront of their way to mitigate the issue.
Both Maxwell and Golder support constructing more affordable housing in an effort to reduce the pressure of houselessness in Santa Cruz.
“I also think downtown [as a space] can create more housing. That way people can have access to public transportation and centrally located near grocery stores,” said Golder in a podcast interview with DiscoverHER. “We all love this place. It’s just about making sure our arrows are all going the same direction.”
As both candidates emphasize the issues of affordable housing and houselessness in their campaigns, voters have a choice to make between a newcomer and an incumbent.
“You have to really look at what we’ve done and what we stand for,” Maxwell said. “If you like the way things have been going, and you want to continue on that path, I don’t think I’m that person for you. If you want to see change, and you want to see progressive ideas come before the council and have a voice on that council, I’m that person.”