By Todd Guild

A longtime biotechnology researcher and public transportation advocate has lined up to challenge Santa Cruz County Supervisor Manu Koenig when his District 1 seat goes up for reelection early next year.

Lani Faulkner kicked off her campaign on Sunday afternoon in a small, redwood-studded picnic area in DeLaveaga Park.

Faulkner, 55, says she made the decision to run after several community members approached her with their concerns, saying they felt that they were not being addressed by the board.

If elected, Faulkner’s view on the county’s public transit system would be a stark contrast to that of Koenig, whose vocal opposition to the future passenger rail project has become a centerpiece of his time in public office.

Faulkner is founder of Equity Transit, a Santa Cruz-based nonprofit that advocates for “a robust and affordable public transportation system.”

She points out that more than 70% of voters in Santa Cruz County opposed Measure D, which was supported by trail-only advocates and would have all but scuttled plans for a passenger rail.

Equity Transit actively opposed the measure.

“Supervisor Koenig doesn’t represent the majority, and that’s part of the problem,” she says.

Supporting public transportation systems such as passenger rail, she says, ties into environmental protection, which she says is another of her key priorities.

“Transportation is really critical, because it is one of our top contributors to greenhouse gasses,” she says. “So we really have to manage our transportation system and support robust public transportation, our bussing, future passenger rail and anything else that can help address these environmental issues.”

She adds that the state of California has signaled its support for such plans with its financial investment in the statewide rail network.

“If you look at their progress, we are a critical part of that,” she says.

Faulkner has spent 15 years in the biotechnology industry, [and was]* Lead Senior Clinical Research Associate at Stryker Neurovascular, a Fremont-based company that among other things develops technology to help stroke victims.

She says her experience in that industry—requiring her to work collaboratively with state, national and international institutions—has helped prepare her for the role as supervisor.

She also lists housing, homelessness, disaster preparedness and water and resource management among her priorities, as well as supporting and improving services for children and seniors.

She would also look to improve the county’s responses to disaster victims, such as those affected by the CZU fires.

“When I think of disaster preparedness, I’m thinking of this larger umbrella about how we can be better prepared for our future to manage all these things that might come,” she says.

Faulkner served on the Executive Committee of the Santa Cruz Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Community Traffic Safety Coalition, and [is a member of]* the local chapter of the NAACP.

She has studied bel canto, an operatic singing style that originated in Italy. She has performed around the world and with local groups such as the Bayshore Lyric Opera Company in Capitola, the Mountain Community Theater and the Cabrillo College Concert Choir under Cheryl Anderson.

She has also coached middle and high school mountain biking at Kirby School, a hobby she picked up along with her son.

She taught systemic and cellular physiology at UC Davis, where she holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in physiology.

More than 100 people attended Faulkner’s kickoff, including elected official and nonprofit leaders that make up the dozens who have signed on with endorsements.

As her campaign progresses to the election, Faulkner says she plans to meet with as many community members as she can. This includes those who may not agree with her.

“My way of dealing with this is inviting people to come talk,” she says. “We will not agree on everything all the time. But I think if people feel heard and really feel like I’m listening and trying to understand what they’re getting at, then they hear the respect.”

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*The Lani for Supervisor Campaign team has made some clarifications to the original article to reflect the utmost accuracy.