• Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson

Elect Kalantari-Johnson for Third District supervisor

Updated: May 19

Original Editorial

By the Editorial Board

Three candidates are vying to replace Ryan Coonerty as the county supervisor for the Third District, which includes Santa Cruz and the North Coast.

The candidates are Justin Cummings, Ami Chen Mills and Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson. All three bring experience and community support, but the likely choice from a majority of voters will be either Cummings or Kalantari-Johnson, as both are already serving on the Santa Cruz City Council. Mills has worked in public health and the non-profit sector and in advocacy on issues including climate change and homelessness. A candidate will have to garner 50% plus one vote to be elected outright on the June 7 ballot; otherwise, the top two candidates will face off again in November.

Our recommendation is Kalantari-Johnson whose track record on the City Council, while relatively short, shows her willingness to take on tough issues with a realistic and moderate approach that more fits 2022 than 1992. (We should note here that our Editorial Board is divided on this choice, with some members supporting Cummings, citing his background in science and ability to strike a reasonable tone and work cooperatively with different interest groups.)

Our concerns with Cummings, an environmental scientist and a renter, involve those who are endorsing him, including old-school progressives whose policies have led, in part, to the present mess with housing – and in his support for the dubious Empty Homes Tax and past support for rent control.

More significantly, Kalantari-Johnson has the support of Ryan Coonerty, as well as the majority of elected leaders in Santa Cruz County and Santa Cruz City councilmembers.

Kalantari-Johnson, an immigrant from Iran, is a social worker who has worked with homeless populations in the county and in San Francisco. She’s a wife and mother of two children, and has extensive experience in public health and human services that should prove valuable on the Board of Supervisors, where funding and delivering these services has become one of the primary functions of the board.

But housing seems to have become the main issue as evidenced in a recent community forum that turned into a back-and-forth argument between Cummings and Kalantari-Johnson over affordable housing or the lack thereof. Cummings fired away at Kalantari-Johnson with the familiar progressive charge of never having seen a housing development she didn’t support, while she defended her record by describing herself as a “100% yes” vote on housing projects that have come before the council.

Chen Mills said she would support a declaration of a housing emergency in the county.

But the problem with this focus is that local agencies have ceded much of their authority over housing developments since the state has decided it was tired of waiting for local electeds to stand up to no-growthers and NIMBY groups who for many years have squelched housing development in the county.

Cummings comes off as more of a champion of working people and has scored points with his description of how, even with a PhD and employment at UC Santa Cruz, he cannot afford to pay rent for the city’s market rate apartments, saying that someone would need to make nearly $50 an hour just to afford a median-rate rental apartment in the county. He has accused Kalantari-Johnson of not pushing back against developers to ensure that truly affordable housing units take precedence over market-rate ones.

She pushes right back by noting that Cummings has voted against some housing projects, an anti-development posture more in line, as noted above, with Santa Cruz nogrowth progressivism.

It’s also noteworthy all three oppose Measure D, the Greenway recreational trail priority measure that opponents insist will kill any future chance at providing rail transit in the county.

Of the three candidates, however, Kalantari-Johnson clearly seems the most capable of independent thinking, with the skills and experience to effectively hit the ground running if elected. We recommend voters select her as the next supervisor in the Third District.

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