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October 23, 2021

Scotts Valley in Strong Position as Pandemic Ebbs

In a shaded outdoor area behind the Scotts Valley Community Center, local officials gathered with the public for one of the first times since the start of the pandemic, as they outlined the community’s health in the “State of the City Address.”

Hosted by the Scotts Valley Senior Life Association, the Oct. 2 event allowed locals to get a report on what various city elements have been up to and what they have in store.

“Thank you for allowing us to put together an in-person event,” Mayor Derek Timm said, speaking to Dave Hodgin, Senior Life’s president. “I’ve been reflecting on that, how nice it is to be together.”

Timm recounted the harrowing moments in the early days of the pandemic.

“We had to shut down Council meetings,” he said. “We had to do it with our schools. We had to do it with our entire community.”

Scotts Valley was hit hard.

“We lost over $6 million due to the impacts of Covid,” Timm said. “That’s an enormous impact.”

Timm described how the City tried to take a business-forward approach in its response.

“We literally went out on a weekly basis looking at each business saying, ‘What do you need?’” he said. “This is a community built on the backs of our small businesses.”

Timm talked about the process that was involved in reeling in Target as the anchor tenant at the Scotts Valley Square Shopping Center when Kmart announced it was closing its store there.

“In addition, we’ve been focusing on how to help our businesses into the fall,” he said, explaining this includes a “shop local” marketing push alongside Tam Communications.

The City will also be distributing $250,000 in grants in the coming weeks, Timm said.

Meanwhile, the mayor added, the Scotts Valley Community Theater Guild is getting ready to open its location next to the library in the next few months.

“Scotts valley is obviously a beautiful place to be,” he said. “We’ve also been working hard on our Town Center.”

Timm also pointed toward the future, highlighting the progress made on reworking the General Plan. He also previewed upcoming urban development proposals, such as at the site of the former Valley Gardens golf course, and the Oak Creek Park mixed-use project, which could see a plan for 52 apartments and 25,000 square feet of commercial space come before the Planning Commission.

But the future looks bright, and in some ways, the City is coming out of the pandemic stronger than it went in, Timm said, noting just 18 people were sick in Scotts Valley with Covid-19, according to the latest figures from county health officials.

“Thank you for your cooperation on masking and everything else we’ve done,” he said. “I feel like we’re coming out of this pandemic finally.”

Scotts Valley Police Department Capt. Jayson Rutherford—newly-promoted Capt. Rutherford, that is—spoke on behalf of Chief Steve Walpole Jr., since he was finally getting a weekend off.

While Rutherford didn’t grow up in Scotts Valley, he’s been with SVPD for 24 years now.

“Law enforcement is highly dependent on the community you work in,” he said. “With Scotts Valley, you couldn’t ask for more. You honestly couldn’t ask for more. And I mean that sincerely.”

But recent days have been the most “surreal and difficult” in his entire career, he said.

When it came to the Black Lives Matter movement, the police wanted to show protesters “that we supported their voice,” Rutherford said. “It worked out well.”

Some Scotts Valley officers were sent to help out in other jurisdictions like Oakland, San Jose and Santa Cruz during the civil unrest, which allowed them to see how some police forces took a different approach, he added.

He recalled going door-to-door during the CZU Lightning Complex fires to make sure residents evacuated.

And he took the audience back to the uncertainty when the “invisible threat” of the coronavirus arrived.

Rutherford said he had to stop sticking his nose close to people’s vehicles to search for odors of illicit substances.

“It was definitely a challenge,” he said. “We had to suspend some of our in-person programs.”

But the biggest challenge has been staffing, he said, since the department was down to eight officers, including the chief.

“The chief was actually running a patrol team,” he said. “That’s not what we needed him to do. We needed him to be the chief.”

And while the 11 new officers hired in the last 18 months have pumped some fresh blood into the organization, they will still be suffering from the loss of decades of institutional memory for the foreseeable future, according to Rutherford.

“Even though we were down staff, we never lowered our standards,” he said. “Being an officer in Scotts Valley is different than being an officer somewhere else.

“I live here so I expect it.”

Recruiting police is pretty difficult these days, he said.

“When I started, you’d have one opening and 20-30 guys wanting it,” he said. “Now it’s the complete opposite. It’s definitely a struggle.”

The police department will also be restarting its anti-drug program and its police explorer program.

When Ron Whittle the Scotts Valley Fire District chief got up to speak, he spoke at length about the measures the department is putting in place to prevent wildfires.

“All year is fire season now,” he said. “We really need to pay attention to this.”

He congratulated Branciforte Fire District for becoming financially solvent and said they’re on their own now. The Scotts Valley department had been in charge of Branciforte operations since 2015.

Whittle revealed details about the district’s plans to bring its stations up to code.

“We want the station to be standing after the next earthquake,” he said. “It’s about time to do a little bit of remodeling.”

One of the stations has four bedrooms, but only one of them has a window.

Structural engineers are currently working on improvement plans, and the district hopes to get federal funding to pay for some of the construction.

Dave McNair, the operations manager for the Scotts Valley Water District, said there’s been about a 50% decrease in the amount of bill forgiveness claims they’ve had to process, now that new meters can alert customers to leaks automatically.

He noted the district is asking for a 5% rate increase and encouraged people to attend its Oct. 14 board meeting.

Drew Penner
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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