Two of the four people who have so far signaled their intentions to replace outgoing Santa Cruz County Supervisor Zach Friend for the District 2 seat are veteran policymakers with years of experience in the public sector.
Kim De Serpa, who has served on the Pajaro Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees since 2010, will face off in the March 5 election against Kristen Brown, who was elected to the Capitola City Council in 2016.
The Pajaronian will feature the other two candidates—Doug Dietch and Tony Crane—in next week’s edition.
The top two vote-getters from the March primary will go on to face-off in the November election.
Kim De Serpa
De Serpa is social services manager for the Salinas Valley Health Medical Center.
She was inspired to work in government from an early age by her mother, who worked for Barbara Shipnuck, Monterey County’s first woman supervisor.
“In my family we have a legacy of public service,” she said.
De Serpa has a bachelor’s degree in social work from Humboldt State University, and a master’s in social work from Washington University in St. Louis.
She interned for the Clinton Administration in the Health and Human Services Department under Secretary Donna Shalala. She also served with Fernando Torres-Gil, the Clinton Administration’s chief advocate on aging.
“I think my experience in governing one of the biggest school districts in California—with a $330 million budget—has informed my view of governance and how to get things done,” she said. “It would be a great honor to serve the people of the Second District, a place that I’ve called home for 26 years.”
De Serpa says that when people come to their elected leaders, they are seeking help with problems that seem insurmountable. Solving those, she says, takes someone who can address them on both a macro and micro level.
“A lot of people say ‘this can’t be done,’ but I’m an expert at removing barriers and working with other people to open up opportunities,” she said.
As a school board member, De Serpa championed Measure L, a $150 million bond measure passed by voters in 2012. Money from that bond has paid for upgrades, repairs and construction projects at every school in the district.
De Serpa says she fought to bring equity to the schools in the northern half of the district at a time when a lion’s share of resources were going to the lower-income ones to the south.
She wants to rethink the way departments such as Planning and Mental Health deliver their services.
“What a lot of people talk to me about is improving county services,” De Serpa said.
Another aspect of that is recruiting and retaining skilled employees, she said. Boosting the county’s economic vitality is an essential step to recruit and retain businesses.
“This is very important because of the sales tax revenue they generate,” she said.
De Serpa also wants to expand the county’s mental health services to include everyone that needs it, regardless of insurance status.
She also wants to increase the county’s stock of affordable housing and preserve agricultural land.
Brown is a lifelong member of the Capitola community, with ties dating back four generations. Her great-grandparents owned a coffee shop in the village in the 1960s, her grandfather worked for Capitola Police Department for 30 years and her uncle worked for the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Department.
“Public service runs in my family,” she said.
With that as her inspiration, Brown began her political career at an early age when she discovered an innate skill as a rabble-rouser.
In high school, she organized a school walkout to protest her school’s policy of having weight taken in PE class. She also led efforts to demand comprehensive sex education for students.
“No one told me I was an activist, they just said I was causing trouble,” she said. “I didn’t know when I was younger that this was even something I could do. But that was activism; that was leadership skills, but we often tell our young women that they are causing trouble or being bossy.”
After testing out of high school at 16, Brown earned two associate’s degrees by the time she was 18. It was during this time that she again got involved in activism, this time fighting the potential defunding of Planned Parenthood.
Around this time she also attended CSU Monterey Bay to study global political communications, and interned for Congressmen Sam Farr and Jimmy Panetta.
“That’s what really got me into government and politics,” she said.
One year after graduating, Brown joined the Capitola City Council in 2016. She served as mayor in 2020, and will do so again in 2024, when she terms out.
She is vice chair of both Santa Cruz Metro Transit District and the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission.
“I’ve had the opportunity to work on causes around housing, transportation and climate change, and it’s been an incredible experience for me to see how things can happen and make a positive difference in the community,” she said.
Brown’s career reflects her political aspirations. She is vice president of government relations for the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, where she works with jurisdictions on issues such as housing development and transportation.
Brown says that elected leaders must take heed of the impending economic recession, even as they address the county’s staffing shortage.
Governments must also look to lessen their affordable housing crises even as they put the finishing touches on the RHNA allocation plans.
Transportation planning is also important—as is climate change—both of which are intertwined with housing, she said.
When addressing the homeless population, Brown says she is a proponent of the “housing first” model.
“That’s a housing affordability issue,” she said. “A lot of people are just one paycheck away from becoming homeless and that’s not OK.”