.Meet The Candidates Vying To Represent Mid-County

Incumbent Manu Koenig and newcomer Lani Faulkner face-off

Santa Cruz County’s First Supervisor District covers parts of Capitola, Live Oak and Pleasure Point and the rural unincorporated swath of mid-county that runs north to the Summit area. 

The district boasts the largest percentage of constituents that live in the unincorporated area, meaning it has more people who rely on county services than other districts, according to incumbent Supervisor Manu Koenig, who is running for a second term.

Because of its vast rural area, District 1 will likely be saddled with much of the county’s state-mandated Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), for which leaders must plan for 4,634 units of affordable housing by the end of the year.

Two people are vying for the seat: incumbent Manu Koenig, who was elected in 2020 and Lani Faulkner.

Meet The Candidates

Before he was elected in 2020, Koenig worked for several tech startups and in 2011 he launched his own, called Civinomics, aimed to use digital platforms to engage people in the civic process.

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He has worked with local government agencies such as Soquel Creek Water District, the City of Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz County, Watsonville and San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

Meanwhile, his opponent Faulkner is founder and director of Equity Transit, an organization that advocates for public transportation for all. Inspired by her environmental roots, she said she created the organization to “be the voice for the voiceless.”

Faulkner said she was encouraged to run by people who say their voice is not being heard by their supervisor. 

“That piqued my concern, because it’s very important to me that we value the voices of all different people in our community, especially seniors and people with disabilities,” she said.

Her style of governance would center on listening to constituents and experienced public leaders. 

“I want them to know that I’m actually listening and I’m seeking out good mentors who have the kind of experience that will help better build our community,” she said. 

District Issues

In discussing some of the county’s issues, Koenig believes the county has made strides in addressing homelessness, with a recent census of the homeless population called the Point in Time count showing a 22% reduction in the unhoused population.

He also points to transportation improvements across the county, including a streamlined METRO bus system and green bike lanes.

In addition, he has supported efforts to bolster eviction protection for tenants in the wake of the Covid pandemic.

“Fundamentally, I want to leave the county and this office a better place than I found it,” he said. “Unfortunately, government moves slowly, so it’s going to take a little more time to do that right.”

Faulkner has held research roles at several biomedical companies, most recently at Stryker Neurovascular in Fremont.

She serves on the executive committee of the Santa Cruz Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Community Traffic Safety Coalition and the local chapter of the NAACP.

Faulkner said she would work to strengthen the county’s mental health services and healthcare. She also lists water and resource management, supporting labor and strengthening the county’s mental health services and healthcare as among her priorities.

Property Taxes 

Both Koenig and Faulkner said they want to increase the county’s share of property taxes, which thanks to a years-old state formula, is just 13% annually. That’s compared to a 20% state average.

Bringing the county’s share closer to the state average could mean an additional $70 million in annual revenues, Koenig said.

“That difference is why our roads look terrible,” Koenig said. “It’s why the building we’re sitting in at 701 Ocean here is held together with bubble gum and duct tape.”

The other aging county facilities are no better, with $100 million combined of deferred maintenance, he said.

Faulkner agrees and said the county could also explore increasing sales taxes and seeking out grants to help bolster the general fund.

“There is a place and a time to increase a quarter cent here and a half cent there,” she said. “We all take on a tiny bit more burden, and then it benefits everybody in our entire community,” she says.

Making a change to the county’s sales tax share would first mean a change to state law, requiring the supervisors to work with the state legislators. Koenig said he is preparing a resolution to do just that.

Such a change would not increase property taxes for residents.

Transportation

Before he became a supervisor in 2020, Koenig was vocal in his opposition to a countywide rail-trail and helped gather signatures to place Measure D on the ballot. 

That measure would have shifted the county’s focus away from rail development to creating a multi-modal trail. But the measure tanked spectacularly, with more than 73% voting no.

With estimated costs for the rail-trail ringing in at $1 billion, the county is now pursuing the initial studies for the beginning stages of the years-long project. 

“I think the voters have spoken and I’m doing whatever I can to implement the will of the people as far as moving forward with passenger rail studies,” Koenig said. “Ultimately the county should have as much transportation as we want to pay for. That’s going to be the constraint.”

But Faulkner said not enough is being done to push the project forward. The state of California is prioritizing rail projects, she said, and the county could lose its opportunity for state and federal grants if not enough progress is made. 

“We don’t have a real champion of rail right now,” she said. 

Faulkner believes such advocacy is important—as is supporting all alternative methods of getting around—since 70% of greenhouse gasses come from transportation. 

Both candidates said they support alternatives to personal vehicles. 

Koenig points to the bike lanes that have been created along Soquel Drive during his time on the board, along with the ongoing Bus on Shoulder and Auxiliary Lane Project on Highway 1, as ways he has helped create a county less reliant on cars. 

He also established Santa Cruz Metro’s Youth Ride Free Program streamline service at Santa Cruz Metro—including offering 15-minute bus trips countywide.

Faulkner said she wants to see the county’s public transportation system expanded. Her organization Equity Transit focuses on the integration of housing, transportation and safe streets.

This includes viewing public transportation as a way to slow global warming and keep pollutants out of the environment. The organization also advocates for routes to key destinations such as schools and colleges, and says robust transportation systems help the economy by allowing more people to get to their places of employment.

“I’m really excited that Metro will be revamped in December,” she said. “That’s going to be a game-changer to providing real service to our community.”

Housing

Both Faulkner and Koenig believe that the county is losing residents and employees due to high housing costs. 

For both, creating housing for employees is a priority.

High housing costs will only be compounded in the near future, Koenig said, as many close in on retirement.

Discussing his achievements on the board, Koenig points to the relatively recent Unified Permitting Center, which was created in 2022 to combine the Planning and Public Works departments and streamline the county’s notoriously cumbersome building process.

He said that a soon-to-be-considered third-party plan check program would allow residents to hire their own consultants, thus alleviating wait times in the planning department.

Recent moves to ease the building of ADUs and Tiny Homes have also helped to ease the county’s affordable housing crisis, Koenig said. 

Faulkner aligns on these points, agreeing that efforts to fast-track development are essential. 

Her focus on that front would include creating workforce housing, supporting integrated housing projects and increasing the number of Section 8 vouchers. 

“Housing is a healthcare issue when we’re talking about our seniors and people with disabilities and people who are homeless,” she said. “But there is just not the affordability of housing to move people into, and that’s one of the biggest barriers to getting people off the streets.”

Building New Housing

While the county is not in the position of building new housing units, leaders can reduce the red tape and create the conditions by which companies can, Koenig said.

The search for places to build, he said, could include county property, such as on Emeline Avenue and at the parking lot at 701 Ocean St.

Faulkner said she would want to locate some of the affordable housing projects in South County to help assure equitable distribution.

“I have to watch out for District 1, but I also have to make sure the entire county is cared for,” she said. 

14 COMMENTS

  1. Having worked with both candidates and gotten to know them well, the choice is pretty clear on who will best serve the overall county residents. It’s Lani Faulkner for the greatest public good, in listening to average people’s needs, and acting effectively with local, state, and federal agencies to improve our quality of life. Lani will be the most responsive and responsible public servant.

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  2. Stop wasting money on the fantasy commuter train! It will never be built and even if it was, the operating costs would be astronomical! The Sonoma Marin Area Transit only receives 5% of its operating funds from passenger revenue! The remaining costs are funded by taxpayers! Just be done with this nonsense once and for all!

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  3. Definitely the future of fixed rail systems looks very bleak. Even BART is losing so many riders and they are asking the State to give them money to make up for lost revenue. If BART – with a much larger population base and existing routes throughout the Bay Area – cannot make it, it is an expensive pipe dream to start funding a rail between Santa Cruz and Watsonville.

    Better to focus on affordable housing and what can be done in Santa Cruz County.

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  4. So far, I haven’t seen any ideas from Lani of what she might do that would be better than what Manu is doing and has already accomplished. The job is a lot bigger than the rail corridor. And she’s promoting a sales tax? Pretty regressive for someone who advertises that she supports equity.

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  5. Please—Lani is supported by DSA Santa Cruz, ultra far-left progressives that are only for their own and SEIU, ya know, the union for Santa Cruz city workers who didn’t come to their protection when their previously-backed candidates, Krohn and Glover, abused them, especially women.

    Funny, how the article doesn’t mention that Lani is on the FORT executive board, yet claimed that she had no idea it existed. Mark Stone is endorsing her as well but lives in Scotts Valley. Why? Talk about special interests, that’s what Lani is all about.

    I’d rather have the incumbent Manu, especially when the two candidates align on most issues and Lani has little experience in politicking and getting along with those she disagrees with.

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    • Whereas Manu defeated long time SEIU incumbent, John Leopold (used dirty tricks campaigning), the voters sent a strong message of what they want done in their district. I doubt the voters will be wanting to go back to do-nothing obstructionism.

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  6. So NONE of my comments are getting posted? Would you explain why? Again, not posting content you disagree with?

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  7. This is interesting that Good Times editors do not deign to post my comments nor explain why they won’t. Could it be that they are biased? Only allow comments they agree with? If they use the “attacking a specific person” argument, they allow plenty of that online and in their published editions………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

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  8. So, I see the current editor, Brad Kava, laments that people had a hard time with the Good Times publishing some online comments that were Pro-Israel, etc. He commits to keeping the news and comments in the Good Times balanced and fair, not to select and quote views with which he agrees. He is all for “free expression.” He considers he and his staff to be “journalists.”

    Soooo, why haven’t you still not published my above comments of over a month ago? Are they so horrific and disagreeable that they are unmentionable? Or do you have staff that is selective in giving light to certain facts because they back certain candidates and political movements?

    It would be GREAT to finally get an answer…….

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  9. Please—Lani is supported by DSA Santa Cruz, ultra far-left progressives that are only for their own and SEIU, ya know, the union for Santa Cruz city workers who didn’t come to their protection when their previously-backed candidates, Krohn and Glover, abused them, especially women.

    Funny, how the article doesn’t mention that Lani is on the FORT executive board, yet claimed that she had no idea it existed. Mark Stone is endorsing her as well but lives in Scotts Valley. Why? Talk about special interests, that’s what Lani is all about.

    I’d rather have the incumbent Manu, especially when the two candidates align on most issues and Lani has little experience in politicking and getting along with those she disagrees with.

    Whereas Manu defeated long time SEIU incumbent, John Leopold (used dirty tricks campaigning), the voters sent a strong message of what they want done in their district. I doubt the voters will be wanting to go back to do-nothing obstructionism.

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