Six county supervisorial candidates and board chairperson John Leopold laid out their vision for how to provide the best child healthcare and food assistance options to 30 area residents Tuesday. The discussion largely centered around digitizing and streamlining the application processes for program including MediCruz and .
Danny Keith of Second Harvest Food Bank moderated the forum held at the Resource Center For Non-violence in Santa Cruz. He cited that Santa Cruz County ranks 45th of 58 counties in the state for the number of eligible families who apply for Cal Fresh and asked how candidates would improve this level. 20 percent of county residents receive some sort of food assistance, but with the county ranking third in the nation for highest cost of living many more qualify.
Santa Cruz Police spokesperson Zach Friend, who is running for the 2nd district seat, said that a number of things can be done to get assistance to those not claiming it.
“I think as far as barriers to access [to CalFresh], that technological advancements can overcome this,” said Friend. “I agree with Eric Hammer that there are also a number of social stigmas that go along with these programs and that needs to stop.”
Hammer, who is running in District 5, said spreading awareness to combat obesity is his top priority to serve youths in the county.
“It is amazing where we find sugar,” he said. “We need to educate and change the whole way we look at nutrition.”
District 2 hopeful Rich McInnis said that providing healthy alternatives to fast food chains is crucial to fighting the trend toward obesity that has overtaken much of the nation.
“I grew up with fast food, and its not the healthiest,” he said. “There is a way to promote healthier options its just a matter of working with groups to get [sound nutritional] information out through the schools.”
Gary Arnold who is challenging Leopold for District 1, enforced his view that the government should not be interfering with people's lives in every answer. When asked how he would improve education on health, he said people eating what they want, whether healthy or not is a core American freedom.
“We shouldn't be like [North Korea] where everyone is made into a homogenized unit for the cartels,” said Arnold. “If you want to provide a cot and everything else that's fine, but not everyone should be included.”
According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute Santa Cruz county dropped from seventh to tenth on the list of healthiest counties in the state in 2011.
Keith also asked how candidates would ensure businesses comply with a 2001 California law requiring businesses to offer women space and time to breast feed. Friend said his sisters were forced to make a “false choice of whether to keep working or take care of their kids” and that other families should not have to make that choice.
Dostrict 5 candidates Bruce McPherson and Hammer both focused on ways to inform businesses' of their responsibilities to prevent violations and ensure women can comfortably continue their careers.
“This is a matter of the county setting the example, and making it visible to the private sectors what is expected of them,” said McPherson.
Friend said that a cycle of youth feeling unrepresented should also be addressed. He said this results in a low number of young people voting, creating a cycle of poor communication. He wants to get them involved so they feel empowered to help form health programs offered to them and end the adversarial situation he sees as a police officer.
Friend opened at least two answers with “I agree with Hammer on this,” which Hammer credited to the order of their responses and their time working together on the Santa Cruz County Democratic Central Committee.
“Often that is done to strengthen what a candidate is saying,” Hammer said.
With Ellen Pirie vacating her seat on the board that there will be no female county supervisors in 2013. He, however, assured the crowd of about 30—nearly all women—that their views will be represented if he is elected.
Antonio Rivas, a District 2 candidate, added to McInnis' statement saying that there are women in many departments of the county government—including County Administrative Officer Susan Mauriello—and that as supervisor he would welcome their ideas.
“We have very professional women in the county,” Rivas said. “And we want your recommendations.”
The forum was sponsored by Go For Health, the United Way of Santa Cruz County and . A video of it will be available at communitytv.org later this week.