Public Comment

LETTER FROM SANTA CRUZ: story of a recall campaign

Christopher Krohn, special to the Planet
Friday November 08, 2019 - 01:02:00 PM

Covering local events in Santa Cruz has never been more challenging. In Surf City, journalism currently drips painfully through a leaky spigot.Many stories of import go unreported, not for a lack of resources but rather a lack of investment.

Reading print news lately is like participating in a kind of cultural bloodletting. It will perhaps die off when the current over-50 crowd dies off.

Here, all writers' heroic efforts in practicing their art die under the feet of a hedge fund, Alden Global Capital. Alden is squeezing the remaining writing shards from a handful of aspiring young journalists at the local Santa Cruz Sentinel and the San Jose Mercury News. Alden owns both. They make good money, but do not reinvest it. A few more pounds of flesh and the Wall Street vultures will be off to their next victim.

The Santa Cruz local media also includes a snarky and opinionated weekly, the Santa Cruz Good Times; a couple of insensitive and shallow local TV news stations, KION and KSBW; a tenacious and bright college newspaper, City on a Hill; an upstart podcaster. SantaCruzLocal, and me, a councilmember/journalist who contributes to BrattonOnline and elsewhere..

All of us cover local politics from various angles—some more consistent than others. Below is one report, not done for Alden, but a councilmember’s perspective on local politics.

Recalling the Recall

A recall campaign is going on in Santa Cruz to oust Drew Glover, one of only two African-American men ever elected to the city council, and me. We've been outspoken on the need for rent control, demanding developers build the legally required affordable housing units that were often negotiated away by previous councils, standing up to the UC Regents' extreme growth plans for UCSC, and building a much-needed emergency shelter.

This is what we campaigned on, me in 2016 and Glover in 2018, and it's essentially why we are being recalled. Who's funding this effort?

You may have guessed, real estate and developer money and perhaps some disgruntled homeowners who overpaid for their houses and now want to sanitize our town of renters and the houseless. You can be sure the California Apartment Association is also in the thick of it. Over $1 million was raised to defeat Measure M, rent control, last November.

There is a bigger picture to this recall and having a statewide political lens might help. Republicans are flailing electorally in California. Voter registration has hit all-time lows , so in order to hang onto power they've devised a three-prong national strategy: 1) Gerrymandering districts, which several states are currently fighting back on; 2) Using voter fraud allegations to make it difficult for new voters and non-regular voters to actually vote, and 3) Stopping anyone who has served jail time from voting.

In California, since these three no longer yield positive outcomes for the GOP in this overwhelming Democratic and "No Party Preference" state, they are resorting to recalls. If they don't like the outcome of a local election, because rent control, affordable housing, or homeless advocates have been elected, they use our state's fairly liberal recall method. The Washington Post and FiveThirtyEight among other news outlets have reported that Republicans are using recalls in states like Colorado, Nevada, and Oregon to overturn elections that did not go their way. 

Recall, Santa Cruz-style 

In Santa Cruz, all you need are 20 valid signatures on a petition to start the recall process, and the standard for recalling an elected official is essentially anything you want to write on the petition. The California election code says, "A reason must be provided, but under Article II. Section 14(a) of the California Constitution, the sufficiency of this reason is not reviewable." It appears that you can accuse an officeholder of anything and it can go on the petition. Recall efforts are also currently underway in Chico and Westminster, for apparently political reasons similar to those in Santa Cruz, not because any law was broken. 

To understand how concerted the recall effort is in Santa Cruz, it must be recognized that the threat that four new city councilmembers represent to the lifeblood of local capitalism, namely to market rate development interests led by Barry Swenson Builder, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk corporations, and a dozen or so realtors, is a grave one. So perhaps not too surprisingly, this item appeared recently on the Santa Cruz City Council agenda: 

Censure of Councilmember Chris Krohn and Councilmember Drew Glover for substantiated findings in two cases of violation of the City of Santa Cruz Administrative Procedure Order 

It played right into the recall script, possibly planned by some of the above interests. The authors of the resolution were two councilmembers whose benefactors have been accustomed to controlling local power, approving all market-rate development projects, working in lock-step with UCSC as it proceeds to gobble up all available off-campus housing, and never turning down Marriott or Hyatt corporate proposals. 

But these councilmembers are now part of a 4-3 minority. Their grip on local decision-making has been loosened. and they must be hoping that a favorable vote on the censure would help fuel the recall and maybe return them to power. 

How did Santa Cruz get here?  

We have had two elections and elected four new councilmembers (all supporters by the way of Bernie Sanders) who now constitute a four-person majority on a seven-member city council. A day after the 2018 election, pronouncements were made by the more edgy racist minority in town about recalling all four of us. When that gang that couldn't shoot straight failed to turn in a completed petition form, the A-team of local “moderates” took the reins away from the right-wing group of ne'er-do-wells. It seemed similar to how the alt-right fuels the mainstream of Trumpland. 

This moderate group has now apparently spent well over $100,000 of local real estate and California Apartment Association largess to obtain enough signatures to recall Glover and me. They reportedly were paying at least $16 per signature—even up to a reported $50 per registered voter—to petition circulators in the last week of the campaign. They turned in over 11,000 signatures, and the County Clerk has until Nov. 22nd to verify the signature count. 

But let's take a step back. What was the real kick-off to the more serious recall movement, given that some politically displaced Republicans had first tried to light the match? It was at the city council meeting this past February 12th, when the Mayor of Santa Cruz stated at the beginning of the evening session that there was a "perception in the community" that she was being "bullied" by Councilmembers Chris Krohn and Drew Glover. Three more city employees stepped forward to complain and stand with the Mayor. Thirteen charges in all against the two of us were leveled by five women, two councilmembers and three city employees. 

After the report of an investigation by Sacramento attorney Joe Rose, at a cost of $18,000, yielded only two actually "substantiated" findings, recall petition circulators still called us "sexual predators" in order to get more signatures. 

The only substantiated findings against me was described as a "sarcastic laugh," which allegedly took place on that same evening after the Mayor registered her bullying allegation. If I actually laughed it is not audible on the video from that evening's proceedings, nor was it corroborated in interviews with four other city councilmembers when they were asked if they heard it, and I don’t remember laughing. 

The only person who told the investigator that she’d heard me laugh was another councilmember, who was also the complainant in the one other substantiated finding, against my colleague, Drew Glover. This resulted from an argument between the two over city hall meeting room availability. It seems that the councilmember overstayed her meeting time and Glover expressed his irritation in an argument that took place in the narrow hallway running through the city council's cramped office cubicle spaces. 

Our opponents clearly took these "findings" and used them to fuel the recall campaign. Front page headlines have appeared often this fall in the daily Santa Cruz Sentinel under banners like, "Santa Cruz Leaders' Conduct Investigation Reveals Wrongdoing" and "Santa Cruz City Council Members May Face Peers' Censure." The weekly Good Times smelled blood and produced two cover stories with dramatic titles, "City Counseling: Can Santa Cruz Detoxify Itself," and "Does Santa Cruz Have a Bullying Problem?" The local KSBW television ran with, "Investigation into Two City Council Members Showed They Lacked Decorum." What seems even more troubling is that the $18k Rose Report recommended "conflict resolution" to include all councilmembers. This recommendation was accepted on a 7-0 council vote and $12,000 was set aside to pay for it, but not before a vote on censure took place at the same meeting. 

It was weird. 

The Censure 

What is "censure?" From what I've been able to gather it is a formal public condemnation that expresses "strong or vehement expression of disapproval," according to In practice at the city council level, it is the public shaming of an elected official. There are no legal consequences that occur when a public official is censured. At the federal level, US Sen. Thomas Dodd was censured for using campaign funds for personal use, Sen. Herman Talmadge accepted $43,000 and did not report it to his campaign, while Sen. Joseph McCarthy, yes, that Joseph McCarthy was censured for "abuse" and "non-cooperation" when a Senate committee was investigating him. Seems to me that censuring should be reserved for political figures who are real criminals like Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, or real sexual harassers in the political realm like Judge Clarence Thomas, former Sen. Robert Packwood, and former US Rep. Anthony Weiner 

In Santa Cruz, the last censure to take place was in 2016. Then Councilmember Micah Posner was censured for renting out an unpermitted dwelling unit in his backyard. That was illegal. 

On October 8th, with the Santa Cruz city council chambers packed to capacity, thirty-six members of the public spoke against the censure and eight in favor. The words of those 36 were at times both poetic and poignant. Those comments included: 

Conflict is not abuse (Alicia Kuhl) 

The person punking all of you is the City Manager. (Nora Hochman) 

Don't kick off reconciliation with punishment. (Brett Garrett) 

From the Merchant of Venice, "The quality of mercy is not strained." (Darryl Darling) 

This censure is a misuse of feminism. (Katherine Herndon) 

This is a #MeToo town, the city manager should've fixed this before it turned into a civil war. (Ed Porter) 

Yom Kippur is a day of atonement, but you must first go to the person and ask for forgiveness. (Rabbi Posner) 

Donna and Martine, perhaps your deepest need is to be completely heard and understood. (Satya Orion) 

Censure is just more shaming. (Rick Longinotti) 

Censure is a political tactic to reinforce the recall. It's a Republican tactic in many states to overturn elections. (Eric Ericsson) 

These same councilmembers are the ones who most represent the people, yes, I support Drew Glover and Chris Krohn. (Marilyn Garrett) 


After the last member of the public spoke, a motion and vote on the censure were quickly dispatched by the city council. Since four Bernie-cratic, rent-control, make-government-more-transparent councilmembers were in the majority, it was not difficult to predict which way the vote would go. From the minutes: 

Councilmember Brown moved, seconded by Vice Mayor Cummings, that the Council finds that the censuring of two of its members is inadequate based on the findings of the Rose report as it relates to Administrative Procedure Order II-1B regarding respectful workplace conduct, which states, “A single act shall not constitute disrespectful conduct unless especially severe and egregious.” 

The crowd of well over a hundred cheered and high-fived. The handful of real estate and pro-development people who were present bowed their heads. But as this part of the journey into our version of Trump-land ends, the real estate-developer power duopoly may in fact get its paws back on Surf City. 

Recall proponents submitted over 11,000 "raw count" signatures on October 22nd. The county clerk has until November 22nd to verify them. If 7,938 signatures are deemed valid the recall of two councilmembers then goes on the March 3rd ballot. To paraphrase Peter Douglas the former Executive Director of the Coastal Commission, maybe the fight for affordable housing, homeless services, and reining in rampant UCSC growth is never won, but is always being won. Those are the politics for now in Surf City.