Voters in the city of Santa Cruz will decide on March 3 whether to recall City Councilmembers Drew Glover and Chris Krohn, and if so, who should replace them. It marks the first city council recall effort to make it onto the ballot in Santa Cruz in recent memory.
The campaign has been increasingly bitter, with the two sides trading charges of racism, sexism and conflicts of interest.
“Nothing less than the future of our city, I think, is at stake,” said Santa Cruz resident Carol Polhamus, a retired teacher who serves on the steering committee of Santa Cruz United, the organization backing the recall effort. The group says it gathered a total of 15,899 verified signatures on petitions to put the recall on the ballot, surpassing the legal threshold of 7,938 signatures per council member.
But Glover, who was elected to the council in 2018, alleges the group has an ulterior motive.
“Their ultimate goal is to remove the representation of students, the poor and people of color from the city council so that they can maintain business as usual,” Glover said in an interview.
Krohn, who was elected in 2016 and was already facing re-election in November, called the recall effort “undemocratic.”
“It’s about real estate interests. It’s about money. It’s about millions of dollars that is on the table right now in Santa Cruz,” he said.
Polhamus denied the allegations.
“This is not a right-wing, fascist, anti-homeless, big developer movement. This is a local, community-oriented, involved citizen recall movement,” she said. “We think we deserve better.”
Like so much about Santa Cruz politics these days, the recall effort has its roots in the city’s housing crisis. The issue came to a head last year in the debate over the so-called Ross Camp — a giant tent city that sprung up behind the Gateway Plaza Shopping Center near downtown.
At its peak, the population of the encampment behind the Ross Dress For Less store at 650 River St. reached nearly 200 people, with Santa Cruz Fire Chief Jason Hajduk warning that the open flames and close quarters in the camp were “a recipe for disaster.” City council debate over what to do about the camp was raucous and, at times, heated. Members of the community packed into the council chambers, including neighbors of the camp, advocates for the homeless, and homeless people.
Glover and Krohn, part of a 4-3 progressive majority on the council, argued against efforts to shut the camp down. The debate culminated during a contentious council meeting on February 12, 2019. That’s when city staff unveiled a recommendation to close the camp by March 15, giving camp residents only about one month to vacate.
“Can the city make any commitment to the folks at the camp behind Ross Dress for Less that we will find them a place by that date?” asked Krohn.
Former Assistant City Manager Tina Shull responded that they were “trying really hard” to be able to make that commitment, and that staffers felt they had a feasible plan.
Glover, who at that point was just weeks into his term, argued for a plan to temporarily keep the camp open; remove some overnight parking restrictions for people living in their vehicles; and study the establishment of so-called “transitional encampments” that would allow the homeless to continue camping, but with stricter controls and more supervision than at the Ross Camp. His proposal, which he argued was the start of “really tangible action” on the homelessness crisis, passed on a 4-3 vote.
It would be another two months before the city was able to close the camp, and only after a federal judge in San Jose ruled in the city’s favor in a lawsuit brought by residents of the camp. Glover raised eyebrows by testifying against the city in the case, an action he defends because he believes the city was overstating its ability to provide shelter for the residents.
“I don't see how it could be a step too far, as an elected official having all of the information, countering the claims that the city made,” he said.
Glover’s and Krohn’s opposition to closing the Ross Camp infuriated members of Santa Cruz United, and became the basis for the recall. Recall petitions cite the council members’ positions on the camp as reasons they should be removed, saying the pair failed “to pursue legal, realistic, and humane solutions to homelessness in the City of Santa Cruz.”
But the campaign goes further, accusing them of being disruptive, disrespectful and even sexist.
Five people, including former Mayor Martine Watkins, formally accused Glover and Krohn of workplace misconduct including gender-related bullying, an allegation Watkins raised during that February 12 council meeting.
“There are perceptions that my colleagues, both Councilmember Glover and Councilmember Krohn, are intentionally bullying me because I am a woman; that if not for my gender, if I were a man, there would not be this question of my integrity,” she said at the meeting.
An outside attorney hired by the city found that most of the allegations, including those by Mayor Watkins, were “not substantiated.” But the investigation did find evidence of one instance each in which Krohn and Glover may have violated the city’s workplace conduct policy. Krohn was cited for “an audible sarcastic laugh” during a staffer’s presentation at the February 12 meeting. Glover was cited for being “needlessly and unjustifiably antagonistic” toward Councilmember Donna Meyers in an earlier dispute over the use of a city hall conference room.
Carol Polhamus with Santa Cruz United said the incidents and the allegations are indicative of the atmosphere she believes the two have created at city hall.
“I think that’s obviously a pattern of behavior that people find offensive,” she said.
Both Krohn and Glover denied being disruptive or abusive, and claimed the allegations were politically motivated.
“It seems to me it’s an orchestrated political position that our opponents are taking,” Krohn said. “They’re coming after us.”
The two charged that they are being targeted by property owners and real estate interests because of their support for things like rent control, limits on evictions, and affordable housing requirements. But Polhamus denied that developers are calling the shots.
“Santa Cruz United is a coalition of nine different neighborhood groups. And we came together and formed pretty organically over the course of a very short period of time in response to what we saw as some very spectacularly bad decisions that impacted the neighborhood,” she said.
Campaign finance reports filed with the city do show a wide variety of occupations for Santa Cruz United’s contributors, with many listed as “retired.” But they also show that roughly two-thirds of Santa Cruz United’s contributions last year came from another group, Santa Cruz Together, which formed in 2018 to oppose the Measure M rent control initiative. Campaign finance filings by Santa Cruz Together include substantial support from development interests.
All told, Santa Cruz United reported that it raised more than $107,000 in contributions through December 31, 2019, including about $67,000 in “non-monetary contributions” from Santa Cruz Together. In contrast, the Committee to Stop the Recalls reported that it raised about $12,000 in the same period.
Not only are the issues in the recall campaign complicated, so is the ballot.
Voters will be confronted with four separate questions. They will be asked whether Glover should be recalled, whether Krohn should be recalled, and they will also be asked to choose one of two candidates apiece to replace them.
Santa Cruz County Clerk and Registrar of Voters Gail Pellerin noted that each question is independent of the others, which means that one can vote no on the recalls, but still vote for the replacement candidates.
“You don’t have to vote yes or no — or vote at all on the question of recall to have your vote count on the candidates, or vice versa. You could vote yes or no on the recall, and not vote for any candidate,” she said in an interview. “Voting is not a test. You don’t have to vote on every single issue.”
With that in mind, supporters of Glover and Krohn are urging people to vote no on the recalls, but just in case they pass, they have endorsed two progressive former mayors — Tim Fitzmaurice and Katherine Beiers to replace them. Beiers is running for Krohn’s seat, which means she would be up for re-election in November, and Fitzmaurice is running to replace Glover, whose term ends in 2022.
Whoever wins will still face a daunting homelessness crisis in Santa Cruz, and a community that remains deeply divided over it.