The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors reached a milestone Thursday by swearing in Justin Cummings, the first Black person to serve on the board in its 172-year-long history, to the District 3 seat before a large audience that packed the chambers.
During the same ceremony, Felipe Hernandez became the second Latino to serve on the Board.
Justin Cummings said his ascension to the position is noteworthy for several reasons.
“This is significant because African Americans have made significant contributions to the country and the community,” Cummings said after being sworn in by Gary Patton, who held the District 3 seat from 1975-1995. “Yet we continue to struggle to overcome poverty and oppression and to have a voice in the decision-making process.”
Cummings said his new position is also significant because people in the U.S. are still treated differently based on the color of their skin.
“But when we include the voices and perspectives of oppressed people in the decision-making process and create more inclusive policies that help alleviate oppression, everyone benefits,” he said.
Cummings said he plans to work on affordable housing issues and on helping the community continue to recover from the CZU fires. He also wants to improve the infrastructure along the North Coast, combat climate change and increase food security.
In addition, he hopes to reduce homelessness, expand mental health programs and support the rail-trail project.
Hernandez, sworn in by Congressman Jimmy Panetta, acknowledged his mother, who he said was instrumental during his campaign.
His mother was a former cannery worker who was part of the strikes during the 1980s, and Hernandez recalled looking up to her as a leader and a role model who shaped his political aspirations.
He witnessed how agriculture and cannery workers were, and continue to be, underrepresented, as has South County as a whole.
He said he plans to focus on affordable housing and farmworker housing, as well as a “viable, equitable transportation system.”
He also plans to support Watsonville Community Hospital as it grows under the local ownership and leadership of the Pajaro Valley Community Health Trust.
“Those are the things I want to make sure that we address,” Hernandez said. “I want to assure you that I will work hard for the county, but I really want to make sure that the County works for South County.”