By Jimmy Dutra, Watsonville Mayor
I stopped using the word equality some years back in graduate school. In my opinion it did not put everyone on an equal playing field. Instead, I am an advocate for equity. With equity I believe we will find true and just societies. Being equitable can definitely be necessary in race, but it also can be needed in other parts of our lives.
For years, South Santa Cruz County has been overlooked time and time again. We have seen disparities in road and infrastructure resources to the unbalanced rollout of the vaccine in our community. I was first elected to represent the people of my community in 2014. With a seat on the Watsonville City Council’s dais, I was also appointed to serve on a few county commissions and boards. I found myself always being quite vocal and advocating for South County. Whether it was making sure our board meeting sites had the same amount of meetings in the south part of the county as our sister cities to the north or pushing for equitable resources for this place I call home. I would have to sell my position to my fellow elected leaders, at times having to paint a real clear picture of the injustice. It has not always been easy.
Every elected official has their own style of leading. Some are always amenable, not wanting to rock the boat. Others are aggressive and focused on their communities, even if that means other parts of the county are overlooked. Some call it survival of the fittest. Others call it politics. I have always been vocal. I stand up for what is right. However, for many in this political hierarchy, you are to fall in line. I have always had a hard time with falling in line. Maybe this is because I am inquisitive, or I have a strong sense of advocating for what is right, or because my grandfather instilled in me strength and determination, or maybe it was a Jesuit priest at Santa Clara University who told me to always question everything.
Whatever it may be, I definitely speak my mind. I respect people who are forward and authentic. I appreciate knowing where people stand. My community knows I care about it and will stand up for it. I can compromise, but I also can stand firm on decisions. I see some of my fellow elected officials get railroaded by others, coerced into giving their funding to fund projects in other districts, instead of spending it on their own. I watch these inequities in dismay. My community did not elect me to be quiet, especially during a pandemic. My community wants me to be a strong voice for its needs. My community wants me to advocate for ensuring the vaccine makes its way here. My community wants its Measure D funding, which it taxed itself in 2016, to actually be put into the district’s roads and infrastructure. My community wants equity.
It is up to us to ensure that equity happens throughout our world, our country, our states, our counties and our cities. We have some very difficult days ahead of us as we come out of this pandemic, as we face social unrest, and as we begin to heal as a nation and a community. I believe everyone deserves a seat at the table. As Mahatma Gandhi said, you must “be the change that you wish to see in the world.” It must first start with us. So I am asking that as we move forward, let us all work together and ensure that in Santa Cruz County, equity exists. Let us not turn a blind eye to our fellow communities. Let us not speak of equity and then not take action. I look forward to an equitable future. I will be on the frontline every single day for us. I will make sure that equity is pursued in all four cities and throughout our entire county. You can count on me.
Mayor’s Update is a recurring column from Watsonville’s Mayor, Jimmy Dutra. His opinions are his own and not necessarily those of the Pajaronian. Contact Dutra at [email protected].