[Noozhawk’s note: There are 10 candidates running for three Santa Barbara City Council seats in the Nov. 8 election. Over the next five days, Noozhawk will be posting two candidate Q&As each day, based on the order in which the questionnaires were returned.]
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CATHY MURILLO: I am an advocate for children, working families, seniors and the environment. I have taught in our elementary schools, mentored at-risk teens, and I now train college students in broadcast media. I spent 16 years as a local government news reporter helping connect government to the people and people to their government, and I will fight to make City Hall more accessible and responsive to us all.
This experience gave me extensive knowledge of government processes, budget and finance, environmental and social issues, people and history. As a journalist, I am trained in research and analysis, and communication with diverse individuals and groups. I know how to build relationships of trust, and how to ask probing questions until I get an answer. I appreciate there are many sides to an issue. I understand the inter-relationship of government and nonprofits, business organizations and educational institutions, and I can provide leadership to make them a more cohesive team to address our most serious issues. I will be the City Council member who serves as a liaison to the schools and youth-serving organizations. These experiences and professional skill set will serve me well as I interact with other council members, city staff and constituents. I have a firm foundation for developing and implementing public policy that benefits all residents.
NOOZHAWK: Most of Santa Barbara’s labor concession agreements expire in 2012 and 2013, and CalPERS costs are expected to increase by millions of dollars. Would you support restructuring the city’s retirement or benefit plans?
CM: [Noozhawk’s note: The candidate said she mistakenly omitted this question and her answer from the response she returned to Noozhawk. The story has been updated with her reply.] First, CalPERS is under-funded right now because of the recession and the stock market failure after the banking industry’s risky lending and trading in terms of housing mortgages and other financial services. That said, the pension system does need to be reformed to remain sustainable. Our rank and file employees understand this. We must work with them, and their bargaining units, to develop a fair and equitable solution.
While the media are often quick to point to pensions of more than $100,000 as an abuse of the collective bargaining system, or extravagances of labor unions — these larger pensions are largely being paid to former management-level employees who are not represented by the unions. Most of our retirees earn a modest pension, and as public employees most are not eligible for Social Security, so this is their entire retirement income. I will work with our local labor unions to find ways to support our city employees but at the same time keep the public treasury whole.
NOOZHAWK: There have been several violent attacks on Santa Barbara’s Eastside and in the Milpas area within the last three years, and residents have called for more police protection. With the limited budget, how would you realistically address that community’s concerns?
CM: The first job of the City Council is public safety, and our police force has been very quick to respond to violent crime, and in each instance has quickly apprehended those responsible. The issue is how to effectively prevent crime, with a limited budget. Increased attention to community policing is one approach; I feel all our neighborhoods were safer when we had beat coordinators who had responsibility for and knew their areas. I believe we can make better use of our sworn police officers by using nonsworn employees in community service roles, particularly in the commercial areas to deter low-level crime, including aggressive panhandling.
One of my platform initiatives is to work with community groups to help establish small-scale neighborhood associations; these can be formal or informal, as we have done in my own neighborhood, where we know our neighbors and look out for one another. These associations can be a group of neighbors living along one street, or living around an elementary school, for instance. The neighbors would determine for themselves the focus of their group: neighborhood watch, crime prevention, speeding control, garden exchange, caring for the elderly who need help shopping, or connecting youth to services or after-school programs. Neighbors keeping an eye out for each other and being the “eyes and ears” for the police would help prevent and respond to criminal activity.
NOOZHAWK: What do you think of the General Plan’s direction?
CM: I prefer the version that came out of five years of public participation and was adopted by the Planning Commission. That version (not the one currently being adopted) would help revitalize our commercial areas, protect our remaining open space and existing single-family neighborhoods, and allowed for a modest amount of well-designed housing in appropriate locations. This would make the best use of our almost built-out city’s resources and encourage the kind of housing our residents need.
NOOZHAWK: If elected, what is the one issue on which you would focus to improve Santa Barbara’s quality of life?
CM: Youth-on-youth violence. My community service, and now my public service, has always focused on children and teens. I will serve as a conduit between City Hall and the schools, between city government and youth-serving organizations.
I am uniquely qualified to find solutions preventing gang activity in Santa Barbara. I personally survived the gang culture in East Los Angeles, where my father was in a street gang. I had a strong role model in my grandmother, I stayed in school, got good grades and scholarships, and graduated from UCSB with a degree in Dramatic Art. Not all our youth have family support, and we as a community must help our young people, I am a role model for our at-risk youth so that they don’t have to make the mistakes of their family members.
NOOZHAWK: What is Santa Barbara’s most neglected neighborhood?
CM: Every neighborhood deserves attention, respect and funding from City Hall. I will not play favorites or do more for some neighborhoods than for others.
NOOZHAWK: What would you do to make city government more accessible to the Spanish-speaking community?
CM: I am proud of my Mexican-American heritage and my ability to reflect the experiences and culture of the Latino community as a council member. A cornerstone of my candidacy is to engage everyone in their government, to take ownership of a government that must be responsive to their needs. Providing materials in Spanish or translating meetings is only a small part of helping residents feel like they are connected to government processes and programs.
As a City Council member, I will be out in the community, at various events and meetings, building relationships with my constituents, respecting everyone, sharing whatever political power I have to improve the quality of life for all of our residents.
The city could also do a much better job of working with Spanish language media on an ongoing basis, and working with organizations and churches that serve our Spanish speaking/limited English-speaking populations.
NOOZHAWK: What is your position on funding a new Santa Barbara police station in the current fiscal environment?
CM: I believe our city residents value police protection and want our public safety officers to have the tools and equipment they need. I support asking the public to approve any new tax to fund a new police station.
NOOZHAWK: Do you support the city’s attempt to get a gang injunction, limiting the activities of identified Eastside and Westside gang members? What are some other anti-gang efforts you would pursue?
CM: I do not support the gang injunction; we do not need another layer of government in this situation. Many of the individuals named in the injunction are already in the criminal justice system, living under the control and restriction of probation or parole, or they are in jail or prison. Some individuals are not active in street life anymore.
The injunction process is costing staff time and money. Those resources could be better used in prevention and intervention, or perhaps even funding another police officer, all of which may be more effective overall. I support community-based solutions: involving mothers, grandmothers, schools in guiding children into positive activities when they are young.
NOOZHAWK: Many community policing resources have dried up, including the full-time DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) and beat coordinator positions at the Santa Barbara Police Department, the Santa Barbara County truancy program and school resource officers. What low-cost solutions would you pursue to provide prevention and intervention services to the community’s young people?
CM: Many low-income families do not know about all the youth-serving programs offered by nonprofit organizations and the city. There are sports programs that offer scholarships. The Santa Barbara Police Activities League offers after-school and summer-camp opportunities. The city’s recreation programs for youth should be restored and enhanced. We can do a better job of working with the schools. When I was growing up my public library provided me with a refuge, and we should not close them during school breaks as was done last year at the end of year/Christmas holiday.
Also, I strongly believe small-scale neighborhood associations and community organizing would be a way for people to become aware of services and programs. Given the opportunity, older, retired people will naturally mentor the younger generation and create stability in a community.
NOOZHAWK: Noozhawk’s Prescription for Abuse series has been exploring the misuse and abuse of prescription medications in our community. What Santa Barbara issue do you think Noozhawk should tackle next?
CM: First, I congratulate Noozhawk on the drug abuse series. I would suggest an in-depth series on Santa Barbara’s environmental concerns. What is the condition of our urban forest? What are the challenges we face in terms of water quality and water supply? How can we make the city more walkable and friendly to bicycle use? Residents need to recycle more, and the city would benefit from increased installation of solar panels on public and private properties.
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» Click here for more information on the city of Santa Barbara’s Nov. 8 election.
Larry Nimmer’s “Touring with the Candidates” video (www.nimmer.net)