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September 25, 2023

City voting records show candidates’ views on issues

Watsonville City Councilman Jimmy Dutra and Cabrillo College Governing Board Trustee Felipe Hernandez are vying for the 4th District seat on the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors in the Nov. 8 election.

In last week’s Pajaronian, we took a look at the candidates’ 500-word statements, and their donors and supporters. In this week’s article, we’ll look at their voting record from their last few years in city government.

Although Hernandez has not been on the city council since his second term expired in 2020, his time as a Watsonville representative did overlap with Dutra’s first term on the council. They were colleagues from 2014-2018. 


The two have often been at odds on housing.

In the first year of his second term, Dutra, who was then mayor, voted against the advancement of every housing-related proposal. That included two 100% affordable housing developments that fall in his district—both have broken ground and will bring 133 deed-restricted units—and two controversial market-rate projects that either faced litigation or environmental challenges. He was on the losing end in all four votes, and has stood firm on his dissenting votes. In his vote against the two affordable housing projects, Dutra cited issues with traffic, parking, decaying infrastructure and how the units would be distributed—he worried Watsonville residents would not be at the front of the line for the much-needed housing relief.

Dutra was more willing to vote for housing projects during his first term but routinely sided with market-rate proposals. He twice supported a market-rate, 24-condo project at 1482 Freedom Blvd., which is now the site of a 53-unit affordable housing complex that he has strongly opposed. He also voted to approve a market-rate, 49-townhome project on Airport Boulevard. By contrast, he voted against the approval of a 46-unit affordable housing complex on Atkinson Road now known as Pippin Orchards.

Hernandez, meanwhile, voted to approve every housing project that came to the city council during his last term. In fact, one of the few times Hernandez did not approve a housing-related item was in 2019 when the historic Jefsen Building in downtown Watsonville changed hands. Hernandez had concerns that the new owner of the building at 500 Main St. would not keep the 29 apartments there as affordable units when the agreement that deed restricted the units to low-income renters expires in 2028.


Hernandez was one of the most vocal supporters of the campaign against Measure D in the June primary. Dutra, meanwhile, refused to take a stance on the issue, saying that the decision should be left up to the voters before walking out of a special meeting in which the city council voted to approve a resolution urging a no vote on Santa Cruz County Greeway’s controversial measure.

Dutra, however, has been a staunch supporter of Santa Cruz METRO. Among other things, he was part of the initial push with the agency to bring two all-electric buses into circulation in Watsonville, and he has multiple times fought for raises to the agency’s workers. 

Both have also shown a willingness to support projects aligned with the concept of “complete streets,” which promotes safe travel for all roadway users but especially pedestrians and cyclists. On the proposed reduction of lanes in downtown—perhaps the biggest transportation item before Watsonville’s leaders over the next decade—both have voted to at least examine the feasibility of the project. 

Business and taxes

The candidates have also been at odds on business-related issues, including the city’s regulations on cannabis and alcohol establishments.

For instance, when Watsonville brought forth the approval of its brew pubs ordinance in 2018, Hernandez tried to increase the number of permits for such businesses from five to 10. That move failed in a split 4-3 vote, with Dutra voting against the motion.

Hernandez was also largely supportive of the cannabis industry, while Dutra voted against the approval of nearly all cannabis businesses that came before the city council in the early days of the so-called green rush—the first few years after California voters approved the recreational use of weed.

Yet, even after the city council in 2020 approved its cannabis ordinance—which dictated where and how those businesses could operate within city limits—Dutra continued to vote against the approval of city code changes that aim at helping the fledgling cannabis industry. In 2021, for example, he voted against lowering the taxes on cannabis businesses.

Hernandez and Dutra have also had different views on taxes and rate increases. The latter has largely supported them while the former has voted against them. In 2019, Hernandez voted in favor of placing the renewal of a half-cent sales tax, Measure Y, on the ballot. Dutra earlier this year voted against placing another half-cent sales tax, Measure R, on the Nov. 8 ballot. Dutra also voted against a utility rate increase last year that had for years been postponed by previous elected leaders. On both votes, Dutra cited the pandemic as the reason why he decided to not support the issues.

Community issues 

Both candidates have taken significant stances on community issues in their time on the council.

It was Hernandez who asked the city in 2019 to formally apologize for the Filipino Riots of 1930, a request the municipality followed through on later that year. Hernandez also twice supported an eviction moratorium in 2020, and approved the use of $100,000 to help tenants and landlords impacted by the pandemic.

He also voted against implementing a $200 fee for public art in 2019—he was on the losing end of that vote. 

But Hernandez also voted in 2020 against implementing a ban on new drive-thrus, an issue that Watsonville’s elected officials have long debated.

Dutra also approved the use of more than $100,000 in rental assistance for pandemic-impacted renters and tenants, and commissioned the creation of the Covid-19 memorial, a public art display off north Main Street that recently had its ribbon cutting. 

But Dutra’s support for the art community came into question earlier this year when he flipped his vote on a proposed developer fee that would fund the creation of public art. He voted against the fee because of concerns brought forth by developers about its structure. The fee was approved with Dutra being one of the two dissenting votes.

Dutra also elected to move the bust of George Washington from the City Plaza to the Watsonville Public Library, a vote that served as the conclusion of a year-long debate about historical figures sparked by the murder of George Floyd.

Hernandez was on the council while the debate over the statue was bubbling over, but the item did not come before the elected leaders before he left office.

On the debate between Watsonville’s measures Q and S, Hernandez has sided with the former and Dutra has endorsed the latter. Hernandez in an unprompted op-ed published in the Pajaronian opined that the city can meet its housing and economic needs by focusing on infill development, specifically in the downtown corridor, rather than overtaking any agricultural land. Dutra, meanwhile, was a signee of the argument for Measure S, which says that the community deserves the opportunity to plan out the next 20 years together, rather than accept the fate that was determined some 20 years ago with the passing of Measure U.

It was a major change of heart for Hernandez, who in 2013 helped pen the rebuttal to the argument against a failed amendment to Measure U called Measure T. The rebuttal stated that allowing Measure U to stand as is was essentially “doing nothing” and “saying ‘no’ to change” in the face of crippling unemployment.

Hernandez told Good Times earlier this year that he now believes keeping the same growth restrictions in place through 2040 is a good thing because it will preserve agricultural land and focus on infill development.

Tony Nuñez
Tony Nuñez is a longtime member of the Watsonville community who served as Sports Editor of The Pajaronian for five years and three years as Managing Editor. He is a Watsonville High, Cabrillo College and San Jose State University alumnus.


  1. I write this as ONE member of the Cabrillo board of trustees, speaking for myself, not the board or the college.
    I am a colleague of Felipe’s on the Cabrillo board of trustees. I have seen his poor attendance record, failure to speak up on critical issues facing our college, and skipping our first college graduation in 3 years. I have sent emails to Felipe , asking for his support for such things as creating an Asian American Pacific Islander student center on the Watsonville campus. his response was that I “blindsided him”. REALLY ?
    I simply cannot endorse this kind of performance in office. you should not use one office as a temporary resting spot to pad your resume simply to achieve higher office. Not fair to the constituents or those who elected you in the hope that you would represent Watsonville well at our community college.
    the worst of the 3 so -called affordable housing leaves toxic soil close to the level of the ground for kids to play on. the builder was originally going to remove the top 3 feet. now it is down to 6 inches and bury it in a pit on the development known as “Crustview Estates”.. if that isn’t environmental racism, then it does not exist.
    yes, we have environmental challenges in Watsonville that need to be addressed, along with low cost housing. both need a county supervisor that recognizes that. we have enough cancer in our community already. sorry you do not recognize that.
    and this is for Wendy Parker, uninformed and misinformed hater. Jimmy HAD to get a teaching credential to be employed by PVUSD. you do not get in the classroom on a salaried basis without one. and, no , he is not rich. neither am I. what does that matter? to you, Wendy, money is everything. I did not enter teaching in 1977 to get rich. and he did not enter teaching a few years ago to get rich either.
    and for the record, I was the one who proposed the compromise that put the statue of GW in the library. one group wanted to turn the city plaza into a shrine for the 1st POTUS. the other group wanted to smash the bust of GW into bits . both the planning commission and the city council agreed with my idea. so did the Cesar Chavez Democratic Club. I want someone who will work for real solutions and compromise when needed. that is why I support Dutra.
    I support Jimmy Dutra for supervisor . please vote Nov. 8.

  2. Wow, Dutra is AGAINST affordable housing, in favor of development of overpriced housing for the rich? He’s also a union buster, and trouble maker, having had beefs with almost every other council member during his years on the city council.

    “In the first year of his second term, Dutra, who was then mayor, voted against every housing-related proposal.

    That included the approval of two 100% affordable housing developments that fall in his district—both have broken ground and will bring 133 deed-restricted units—and two controversial market-rate projects that either faced litigation or environmental challenges.

    He was on the losing end in all four votes, and has stood firm on his dissenting votes.”

    Felipe served two tours as a medic in Desert Storm. Dutra has no record to run on.
    Vote for Hernandez.

    • Monique
      You sound like a very intelligent well informed person. I understand one’s ability to exercise their first amendment rights. However, the person (we know who) posting below and everyday on every subject with malicious and hatred rants should be removed from this forum. There is a reason why the PAIARONIAN is shielding this guy. I’m not sure why.
      I am considering a lawsuit against the PAIARONIAN for his racist hateful rants.
      Additionally, I once watched a City Council meeting on Zoom during the pandemic where Steve exhibited a F * * k Trump sign behind him in clear view of the camera. The city of Watsonville edited the recorded version to remove it as it should. He once said he reported people to WPD because they disagreed with him
      If we all stick together we can get him banned the next time he goes off on a Racist rant.


      • I personally don’t want to ban him. I do wish he wouldn’t be able to mute people because that’s what he does when we doesn’t want to come to terms with facts. He mutes and moves on with his misinformation.

        I want people to be able to read his ridiculousness rants because that’s how we win. That’s how we keep him from being a trustee again or any elected official for that matter. He can’t help himself to counter with his ridiculous thought process. That will be his down fall. In my opinion of course.

        I just try to question everything and not blatantly follow what politicians (that goes for both side) and “journalists” try to push on us.


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