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Council Candidates Weigh In on Social Issues Facing Santa Barbara

On the topic of homelessness, several of the hopefuls believe nonprofits play a key role and that city funding should be tied to measurable results

Homelessness and outreach to Spanish speakers were just two of the topics that the Santa Barbara council candidates weighed in on recently as social issues facing the city during this election season.

The candidates vying for three open council seats in the Nov. 5 election are Megan Diaz Alley, Gregg Hart, Cruzito Herrera Cruz, Frank Hotchkiss, Michael Jordan, Matthew Kramer, David Landecker, Jason Nelson, Bendy White and Lesley Wiscomb. Hotchkiss and White are incumbents in the race.

Several candidates talked about Santa Barbara bearing the brunt of homeless services for the region as well as opining that nonprofits and city funding should be tied to measurable results.

Almost all of the candidates acknowledged that homelessness is a complicated issue and supported the city's restorative policing program as well as connecting people with drug, alcohol and mental illness to treatment options.

Hart said he's a strong supporter of the city’s investment, through community development block grants, in nonprofit organizations that serve the community. 

"The modest support the city provides is multiplied many times by the private fundraising efforts of these organizations and is a very efficient way to provide social services," he said.

Hart said youth services should be a priority for the city to provide alternatives to at-risk youth to deter them from joining gangs.

Hart said people receiving services from the city should be required to seek drug and alcohol treatment, mental health services and job training in order to receive assistance. 

During his previous term on the council, Hart said he led the effort to have all city board and commission meetings televised and translated into Spanish so all segments of the community can watch city government at all levels.

Hotchkiss, Nelson, Whiscomb and Kramer said that any support the city gives to support social programs should be tied to measurable results.

"For example, lunch programs for vagrants should be tied to them participating in recovery programs to overcome addictions," Hotckiss said.

When asked how he would provide government access and representation for the Spanish-speaking community, Hotchkiss said he would "encourage any foreign-speaking resident to learn English so that they could fully participate in all opportunities, not just those that are limited to their language."

Diaz Alley said she would look for opportunities with the nonprofit sector to improve and increase social services. 

"Our nonprofit organizations do a great job of saving the taxpayers money," she said, adding that she would put more funding their way as the economy improves.

She also said she would support more Spanish-language segments on City TV.

"It is imperative that the city administration anticipates the need for Spanish translation for residents who attend city hearings," she said

Headphones are provided in chambers, an important service to people who want to participate in their government, and the city needs to do a better job of informing residents that these services are available, she said.

Cruz said the city should invest more in the human services and that his top priority is increasing financial support of adult and youth services to deal with youth violence, crime and people without homes.

He also said that district elections would help the Spanish-speaking community have better representation on the dais.

Nelson said that mentally ill people "need and deserve our help," as well as those who are drug and alcohol-dependent or have fallen on hard times. 

He said Santa Barbara could partner with another city that has cheaper land and more job opportunities for people to have shelters and job programs.

Kramer said the city needs to scrutinize the operations of nonprofits that it has given money to, such as the Casa Esperanza homeless shelter, which announced its financial woes earlier this year.

Landecker said that if the city understands the type of homeless people who need help, they're more likely to be successful.

“If you understand the problem and their motivations, I think one by one we can get them off the street," he said.

For the panhandlers, Landecker suggested campaigns to make that activity less welcome. 

Landecker said most people feel government is not accessible to them, and that people already doing outreach to the Spanish speaking population could help spread the word.

Wiscomb said her priorities are funding programs that provide the greatest benefits to the city's residents.

"For example, we have programs such as the Arts Alliance and the Teen Culinary Arts program that engage our youth in learning positive life skills and keep them on track to successful adulthood," she said.

White said Santa Barbara does more than its fair share to serve its homeless population and that every jurisdiction should step up.

"I think that is an area where I hope we find more balance as time goes by," he said.

White said that more Spanish-speaking people have taken places of leadership within the city, and hopes that just having people with Spanish surnames involved with government encourages people to gain access to city hall.

Jordan did not respond to Noozhawk's requests for comment.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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