New county supervisor Zach Friend has some experience that sometimes comes in handy in his new job. He used to be a rock star.

“You learn to market,” says Friend, the former guitarist for Santa Cruz band Blueprint. In 2005, Friend and the band won Metro Santa Cruz’s Gold Awards for best musician, best album and best band. “How do you meet people, and how are you willing to talk about you to the public? And it’s tough because you’re putting yourself out there. A lot of people don’t succeed in either venue.”

Friend, who turns 34 years old next month, is also the former chair of the Santa Cruz Democratic Party, and worked on both of Barack Obama’s successful presidential campaigns. He regularly appears at Planet Cruz comedy shows.

New county supervisor Zach Friend has some experience that sometimes comes in handy in his new job. He used to be a rock star.

“You learn to market,” says Friend, the former guitarist for Santa Cruz band Blueprint. In 2005, Friend and the band won Metro Santa Cruz’s Gold Awards for best musician, best album and best band. “How do you meet people, and how are you willing to talk about you to the public? And it’s tough because you’re putting yourself out there. A lot of people don’t succeed in either venue.”

Friend, who turns 34 years old next month, is also the former chair of the Santa Cruz Democratic Party, and worked on both of Barack Obama’s successful presidential campaigns. He regularly appears at Planet Cruz comedy shows.

And until recently, Friend was the brash crime analyst and spokesperson for the Santa Cruz Police Department, where he was known to drop f-bombs in news interviews. But he says his new postition hasn’t caused him to make any major changes in his style.

“I don’t make apologies for my personality,” Friend says. “I became county supervisor, and still am on a local comedy show. I think that shows there are a lot of facets to individuals, and why they can be good representatives. I don’t think we’re fighting for representatives that are pilgrims and puritans. I think we want people that have lived real lives and had real experiences.”

Friend has a way of getting people’s attention—and not just for his booming baritone voice or good looks.

Police deputy chief Steve Clark, Friend’s former coworker, calls the supervisor “a kick in the pants.”

“He was a lot of fun to work with, great sense of humor,” says Clark.

Former Santa Cruz Sentinel editor Tom Honig says Friend reminds him of late Santa Cruz mayor Mardi Wormhoudt in his ability to analyze data and create realistic goals.

“She didn’t make a lot of blind promises,” Honig says. “And when she did make commitments, she did them in reasonable ways, not pie-in-the-sky ways. And I see Zach as capable of that kind of ability.”

County treasurer Fred Keeley remembers about a decade ago when Santa Cruz progressives used to get together and wonder where the next generation was. Then suddenly Friend and a few others got involved in the local Democratic Party organization and started rising through the ranks.

“He was clearly one of the folks who was the most active, the most willing to roll up his sleeves and get things done, the most willing to engage in something I have almost no [patience] for, which is central committee work,” Keeley says.

Does he remind Keeley of anyone?

“Smart, young, ambitious, good-looking, good sense of humor,” Keeley says, pausing. “He reminds me of Zach Friend.”

 

Loaded Chambers

Two weeks after taking office, Friend found himself studying up on the first controversial issue he had to deal with as an elected official: county gun shops.

When First District Supervisor John Leopold learned that business owners planned to open a new gun shop in Live Oak, he recommended a temporary moratorium. He wanted to give his staff time to study the issue and determine whether or not to implement a permitting process similar to the ones already in place in Santa Cruz and Capitola. Rhetoric was at a fever pitch at the public hearing. In the aftermath of the mass shooting in Connecticut, people made allusions to Cain and Abel, as well as the Holocaust.

But former police spokesperson Friend tried to keep the discussion in perspective.

“A lot of the comments focused a lot more on the national debate about gun rights,” said Friend, who supported the temporary measure and called it a land-use issue. “And the political discourse on this issue is such that you’re boxed into one side or the other, meaning that you’re either someone who supports the Second Amendment, or someone who wants to keep our kids safe, and those aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s unfortunate that a lot of times elected officials are forced to chose between these false choices.”

Leopold liked the way both Friend and former legislator Bruce McPherson, another first-time supe, handled the issue.

“They were very good,” Leopold said. “They were able to handle the issue in the contest they were presented, they weren’t swayed by the emotion. For their first real meeting, they asked good questions, and I was glad they joined with me.”

Friend added, though, that the 45-day moratorium, which passed on a 5-0 vote, should not be extended to the full two years allowed under the ordinance, saying that would be “totally unacceptable.”

There are many other issues on the horizon. Parts of the second district have serious needs in terms of roads and law enforcement. And land-use decisions could shape the future of shopping centers like Rancho Del Mar and Aptos Village. Friend’s stances on transportation and the widening of Highway 1, something he supports, could help shape his legacy.
“He’s nuanced in his opinions,” former Sentinel editor Honig says. “And you don’t know what he’s going to say before he says it—unlike a lot of people in elected office.”

 

Political Upstart

“He has really good perspective at a lot of different levels of government, and he’s really sharp,” says Carol Fuller, elected member of the Santa Cruz Democratic Party.  “We’re all expecting great things from him.”

Fuller isn’t the only one who sees Friend’s potential. County treasurer Keeley, who served in the California legislature for six years himself, says it’s only a matter of time before a seat opens up in either the state senate or assembly. But when it does, he adds, there will be steep competition from other talented county politicians.
If there’s any pressure mounted on Santa Cruz’s political golden child, Friend doesn’t appear to be feeling it.

“I don’t think a lot of steps down the road,” Friend says of the future.

The music in Friend’s office is set to shuffle, playing an odd mix of Tesla, Natalie Imbruglia, the Goo Goo Dolls and Snoop Dogg. He has a San Diego Chargers helmet on his filing cabinet and on the floor a black-and-white picture of himself with Barack Obama that he hasn’t hung yet.

Having just returned from a trip  Washington, D.C., for the presidential inauguration, Friend looks to be enjoying the warm January day and the view he has of the Monterey Bay out his fifth-story window. He says he doesn’t like the idea of state or national politics because he likes coming home to his wife (and assistant Santa Cruz city manager) Tina Shull at night. And he wants to start a family.

“He doesn’t emit the odor of ambition,” Honig says. “He has a lot of other opportunities outside of Santa Cruz. I think he’s here because he likes it. I always felt that question from job interviews about where you see yourself in 10 years was stupid, because you haven’t even gotten the job yet.”

Keeley says he can tell Friend knows how to dream big simply from what he’s already accomplished.

“I like people who are ambitious,” Keeley says. “I’m not very impressed with people who decide their twenties or thirties is the highlight of their life. Zach has aspirations in his life. Perhaps those are electoral. I suspect they are, but at a minimum they are to occupy, as time goes on, increasing positions of responsibility. One path to that is to elected life, but it doesn’t have to be.”