Standing in front of supporters as well as undecided voters, Santa Barbara mayoral candidate Steve Cushman on Saturday announced his formal entry into the crowded race to the Nov. 3 election.
On the back terrace of a private home, psychiatrist Peter Brill introduced Cushman. Brill talked about the election forum at which Cushman had appeared the night before, along with four other candidates, three of whom currently hold city council seats.
“We had three people on the council there, all of whom were acting as if this problem had nothing to do with them,” he said, conjuring up images of Santa Barbara’s budget woes, gang violence and empty storefronts.
“Leaders take responsibility for their decisions,” he said. “That’s not what we had last night and that’s not what we have with this city council.”
Campaign literature, bumper stickers, even Steve Cushman baseball cards were among the campaign material passed out to Saturday’s attendees. Cushman played for the California Angels and his Web site showcases a photo of Cushman pitching for UCSB. Saturday’s card had the present-day candidate suited up, ready to give talking points.
Cushman has been most visible in his role as president of the Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce. He’s worked for the organization for 20 years, and feels that the mayoral position is just an extension of the job he’s been doing for the chamber. And Cushman thinks the time is right for that transition.
“This is the first time in 20 years that I’ve thought anyone with a business background could be elected in Santa Barbara,” he said, adding that his motivation for running is purely to help make the city better.
Cushman graduated from UCSB in 1968, joined the Army and worked for the city of San Diego for seven years. During that time, he said San Diego had been so responsive that it would respond to customer calls about maintenance issues within 24 hours — a timeliness he’d like to see with Santa Barbara.
As far as the city’s finances go, Cushman touted his business background against those on the council “who have never been in business or balanced a budget.”
“If they need more money,” he said, “they’ll spend and then they’ll just tax you.”
The city has a revenue and a spending problem, according to Cushman, who said revenue was down $100 million. Continuing to advertise the city and promoting tourism, while also cutting back on city expenditures, is the right way to go, he said.
Comparing the city workforces of Santa Barbara and Ventura, as an example, Cushman noted that Ventura employs about 600 municipal workers while Santa Barbara has nearly 1,000.
“We’re a little out of balance, but we can change that,” he said.
He said he’d like to see Santa Barbara’s $10 million of operating reserves restored over five years.
Cushman also talked about universities and tourism, some of the biggest revenue generators for the city, and was upbeat about Santa Barbara’s business future.
He said there were 20 vacancies out of 405 ground-floor retail spaces on State Street currently, down from 37 four months ago.
He’s also said he’ll support a 40-foot height limit if it passes in November and he doesn’t support changes to the city’s scenic character. On the other hand, he’s candid about many of the local attitudes toward housing and population growth.
“Someone asked last night, ‘What’s the right size for Santa Barbara?’” he said. “I said, ‘The right size appears to be ‘Once I get in, nobody else.’”
“This is a beautiful place to live and in many ways, it’s self-regulating,” he said.