Watsonville City Council, District 4: Election to decide next mayor

Editor's note: This is the third in a series of interviews with candidates for the Watsonville City Council.

WATSONVILLE — Francisco Estrada and Jenny Sarmiento are running for the District 4 seat on the Watsonville City Council in November, and whoever wins will become the city's next mayor.

Under voter-approved Measure I in 2014, Watsonville's mayor is rotated yearly by district, with District 4 next in line for 2019.

Jimmy Dutra, who currently holds the seat, is running for Santa Cruz County Supervisor in November.

District 4 covers the southwestern portion of the city, including Pajaro Valley High School, neighborhoods to the east of South Green Valley Road, and Seaview Ranch off of Ohlone Parkway.


Francisco Estrada

Watsonville native Francisco "Paco" Estrada said he is worried about the "political apathy" that exists in the city.

Young people and Latinos just don't vote in the numbers that they should, and there is a notion that everyday people can't run for office or their voice doesn't count, he said.

So, Estrada, who has no political experience, decided to throw his hat in the ring and run for Watsonville City Council to inspire others.

"I want more people active in my community," he said. "I want to show young people and people of a similar background that if you want to do something positive for your community, you can."

Estrada, 35, is the child of immigrant farmworkers from Mexico. He attended local schools, graduated from UC Santa Cruz and earned his master's degree in modern history from San Jose State University.

He currently serves as grants officer for the Pajaro Valley Community Health Trust, and works with the Diabetes Health Center, helping others like himself who are diabetic.

Estrada is also an adjunct history instructor at Hartnell College, worked with the Santa Cruz County Office of Education, and serves on the Watsonville Parks and Recreation Commission, among other things.

If elected, Estrada said his top priorities are advocating for more activities and job skill training for young people, and healthier food options for residents. He praised the work of Digital NEST, a center located in downtown Watsonville that exposes youth to the technology industry, saying that it is preparing local students with future high-paying jobs.

He said he is concerned that Watsonville is a "food desert," with very few healthy food options available, and instead is a "food swamp," with an over-saturation of fast food restaurants.

As a council member, Estrada said he would hold community meetings throughout the district, allowing constituents to connect with their representative and voice their concerns.

"A democracy cannot possibly function without community input," he said.

Estrada said he has met with City Manager Matt Huffaker, saying he feels that Huffaker is going to be in Watsonville for the long run.

"I think we are going to do a lot of good," Estrada said.

He also praised his campaign team, which is a group of local young professionals, for helping him along the way.

"I'm eternally grateful for all their work, their sacrifices and their time," Estrada said.

Estrada added that many people have offered him guidance along the way, which he said would help him in his duties as mayor during his first year on the council.

"I was born and raised here," Estrada said. "I know this city, I know the people. I'm fully aware that I'm going to have to work my butt off for this city."


Jenny Sarmiento

Jenny Sarmiento has spent most of her life working in social services and education, which stemmed from her experiences at a young age.

At the age of 12, Sarmiento and her family emigrated from Bolivia to Southern California. Sarmiento, who earned her bachelor's degree in sociology and psychology from CSU Fullerton, helped her parents care for her sister, who was born with Down syndrome, and enroll her in school.

"I became really aware of people with disabilities, people with special needs, and people that were under-represented," she said. "It gave me more of an understanding and awareness of the differences and also what we share in common."

Sarmiento moved to Watsonville in 1994, and since then, has been active in the human services realm locally. She worked as an employment specialist with a County of Santa Cruz program, and was also CEO of Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance before retiring.

She is also co-chair of the Pajaro Valley Cesar Chavez Democratic Club and served on the board of Janus of Santa Cruz County, among other boards.

Sarmiento, who was named Santa Cruz County Democrat of the Year in 2017, was one of the organizers of the Women’s March held in Santa Cruz and Watsonville in January 2017.

Sarmiento has also served on the Watsonville Planning Commission for the past five years, a position she said ties in with her social service background.

"The longer that I served, the more I saw the connection of how we can make better policies and plan better for the city and our neighbors," she said.

If elected, Sarmiento said addressing homelessness is one of her top priorities. Advocating for more county staff in Watsonville, who help homeless people find housing and substance abuse treatment, among other things, is a more viable solution than just a shelter alone, she said.

"We need to take that extra step," Sarmiento said. "It's not enough to open a building and say 'we're open.'"

Prevention is a cost-effective measure that could help the city financially in the long run, such as providing resources for young people who are dealing with mental health or substance abuse issues.

"It costs us so much less to prevent situations," Sarmiento said.

Education is also a key component to the city's future, she said. Sarmiento praised Watsonville's recreation programs for young people, but said it needs to be expanded to focus on civic engagement and keeping the city clean, among other things.

Sarmiento said her years of experience, including attending many meetings and trainings on housing, transportation, homelessness, water and other issues, has prepared her well for the role of mayor and council member.

"I am ready to meet the social, fiscal and personal responsibility of the role of city council member and mayor," she said. "There is still more to learn and I am excited and ready to build a stronger Watsonville."


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