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From her living room, Gayle Ortiz can watch the silky filaments of pompas grass fly over the Soquel Creek and remember long summer days of family vacations floating on an inner tube just below. As a child she could stare up at the little houses on the bank where she now lives in Capitola Village.
“I’m extremely connected to Capitola in a very emotional way,” she says. “It’s imprinted in me. We were all day (playing) in this lagoon. They were some of my happier times.”
That “almost biological imprint” consists of smells and sounds and the particular aesthetics of a small town beach community. It is that unique character of Capitola, the architecture and scale, that she works so hard to preserve.
Although best known for establishing thriving Gayle’s Bakery & Rosticceria 38 years ago—a 10,000 square-foot business she launched from a home-based croissant business—Ortiz, 66, has spent decades in public service, working on the Planning Commission, the Oversight Board of the Successor Agency, the Library Ad Hoc Committee and city council, including a stint as mayor.
“For me, it’s always been about keeping the scale and character of Capitola,” she says, noting that she used to be called “the window witch,” for her work trying to keep wooden windows on houses in the village. “I used to want Capitola to look like the 50s but that’s not going to happen.”
Her latest projects have focused on the city’s ordinances and general plan, a new dog park and a new library. She is gearing up for the first communitywide gathering of Vision Capitola on April 20 at which residents will be asked to express what they appreciate about the community and what they want to see in the years to come.
“We’re looking forward now,” Ortiz says. “You need to know the past and dream about the future.”
A week later, residents will meet again to see how their issues rank in the overall community picture and General Plan. She hopes the discussion will inform city council decisions.
Although Ortiz has stepped back from the daily operations of the bakery, she is still involved in long-term projects. It is a time to perfect everything, she says, “to become better stewards of the environment, better employers, better community leaders, making the food better. We’re making an effort to have smart growth that serves our customers, but mostly our staff.” This means raising wages and “trying to really up our level of stewardship.”
In 2004, she shared some of her baking secrets in The Village Baker’s Wife: The Desserts and Pastries That Made Gayle’s Bakery Famous. She later co-authored The Jewel Box: A Capitola Mystery, a novel collectively written by members of a book club under the pseudonym Mysty W. Moonfree (an anagram for Women of Mystery, the name of the book club).
On weekends, she works in her nearby studio on creating one-of-a-kind clothing, jewelry and mosaics. She wears almost all her own clothes and sells her work in galleries all over the country, including in Many Hands Gallery in Capitola.
This article appeared in the Santa Cruz Sentinel Special Section Santa Cruz Woman Spring, 2016.