Newly elected Cloverdale City Councilwoman Marta Cruz wins trust as an approachable, straight shooter
Marta Cruz didn’t really want to move to Cloverdale.
Cruz, the newly elected city councilwoman for the small town on the county’s north end, liked her home in Santa Barbara. When her husband - Mark Rincon Ibarra - was offered the job of Cloverdale’s public works director, she stayed behind in Santa Barbara for a few months before heading north.
“My husband finally asked me, ‘Are you coming?’?” she said, with a laugh. “I said, ‘Yes I’ll come.’?”
Sitting in the newly opened Plank Coffee Shop in Healdsburg - a venue recommended by Cruz because the shop’s original location is in Cloverdale - she has already greeted three different people, including the barista who she notes also works in the Cloverdale location, before settling down to drink her vanilla steamer.
“I’m really proud of the small businesses we have in Cloverdale,” said Cruz. “It’s important to support them.”
Despite her initial resistance to move to her new town, Cruz wasted little time jumping into the local community once she arrived. She began attending the Kiwanis Club of Cloverdale Foundation meetings and also became involved in the club’s sponsorship of the Cloverdale branch of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, a national nonprofit started by the country singer to provide books to young children.
She moved around the corner from current Cloverdale Mayor Melanie Bagby, and the two women developed a friendship over walking their dogs and cups of coffee. When two members of City Council chose not to seek reelection last campaign season, Cruz expressed her interest in running to Bagby.
“I learned (roughly) 40 percent of Cloverdale residents are Latino - but they had no Latino representation on City Council or the school board,” said Cruz.
Bagby jumped on the idea. “I sat her down and said you need to do this, I’ll help run your campaign,” said Bagby. “We ran her campaign on a shoestring budget.”
Despite having worked on several campaigns - including the winning campaign of current Santa Barbara mayor Cathy Murrillo - Cruz had never run for office herself.
“It was my first time running for office and it was a lonely walk,” said Cruz. “Nobody walked with me to campaign - I walked the streets myself.”
Yet Cruz struck a chord with Cloverdale residents, garnering the most votes of any City Council candidate when she was elected last November.
“People were really ready for change,” said Bagby. “She really knows what it takes to do effective Latino and community outreach - she has the tools and the know-how.”
Cruz said her passion for serving minorities began to take root during her time in graduate school at Indiana University.
“Marta was very much involved at the university level as a student activist, advocating for the Latino community, about things like access to the admissions office,” said Al Lerma, who attended Indiana with Cruz and also serves as the current director of business development and innovation for the Sonoma County Economic Development Board. “She was very much engaged in those types of things and she was already reaching out to the community then.”
While at Indiana, Cruz developed and created the first Latino festival in Indianapolis, “Fiesta Indianapolis,” which began in 1980 and continued through last year - a 37-year run.
Yet Cruz is clear she does not consider herself a minority.
“I’ve never seen myself as a minority,” said Cruz. “I’ve always seen myself as a capable individual, unrelated to my ethnicity or sex.”
Cruz noted one of the difficulties the Latino community faces is being compiled into one demographic, when instead the demographics vary.
“People think if we speak Spanish that we are all the same,” said Cruz. “But our cultures, idiosyncrasies and practices are all different.”
Her ability to recognize the differences are not lost on her fellow city council colleagues.
“She’s a huge asset for the council,” said Bagby. “We’ve had the goals of (outreach) for a while, but unless you have someone bilingual or a member of the Latino community to model and do the regular outreach that needs to be done, it’s difficult. Marta checks all the boxes.”
“Oftentimes (Cruz) opens the door a little wider for more folks in the Latino community to be more engaged up there in Cloverdale,” said Lerma. “She’s approachable and inviting and she’s someone who kind of builds bridges between the community.”
While Cruz has only served in office since November, she was able to create a Cesar Chavez celebration for Cloverdale, an event which drew nearly 200 people March 31.
“She definitely is an organizer. In just the short time she’s been on City Council, we’ve seen that,” said Gene Lile, a former Cloverdale educator who serves as a board member for the Kiwanis Club. “I kind of call her a straight shooter: she doesn’t beat around the bush. Some people might be offended by that, but I think you always know where Marta stands.”
For Cruz, involving the Latino community in the conversation is what stands out as a continual opportunity for Cloverdale to grow in.
“We need to communicate to them that the Latino community is recognized and respected and included in decision-making,” said Cruz. “We want our Latino citizens to have a voice at the table.”
Cruz noted another difficulty lies in establishing trust between more underrepresented communities and their local city government.
“A big challenge is to educate the town on what role City Council plays,” said Cruz. “It’s about communicating directly with constituents - they need to start believing that we have their best interests at heart.”