WATSONVILLE—After serving for 12 years as the representative of Santa Cruz County’s 4th District, Supervisor Greg Caput says that he will not seek reelection in the upcoming June primary.
With a wife, two sets of adolescent twins and a 16-year-old son, Caput, now in his early 70s, says he wants to spend more quality time at home with his tight-knit family.
“It’s just the right time,” he says.
For those who have followed Caput through his ascent in local politics, his departure might not be entirely surprising. Caput made passing term limits a significant part of his initial 2010 Board of Supervisors campaign—a hard-fought and stressful battle in which he triumphed by a measly 61 votes out of over 10,000 cast.
His multiple attempts to push term limits as a supervisor—both eight and 12 years—were turned down by his fellow politicians, and the issue never came to a vote.
“The shelf life of a supervisor should be 12 years,” says Caput. “I tried hard to push term limits. Throughout history, no one has really been on the Board of Supervisors for more than 12 years except for Gary Patton. I’ve loved the job of supervisor, but I’m ready to move on.”
Caput’s love for his district—one that includes the rural and agricultural lands of Watsonville, the Pajaro Valley and greater South County—is obvious. A lifelong Watsonville resident, Caput attended local schools and spent his summer months in the fields cutting lettuce. His cluttered but warm office at the Watsonville Vets Hall in the heart of the city is adorned with all varieties of posters, relics and decorations representing the region’s rich and storied history.
For Caput, Watsonville is, and always will be, home.
Tall, lanky and often wearing a tie that is almost always a tad askew, Caput doesn’t look or come off as the typical politician. He does, however, have a magical way of connecting with his constituents and making them feel heard and listened to. That ability was on full display when he ousted three-term incumbent Tony Campos in 2010 for the 4th District seat. He largely appealed to Watsonville voters that sought to slow the city’s expanding population and low-income housing production, advocating for “smart growth” on the campaign trail.
The past few years have been rough for the always personable supervisor—connections with his community more difficult to maintain.
“Covid has made things tough and impersonal. My whole family tested positive for the virus. I like meeting people in person—giving the personal touch,” he says. “Covid made everything difficult.”
Two familiar candidates have already stepped forward to try to fill his seat. According to county records, Watsonville City Councilman Jimmy Dutra declared his intention to run in the June primary late last month. Former Watsonville City Councilman and current Cabrillo College Governing Board Trustee Felipe Hernandez has also declared his intent to run.
Caput bested both candidates in 2018 for the 4th District seat, scoring a victory over Dutra in a November runoff by 1,000 votes. He also beat Dutra in 2014.
Before being elected to the board, Caput served on the Watsonville City Council from 2006-2010. He ran on a platform of public safety—strengthening an undermanned firefighting and police force—and protecting farmland from urban sprawl. The months Caput spent processing lettuce in his youth created a long and deep-seated connection with the area’s rich and fertile soil and its farmworkers.
Caput’s eyes light up when he starts to describe the work that he’s done over the past dozen years. He’s continued his commitment to supporting law enforcement and the fire department—eliminating mandatory overtime to prevent fatigue and mistakes.
Through the recent fires and a crippling pandemic, he’s advocated for opening doors and establishing services to aid the area’s homeless population. For years, more than 80 people were overnight guests at the Watsonville Vets Hall—just steps from his office.
When his third term ends later this year, Caput will leave his constituents with two big parting gifts: an ambitious plan to construct a massive park near the County Fairgrounds and the purchase of the old West Marine Building that the County is turning into a resource center.
By orchestrating the latter, he gave South County residents access to human services, the planning department, mental health services and public works without having to travel all the way to Santa Cruz.
During his tenure, Caput also volunteered countless hours on a long list of other boards, committees and regional agencies, including the Environmental Health Appeals Commission, the Highway 1 Construction Authority, the Santa Cruz County Mental Health Advisory Board and the Santa Cruz County Workforce Development Board.
His colleagues on the Board of Supervisors unanimously elected him as the Board Chair for 2020.
Just as he pushed to establish term limits for the Board of Supervisors, Caput lobbied to cut the pay for the entire board. His efforts were summarily rejected, but he says he decided to donate most of his salary—over $200,000 over 11 years—to nonprofits and cases of need (like family tragedies).
“I could have used the money to pay off my mortgage,” he admits.
Caput says that he’s loved the job of supervisor, but not necessarily the politics. He does, however, want to thank his fellow supervisors—past and present.
“Even though we didn’t agree on a lot of issues, we always got along,” he says. “It used to be shouting matches and yelling matches 30 years ago. Lately, though, we’ve always had a good working environment. They always accept me for who I am. And I accept them for who they are.”