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  • Writer's pictureD Lane

The real problem with the UCSC student vote (watch out... this is a RANT!!!)

Let’s talk about UCSC students as voters in Santa Cruz. Many brilliant local commentators on this issue say some really ignorant stuff about this subject. Their comments mainly focus on the illegitimacy of UCSC students as local voters. Let’s break it down, shall we...

Might a UCSC student have a legitimate interest in voting in city elections?

UCSC students are the top users of the Metro bus system and the top single group of contributors to funding the system. The way they get representation on the Metro board that governs the bus system is through their local elected officials—mainly the two Santa Cruz city councilmembers that serve on the Metro board of directors.

Last time I was on campus, I noticed that they had water coming out their faucets up there, too. It comes from the City water system. The water conservation rules that townies abide by also apply to UCSC students. UCSC students have a chance to influence the body that provides water and regulates water use through their city councilmembers.

When I go shopping downtown or on the Westside, I notice how many UCSC students are buying stuff. Just like other citizens, they pay sales tax on their purchases. A good chunk of that sales tax revenue is allocated by the city council. If students would like to have a say in how their tax dollars are spent (just like the rest of us) they will need to participate in city council elections.

The city fire department provides their services on the UCSC campus. On matters of their safety, UCSC students have an opportunity to influence and priorities through their city councilmembers.

Many UCSC students drive on our local streets week in and week out. They experience the same road and traffic conditions as other local residents. Since they are local taxpayers (sales tax, utility tax, property tax through their landlords, etc.) they probably want to be able to weigh in on these issues. They can do this by voting for city council candidates that make decisions about the streets they drive on.

Almost all of us in this region are now getting electricity sourced by Monterey Bay Community Power. I think UCSC students, as unique as they are, still use electricity and pay Monterey Bay Community Power for it. And I know they are very concerned about the source of their electricity. MBCP is governed by elected officials from around the Bay, including a rep from the City of Santa Cruz. If students want to have input on the “carbon footprint” issues connected to electricity they use, they will look to elect a city council that represents their views.

I’m quite certain that UCSC students have had bikes stolen in Santa Cruz. Perhaps they have a reason to be concerned about crime prevention and policing issues—and would like to weigh in. They are able to do this by voting for city council candidates.

If one takes a look around at who works in many of the local service jobs in this city, one will find thousands of UCSC students. Since our housing costs are ridiculous, many non-students are unable to live and work here. Students fill what would otherwise be a big void in our workforce. I’d hate to think that local workers would be denied a right to participate in local elections simply because they also happen to be students.

UCSC students experience homelessness in Santa Cruz -- in two ways. First, they see it on our streets the same way other residents see it. They don’t like it, either, and many have an impulse (like the rest of us!) to do something about it. Second, a bunch of UCSC students are either homeless themselves or are very close to becoming homeless or have a close student friend that is homeless. So homelessness is a big deal to a lot of UCSC students and they want to vote in local city elections that might have an impact on the homelessness around them every day.

I know it will irk some people to raise this point... but students make up a huge portion of the tenants in Santa Cruz. Since the state has not acted to protect tenants as much as most tenants would like, those tenants have looked to the city they live in to provide some of those protections and to meet some of their housing needs. Santa Cruz is where many UCSC students have a formal tenant-landlord relationship. Santa Cruz is where they try to find scarce rental housing. If they want to advocate for their interests (just the way the rest of us do), they will look to elect city councilmembers who will work on their behalf. Voting in some former “home town” will not help them at all as renters.

This list could go on... but I will pause here to dig deeper into this last item. Property owners and landlords have every right to try to elect city councilmembers that will work in their interests. However, a subset of members of those two groups are outraged that many UCSC students exercise their right to advocate for their legitimate local interests. This, my friends, is what is often known as hypocrisy. It’s bullshit. If you don’t like how many students vote, you can engage with them and convince them. That’s real democracy.

Instead of doing that, the faction in local politics that is typically labeled something like “moderate” usually ignores the campus and the students at election time. They label the students as “zombies” or “sheep” and write them off. This is stupid. Certainly, UCSC students have a generally “progressive” bent but not all are progressive and many are quite open to political discussion. How do I know this? I teach classes at UCSC. I’ve worked with dozens of UCSC student interns. I actually know students and treat them with respect. I think a few more Santa Cruz townies would benefit from actually getting to know UCSC students and engaging with them. Despite the prejudiced anti-student language that is common in some circles, UCSC student are actually “regular people,” too.

“But wait”, you’re thinking. “Aren’t students susceptible to influence by trusted teachers and trusted organizations?” Yes they are-- just like landlords are susceptible to influence by trusted leaders of the real estate and property management industries. Are we trying to exclude local landlords from voting in city elections?

One other thing... there is a lot of whining about how the Santa Cruz for Bernie group “told” students how to vote on election day near the polling place there. I’m quite sure Santa Cruz Together and the Democratic Party and various other groups made up multiple fliers and doorhangers that “told” their constituents how to vote on election day. Nothing wrong with SCT or the Dems doing that... it’s called campaigning and its part of the democratic process. What is wrong is saying that handing a slate card to a UCSC student is somehow corrupt but ignoring the fact that many other local groups do exactly the same thing. Almost too much hypocrisy to describe in one blog post...

Last, but not least... if a group would like to see a “same day registration” opportunity site somewhere other than on the UCSC campus, I hope they will ask the County Clerk to do that. It is unfair to blame the UCSC group for exercising their voting rights simply because your team didn’t have the same idea.

By the way, I did not vote for Drew Glover or Chris Krohn in recent elections. Please don’t be confused about which “side” I’m on. I’m simply on the side of the many UCSC students that are an integral and valuable part of our community. They have just as much of a reason to vote here as I do-- because they are actually regular, hard-working, environmentally conscious, family-loving, tax-paying people, too.

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