In 1769 the Spanish explorer Don Gaspar de Portola discovered the land area which is now known as the City of Santa Cruz. When he came upon the beautiful flowing river, he named it San Lorenzo in honor of Saint Lawrence. He called the rolling hills above the river Santa Cruz, which means holy cross.
Twenty-two years later, in 1791, Father Fermin de Lasuen established a mission at Santa Cruz, the twelfth mission to be founded in California. Across the San Lorenzo River, in what is now known as East Santa Cruz, Villa de Branciforte was established It was founded by the Spanish as one of three civil settlements or pueblos in California. The other pueblos were San Jose and Los Angeles. Villa de Branciforte later merged with the Mission Santa Cruz community across the river.
By the 1820's Mexico had assumed control of the area and within the next twenty years, Americans began to arrive in great numbers. California became a state in 1849, and Santa Cruz County was created in 1850 as one of the twenty-seven original counties.
By the turn of the century logging, lime processing, agriculture, and commercial fishing industries prospered in the area. Due to its mild climate and scenic beauty Santa Cruz also became a prominent resort community.
Santa Cruz was incorporated in 1866 as a town under the laws of the State of California and received its first charter as a city in 1876. At that time the city was governed by a Mayor and Common Council consisting of four members.
In 1907, the citizens voted for a new charter designating a Mayor as chief executive and a City Council consisting of seven members. Subsequent charters gave a Mayor and four Commissioners both executive and administrative powers. At that time the city was divided into five departments: Public Affairs, Revenue and Finance, Public Health and Safety, Public Works, and Streets and Parks.
In 1948, the City of Santa Cruz adopted a new City Charter. This charter established a Council-Manager form of government, with a Mayor and six Councilmembers setting policy for the city and a city manager serving as the chief administrator of those policies. The Charter, with amendments, is still in existence today.