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City raises campaign finance limits

WATSONVILLE — The Watsonville City Council on Tuesday unanimously voted to give the City’s campaign contribution caps a slight bump.

In next year’s city-wide elections voters will be able to donate up to $500, a $100 increase from the previous limit passed in 2010. The limit will increase by $25 every two years starting in 2022.

City staff recommended the increase to match recent changes in campaign contributions at the county level, according to City Attorney Alan Smith. The council, however, decided to align with the state’s $2,000 threshold for reporting total campaign contributions instead of the $1,000-mark implemented by the county.

California does not have campaign contribution limits for city or county elections. Instead, the state allows those municipalities to set their own limits, a policy that has led to a large spread of allowed contributions. 

According to a 2016 report from Common Cause, a nonpartisan organization based in Washington D.C. that serves as a political watchdog, only 23 percent of cities and 28 percent of counties in California had contribution limits. That study also found some contributions in areas without limits reached $90,000 from a single donor.

Councilman Felipe Hernandez said the city’s previous limits were a response to a rise in large-sum contributions during the 1990s and early 2000s that threatened to hijack local elections.

“We always have to be mindful about campaign contributions,” Hernandez said. “The spirit of that ordinance is still in this update.”

Mayor Francisco Estrada also encouraged community members curious about running for office in 2020 to contact City Clerk Beatriz Vazquez Flores for help with the intricate filing process.

“If they’re looking for some education, we can definitely provide that for them,” Estrada said.

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The council also unanimously approved the purchase of an updated $450,000 law enforcement records management system from Central Square Technologies that will help the Watsonville Police Department with its storage, retrieval, retention, archiving and viewing of information and records. 

The council’s approval also solidified an agreement between the Santa Cruz Consolidated Emergency Community Center, also known as Santa Cruz Regional 9-1-1, and the City for system administration and maintenance of the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Records System (SCMRS), which will now cover the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office, along with original members Santa Cruz, Capitola and Watsonville police departments. 

The five-year deal between SCMRS and Central Square Technologies calls for Watsonville PD to pay 20.5 percent of the shared annual maintenance cost. The Sheriff’s Office (43.99 percent), SCPD (29.4) and CPD (6.06) will cover the rest. 

Funds for the purchase of the management system will come from Measure G, a half-cent sales tax to fund public safety projects passed in 2016 that is sunsetting next year but is expected to return to voters in the future.

Councilwoman Trina Coffman-Gomez said Measure G, which has allowed the City to make improvements and purchases for both its police and fire departments, has been an “invaluable” asset for public safety.

“We’ve seen crime rates drop, we’ve seen a lot more confidence in this community,” Coffman-Gomez said.

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The council also unanimously approved a $4.24 million contract with K.J. Woods Construction, Inc. for the Airport-Freedom Trunk Sewer Replacement Project.

The project, planned hand-in-hand with the Santa Cruz County Public Works Department, aims to accomplish three things: (1) increase the capacity with larger pipe to prevent overflows, (2) improve sewer access and maintenance easements and (3) replace the aging infrastructure in the area. 

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