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2009 Council Election Q&A with Bendy White
NOOZHAWK: What experiences from your professional or personal life make you uniquely qualified to be a Santa Barbara City Council member?
BENDY WHITE: I am a native, third-generation resident of Santa Barbara. I have a BA from UC Berkeley and an MA from the University of Hawaii in geography, specializing in resource management. I have run my own land-use planning business for 28 years. As a land-use consultant, I manage a range of projects, from small subdivisions to institutional development plans such as Heritage House Senior Community, Ojai Valley School and the Valley Club of Montecito.
I have served on local boards and commissions for 31 years and am currently in my 14th year on the city Planning Commission. Previously, I served 12 years on the city Water Commission, where I helped manage one of the city’s largest budgets. I co-initiated the city’s Master Water Plan, which placed the system’s infrastructure on long-term sustainable footing. I served four years on the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission, contributing to the countywide effort to save agricultural lands and match zoning with available resources. I worked three-plus years as the county’s fire protection planner, developing the county’s first and, to my knowledge, only comprehensive Fire Protection Master Plan.
I also served on the boards of Citizens Planning Association of Santa Barbara County; Environmental Defense Center; Planned Parenthood of Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo Counties; and the Carpinteria Valley Association. I launched a successful drive to preserve the Carpinteria Slough and Zaca Lake. I am active in the efforts to preserve open space in the Las Positas Valley.
NOOZHAWK: With all of the city’s fiscal challenges, why are you running now?
BW: I can help the city navigate this rough patch in history. I can act as honest broker between staff and citizens, to listen to all options, and help craft strategies that are realistic and fair. I’m young enough to still have energy and the ability to think critically, and old enough to have had a wide range of experiences, as described above.
NOOZHAWK: What three steps would you take first to resolve Santa Barbara’s financial crisis?
BW: Listen and ask tough questions:
» Of all staff bargaining units.
» Of management.
» Of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association and other budget hawks.
» Review the budget line by line with appropriate staff.
NOOZHAWK: Public safety accounts for more than 50 percent of the city’s operating budget. With more spending cuts likely, how much would you trim from fire and police services?
BW: Don’t know. I need a detailed review of our status and to pool ideas of personnel and citizens as to best options. Public safety is clearly the city’s highest priority service.
NOOZHAWK: Would you support increasing or adding new municipal taxes as a revenue source?
BW: Conceptually, yes. But this is a conversation to have with citizenry and the business community. What services do we want? Do we want to pay for them? Most significant tax increases will require a two-thirds vote, so it’s useless to go charging down the street with a good idea, when most of the city is moving the other way.
NOOZHAWK: Should any municipal services be privatized? If so, which ones?
BW: I’m open to the idea. The Downtown Organization’s maintenance of State Street has been one success story. There no doubt are others. I do not support privatization of any safety services.
NOOZHAWK: Why do you support or oppose Measure B, the ballot measure that would restrict downtown building heights to 40 feet?
BW: I’m a co-founder of Save El Pueblo Viejo, which gathered signatures to put Measure B on the ballot. I still support Measure B.
NOOZHAWK: Do you feel the direction of the General Plan update is consistent with your vision? What kind of city will Santa Barbara be in 30 years?
BW: As a planning commissioner, I have participated in Plan Santa Barbara from Day One. I have long stated that the process is taking too long and costing too much. Santa Barbara is 90 percent built out. Most of the single-family districts are healthy and stable. We need to focus on the commercial corridors, to a lesser degree the multifamily districts, and the historic districts.
A civic discussion about secondary units is needed to see if city residents want secondary units in any portion of the single-family zones. If so, under what conditions? (Equivalent floor-area ratios per the current Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance; detached or attached; a limited number per year; parking permits for on-street parking, etc.)
In 30 years, I expect that a third of the commercial corridor areas will be noticeably changed. The biggest change likely will occur at La Cumbre Plaza and environs. This area appears to be the largest, most outdated land use in the city, yet it sits at the geographic center of the South Coast. Hopefully, residential units along commercial corridors will be smaller than those approved in recent years.
Transit availability will be directly linked to the price of energy. The higher energy prices go, the more transit will be available. I expect energy will be much more expensive in 30 years and therefore transit availability will rise.
NOOZHAWK: The General Plan update will have consequences for housing, transportation and other key issues in the region. Does the city have a responsibility to think regionally when it makes policy decisions? How would you rate the city’s record?
BW: City Council and staff participate in a broad range of regional issues and have the responsibility to do so. Depending on the issue, the city gets a C- to B+. Part of the problem is the stacked deck of the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments. The city of Guadalupe (population 5,800) has an equal vote to the city of Santa Barbara (population 90,000-plus). So, city participation in SBCAG gets a C-, mostly because SBCAG gets a D-. On the other hand, mutual-aid agreements with regional fire departments is a solid B+.
NOOZHAWK: If elected, what is the one issue on which you would focus to improve Santa Barbara’s quality of life?
BW: No one issue: I would be multifaceted: Clearly, a balanced budget is needed to maintain the city. Streets need to be safe places to walk, day and night, and to be clean. Santa Barbara’s century-long legacy of quality design and modest scale needs to be protected. Our water supply must not be over-committed. Better defense against wildfire is needed. It is very feasible to work on this range of issues simultaneously.
NOOZHAWK: What is Santa Barbara’s most neglected neighborhood?
BW: Lower Westside.
NOOZHAWK: How would you control aggressive panhandling?
BW: Strong enforcement of the new ordinance and educating the public that 80 percent of all gifts go to drugs and alcohol.
NOOZHAWK: Santa Barbara has a plethora of medical-marijuana dispensaries, relative to other tri-county cities of similar size, but has yet to reject a single application. Why? Is that in the public’s interest?
BW: As best as I can tell, the dispensaries are a wink-wink vehicle toward decriminalization of marijuana. Clearly, there is a major recreational contingent associated with the dispensaries. The number of dispensaries should be limited. The decriminalization issue needs to be addressed head-on rather than through sideways exceptions.
NOOZHAWK: Even with two catastrophic wildfires within the city limits in the last year, the danger is hardly diminished. What can the city do differently to prepare for the next one?
BW: A strong engine-company inspection program, in collaboration with insurance companies, is needed. People will only clear their brush when it serves their pocket book. Collaborative efforts with the county and Montecito fire departments are in place, but need bolstering, to expand defensible space requirements. In addition, owners of large lots need to minimize dangers to their neighbors.
In addition, numerous water-main systems are substandard. Access roads need to be cleared. As the former county fire protection planner, I can help mobilize city staff, citizenry and insurers to improve fire safety.
NOOZHAWK: A grocery clerk asks you, “Paper or plastic?” You say:
BW: Use my Trader Joe’s reusable bag (when l remember, which is about half the time)
NOOZHAWK: How often do you use alternative transportation?
BW: I walk a lot and use the downtown shuttle once in a while.
NOOZHAWK: What is Santa Barbara’s most precious asset?
BW: Its citizens. It’s the toughest, smartest, kindest, most community-minded city I know.
NOOZHAWK: What’s your favorite view?
BW: Eucalyptus Hill Road south of Cowles Road, looking southeast, of a post-rain February sunset.
NOOZHAWK: Health care is all over the news these days. What do you do to stay fit?
BW: The dogs walk me twice a day, except during this election campaign. Plus the machines and pool at the Santa Barbara Athletic Club.
NOOZHAWK: The Coast Village Road roundabout is slowly nearing completion, but the island inside it is missing something. Do you support our plan to erect a Noozhawk statue there?
BW: I heard it was going to be a little boy peeing. Would the statue sit below the little boy?
Click here for Bendy White’s campaign Web site
Click here for Noozhawk’s candidate interview
Larry Nimmer’s “Touring with the Candidates” video (www.nimmer.net)
Click here for SBCityVote.org’s candidate statement video
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