Strong Business, Better Community: My Time at the SCC Business Council

By: Sandra Parhami

My name is Sandra Parhami, and for the last seven months I have served as the Policy and Programs Intern for the Santa Cruz County Business Council. As a recent college graduate from UCSC, I studied Economics and Cognitive Science— many would see this as a peculiar combination, but I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the connections between the two, as they seemed to perfectly intertwine the interdisciplinary research of human cognition and behavior with economic theory and policy.

In addition to my studies, my drive to advocate for change initially began in my past work— serving as an athlete on the NCAA Soccer team and as a SAAC (Student Athlete Advisory Committee) Representative, we had to fight for the survival of the whole athletics program at our school. With endless collaboration and teamwork, we built enough support to overcome the referendum aimed to discontinue athletics, and today UCSC stands with the strongest, most funded athletics program it has ever seen.

Serving as a canvasser in the San Mateo County for CALPIRG and Environmental California also made me realize the importance of community awareness and grassroots support, but I always felt like I could do more.

Advocating and working with local business and community leaders was the next step for me, and the Santa Cruz County Business Council provided this opportunity.

I began to take a deeper look at issues impacting our community— not just by learning about zoning laws, property rights, taxes, environmental impacts and other controversial policies in the classroom, but by facing them head on and hearing from the people and businesses affected.

Entering the world upon graduation can be overwhelming, especially when you spend time learning about controversial issues such as these. Interning for the SC Business Council has truly been a fruitful experience that has changed my way of thinking forever— providing reassurance that what I do and work towards can make a real difference, and within all of us lies the ability to start a ripple effect— easing my transition into the “real” world.  

With a remarkable, hard working staff of two (now three) UCSC alumni, it became evident that our power and strength lies in our numbers: the impressive 80 employers that we represent. Our members benefit from staying in the know as we hear their concerns, helping them to succeed and in turn, helping them serve our County and allowing for greater economic vitality.

It is important to meet with your fellow business owners, discuss current issues, and collaborate. The future of our community lies in how strong our businesses are, and when they stand together, they can enact real change.

With that said, politics can be extremely complicated, and there are usually no black and white answers to any given problem. There are often many sides, and extensive research needs to be done— this is where I came in. In my opinion, there is no better way to prepare for entering life after graduation than studying and analyzing the hardships that people and business owners face in the county I live in, whether it be in housing, homelessness, cannabis taxes, or transportation. Having to gain a deep enough understanding so that I could easily relay it to the public, through social media, expanded my understanding of local policy even more.

Attending events that were both enjoyable and educational quickly became a consistent pattern. For instance, as transportation is a hugely controversial issue here in Santa Cruz County, I was tasked to ride the SMART Train connecting the Sonoma and Marin Counties. Successful and dynamic policy implementation involves studying those of other regions, I quickly learned.

The most critical factor about this internship is that I have become aware of the issues around me. And if there is anything I’ve learned about community engagement, it is that creating awareness and educating the community are the roots of an efficient framework.

Our new ‘Clear the Fog’ Youtube Series does exactly that, and I was at the forefront of the process. The production of videos that present a curated version of local policy serves to enhance the awareness of our community— whether it’s debunking myths on homelessness, exposing the high taxation rates on cannabis, revealing how an enhanced density bonus allows for more affordable housing, or outlining the importance of the Fiber Project and net neutrality in Santa Cruz. The capability to ask the right questions to triage this important information has provided me with a skill set that will carry over into my professional career.

One of the most rewarding yet scary feelings that I gained from this experience was knowing that not many people my age had fulfilled this much awareness about their local politics. Knowledge is your greatest power, and many overlook the issues happening right in their hometowns simply because they are unaware that the fate of the community is actually in our hands. It really is fun to be the ‘go-to’ in my group of friends for information about what’s going on in Santa Cruz, but this process has highlighted the disconnect between young people and local politics. Whether it’s on a local or national level, youth involvement is the key to moving the needle.

My time serving the people and businesses of Santa Cruz County does not stop here, as long as I continue to educate myself and others about these relevant issues. I plan on taking this knowledge and these insights with me wherever I may go.

And most importantly, I learned that change is indeed possible! Although I was only an intern for seven months, I was fortunate to see change unfold with my own eyes, when several new housing affordability programs were adopted this June. Included in this bundle was the implementation of an Enhanced Density Program, which our staff advocated for.

This internship could not have been a better educational opportunity for me, surrounded by an amazing support team that helped me not only learn about my community, but the potential that lies within myself. If you have the opportunity to get involved with your community at any level, I highly recommend doing so. There are endless layers to local politics, but when you start to peel them back, what you reveal may surprise you, and inspire you to make your own change, as well.