November 2020 Santa Cruz City Council Race FAQ and Guide

The Candidate Filing Period Runs From July 13th until August 7th

All the technical and specific information you need can be found here.

If you landed here, you’re probably either considering a run for the Santa Cruz city council or you’re curious about my advice to those considering a run. Either way welcome! If you are planning to run, thanks! Community engagement on city matters is always a good thing. If you’re thinking about running, think long and hard! It’s not an easy job and it’s a 4 year commitment. If you’re just curious about my thoughts, here they are.

Before I get down to candidate specifics, I want to point out a couple of “external” factors that could impact and influence the local city council election. Keep these points in mind as you make your decision to run and how you plan to run.


  • UCSC will not have “in person” fall classes on campus this year. Basically this means that many of the “same day” voters that got Glover elected last time won’t be on campus this time. It will not completely eliminate the UCSC student vote but it will severely impact influence on the city council election and same day onsite voter registration on campus will be non-existent this year. This bodes well for moderate Democrat candidates and does not bode well for progressive candidates. So if you’re a moderate Democrat, with 4 seats open, there has never been a better time to run. Literally.
  • Due to COVID-19, most voting will be done through mail in ballots. Again, it’s hard to nail down the actual effect and influence at this stage. The effect at UCSC is obvious as I just noted. We will have fewer residents living in Santa Cruz in November.
  • COVID-19 will effect how people run for office this fall. It already is. Public meetings like city council meetings are being held on Zoom, not live in front of the usual peanut gallery. Will they even have “candidate forums” this time, and if so how will they be held? More Zoom online for these forums too? Likely. And the traditional walking the precincts door to door is probably done for this year and the forseeable future. People aren’t going to want strangers knocking on their doors. The old methods won’t work anymore. I think direct mail will still be used, maybe even more so than the past. It might be the only “old school” method still available and effective at reaching people. Santa Cruz has a terrific local company that has worked with pretty much everyone who runs for local office. They are good at doing this kind of stuff. They work with both “sides”. And the people who run it are apolitical and honest. Vibrantly honest. Work with LOCAL outside vendors who have done this before and are good at it. How will candidates get creative to get their message out?
  • Santa Cruz is planning to transition to district elections in 2022. If you are even considering a run for city council in 2022 when the format should shift to district elections, now is a good time to get your name out and make people in your district familiar with who you are and what you stand for. Even if you lost in the 2020 general election, you’d have to be considered a favorite in your district in 2022. If you win in 2020, great. If you lose, you’ll be setting yourself up nicely to run in your own district in 2 years. Because people will know your name already.

So You Want to be on the City Council?

First and foremost ask yourself honestly why? Are you doing it for the money? I hope not. The pay isn’t good. The ideal candidate for me won’t need the money, so for them it won’t be about the money. Are you doing it for the fame and glory? I hope not. It’s not coming. If anything, just the opposite will happen. You’ll get attention but most of it will be negative when you inevitably let someone down or disappoint someone. And people get nasty when they get let down and disappointed here. Santa Cruz isn’t shy about airing grievances. So you better put your body armor on or have a thick skin. The mud is coming, not only during the campaign to get elected but if you get elected expect 4 more years of unconstructive criticism.

Still here? Still with me? Good! That means you’re passionate and committed. Absolutely necessary for the long haul. Everything else can be taught.

Some simple things you should do as a candidate:

Be nice. I know that’s really hard these days and really asking a lot but reach back, back before social media turned people into raging bitter factions, to when people were actually nice! Be that nice. People like nice. People can’t fight nice. They can only embrace nice.

Be happy. I know. Another tough ask. What’s to be happy about? Find something. Dig deep. But be happy. Or at least learn to act it. People want to be happy. People want happy. People want to be embraced and part of happy. Give them something to embrace. It won’t be the dumpster fire of issues that gives them the happy embrace. So make it you!

Be confident. This one you can learn. But it takes time. And work. And practice. Lots of practice. Practice makes you confident. Practice makes you good at something. And in this case, practice involves talking about the “issues” of Santa Cruz (see “have a platform” below). Talking about them with supporters and critics, and figuring out your responses to the inevitable questions you’ll hear about them. You need to anticipate the questions and have the answers not only memorized, but you know the topic well enough to be able to bend your answer if needed. This can be learned. But you gotta put the time in and practice.

Some slightly more difficult things you should do as a candidate:

Have a platform. It doesn’t have to be made of concrete. Sand is better. Sand moves. Be flexible with your platform. Your “platform” should consist of basically topics related to Santa Cruz and your position on them. There’s actually a really easy way to do this. Get some 3×5 index cards. Remember them? Each card gets a topic on one side and your response on the other. Your response has to fit on the card so it can’t be real long. Think about a minute long. Take your time to work out each card. Then memorize each card. Have someone quiz you with questions about each card so you can learn to be flexible, but still have a quick answer if you just need to share an opinion. And practice! This will make you confident. Some obvious topic ideas from me might include:

  • More accountability and funding from county on social service programs like mental health and substance abuse program funding (highlighting the impact on the city)
  • Public safety and recidivism
  • Housing (not just affordable, all kinds)
  • Homelessness (reducing it vs. just servicing it)
  • Growth/Economic Development
  • Environmental Issues
  • Water

and a few other suggestions from me would include:

  • City responses to COVID related issues like health restrictions
  • City budget cuts from COVID related revenue losses
  • District elections transition
  • Response to suggestions from recent critical Grand Jury report

Have a mailing list. This is a big one that people tend to forget or take for granted. Build it. Start now. Name, Address, emails. You want to be able to use this for both direct print mail and online communications. If you wait you’re late and you’ll be making a big mistake. The list should be not just registered voters but more, volunteers, friends and family, donors, endorsements, etc. Find someone good at organizing lists. This is worth its weight in gold.

(By the way, I’m blessed to have amassed a huge mailing list thanks to subscribers to the Weekly Dump. It’s a list I’m very protective of and would never share or rent to anyone.)

Have a good campaign manager/treasurer. This is pretty important obviously as you’ll need to find someone you trust who is a decent accountant/bookkeeper/manager. The more you can unload on this person, the more you can focus on the messaging and making people remember your name.

Have volunteers. Start now. Don’t be shy about asking for help. But have a plan in place for what you want them to do. Be flexible. Make them feel appreciated. Volunteers win elections (and sometimes recall elections). Without them you just can’t win.

Some simple things you shouldn’t do as a candidate:

Don’t be smug. This is a tough one. You want to exude confidence without appearing smug. Easier said than done. So how do you do it? It’s actually easier than you think. You listen more. You talk less. Listening shows empathy for the voters. And when they are done talking, and only when they are done talking, you respond and show your confidence to lead and/or work towards a solution. If you’re driving the conversation all the time, you’re just patronizing people and they won’t feel like you’re listening. Listen twice as much as you talk. That’s why we have two ears and one mouth.

Don’t take shit for granted. I’m not gonna name anyone here but I’ve seen people run for office who were easily the most qualified candidates and still lose. Why? It wasn’t a lack of being qualified. It’s more likely a lack of effort to do the hard and difficult work. Don’t think you can coast to a win. You might be bitterly disappointed when someone who tried harder beats you.

Don’t be an asshole. I knows this goes without saying but holy hell this IS Santa Cruz so yes, it needs to be said. Don’t be an asshole. Nobody likes assholes. Ok, maybe other assholes like assholes but the majority of people just don’t like assholes. So why be one if you don’t have to be one? Being an asshole is a one way ticket to last place. We just got rid of a couple of assholes. People aren’t eager for more.


Frequently Asked Questions:

How Long Does the Term Last?
4 years. Unless you get recalled. Then it could be shorter.

Is the Position Full Time or Part Time?
Technically it’s classified as a “part time exempt” position.

How Much Time Can I Expect to Spend Working Each Week on Average?
When meetings are in session, the city council meets twice a month every other Tuesday. During the year, they also hold special budget meetings that could last all day for a number of days. City council members also hold positions of local committees and commissions, and must spend a number of hours weekly reading reports and preparing materials. On average, expect to spend about 20 hours a week on the work, but that number could be higher depending on the workload at any given time.