You’ve been in office for 20 years now. Why do you think the voters should give you another four-year term?
“There’s a lot of things that we have been doing and working on,” Ruiz said, pointing to an engineering project to bring the downtown area out of the floodplain and floodway. “We built a bridge out in Kino Springs so people can get in and out when the road is flooded… so that gives the opportunity for development out there. We’re working closely with the mine.”
“Most of all, we’ve hired some very competent staff and… I want to make sure that over the next four years, if given the opportunity, we continue to work on things that will make our community a better place for people to live, work and play.”
The county is facing some challenging years ahead as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. What are some things that you’ll try to do to mitigate the negative impacts of the pandemic going forward?
Ruiz said that the board is seeking community feedback and trying to “establish a post-COVID committee to try to leverage and find federal funds to assist businesses that have been hard hit.”
“Also, if we get this floodplain and floodway resolved soon, it’ll give opportunities for people to invest in downtown. We need to work together with the city, as well, to make sure that those opportunities are there for everyone.”
How would you assess yours and the board’s response to the health crisis in Santa Cruz County, so far? Do you feel that you’ve shown strong leadership during the crisis?
“Oh, absolutely. I mean, we were on the forefront. We worked with the other border counties to send a letter to the governor to allow us to mandate mask-wearing. We’ve done everything that we can, from participating in phone calls with the Governor’s Office, (U.S. Senator) Kyrsten Sinema’s Office,” he said, adding that the board also obtained personal protective equipment for health workers and managed to secure a $1.5 million funding for a testing blitz.
What was your specific role in putting together the mask mandate and the testing blitz?
“It’s a team effort,” he said, adding that the board lobbied and sent letters to state officials. “We were doing everything that is humanly possible as elected officials to get the word out and to get the support for allowing us to mandate the masks or the testing…We’ve been very proactive when it comes to that.”
Aside from the pandemic response, what are two or three significant accomplishments you’ve achieved for your district during your current term in office?
“I think the big one right now is the bridge that we just completed in Kino Springs. The other was the retention/detention basin that we did in the Nogalitos area,” Ruiz said, adding that the board has also continued to chip-seal roads within the county. “And we’ve been working with authorities across the border to identify and find ways to minimize the flood waters that come south to north.”
Some people in the community say that Santa Cruz County has always been run by the same people and we need new faces in office. What’s your response to that?
“First of all, they need to attend the meetings… and see what we’re doing. If you think it’s the same people running, it’s because there’s continuity,” Ruiz said. “I think the reason people continue to elect us is because they trust us and they see that we’re working to make this community better.”
“There’s a learning curve when you come into office, so you don’t come in knowing everything. I’m still learning things and I’ve been there 19 years,” he said, adding that “because we’ve been there for a while, I think we have the institutional memory and we’ve been doing everything that we can to make sure that we continue to move forward.”
Do you think the county and city are working well together to tackle issues they have in common?
“The truth is, no. Could we do better? Yes. I think there has to come a point in time where you have to leave your differences at the door and we need to sit down in a room, discuss our issues and differences, agree on things that we can work on together and begin to build that trust and that communication,” he said.
“Now, on the other hand, the city did give us some land out in the Calabasas Park to do a recreational area and the city was the one that voted to identify the retention basin in the Nogalitos as a top priority. So, those are two instances when we’ve worked together.”
What are some specific areas for possible improvement between the county and the city?
“I think there’s an opportunity for us to work together to create a positive area in downtown. One of the things that I would like to see occur on Morley is to have multi-use zoning,” he said, adding that the county and city could mirror a similar model to Congress Street in Tucson. “What could happen in downtown is you could have some nice little restaurants, maybe some housing units and some artists that are there. Then… close Morley Avenue on the weekends and have concerts.”
What’s your assessment of the county government’s efforts at transparency and public outreach?
“I think we’ve been very transparent and we have a lot of things now online that’ll facilitate (things), whether it’s applying for a building permit or wanting information from the health department or the recorder’s office or the assessor’s office… I think the website that we have is a useful tool to the members of this community to be able to access and see what’s going on in county government.”
The board has continuously refused to broadcast meetings on YouTube, has required the public to fill out records request forms for basic public information, and there is often stubbornness in discussing details of major projects. What has been the cause for lack of transparency in those instances?
“I don’t know that we have not been transparent. We just need to look at seeing what equipment needs to be installed to broadcast those (meetings). I think our PIO does a good job at releasing information and if there’s anything you need, I’m always a phone call away,” he said. “At the end of the day, I think we’re all open to being as transparent as we possibly can.”
The board has already uploaded one of the previous meetings to YouTube. Do you think that’s something the board could do more often to give community members an alternative to listening in on the meetings by phone?
“I think, right now, they can call in. There’s a number they can call in when we have our meetings,” Ruiz said, adding that there’s a way to actively participate in the meetings via phone call. “There’s a lot of programs out there that can do the same thing, but I think eventually, if this pandemic continues, maybe we’ll really look at investing to have a YouTube channel so people can watch the meetings live.”
Is there anything else you’d like the readers to know about you, your record as supervisor or your candidacy?
“I think I have a good record as a supervisor and I’ve been doing everything that I can to promote our community, to do things that are in the best interest of all our residents whether they live in District 1, 2 or 3.”
“I think one of the great advantages of the time that I’ve spent there is that I’ve been able to really participate at a national level,” he said, asserting that the board has consistently lobbied to protect local interests. “We see our community of great value and I think that as long as we continue to be those positive ambassadors for our community, we will continue to get things done.”