The San Lorenzo Valley is a notch in the Santa Cruz Mountains made up of several small towns: Boulder Creek, Brookdale, Ben Lomond and Felton. While each has its own volunteer fire department (Brookdale is covered by Boulder Creek and backed up by Ben Lomond’s department), there is little else in the way of public services made available. Yes, there are sheriff outposts and the trash gets picked up once a week, but when it comes to policy-making, the Valley towns are sometimes left out of the conversation when Santa Cruz County Supervisors jockey for resources.
Enter Jayme Ackemann. Part journalist, part public relations guru and policy wonk, Ackemann has carved her professional path through the Bay Area, blending idealism with practicality. Her latest endeavor, after having recently been appointed to the San Lorenzo Valley Water District Board of Directors, is to lead a group of locals in an effort to create that governmental representation she says the people of SLV both want and deserve.
The San Lorenzo Valley Community Council is an idea that has emerged several times in the last few decades, but each attempt to create an advocacy group has either been met with apathy or a lack of support from the powers-that-be in Santa Cruz County. This time, says Ackemann, she’s seeing a little more interest from residents. On the group’s Facebook page, entitled “San Lorenzo Valley Community Council Steering Committee,” Ackemann has buy-in so far from 32 local movers and shakers, including journalists, educators, artists, musicians and small business owners.
The idea, Ackemann says, is having its moment.
“In the best traditions of groupthink, I had the idea, but I’m not the first to have considered creating a council,” she said. “We all have our hobby horses, and this has been one of mine for a long time. I’ve not only worked in local government for most of my career, but I grew up in local government.”
Ackemann’s father was, and her brother and sister-in-law are, city managers for Bay Area cities.
“I understand the value of good governance, so living in an unincorporated area and feeling so disconnected from the structures of government was always something that bothered me, and seeing how that lack of representation let us down during the CZU [August Lightning Complex] fires sort of pushed me to start generating discussions around this issue,” she said. “I understand there is a venue for this type of group to exist in our community without having the kind of regulatory authority that comes with civic structures of government.”
Ackemann points to the state’s Fire Safe emergency vehicle access regulations, conceived by the California Board of Forestry, as a good example of how underrepresented communities are left behind in discussions.
“Santa Cruz County has roughly 276,000 residents (and) 146,000 of us live in unincorporated communities—that’s over half of us that have very little representation or access to government,” she said. “There are only four cities in the county that are incorporated, and with the exception of Watsonville, they’re all fairly affluent: Capitola, Scotts Valley and Santa Cruz. That tells me that those residents are better able to lobby and gain access to state and federal grant programs.”
Ackemann uses her own employer, Community Bridges, as an example of how that access affects local residents. Through increased Covid-related funding, the countywide nonprofit has been able to offer every senior in the county a free breakfast and dinner during the pandemic.
“Once that funding dries up, we won’t be able to offer those meals any longer, but the cities of Capitola and Scotts Valley have agreed to put up the funding to continue offering those meals to their seniors,” she said. “Because they have the structures of an incorporated community, they also have the budgets to fund those types of offerings that unincorporated areas cannot. SLV is one of the two most food-insecure areas in Santa Cruz County.”
Ultimately, Ackemann says, the idea will need, among other things, support from the County Board of Supervisors. When asked for a statement about the potential formation of a community council, a representative from Santa Cruz County Fifth District Supervisor Bruce McPherson’s office said that “We are always eager to work with community members however they choose to organize, and we look forward to learning more about what folks have in mind.”
Regardless of that uncertainty, Ackemann is eager to move forward with the idea. Her first foray into the assembly of the council is a signature drive that’s happening on MoveOn.org. As of Wednesday, nearly 170 people have signed the petition to encourage the council’s formation.
To bring attention to the movement, Ackemann recently made an appearance on KSCO’s “Good Morning Monterey Bay” with Rosemary Chalmers on Tuesday. She then pivoted to hosting the inaugural meeting of the San Lorenzo Valley Community Council Steering Committee that evening. Eight local women convened via Zoom to discuss the roadmap for the creation of the council and discussed ways to engage local residents in the process.
Ackemann says she is looking to create a fact sheet on what the concept looks like, and spread the idea to residents by hosting tables at farmers’ markets and other community-oriented events. Ackemann says she is also authoring a letter to Supervisor McPherson’s office to notify him of the group’s intent, and invite his support for the council’s creation.
So what attributes is Ackemann searching for when it comes to potential council members?
“A community of the willing is my first goal,” Ackemann said. “It would be great to have individuals’ voices be heard, because the council will be open to any voice. I’m not interested in someone’s politics; I’m interested in whether they are engaged in bettering their community, and if they have the desire to share this idea with fellow residents. Someone who’s able to communicate effectively, and has some degree of political activity. You have to be plugged into what the issues are, and understand the purpose of the council. We have a really solid start at forming a group that can make this happen, and I’m excited to see what comes next.”
Interested in becoming a part of this project? You can contact Jayme via Twitter (@JaymeAckemann) or via the San Lorenzo Valley Community Council Steering Committee on Facebook.