District elections were first rolled out in the city of Santa Cruz in 2022, which saw two city councilmembers (one new to the council, one an incumbent) elected in districts, along with an at-large mayor elected directly.

Four districts – 1, 2, 3 and 5 – are up for grabs in the upcoming March 5 election.

Two of these district elections have incumbent councilmembers running, and two will elect replacements for termed-out councilmembers Martine Watkins and Sandy Brown. Their departure creates a potential void of governing experience on the seven-member City Council, which is noteworthy in that several candidates have never held public office in the past. Two, in addition, have potential conflicts of interest because of union organizing activities.

After the Editorial Board met with all candidates, here’s our choices:

• District 1 includes San Lorenzo Park, upper portions of Ocean Street, DeLaveaga Park and Prospect Heights, with a southern border roughly marked by Water Street. This one is a race between two newcomers: David Tannaci and Gabriela Trigueiro. Our choice is Trigueiro, whose experience and profile closely matches Watkins’ and whose work as Executive Director of Big Brothers and Big Sisters gives her unique insight into the challenges faced by many struggling families in the city. She’s also worked in the cannabis industry and is campaigning on safe streets, fire resiliency and enhancing the spirit of volunteerism in the city.

Tannaci, a city employee in the Water Department active in union organizing, spoke about environmental justice, housing, homelessness, the “inhumane” nature of the oversized vehicle ordinance in winter months, and community engagement and labor concerns among the city workforce. He’s for Measure M; Trigueiro said she will vote against it.

• District 2 includes the Lower Ocean and Seabright neighborhoods, the Santa Cruz Harbor, and much of midtown south of Water Street. Newcomer Hector Marin is running against council incumbent Sonja Brunner. We recommend Brunner, Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Downtown Association and former mayor, experience that has proved crucial in debate over city policies and housing downtown. Brunner, a renter, cites how Santa Cruz is one of only 6% of jurisdictions in compliance with state housing goals. She also proud of work in cleaning up bus stops in the district.

Marin, 26, is a teacher’s aide at Harbor High. He’s an engaging candidate, and spoke well about traffic conditions, bus connections and e-bike safety in his district, and wants to create “neighborhood councils” in the district. But he has no experience in city government. Marin supports Measure M; Brunner opposes it.

• District 3 includes much of the lower Westside, West Cliff Drive from Beach Street to Columbia Street, and parts of the upper Westside. Joy Schendeldecker, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2022 is going up against council incumbent Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson, who lost a race for county supervisor in 2022 but remained on the council. We recommend Kalantari-Johnson, who has a strong record on supporting the city’s housing element and increasing density downtown and also cites successes from the city homeless response plan that has resulted in a decrease in the numbers of people counted as homeless in the city.

Schendeldecker emphasizes “more participatory democracy” and that the current council and city officials have overridden citizen complaints about building heights and neighborhood density. She also says the city’s oversize vehicle ordinance is not needed. She’s for Measure M; Kalantari-Johnson opposes the measure.

• District 5 includes most of the UC Santa Cruz campus, Pogonip, Harvey West and parts of the upper Westside. This election also features two newcomers to public office: Susie O’Hara and Joe Thompson. We think voters should choose O’Hara. She lives on the UCSC campus (her husband is a professor at the school); she’s a mom to three daughters; and is a trained water resource engineer who has served on the city Water Commission and worked in the city manager’s office on public safety issues. O’Hara also angered many progressives by filing formal complaints of harassment against two former city councilmembers, Drew Glover and Christopher Krohn, who were subsequently recalled. She’s against Measure M, as is Thompson.

Thompson, 20, and a UCSC student, seeks to be a “new voice” on the council and has been a union organizer for Starbucks workers. Thompson’s endorsed by Brown and a number of local progressives, along with state Sen. John Laird. They (Thompson prefers the pronoun “they”) are energetic and sincere and no doubt will make a good public official sooner before later. Just not quite now.

We like the more moderate, savvy tone the council has adopted in the past four or so years. That’s one strong reason, in addition to relevant and extensive experience in city issues, why we recommend voters choose Trigueiro, Brunner, Kalantari-Johnson and O’Hara in their districts.

For detailed profiles of all these candidates, go to https://www.santacruzsentinel.com/news/politics/local-politics/