Fifth District candidates forum
Fifth District candidates (at table, from left) Theresa Bond, Christopher Bradford, Tom Decker and Monica Martinez answer questions from the audience while making their pitch for the supervisor position during the Feb. 7 forum at the Highlands Park Senior Center in Ben Lomond. (Drew Penner/Press Banner)

The most powerful moment during the Fifth District candidates forum Feb. 7 at the Highlands Park Senior Center in Ben Lomond had nothing to do with the four people on stage vying to replace outgoing Supervisor Bruce McPherson.

At 7:11pm, after over an hour in the dark—a lingering effect of weekend storms—the lights came back on.

“I was just going to talk about PG&E,” said Monica Martinez, as cheers erupted from the packed house. “I’m like, ‘How do I look in the light? I was looking really good in the dark.’”

Martinez, the CEO of nonprofit Encompass Community Services, along with her opponents, Los Gatos-Saratoga Union School Board Trustee Theresa Bond; Christopher Bradford, a software business owner; and Tom Decker, a homebuilder; had been making do just fine under the battery-powered Christmas lighting and with the PA system powered by a generator.

But the need to elect an official that will be able to put the spotlight on mountain issues most effectively wasn’t lost on anyone in the room.

And that started right from the top of the event, which started with a moment of silence for Robert Brainard III, who was killed three days earlier when a tree fell on a home in Boulder Creek. After an escape plan was outlined (attendees were told they’d have to leave on foot because the driveway is too skinny to accommodate emergency responders and evacuees), candidates made their opening statements.

“I live on the summit,” said Bond, explaining how she faces Santa Cruz Mountain challenges daily, while positioning herself as an elected official representing the percentage of Santa Cruz County residents who fall within Santa Clara County school district boundaries. “I live on a one-land private road…We’re heating our house with wood.”

Bradford’s story, about losing his home in the 2020 CZU Lightning Complex Fire, clearly resonated across the hall.

“If you’re ready for change…I’m ready to represent you,” he said, noting he had to flush his toilet with creek water the previous day due to infrastructure headaches in the Valley. “I’m not here to tell you what you want to hear. I’m here to tell you what we can accomplish together as a community.”

Decker presented himself as the no-nonsense candidate who scoffs at ineffective government agencies. He said his homebuilding company shunned development opportunities in Santa Cruz County for years because of how much red tape there is here.

But after the 2020 fire, Decker said his business shifted focus to the local region to help the San Lorenzo Valley recover from the disaster. It’s been extremely difficult to succeed, he said.

“We’d like to change things,” he added.

“Amen,” said someone in the audience.

Martinez said she’s been a career public servant and manages a large budget to make life better for vulnerable residents.

“Our district deserves more,” she said.

Moderator Dinah Sapia began pitching questions from the audience for the prospective supervisors to field, starting with asking Bradford how he’d work collaboratively on divisive issues.

“I think it’s incredibly important to remember that we’re all in the same ship,” he said. “We have a ton of things that are in common.”

In his response, Decker quoted Ronald Regan and said it’s better to get along than to fight.

“We’re cold because we don’t have any heat,” he said. “We’re all mad at PG&E (and the County). We all have that in common.”

Martinez chose to answer with an example—that time she helped house 200 people in two years.

Bond said she does this each year when bargaining with unions and described her process: to meet with stakeholders in person, consider overarching goals and needs and then seek solutions.

As one question tumbled into another, the laundry list of complaints about things that need to be improved in the Valley continued to grow.

Candidates took turns describing the steps they’d take to stop AT&T from eliminating landline services.

Decker said he carries two cellphones when traveling in the San Lorenzo Valley, in the hopes one will be able to connect to a signal.

Bond said landlines already aren’t being maintained properly.

Bradford said, as an engineer, he’s already been working on this problem, suggesting setting up “mesh” networks might be a workaround.

“It can’t all be high tech,” he said. “You have to have radio; you have to have landlines.”

Martinez said the biggest problem she’d work on solving is how few homes have been rebuilt since the CZU Fire.

Bond said the problem is the culture in the local government.

“In order to change that culture, it comes from the top down,” she said.

Decker reminded the crowd that at the turn of the previous century, all of Boulder Creek burned, which was the catalyst for chance.

“The town was rebuilt within two years,” he said, comparing that to how just 40 of the around 1,000 homes in the local area that burned in 2020 have been replaced. “Something is seriously wrong here, and I’m going to fix it.”

Felton resident Glenn Glazer, 60, said he thought the event was well-organized.

“I think that some of the candidates need to learn how to use a microphone,” he said. “I think everyone came across as having a different perspective. I don’t agree with them all.”

He said he’d already been planning on supporting Martinez ahead of the event.

Suzanne Hood, a 66-year-old Boulder Creek real estate agent, called it a “perfect mountain event,” what with the full room despite the power outage and all.

“I think it really shows how dedicated the people up here are in getting to know who the candidates are,” she said. “I think everyone presented themselves really well. They spoke to the issues. Everyone answered the questions directly.”

She said she’d been leaning toward one of the candidates (she declined to say which) but had been open to changing her mind. The evening only solidified her original feelings, she said.

Bill D’Amico, 62, a Ben Lomond resident, said everyone seemed like a quality candidate to him, but noted he’s narrowed his vote down to Bradford or Martinez.

“They need to continue talking with the other candidates,” he said, meaning he hopes even those who aren’t ultimately successful will stay involved in improving life for San Lorenzo Valley residents.

He said the homebuilding issue was top of mind for him, considering the president of his motorcycle club is still struggling to rebuild after the CZU Fire.

The candidates forum was organized by the Valley Women’s Club, Boulder Creek Business Association, the Rotary Club of San Lorenzo Valley and the Highlands Park Senior and Community Center, which coordinated with the League of Women Voters of Santa Cruz County to moderate the event.

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Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].


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