Incoming District 3 Supe Ryan Coonerty on North County’s future
Santa Cruz County’s 3rd District stretches from the redwoods of Big Basin State Park to the city of Santa Cruz, creating a unique set of responsibilities and opportunities for its county supervisor.
Unlike the other districts, a majority of District 3’s constituents live in the city of Santa Cruz, where most day-to-day issues are dealt with by city government, allowing the 3rd District County Supervisor a chance to put energy into two other areas—managing the pristine wilderness areas of the county’s North Coast, and big-picture policy issues, according to former Supervisor Gary Patton.
“It’s an opportunity to get involved in a policy agenda,” says Patton, who served District 3 from 1975 to 1995. “The 3rd District literally has been, for the past 30 to 40 years, the area where everybody in the county expects the supervisor to provide some policy leadership, because they don’t have all the constituent issues.”
Ryan Coonerty, who was elected the region’s new supervisor last June, feels that the best way to approach the issues in the 3rd District, and the county at large, is through collaboration.
“The main thing that I’m hoping to bring to this role is what I try to bring to every role, whether it’s in business, or the city council, or nonprofits, which is to pull people together to solve our problems,” says Coonerty. “The reality is the city can’t solve all of its problems alone, individuals and businesses can’t solve their problems alone, nor can the county government. It’s going to take collaborative efforts where everyone brings their expertise and energy to the table.”
Coonerty—entrepreneur, author, UCSC lecturer, and former Santa Cruz mayor—takes his new 3rd District supervisorial seat on Jan. 5, 2015. For eight years, the position belonged to his father Neal, who served two terms. Coonerty says that Neal has been helpful schooling him in the ways of a county supervisor, but the seasoned politician is prepared to let his son make his own mistakes.
“He’s been helping me to outline our goals and helping me think through the process, but he’s been remarkably hands off,” says Coonerty of his father, “saying that there are decisions that you have to make.”
Like Neal, Patton, and other 3rd District supervisors before him, Coonerty wants to make the management of the North Coast’s wilderness a priority.
“This is going to be the great challenge,” says Coonerty. “I’ve said that the previous generation’s gift to the future was to protect and preserve the land. The responsibility incumbent upon my generation is figuring out how to manage these lands.”
Portions of the expansive wilderness in North County are in private ownership, while others are in public. Coonerty’s challenge will be to work with all the landowners and organizations involved, so that each can align their priorities and resources for the good of the environment.
“Working together so that we don’t have eight different management plans, and we have a clear idea of what land will be used for what and how people can access them is really essential, so we need to pull everyone together to make sure we’re all working on roughly the same timeline and sharing resources whenever possible,” says Coonerty.
In the coming years, both the Coast Dairies property and the San Vicente Redwoods—several thousand acres combined of forest and coastal views—could both be open to the public for recreation.
In the public safety realm, Coonerty plans to work with the police, health, and social service organizations to end the cycle of arrests and incarcerations among repeat offenders in the county. He says that everyone involved in public safety is doing their jobs—from the officers on the streets to the nurses in the hospitals—but the cycle continues to repeat itself among certain individuals.
“We’re not identifying how we can break this cycle to save taxpayer money, to make the community safer, and to improve this person’s life,” says Coonerty.
To gain more insight into the issue, Coonerty has recruited Susie O’Hara as a part-time aide. O’Hara is a former Santa Cruz city staff member for the Public Safety Task Force, and coordinates the Downtown Accountability Program, which she will continue to do after Coonerty takes office.
“We’ll be focusing on public safety, and especially around the coordination between our government agencies and nonprofits to manage our public safety challenges in Santa Cruz,” says O’Hara.
As 3rd District Supervisor, Coonerty hopes to increase the sustainability of the county through the use of renewable forms of energy, including solar. He wants to encourage investments in sustainable environmental practices, which could create more jobs and decrease the county’s carbon footprint. He also wants to work toward a Community Choice Aggregation, which would allow county residents a sustainable alternative to PG&E.
“This is where you allow people to create their own energy, and basically decentralize energy,” says Coonerty. “I think there’s a big opportunity there.”
Coonerty says he looks forward to working with countywide agencies for infrastructural improvement projects in regard to transportation and the availability of high-speed broadband Internet. He also wants to create a better customer service experience for residents, so that people will be able to take care of their needs from home without coming into the county building.
“How do we make it so you don’t have to come there to do business when you could do it online at the time of your choosing?” asks Coonerty.
To get a better idea of the current happenings in the county, Coonerty plans to take a tour of each of the other four districts, as he recently did with 5th District Supervisor Bruce McPherson.
While the issues facing the 3rd District have changed since Patton held office, the fundamentals of policy-making have not, in Patton’s eyes. Patton says that lawmakers should keep their ears open to the public, and not get caught up in the momentum of bureaucracy.
“That’s what the elected officials are supposed to do: find out what the public wants and do what the public wants,” says Patton. “You have to really be careful when you’re an elected official not to be captured by the bureaucracy. That would be one of my concerns for Ryan, or anybody else.”
PHOTO: Some of the pressing issues for incoming District 3 Supervisor Ryan Coonerty could be land-use related, including those along the North Coast. KEANA PARKER