[Noozhawk’s note: One in a series of questionnaires with the candidates running for three seats on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors in the June 5 election. This installment is the 3rd District. Click here for the complete series index.]
NOOZHAWK: What, if anything, should Santa Barbara County do to make up for the loss of funding from the state of California’s elimination of redevelopment agencies?
DOREEN FARR: The elimination of redevelopment agencies leaves Santa Barbara County, as well as many cities within the county, with an additional financing gap for important capital improvements and economic development projects. While there will be a certain amount of money returned to each of those areas, it is clear the level of funding previously received will be reduced significantly.
In Isla Vista, there has been discussion about creating a Community Services District that will be specific to Isla Vista and that will help maintain the improvements and perhaps provide additional funding mechanisms. These ideas need to continue to be explored. But I am committed to making sure that Isla Vista gets its fair share of county representation and resources.
NOOZHAWK: Given the loss of redevelopment agency funds throughout the county, should the revenue-neutrality agreement with the City of Goleta be modified? Why or why not?
DF: The revenue-neutrality agreement between the county and the City of Goleta had several phases designed to gradually wean the county from receiving revenues generated within the new city boundaries. While I believe that agreement should have a final end date, given the challenging economic times the county is facing right now, we need to proceed with the utmost of caution to ensure that both municipalities continue down the road of economic recovery.
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NOOZHAWK: Several local jurisdictions are considering an increase in the transient-occupancy tax as a way to address revenue shortfalls. Should the county increase its bed tax?
DF: This option should be explored. The transient-occupancy tax (TOT) is currently 2 percent lower than that charged in the City of Santa Barbara and is primarily paid by tourists visiting our beautiful county. Any increase in revenues from a higher TOT do not need to be shared with any other entity but go straight into the county’s General Fund and could help sustain county departments that rely on General Fund money, like the Sheriff’s Department. However, prior to moving forward with this proposal, we would need to reach out to hoteliers to attempt to gauge the impact such an increase might have on their businesses.
NOOZHAWK: With gas prices at record highs and chronic budget shortfalls prevalent at all levels of government, should Santa Barbara County encourage more oil and gas development? If so, in what ways? If not, why not?
DF: Santa Barbara County has three separate areas where oil production is occurring — in offshore federal leases, in near-shore state tidelands and onshore in the North County. I have opposed more drilling in the federal leases because of the potentially severe damage that could occur to the marine and shoreline environment from an oil spill and the serious repercussions to our economy that would ensue because of it. I did support the Tranquillon Ridge Project in the state tidelands when it was proposed because I felt it represented a balanced compromise between various stakeholder groups in the county and the potential benefits it would have brought to Santa Barbara residents. However, onshore oil production in our county is ongoing and increasing as the price of oil continues to climb. County permits are granted regularly to restart abandoned oil wells and oil fields, as well as drilling for new wells, all of which I have also supported. I do believe the county should look more closely at ways to derive increased revenue from this higher level of onshore oil production.
NOOZHAWK: Although realignment of California’s criminal justice system was imposed abruptly, it appears to have potential for real reform. How should the county’s justice system be re-created, and how would you ensure that the reforms are successful?
DF: I believe we should use the implementation of AB 109 as an opportunity to rethink who needs to be housed in our jail and how. Clearly, a higher number of state prisoners being returned to our county is creating challenges for our public safety departments to accommodate, but I feel they are all meeting those challenges quite successfully thus far. At the same time, we must work on a better system to place the homeless and mentally ill in facilities better suited to their needs so they do not end up in jail, where it is much more difficult and costly to provide appropriate services and use space needed for serious criminals. Another option is for the county to be able to build and sustain a new jail to deal with both our decade-long overcrowding problems as well as providing additional space for mental health and rehabilitation services. And we need to continue to fund our collaborative courts to also reduce our overall jail population.
The key component needed is a guaranteed revenue stream from Sacramento to fund the increased costs associated with AB 109 so this greatly increased workload and needed changes are fully funded in perpetuity.
NOOZHAWK: Assuming funds can be found to build a North County jail, how will the county pay for ongoing operational costs?
DF: Overcrowding in Santa Barbara County is a decade-long problem and realignment puts additional pressure on local government. I am very pleased that Santa Barbara recently received $60 million in state funding to build a new county jail, with a possibility of securing an additional $20 million in the future. While this is a great first step, funding challenges remain that must be addressed.
Last year, the Board of Supervisors set aside $1 million in a fund reserved for future jail operations. As a part of the board’s adopted budget principles, the plan is to increase that funding level by $1 million each year to have enough money set aside by the time a new jail might be fully constructed. However, if in the future it appears that county revenues are not growing quickly enough to accommodate this plan, the board may have to consider options for other new revenue sources that might be strictly dedicated to the jail operations fund.
NOOZHAWK: What should the county be doing to address deficits in county Fire Department budgets?
DF: Public safety is one of my top priorities and fully funding those departments is a commitment I made four years ago and have kept throughout my term as supervisor. In the long run, we need to support job creation throughout the county to help increase the county’s revenues and I remain focused on this endeavor. In the short term, I have supported the proposal to consider shifting a portion of our property tax revenues to the fire district to ensure it has adequate resources to maintain staffing and infrastructure. Currently, our Fire District receives revenues equaling approximately 12 percent, although other county fire districts receive closer to 16 percent or 17 percent. This issue will be coming back to the board for a final decision on May 22.
NOOZHAWK: Do you support reforming the county’s pension system, and if so, how aggressive should that reform be? If not, why not?
DF: I have supported reforming the county’s pension system and voted to enact a number of changes to reduce these costs to help us balance current and future county budgets. Some of these reforms are implementing a new tier for retirement for new hires that both extends the age of retirement and reduces the percentage used to calculate the retirement, eliminating “pension spiking” and using a three-year average salary, rather than just a single year. I do not think that pensions should be excluded from the collective bargaining process. However, I will continue to look for common-sense solutions to balance our budget and our pension system costs.
NOOZHAWK: Do you support Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed tax increases on the November ballot? What impact do you foresee if voters approve them or reject them?
DF: Ultimately, the voters will decide this matter in November. In the meantime, the county must continue to act in a fiscally prudent manner and be prepared regardless of the outcome. We must continue to work to put our county on a secure fiscal path with or without any new taxes. I have supported many changes in the past few years to “right-size” county government, including eliminating hundreds of positions, merging departments, enacting a hiring freeze and bargaining concession agreements with employee groups. I am also working hard to stimulate local economic growth and create new jobs.
NOOZHAWK: What solution do you support to help prevent erosion at Goleta Beach County Park?
DF: We need to counter natural beach erosion as well as maintain and enhance our recreational facilities at Goleta Beach. The county has embarked on an extensive process to facilitate public participation so we can hear all perspectives from various stakeholder groups and individuals on this critically important issue. A thorough environmental review is anticipated to be initiated in the near future that will both take and respond to all public comments and ultimately provide various alternatives for consideration.
NOOZHAWK: What changes, if any, do you think the county should be pursuing in its Housing Element?
DF: The county needs to continue balancing the preservation of agriculture and open space while providing housing for our residents. Additionally, we need to find a way to offset the recent loss of affordable housing funds created by the elimination redevelopment agencies by the state. We need to continue providing housing at affordable levels so teachers, firefighters and law enforcement can continue to live in the area they serve. We can meet these challenges by using the same smart planning strategies that have served Santa Barbara County in the past.
However, this does not negate the need for the county and the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments to stay in close contact with the state Department of Housing and Community Development. Sacramento must be kept apprised of the unique challenges we face in this county and we must push back whenever necessary against unrealistic expectations that cannot be supported with existing infrastructure, particularly sufficient supplies of water.
NOOZHAWK: Do you support the Goleta Heritage Farmlands Initiative and similar land-use measures? Is ballot-box zoning an appropriate practice or does it circumvent the established planning process? Explain.
DF: The Goleta Heritage Farmlands Initiative now going through the signature-gathering process, as well as a similar measure passed by the City of Buellton a few years ago, can provide important opportunities for residents to express how they feel about potential large-scale changes to the size of their city and inform city staff and elected officials of that sentiment. Usually the intent of such measures is to help define the overall city boundaries and not to micromanage planning decisions as to what might occur within those boundaries, which is better left to the community planning process already in place.
NOOZHAWK: How effective is the county’s current approach to issues confronted by the Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services? What changes would you like to see?
DF: Currently, the county has hired a consultant to do a thorough independent evaluation and analysis of ADMHS. I look forward to reading the results of this analysis and following through on any recommendations that might come out of this study.
NOOZHAWK: Explain your views on efforts by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians to expand the tribe’s sovereign territory, especially in the noncontiguous Camp 4 area of the Santa Ynez Valley.
DF: I continue to strongly oppose the Chumash Tribe’s attempt to take 1,400 acres of agriculturally zoned land in the Santa Ynez Valley and add it to their reservation through a “fee to trust” annexation process. Such an annexation would deprive the county of any land-use control over all future development of the property as well as the loss of all revenues — property tax, sales tax and transient-occupancy tax — that might be generated from such development. This loss of all tax revenues and land-use authority would be in perpetuity and would have an enormously negative impact on the county’s ability to provide services throughout all parts of the county.
In addition, it would deprive school districts and other special districts of the revenues they would normally enjoy from any taxes generated from that 1,400 acres, also in perpetuity. The Tribe has achieved great economic success from the casino gaming allowed on their current reservation property and therefore does not meet the criteria of critical financial need for which the fee to trust process was originally designed. I would hope the Tribe would abandon any request for this annexation and instead go through the normal county land-use process for any development they might want to propose for that acreage.
NOOZHAWK: Does the county need to change the way it oversees agencies like the Lompoc Housing & Community Development Corporation? Why or why not?
DF: The county needs to ensure that any organizations that receive federal, state or county dollars provide all necessary paperwork and audits in a timely manner. Any entities that do not submit their audits on time should be flagged and no additional funds granted until they do so. The county has a very good track record of mandating these requirements, so the issues surrounding LHCDC are definitely the exception and not the rule.
NOOZHAWK: Concerns have been raised about the rapid growth of wine tasting rooms and the potential impacts on public safety. Is the county effectively managing the issue? Explain your answer.
DF: The county is still examining the issue of the growth of wine tasting throughout the county, particularly in the Santa Ynez Valley, and looking for ways to ameliorate any negative impacts from that growth. My office works closely with the California Highway Patrol and Sheriff’s Department to analyze data from citations and arrests and looks for ways to enhance DUI enforcement efforts and better training for tasting room employees by applying for additional grants in these areas. Potential changes in planning and public health permits may be required as a result of recent changes in state law regarding alcohol beverage control licenses for tasting rooms.
NOOZHAWK: What role should the county play in economic development? Is the county doing too much, too little, or the right amount?
DF: The county can and should use its resources to facilitate economic development and job creation. The Board of Supervisors made this our highest priority this year and that priority is reflected in our legislative platform, as well.
I am always looking for ways to generate revenue and stimulate our local economy to create more job opportunities at all salary levels. I have supported economic programs to increase tourism, the county Film Commission, redevelopment, and to build new infrastructure and affordable housing. We can and will do more in the coming months to build a more resilient local economy. I am working to bring business and community groups together with the educational institutions in our county like UCSB. Such partnerships can support new startup companies that will eventually lead to a more diversified economy for our county.
NOOZHAWK: What is the major public issue in Isla Vista and how should the county be addressing it?
DF: The major issue in Isla Vista is public health and safety. Isla Vista is the most densely populated area in the county. And yet it is not a city, but an unincorporated area and entirely dependent upon the county for its governance and infrastructure needs. Because of the uniqueness of this community, both due to its density and its population primarily comprised of college students, it provides special challenges to this governance. The area attracts many visitors from outside the area that increase crime rates, including burglary.
The IV Foot Patrol provides a wonderful model for community-based policing and interacts well with the population on a wide variety of issues. Both Public Health and ADMHS departments collaborate with UCSB and SBCC staff on a variety of health issues for IV residents. However, now that redevelopment has been eliminated from IV, it will be especially important that county departments continue to work to provide for the housing and public works needs of this community. The county may want to consider future options that would allow area residents some measure of independence and control over infrastructure decisions, such as the creation of a community facilities or a community services district.
NOOZHAWK: Panga boats favored by smugglers have been found abandoned with increasing frequency and marijuana eradication requires considerable annual resources. Are our shores and backcountry safe? Is the county’s approach to these problems sufficient? With respect to smuggling from offshore, are you satisfied with the federal government’s response? Explain.
DF: Any amount of drug trafficking in Santa Barbara County is unacceptable. Drug smuggling is a national and a local issue. The Board of Supervisors is taking this issue seriously and collaborating with state and national officials. We are working with the Sheriff’s Department and the Coast Guard safety unit that conducts investigations when an abandoned boat is found in an effort to understand the most susceptible areas so we can increase our enforcement presence there.
NOOZHAWK: Rate the county’s management of issues relating to the preservation of open space. What definitive steps should it be taking?
DF: The board has done an excellent job of preserving open space and agricultural land throughout the county. The supervisors have made this a priority, and when the state cut all funding for the Williamson Act, a program designed to preserve agricultural land, I led the effort to ensure the program would continue to operate in Santa Barbara County.
NOOZHAWK: What county government issue should Noozhawk cover more thoroughly?
DF: I think Noozhawk provides excellent coverage of county issues.
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