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Two Santa Cruz initiatives fight for affordable housing

February 10, 5 to 7:30 PM

Will the EMPTY HOME TAX and OUR DOWNTOWN OUR FUTURE BALLOT initiatives bring more affordable housing to Santa Cruz?

If you're asking this question, or any question about these two initiatives, this conference is for you. 




There's an exciting new vibe in our city. Unhappy with decisions made for them by their City Management and Council, voters have written two ballot initiatives that will generate funds and dedicate most of the remaining downtown lots for affordable housing. Both groups, Empty Home Tax and Our Downtown, Our Future, are currently gathering the signatures needed to get their initiative on the November ballot.


About Empty Home Tax (EHT) and Our Downtown • Our Future (ODOF)

These are separate initiatives that will, if passed, have a collective impact on housing in Santa Cruz. EHT proposes to establish a tax on homes that are occupied less than 120 days per year. The tax would apply to various types of vacant properties, including single-family and multi-family residential parcels, condominiums, and townhomes.


Our Downtown Our Future opposes the planned parking/library/housing structure on Lot 4 where the Farmers' Market meets every week. The fours points of the initiative include dedicating most of the downtown city-owned lots for 100% affordable housing, keeping the Farmers' Market where it is, renovating the downtown library where it is, and using excess parking revenue (from not building the garage) to help build affordable housing and towards cost of renovating the library.

How will these two initiatives affect housing in Santa Cruz?

These voter-initiated measures, if passed, should have a significant and positive impact on Santa Cruz' dire affordable housing situation. And yet, there's opposition for political, practical, and economical reasons. The conference offers an opportunity to dig into the initiatives, and to clarify doubts and misunderstandings as representatives of both initiatives will answer questions posed by a panel of housing experts, renters, students, and political officials. As part of the audience, you will have an opportunity to ask your question, and gain a better understanding of the issues and the initiatives. 


Conference schedule

• Keynote by Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland Councilmember-at-large and Vice-mayor.

• Presentation of the Empty Home Tax initiative by Cyndi Dawson and Kayla Kumar followed by a presentation of the Our Downtown Our Future initiative by Lira Filippini and John Hall.


• Questions and comments by panelists:

Sandy Brown, Santa Cruz City Councilmember

Chris Krohn, Activist, former Mayor and City Councilmember

Chris Lang, Graduate Student UCSC 

Candace Brown, Accountant and Activist

Don Lane, Housing Santa Cruz County co-founder 

• The discussion will be followed by a Q&A.

The conference will be held in English and Spanish, in separate Zoom channels.


Suggested donation: $5 - 10 

Please register here

For more information, please contact Erica Aitken 

We are deeply grateful for the generous gift of our speakers and panelists’ time. Their expertise in the questions of affordable housing and equal access to housing is unequaled

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Rebecca Kaplan

Councilmember at-large and Vice Mayor of Oakland Rebecca Kaplan is a civil rights attorney with a lifetime of social accomplishments through activism and policy. She has represented the entire City of Oakland as its Councilmember At-Large since 2009. In 2021, she was unanimously appointed by her colleagues to represent the city as Oakland’s Vice Mayor. Among them, VM Kaplan introduced a measure instituting a tax on medical cannabis that greatly contributed to the balance of the City’s budget. She upheld the City’s sanctuary status by proposing a resolution banning the police from colluding with and assisting ICE. A measure that particularly resonates with Santa Cruz today is the Vacant Building Registration that compelled owners of most vacant properties to register their building with the city. One of the reasons was to motivate these owners to keep their buildings well tended and safe. In 2018, VM Kaplan proposed Measure W, a special parcel tax on all vacant properties which passed with 70% of the vote. 

VM Kaplan holds degrees from MIT, Tufts University and from the Stanford Law School.



Cyndi Dawson

Cyndi Dawson has been a member of the Santa Cruz community member since 1999.  She currently is a Senior Environmental Scientist and Director of Dive Division for Surf to Snow Environmental as well as being the founder of her own consulting firm Castalia Environmental. In her day job, she focuses on connecting the latest science to decision makers so they can make the best informed decisions for ocean health and sustainability.  She brings that focus on data informed decision making to her political work. She is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, an elected representative for District 3 of the Democratic Central Committee and a Planning Commissioner for the City of Santa Cruz.  She  focuses here political activism on ensuring Santa Cruz policies and politicians prioritize economic equity.

Kayla Kumar

Kayla Kumar is a progressive community worker who operates at the intersection of youth, race, economic, environmental and criminal justice. The purpose of her work is to contribute to the liberation of marginalized communities. She works at a youth empowerment and food justice organization called "Food, What?!". She is on the organizing committee of the Coastal Commons Land Trust, an affordable housing organization and volunteers with Sanitation for the People, a mutual aid group that provides sanitation support to unhoused communities. She is on the Board of a local healthcare clinic called Salud Para La Gente and an economic justice organization called Community Ventures. And, she is appointed to the Juvenile Justice Commission of Santa Cruz County.


Lira Filippini

Lira is co-chair of Our Downtown, Our Future.  Her professional work ranges from art and innovation, to collating scientific reviews for medical organizations.  Wherever she lives, she dedicates much of her time to community- finding that each community has different pressing needs.  She fell in love with Santa Cruz during her years earning a degree in Sociology from UCSC.  Her studies confirmed what she felt - that healthy society comes from building awareness and support structures within local communities.  Her life later landed her in the small coastal town of Bodega Bay, where she was elected President of the Bodega Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, co-founded the charity Waves of Compassion Foundation, and founded the Sonoma Coast Visitor Center.  She is now living back in Santa Cruz, where she has focused her community work on land use, sustainability, and housing.

John Hall

John Hall is the co-chair of Our Downtown, Our Future ( — the California Fair Political Practices Commission ballot initiative group gathering petition signatures to put a measure on the November 2022 ballot for the City of Santa Cruz. The measure offers a fundamental choice about the future of Downtown Santa Cruz by focussing on land for affordable housing, keeping the Downtown Farmers’ Market at its present location, and renovation of the Downtown Library at its present Civic Center location. John also is the convener of Downtown Commons Advocates, a grassroots group pursuing the creating of a commons, or central park, on Lot 4, where the Downtown Farmers’ Market is held. He also serves as one of the two representatives of Peace Church working to create “Peace Village,” an affordable and market-rate housing development.

John moved to Santa Cruz with his family in 2011. He is a Research Professor of Sociology at the University of California – Davis and Santa Cruz. His scholarship is anchored in an interpretive and humanistic approach to understanding social life, organizations, communities, and institutions. Most recently, he and co-author Zeke Baker published a chapter, “Climate Change, Apocalypse, and the Future of Salvation” in the book edited by Jenny Andersson and Sandra Kemp, Futures (Oxford University Press, 2021).


Sandy Brown

Over the past two decades, Sandy Brown has worked for social and environmental justice as a community-labor organizer, policy advocate, researcher, and teacher. She received a BA in Politics at UCSC and a PhD in Geography from UC Berkeley, where her research focused on agricultural labor and environmental conditions and social movements in Latin America and California. Sandy has served on the Santa Cruz City Council since 2016. Her approach to public service is motivated by a lifelong commitment to advancing the goals of economic democracy, sustainability, and social justice. She currently teaches American and Environmental Studies at San Jose State University


Chris Krohn

Chris Krohn is a father, writer, activist, and was on the Santa Cruz City Councilmember from 1998-2002. Krohn was Mayor in 2001-2002. He’s been running the Environmental Studies Internship program at UC Santa Cruz for the past 17 years. Krohn was elected to the city council again in November of 2016, after his kids went off to college. That term ended when the development empire struck back with luxury condo developer money combined with the real estate industry's largesse. They paid big to recall Krohn and Drew Glover from the Santa Cruz city council in 2019. Today Chris promotes government by citizen initiative. He supports both the Empty Homes Tax and Our Downtown, Our Future petition efforts as a way enacting public policy by and for the public.

Chris Lang

Chris Lang is a graduate student at UCSC in Environmental Studies, with a Designated Emphasis in Critical Race and Ethnic Studies. He looks the relationship between race, waste, consumer pathways and unequal community health, hoping to move us away from a paradigm that allows particular humans, nonhumans, and objects to be considered disposable. Chris and his dog companion, Adonis, currently live with his mom in Redwood City and in his van here in Santa Cruz when necessary.

Candace Brown

Candace is a 47-year resident of Santa Cruz and graduate of UCSC. After a few decades traveling while in high-tech, she looked for meaningful ways to be involved in my local community.  While studying key issues of land use and transportation, she recognized many serious overlooked impacts with the proposed Corridor Plan predominately on the Eastside.  Because the General Plan and other key City documents are mired in planner lingo, she formed a study group named Branciforte Action Committee (B.A.C). She organized a series of Community Forums to bring awareness to City Planning and its impact on neighborhoods. Ultimately, their focus was on how to solve the real affordable housing needs of the Community. She is a member of the Save Santa Cruz Steering Committee and reImagine Santa Cruz. Last year, she was selected to be a Transportation and Public Works Commissioner. In her second career, she is an accountant. She resides in East Morrissey. 

Don Lane

Don Lane is the co-founder of Housing Santa Cruz County, a new advocacy and community engagement organization created to advance affordable housing. He is also the chairperson of Smart Solutions to Homelessness; a member of the Homeless Action Partnership governing board; and board vice-president of Housing Matters. He teaches part-time at UCSC and works part-time for a small charitable foundation that advances social and economic justice.

Don served for 12 years on the Santa Cruz City Council and three terms as Mayor. He also served as chair of the City’s General Plan Advisory Committee and the Housing Element advisory committee.  And he co-chaired the Measure H Affordable Housing Bond campaign.  He is a UCSC grad and has lived in Santa Cruz for 47 years.


Brenda Gutierrez Baeza 

I was born and raised in Watsonville and now live in Santa Cruz. I grew up interpreting for my parents and I loved it so much that I made a career out of it. I have been a certified Healthcare interpreter since 2016. I also strive to help my community breakdown language barriers and make our community inclusive for everyone. I also serve my disabled community in various organizations to make Santa Cruz County accessible for everyone.


Erica Aitken

Erica is a resident of Santa Cruz and the co-owner and founder of a technical business based in Santa Cruz. She holds a BFA from the Ecole de Recherches Graphiques in Brussels, and a MFA from the University of Baltimore. She is a writer, graphic designer, and artist and published a magazine in 2013. She founded reImagine Santa Cruz in 2020 to provide a channel of communication for residents of Santa Cruz who are concerned about housing, wages, equality, and city management.


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