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May 12 and May 13, 5 to 7 PM


A conference for renters about housing in Santa Cruz

with speaker CYNDI DAWSON 




Clockwise from top left: Photo by Dan Coyro, courtesy Santa Cruz Sentinel, Anonymous, Familias Unidas pro la Justicia, Anonymous.


One of the biggest consequence of luxury development in a city is the deterioration of living options for renters. Developers are mandated to include a very low percentage of affordable units in their buildings which they avoid as much as possible. For instance, 555 Pacific was obligated to include 94 affordable units and yet there are none today. The City lowered the minimum percentage of affordable units to 15% but that will not be the case for the approved 175-unit on the river as it will have only 11% affordable units.


The concept of affordable units is in itself a head scratcher as it doesn’t have any bearing on the percentage of a salary. Typically, rent should be about 25% of earnings but, if you consider a minimum wage of $15/hour, a monthly gross salary will be around $2,500. Rents at 555 Pacific for a one bedroom is $2,700.


And, as long as we’re building luxury buildings, the situation will get worth because affordable units are calculated on percentages of AMI (Area Median Income) which is $110,000 per year for four persons today, a number that will go up as high-earning technical employees move to Santa Cruz from the Bay Area.


How do renters live here today?

Typically, renters find other people to share houses, even rooms. It’s not unusual to find someone renting the living room couch, the garage and even the laundry room. Others commute out of cities into the city to work. And others are resigned to living in their cars. Many put as much as 80 to 90% of their income into rent.


A conference for renters

reImagine Santa Cruz presents a conference just for renters. During two days of two-hour sessions each, renters will have the opportunity of hearing the inspiring words of activists who work tirelessly to alleviate the lack of affordable rentals in the County. Renters will also access information about where to look for available housing, who to speak to in case of conflict with a landlord, and how others find ways to have a roof over their heads.

May 12, 5 to 7pm

The speaker will be announced shortly.


Followed by a discussion with panelists:

Rebecca Garcia, Watsonville City Council

Deutron Kebebew, Community Bridges

Justin Cummings, Santa Cruz City Council

Chris Krohn, Activist, former Mayor and City Councilmember 

James Sirigotis, Coastal Common Land Trust


May 13, 5 to 7pm

Carroll Fife, Oakland City Council District 3 and housing activist and founding member of Moms for Housing, will deliver a short keynote on the power of organizing

Speaker Cyndi Dawson about the direct and positive effects for renters of a vacancy tax in Santa Cruz.

Followed by a discussion with panelists:

Sandy Brown, Santa Cruz City Council

Kayla Kumar, Community worker and advocate

Ann Lopez, Center for Farmworkers Families 

James Sirigotis, Coastal Commons Land Trust

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 for both evenings

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, renters’ protection and laws, and equal access to housing is unequaled


May 12, 5 - 7pm

Deepa Varma, Tenants Together

Deepa Varma got her start in housing justice as a tenants rights attorney in New York City at the West Side SRO Law Project in 2007. She began representing tenants in San Francisco in 2011 at the Eviction Defense Collaborative. In that role, she co-founded the EDC’s litigation project, which has grown into the San Francisco's hub and training ground for San Francisco’s citywide right to counsel program for tenants facing eviction. Deepa then served as the Executive Director of the San Francisco Tenants Union from 2016 to 2020 where she helped to anchor the tenant voice in candidate and ballot races, and spearheaded campaigns on a range of issues to further tenant rights and fight displacement in the legislature, courts and city departments. You also may have seen her in the streets leading chants, and playing the bass drum with the Brass Liberation Orchestra.

Justin Cummings

Dr. Justin Cummings is a Santa Cruz City Councilmember and former Santa Cruz Mayor. A native of Chicago, he attended UCSC where he received his Ph.D. in Ecology, and Evolutionary Biology, with a designated emphasis in Environmental Studies.  After spending two years in Miami,Florida where he pursued a post-doc at Florida International University to study the effects of climate change on the uptake and release of carbon dioxide in the Everglades, he returned to Santa Cruz in 2015 to create and manage the grant-funded UCSC Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program. He is a scientist and an environmental educator dedicated to social and environmental justice. He is a member of the Climate Action Task Force. His hope one day is for Santa Cruz to be a place where everyone can live.


Rebecca Garcia

Born and raised in Watsonville, Rebecca graduated from Watsonville High School in 1965. She earned an associate’s degree in bilingual and bicultural studies from Cabrillo College, then transferred to UC Santa Cruz and graduated with a bachelor’s in politics as well as a teaching credential. She also has a master’s in education administration. She served on the Cabrillo College Board of Trustees for twenty years, until 2012.  In 1990 she was Chair of the Watsonville Housing Task Force that led to the adoption of the city Inclusionary Ordinance. She has been a commissioner on the Santa Cruz County Housing Authority since 2015. And more recently as Mayor, she asked for an Emergency city council meeting to adopt the first Eviction Moratorium in the County.

Deutron Kebebew

Deutron Kebebew is a father, UCSC Alumni, and social justice catalyst in Santa Cruz County.

Currently, Deutron Kebebew is Program Director for the Family Resource Collective of Community Bridges. He is the lead for the Santa Cruz County Local Network Partnership(SCCLNP) project as part of the SB91 Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) and Housing is Key initiative. SCCNLP is a coalition of local organizations comprised of Community Bridges, Community Action Board, Families in Transition, SCC United Way, SCC COPA, and Conflict Resolution Center.

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 16 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 to recall Krohn and Drew Glover from the Santa Cruz city council in 2019.

Paz Padilla

Born in Guadalajara Jalisco Mexico and raised in Watsonville California. Graduated from Watsonville High 1992 and Cuesta College San Luis Obispo 2000. I'm currently employed at Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County as the Housing Prevention and Intervention Program Director. I have over 20 years of program administration experience along with years as a trusted community leader volunteering on various boards and church activities.



May 13, 5 - 7pm

Carroll Fife

Carroll Fife is a Councilmember for Oakland’s District 3. She was one of the founders of the successful Moms4Housing campaign as well as a strong supporter of tax structures such as the Vacancy Tax to correct social and racial inequalities.

Far from doing it alone, Carroll motivates thousands of activists around basic premises such as housing as a human right, divesting from police to invest in community, and taxing the wealthy to increase city revenue. 

She is the executive director of ACCE Oakland (California for Community Empowerment Action), a grassroots of 15,000 members in California dedicated to empowering communities, neighborhood by neighborhood, from the bottom up, for the improvement of their communities.


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. 

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.


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.

Ann Lopez

Dr. Ann López is the Executive Director of Center for Farmworker Families. She is an emerita professor and taught Biology, Environmental Science, Ecology and Botany in the biology department at San José City College for many years. She has a Ph.D. from UCSC in Environmental Studies where she studied the impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement on the farms of west central Mexico. Her book entitled The Farmworkers’ Journey summarizes the results, arguments and conclusions of her research. She has been recognized for her work by The U.S. Congress and many organizations. In March 2018, she was chosen for a 16th Annual Cesar E. Chavez Community Award in Watsonville and as Woman of the Year by Mark Stone’s 29th District for 2019.

Dr. Lopez’ findings while interviewing central California farmworker families and their family members in Mexico were fundamentally disturbing and life transforming. As a result, she is actively attempting to create awareness about the Human Rights abuses that are endemic to every juncture of the migrant circuit. She initiated many projects on both sides of the border designed to alleviate some of the suffering experienced daily by migrant farm workers and their family members in Mexico.

James Sirigotis

I am a graduate student in the sociology department at UCSC. My research looks at the political emotion and political economy of climate adaptation in California, with a focus on how the framing and funding of adaptation shapes what people imagine as politically (im)possible. I have rented in Santa Cruz for the last six years and am the interim treasurer of the Coastal Commons Land Trust. I have also organized with environmental justice movements in NJ, COLA wildcat strikers, and DSA Santa Cruz.  I am increasingly interested in reparations, community banking projects and alternative forms of finance for households/individuals, social movements, as well as broader urban communities. 

Zav Hershfield

Zav Hershfield is the Program Coordinator for Tenant Sanctuary, a tenants rights education and counseling service operating in the city of Santa Cruz since April of 2019. They have worked in this position since March 2020 and previously volunteered as a rights counselor for the organization.

INTERPRETER 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.

MODERATOR and co-organizer 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.

Co-Organizer Seth Heitzenrater

Seth is an activist and event coordinator. He volunteers for Food Not Bombs in the kitchens.

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