.Who’s Funding the Campaigns?

The political groups and individuals financing some of Santa Cruz County’s most contentious measures

Santa Cruz Together, the committee leading the charge against Measure N—Santa Cruz’s proposed empty-home tax—led all local political groups involved in the Nov. 8 election in contributions as of Monday evening with a whopping $133,538. 

The coalition took the top spot after the California Association of Realtors ($29,900) and S.C. Beach Hotel Partners, LLC ($5,000) made large contributions earlier this month. It was the second significant contribution for both entities—CRA chipped in $20,000 to the campaign in August, and S.C. Beach Hotel Partners gave $5,000 in May.

While there are dozens of individual donors who have made small three- and four-figure contributions along the way, other large donors to the No on N campaign include Bailey Properties ($2,500) and Santa Cruz Seaside Company ($10,000).

Measure N would levy a tax on residences that are in use less than 120 days per calendar year in the amount of $6,000 per single-family residence, $6,000 per parcel with six or fewer units and $3,000 per year on condominiums and residential units with seven or more units. The revenue from the measure—an estimated $2.5-4 million—would go toward affordable housing construction, paying the costs of administering the tax and conducting independent audits of the measure. In addition, up to 5% of revenue would go toward providing restroom and hygiene services to people experiencing homelessness.

The committee supporting that initiative has raised $26,366.52, the majority of which has come from individual Santa Cruz residents. That group gathered the required signatures to place the item on the ballot earlier this year. 

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Measure O

The committee advocating for Santa Cruz voters to reject Measure O, which seeks to halt the construction of the Mixed Use Library Project on Cedar Street, has raised the second-largest amount of contributions, bringing in $111,056.

This includes large donations from Redtree Partners LP ($10,000) and SCFS Ventures LLC ($5,000) that came in over the last few weeks. The former is a local commercial real estate company, and the latter is the developer behind the Cruz Hotel project, a six-story, 228-room hotel planned for the 300 block of Front Street.

Friends of Santa Cruz Public Libraries ($10,000), Santa Cruz Seaside Company ($12,500), and the Green Valley Corporation, also known as Barry Swenson Builder ($10,000), have also given five-figure contributions to Santa Cruz for Real Library and Housing Solutions, while around a dozen businesses and individuals that have ties to the hospitality and development sectors have given four-figure donations. This includes the Santa Cruz Dream Inn ($5,000) and Devon Construction Inc. ($5,000).

Meanwhile, the group that gathered the signatures to place Measure O on the ballot—Our Downtown, Our Future—has raised $30,872.22. All but three of the contributions collected by that committee have been three-figure donations from individuals.

Measure Q

The committee formed to propel the renewal of Watsonville’s urban growth boundaries fell from its spot as the local political group with the largest number of monetary contributions earlier this week.

That’s because a $100,000 donation from a local farmer to the Committee for Planned Growth and Farmland Protection in early April has been scrubbed from the group’s fundraising total in amended campaign statements filed Monday.

Committee member Sam Earnshaw tells GT that New Native co-founder Sandra Ward actually made three donations of $100, $200 and $50, but that an error produced the previously reported six-figure donation.

Watsonville City Clerk Irwin Ortiz says the error could have been a typo on the part of the committee or a technical glitch. Ortiz adds that he and committee treasurer Betty Bobeda looked over the committee’s transactions on Monday and could not find the $100,000 contribution.

“So either the committee corrected it, or it fell off at some point,” Ortiz says.

The committee’s amended filing for the months of January through June only showed a $200 contribution from Ward.

After the $100,000 deduction, the committee’s total contributions received for this calendar year dropped from nearly $150,000 to $47,669.25, according to Bobeda.

That new number includes a recent $5,000 donation from Randy Repass, the founder of West Marine, the chain of boating supply and fishing retail stores that was once headquartered in Watsonville. Repass is just one of several South County agriculture and business leaders who have donated to help the committee pass Measure Q, which locks the City of Watsonville into the urban growth restrictions first approved in 2002 for another 18 years.

Live Earth Farm’s Thomas Broz, for instance, has given $10,000 this calendar year, and the Santa Cruz Land Trust also recently donated $10,000. Lakeside Organic Gardens ($2,000) and Bruce Rider & Sons’ Jim Rider ($2,500) have also made significant contributions.

Measure Q is running in opposition to Measure S, which proposes to allow the Watsonville City Council to alter the city’s urban boundaries during the upcoming general plan process. The committee spearheading Measure S has only raised $99.

Measure R

The committee leading the charge for the approval of a half-cent sales tax measure in Watsonville has netted $25,999 in contributions this month. Two labor unions ($10,000), the Ow Trust ($9,999) and the Santa Cruz County Land Trust ($5,000) all made significant contributions to the Committee for a Vibrant Watsonville, which had only raised $2,624.14 through September.

Measure Rplaced on the ballot by Watsonville City Council in June—would raise the city’s sales tax to 9.75% and bring an estimated $5.1 million into the city’s general fund. City leaders say that the additional revenue would be used to upgrade and upkeep Watsonville’s parks and roads, as well as its library and older adult services.

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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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