.3 Watsonville City Council Candidates Run Unopposed

Two Pajaro Valley school district candidates will also see no challenge in the Nov. 8 election

Kristal Salcido says that she had for months planned to spend the final weeks leading up to the Nov. 8 election walking door-to-door throughout Watsonville’s Fourth District to drum up support for her city council run.

On Wednesday, Salcido received the news that whether or not she decided to follow through on those plans, the Santa Cruz County Assistant District Attorney will walk into office later this year without a challenge.

Salcido is one of three candidates for Watsonville City Council that will assume office after the November election because they are running unopposed. Maria Orozco, a current Pajaro Valley Unified School District Trustee, will not face a challenger in District 3, and Casey Clark, a longtime community volunteer, is also running without an opponent in District 5.

The District 7 seat is the lone office that will feature more than one candidate in November. Incumbent and current mayor Ari Parker is facing off with former mayor Nancy Bilicich.

Salcido says that she still plans to do plenty of door-knocking over the next two months, even if she is not facing a challenger.

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“It’s a huge honor and responsibility to be a steward of your community and it’s one that I take incredibly seriously,” Salcido said Wednesday. “Nothing has changed for me in terms of my campaign outreach. I think it’s really important that everyone, who I can reasonably reach, has an opportunity to meet me and to get to know me.”

Candidates running unopposed for local office is nothing new. This is especially true in Watsonville, which has for years struggled to get its residents involved in the local political process and largely cycled through seasoned politicians over the past two decades or so. Still, the upcoming November election will mark the first time that three or more city council seats will go unopposed since the 2012 election saw four candidates run without opposition.

Salcido, a relative newcomer to Watsonville’s political scene who will be mayor during her final year on the council, said she was surprised that more candidates did not step forward.

“You always hope that there are people who want to participate in government and community local politics,” Salcido said. “Nothing is changing for me in terms of what I’m going to do with the community, but I do hope that members of the community want to participate in our local elections and I would encourage it.”

Few people stepped forward to run for the PVUSD Board of Trustees, too. Area IV Trustee Daniel Dodge, Jr. and Area VII Trustee Jennifer Holm were appointed in lieu of an election and will serve another four-year term on the board.

But Area I Trustee Kim De Serpa, who has served on the board since 2010—thrice as President—will face off against newcomer Natalain Schwartz, who qualified for the ballot just as the Aug. 12 deadline closed. In addition, Area V Trustee Jennifer Schacher, who was first elected to the board in 2018, will face off against Olivia Flores, who works as Chief Financial Officer for Watsonville-based Flores Construction, Inc.

Open seats on the boards of the Pajaro Valley Fire Protection District and the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency will also not show up on the Nov. 8 ballot because of a lack of candidates.

The Watsonville City Council recently had a discussion about apathy in local politics as the elected officials were giving themselves a modest pay increase during a meeting in June. The city council is paid $638.14 per month—included in their salary is a $10 per month contribution by the city for a life insurance benefit. The mayor receives an additional $100 per month, per the city charter.

The council opined on the roughly $7,600 annual salary they receive, and how they believed it restricted who serves on the council.

Councilman Jimmy Dutra, currently a candidate for Fourth District County Supervisor, said that it prevents young people from getting involved in politics and turns the seats into “a position for people who are retired”—only two of the seven current council members are younger than 40.

“It really prevents a certain demographic of people from participating,” Dutra said during the meeting. “I don’t even think we’re close to paying the council members enough so that we can attract more people to participate. I want more people participating in this process and, hopefully, we can get there one day where people can say, ‘OK, I can afford to do this, and I can take care of my family.’”

Watsonville, like many cities across the state, is limited in the amount it can pay its city council by its city charter. That all-encompassing document states that the council’s salary is determined by Section 36516(a) of the California Government Code, which restricts an elected leader’s salary by their respective city’s population. In Watsonville’s case, the city of roughly 55,000 residents can pay its city council up to $500 per month, along with an annual 5% increase.

Councilman Eduardo Montesino said during that meeting that the city council should revisit the charter to alter the salary limits as a way to entice more people to run for office.

“We need to be able to attract community members because—I’m going to repeat myself again—it’s a travesty that nobody ran in my district,” said Montesino, referring to the 2020 election in which he ran unopposed for the District 1 seat. “There should always be people willing to participate in putting themselves out there for the community.”

In an interview on Thursday, Montesino said the city got lucky that the three candidates who are running unopposed are all good people. He, however, had worries that the lack of competition might negatively impact the number of voters who head to the polls in November, a crucial election that will feature two city-backed measures.

“That’s my worry,” he said. “The apathy, it’s concerning.”

Here’s a quick look of the candidates who qualified for the Nov. 8 election in three other city councils across the county:

Santa Cruz

Mayor

  • Fred Keeley
  • Joy Schendledecker

District 4

  • Bodie Shargel
  • Gregory A Hyver
  • Scott Newsome
  • Hector Marin

District 6

  • Renee Golder
  • Sean Maxwell

Capitola

Three sets open

  • Alexander Pedersen
  • Gerry Jensen
  • Yvette Lopez Brooks (incumbent)
  • Joe Clarke
  • Enrique Dolmo, Jr.

Scotts Valley

Two seats open

  • Allan Timms
  • Derek Timm (incumbent)
  • Jim Reed (incumbent)

For a full list of candidates, visit votescount.com. 

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Tony Nuñez
Tony Nuñez is a longtime member of the Watsonville community who served as Sports Editor of The Pajaronian for five years and three years as Managing Editor. He is a Watsonville High, Cabrillo College and San Jose State University alumnus.
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