While most of the Santa Barbara City Council candidates are on the same page with supporting local businesses and prioritizing public safety, they have conflicting opinions on the role of government in affordable housing,
Wednesday night’s candidate forum at Fess Parker's DoubleTree Resort was hosted by the Greater Santa Barbara Lodging & Restaurant Association and the Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce, so many of the questions focused on boosting the tourism industry, dealing with panhandling issues in the commercial corridors and access to affordable housing for local employees.
Seven of the 10 candidates attended, including Megan Diaz Alley, Gregg Hart, Frank Hotchkiss, Michael Jordan, David Landecker, Jason Nelson and Lesley Wiscomb. Hotchkiss and Bendy White, who had a prior engagement, are running for re-election.
Cruzito Cruz and Matthew Kramer weren’t invited to Wednesday's event since they didn’t file paperwork to fundraise for their campaigns. The forum was moderated by attorney Steve Amerikaner.
All seven candidates said they would support more police officers to respond to crime, gang and transient/homeless issues and said they believe a substantial number of local residents avoid the downtown area because they don’t feel safe.
When asked where the money for additional police would come from, none of the candidates identified service cuts or specific sources.
The average salary in 2012 for a police officer was $99,084 and a top-step officer can cost $180,830 in salary, benefits and taxes per year. Pension costs per officer can be almost 100 percent of their highest salary.
Nelson suggested cutting down on management positions in other city departments, while other candidates merely said they would find new revenue sources and try to find efficiencies.
That made Landecker “a wee bit frustrated,” he said.
The council has already decided to split budget surpluses between infrastructure and reserves, he said.
He argued that the Police Officers Association would not have agreed to pay more into retirement if they believed there would be extra money for more officers in the near future.
Others suggested cheaper, non-sworn employees to help with issues such as transients sleeping in parks and panhandling on State and Milpas streets. The restorative policing program could be expanded, or the Parks & Recreation ranger program could be expanded to cover beach and waterfront park areas, Wiscomb suggested. Rangers have direct radios to law enforcement, carry batons and are much less expensive than a sworn police officer, she noted.
The group expressed mixed feelings on the proposed gang injunction going through Santa Barbara County Superior Court right now. A judge ultimately will decide if the city can restrict the actions of 30 named individuals who allegedly are involved in gang activity and recruiting.
Hotchkiss, Jordan and Wiscomb support it, saying residents are being intimidated by gang members and are afraid to speak out.
Jordan said he supports “anything that prevents people from breaking the law.”
Alley, Hart, Landecker and Nelson said it’s the wrong approach for dealing with gang issues. They said they have issues with the fact that it targets 30 named individuals — half of whom are already in prison — and believe it wouldn’t be effective.
Nelson said he believes a gang injunction is unconstitutional.
As a last question, Amerikaner told the candidates they each get a magical gift card that gives them one unanimous, 7-0 vote for any issue: What current policy or ordinance would they change?
Hotchkiss and Wiscomb said they would hire more police officers.
Hart and Alley said they would replace the adopted General Plan document with the original one developed by the community.
Expanding on that, Landecker said he would put in specific terms for the housing density ordinance to incentivize smaller rental units that don’t become more vacation and luxury condos.
Jordan said he would expand the purview of the Neighborhood Advisory Council and assign a staff person to help get all neighborhoods represented and heard.
Nelson said he would build up a reserve police program, with fully-trained citizens to be the bridge between the police department and communities.
The City Council and mayoral election is vote-by-mail only, and all ballots are due by Nov. 5. There are three open seats, with Hotchkiss and White running for re-election and Councilman Grant House termed out.