WATSONVILLE — Watsonville City Councilman Jimmy Dutra stood on a trail overlooking Watsonville Slough Tuesday, talking about his term with the city and his affinity for his hometown. He was also there to talk about his run for Santa Cruz County Supervisor for the June 2018 election.
“South County is gorgeous,” he said. “We have so much, and it’s worth fighting for.”
In the three years since Dutra became a Watsonville City Councilman, he said he has built his political chops, making key decisions and sitting on several boards.
That, he said, puts him in a perfect position to run for the Fourth District supervisor seat.
Dutra lost a bid for the seat in 2014, when, in a close election, incumbent Greg Caput and challenger Terry Medina garnered the votes to proceed to the November general election. Caput went on to keep his seat.
Next year’s election will be no less contentious, and will likely be more so. So far, Councilmembers Nancy Bilicich and Felipe Hernandez have also announced their intention to vie for the seat.
Because the supervisor position does not have term limits, incumbent Caput can also run again. It is not clear whether he plans to, however. He did not return a call for comment as of press time.
“My run this time is going to be completely different, because I gained experience I didn’t have before,” Dutra said. “I’ve gained an invaluable amount of experience.”
In addition to sitting on the city council, Dutra chairs the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District Board of Directors. During his time on that board, a full-time bilingual customer service representative was hired for the Watsonville Transit Center, the first time since the 1990s, he said.
He was recently chosen to be the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary agriculture representative, and was instrumental in launching Pajaro Valley Pride.
Dutra also serves as president for the Pajaro Valley Shelter Services Board of Directors, which ties into three of the issues he said he would focus on if elected: the homeless crisis, mental health and drug abuse.
Dutra said that dealing with homelessness requires a multi-pronged approach that goes beyond simply housing people.
“We’re only putting a Band-Aid on the problem, we’re not fixing it,” he said.
But to do that requires funding, which ties into another issue Dutra would tackle: helping South County secure county resources.
“A lot of the work is being done in North County,” he said. “We are not getting our fair share.”
Dutra said he would strengthen the ties between city and county governments, leadership he said is currently lacking.
“There needs to be a relationship between the city and the county, and right now we don’t have a relationship with our supervisor,” he said. “We don’t ever work with him, and he represents us. You need to cultivate a relationship with the city.”
If elected, Dutra said he would use the same never-take-no-for-an-answer approach to his job he uses as a councilman.
He said he used that philosophy when he was trying to build a community center and park in the Carey-Davis neighborhood in 2015.
“I was told no many times and I just wasn’t satisfied with that, because I think the city and the community deserve better,” he said.
And so Dutra contacted Home Depot, PG&E, Lakeside Organic Gardens and Watsonville residents, efforts he said helped secure the donations and resources to build the center.
“I figured out that, if the city wasn’t going to help me out with it, well then I was going to go out and make sure it happened,” he said.
Dutra said he was instrumental in ending Friday furloughs, which was an effort by the city to cut costs during the economic recession.
“I fought tooth and nail to end those furloughs, because we needed to get our staff back to work and our city running full-time again,” he said. “That is one of the biggest successes that I have.”
Dutra said that, in his time as a councilman, the city has approved more than 350 housing projects of various sizes.
As a county supervisor, Dutra said he wants to have a hand in distributing South County’s share of funds from Measure D, the 30-year, half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2016. The measure is expected to generate an estimated $500 million for countywide transportation projects.
Dutra also said he would work to help the city’s business community.
“We have such great businesses here,” he said, pointing to Fox Racing Shox, S. Martinelli & Company, Graniterock, Inc. and Granite Construction.
“We are a hidden gem,” he said. “Economic development is something I am going to work hard to achieve.”
Dutra said he was the first openly gay city councilman. If elected he said he would be the first openly gay supervisor.
“I just have to be me,” he said. “I’ve learned while being a politician and a leader that being authentic is really important and when we fail to be authentic, we aren’t showing the people that we are going to be doing what’s right for them.”
The Fourth District ranges from Hazel Dell and Mount Madonna roads in the north, the Pajaro River to the south and Green Valley Road to the west.