Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson for 3rd District Supervisor: The times call for an immigrant’s tenacity
Opinion editorial published in LookOut
By Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson
The Iranian morality police made me into a politician.
I remember the day in 1982, when I was walking along the Caspian Sea with my father, my uncle and my 5-year-old cousin near our hometown of Sari, Iran. A Komiteh morality officer scolded my father for letting his 5-year-old daughter wear a bathing suit in public. The Komiteh said nothing about my male cousin, who was far more exposed.
My father didn’t respond. But he didn’t cover me up. We simply walked away.
That took courage, something he and my mom have in abundance. Two years later, they acted. They packed our belongings and left Iran forever.
They refused to accept a life where fear, shame and obedience were the only choices for their two girls.
I am proud of that legacy and the courage and compassion my parents gifted me. It has pushed me to become a leader and to take advantage of the equality this country has offered.
It also has led me to fight for women and all who suffer discrimination.
I am a hard worker. I got a degree in social work because I wanted to engage directly with the neediest. I’ve worked in public health and social services for two decades and know how systems function – and don’t function. I am detail-oriented. If I don’t know something, I work until I understand it. I’m unfazed by late nights, reams of regulation and the minutia of public policy.
I spent years as a homeless coordinator in San Francisco’s Tenderloin, determined to help those who wanted shelter and jobs and more stability. That experience taught me the value of public service and the frustrations of not having social systems that allow for success.
I continued that work when I returned to Santa Cruz, serving as a community organizer and developing policies that support youth.
I am running because this is our home. I care deeply about the well-being of our home, and I know I can contribute to solutions.
I’m an excellent collaborator. In 2020, amid the pandemic, I helped the county emergency response team set up emergency shelters for unhoused youth and young adults. We got the beds up in a couple of weeks, largely because of successful collaboration among county, city, nonprofits and neighborhood groups.
I’m responsive in an emergency. During the CZU fires, I sprung to action. Like many of us, I felt compelled to volunteer, and our family housed a family of four for a few months.
Since 2020 I have served as a Santa Cruz city councilmember. I am proud of my work on the unhoused. The council majority passed policies that set parameters for time, place and manner of encampments while also taking a compassionate approach and committing to safe sleeping, transitional shelter and a safe parking program.
This work distinguishes me from my opponents.
I firmly believe we have to take care of our unhoused; unmanaged encampments are not the answer. They are not compassionate. Temporary shelter won’t solve the problem. But it’s a start.
I also care passionately about youth. Thirty percent of our homeless population is under 24. That number keeps me up at night. I’m a mom of two boys. I can’t imagine one of them wandering the streets alone.
My husband and my boys connect me to the community. I’ve learned firsthand about community health and safety needs by volunteering at my boys’ schools and by talking to other parents during baseball and soccer games.
When current District 3 Supervisor Ryan Coonerty announced he wasn’t seeking reelection, people were asking me to run, but I wasn’t sure. I called and asked him if I had enough experience.
He laughed. “No man would ask me that question,” he said. “With your background in health policy, land use and experience serving in this community, you would be one of the most experienced people on the board on Day One.”
I am honored to have his endorsement – and that of many community leaders.
If elected supervisor, I will bring the tenacity of an immigrant and the values, courage and compassion my parents instilled in me to the job every day.
I am ready to go to work for you.