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.
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.