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2009 Council Election Q&A with Cathie McCammon
NOOZHAWK: What experiences from your professional or personal life make you uniquely qualified to be a Santa Barbara City Council member?
CATHIE McCAMMON: I have been active in the community for 37 years. During this time I have engaged in volunteer work for organizations such as the League of Women Voters, Citizens Planning Association and Allied Neighborhoods Association. I have served on diverse boards and commissions, most notably the city Harbor Commission and the Santa Barbara County Human Services Commission and Process Improvement Committee. Professionally, I have been a business and bankruptcy attorney so I am familiar with fiscal matters. I believe that my professional, volunteer leadership and personal experience all contribute to my being uniquely qualified to be a City Council member.
NOOZHAWK: With all of the city’s fiscal challenges, why are you running now?
CM: We need serious budget reform. This is basic to everything else we do. If we do not have the money we can’t spend it. We must be able to maintain a safe and healthy city — police and fire protection and maintenance of our infrastructure.
With my professional experience and familiarity with budgets I believe I am up to the challenge. We need to set priorities, restore our reserves and develop a process that can respond to the ups and downs of the economy. I will work to address the problems of salaries, benefits and pensions, because as they currently exist they are not sustainable.
I am also running now because Santa Barbara is at a crossroad regarding future development. I want to change the direction of Plan Santa Barbara, the General Plan update, which will be the blueprint for our future development. Either we will build on our years of consensus-based planning that have made Santa Barbara what it is today or we accept new urbanism and policies that will lead to more over-development, high density and congestion, which will change Santa Barbara forever. The proposed policies have the potential to change not only our neighborhoods and threaten our ability to live within our resources, but could very well threaten the very qualities that have made Santa Barbara unique.
We must preserve, protect and enhance Santa Barbara. This is not only an aesthetic issue but an economic one as well. People come to live here and visit because of our small-town ambiance and unique character.
NOOZHAWK: What three steps would you take first to resolve Santa Barbara’s financial crisis?
CM: 1. Set priorities. We are past the stage of the one-time fixes. My priorities would be public safety — police and fire protection and maintenance of our infrastructure — roads, water supply and sewage treatment systems.
2. Establish a system that is sustainable that will adjust to the ups and downs of the economy.
3. Work to reestablish our reserves.
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?
CM: I believe public safety is critical and so I would not like to trim these services.
NOOZHAWK: Would you support increasing or adding new municipal taxes as a revenue source?
CM: No. New taxes would require a vote of the people and now with everyone suffering from the current economic downturn this would not be the time to increase taxes. This would not be fair to our residents.
NOOZHAWK: Should any municipal services be privatized? If so, which ones?
CM: No. With privatization, accountability is lacking and mistakes can be very costly. The only possible exceptions would be where it affects limited services, involves only a very few people, is of temporary duration, and requires expertise that is necessary only on a very limited basis.
NOOZHAWK: Why do you support or oppose Measure B, the ballot measure that would restrict downtown building heights to 40 feet?
CM: I support Measure B. We need to protect our city’s character and we need to have this in the charter so that future city councils cannot change the will of the people. We need to protect our historic district and prevent overly tall buildings in our other commercial areas. One has only to look at the buildings on Chapala Street to see why this very strong tool is necessary. The current City Council could have done something about preventing this type of development in the future. They could have addressed heights, setbacks and open space by ordinance and they said no.
Lower buildings are more sustainable and require less materials and are less expensive to build, heat and cool. Measure B will not affect the city’s ability to produce truly affordable housing. The city Housing Authority has built numerous affordable units and they are all in two- and three-story structures because these do not have to meet expensive building-code requirements. Measure B will not cause sprawl because the city is already built out and limited by being between the ocean and the mountains. The city does not have the jurisdiction over areas outside its boundaries and does not control what developers build there.
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?
CM: No. The existing policy preferences have the potential to lead to over-development, ruin our city’s unique character, cause us to live beyond our limited resources, destroy our neighborhoods, and fail to provide for the housing that is really needed.
For example, the emphasis on mobility-oriented design areas (MODA). While at first blush having workers living along transportation corridors where they can catch a bus to work seems like a good idea. However, the reality and the facts do not support this. Land and construction costs at these locations are so high that the cost of these units, even at high densities, are beyond the reach of most of us, including the workers who have retail and service jobs and who are the ones who could really benefit from this arrangement. Truly affordable housing requires tremendous subsidies that the city does not have the money to provide. Is it really realistic to expect that those who have paid approximately $1 million for their condos will take the bus? Then there is the assumption that everyone’s destination will also be along the fixed public-transit lines. Studies have shown that even if people live along transit corridors, this alone does not guarantee they will use the transit if it does not get them to their destination in a timely fashion. The General Plan update relies on fixed-route transit and does not make any mention of nonfixed-route transit strategies and alternatives, such as shuttles that have the potential of taking people to their actual destination. Then there is the problem that there may not be the money available to provide enough public transit.
My vision of Santa Barbara in the future is of a beautiful city that has retained its historic and cultural heritage, charm and small-scale ambience. It has maintained its unique qualities, long after other cities — especially coastal ones — have been over-developed and all look the same. Future generations should be able to enjoy the same, if not better, quality of life that residents now enjoy. I see a city that has lived within its resources of water, air and roads. Views, including some panoramic views of the mountains, have been preserved. Our historic resources have been protected and in some cases enhanced. There are new forms of personal transport, including electric vehicles and facilities to park them are readily available. Santa Barbara is a healthy and safe city, and remains a city where people love to live and visit.
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?
CM: Yes. We must look at the city as part of the region that extends from northern Santa Barbara County to Ventura County. The city needs to recognize that not everyone who works and desires to live in Santa Barbara will be able to do so. We have neither the land nor other resources to support them. The city also needs to recognize that people must be allowed the choice of living where they can have a yard or other amenities not available to them in the city of Santa Barbara.
The problem then becomes a transportation problem and measures need to be explored to move people in more efficient ways, such as HOV lanes, more buses and other ways to improve commuting.
NOOZHAWK: If elected, what is the one issue on which you would focus to improve Santa Barbara’s quality of life?
CM: It is difficult to narrow this down to one issue. The issue that I am most knowledgeable about is land-use planning and this is the area that I would focus my attention on to improve Santa Barbara’s quality of life.
Existing ordinances and the California Environmental Quality Act need to be enforced. I believe that the council sets the tone for what is expected of both the staff and boards and commissions.
We need to return to the concept that the planning department’s first responsibility is to protect city residents and neighborhoods from noncompatible and over-development. Too often the staff appears to be the principal advocates for developers.
Appropriate policies and ordinances must be set in place for staff, the design review bodies and the Planning Commission. Assuming Measure B passes, ordinances must be developed to address the other problems that have become evident with oversized projects, such as requiring greater setbacks and open-space requirements for commercial buildings. The granting of modifications to existing rules and policies needs to be discouraged for both commercial and residential development. For truly egregious cases there must be the ability to say no to inappropriate projects.
We must live within our limited resources and planning needs to follow and be consistent with resource limitations.
Neighborhoods need to be protected from over-development. More attention and respect needs to be given to the concerns of neighbors regarding compatibility issues; they are the ones who will have to live with what is approved.
Measures such as dual density, which gives greater density for small more affordable units and less density for large luxury units, need to be put into ordinances as incentives for the type of development that is desired and to discourage the type of development that it not wanted.
NOOZHAWK: What is Santa Barbara’s most neglected neighborhood?
CM: The Milpas area. This neighborhood seems to be the forgotten stepchild in most planning discussions. Studies have been made of the Upper State Street area and the Downtown Waterfront areas, but not the Milpas area. This area has also had the misfortune to be affected most by Highway 101 improvements. It needs to be the subject of planning studies and have special design guidelines created for it.
NOOZHAWK: How would you control aggressive panhandling?
The city’s new ordinance prohibiting aggressive panhandling needs to become effective and to be strictly enforced. Strategies for dealing with the alternative giving program still need to be worked out. In addition, panhandling along freeway entrances and exits needs to be addressed. At present it is a safety concern.
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?
CM: No. There needs to be a moratorium on any new applications. Then there needs to be a cap on the number allowed and requirements put in place to ensure that these are appropriately dispersed throughout the city, so that one particular neighborhood or area of the city is not unduly impacted. Allowing these to be located in a mixed-use development needs to prohibited. Alternatives to storefront establishments should be explored. The distance from schools needs to be increased to 1,000 feet.
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?
CM: The city needs to make sure that new projects in high fire-danger areas take fire prevention into account by requiring conditions such as mandatory automatic flow-restrictors so water will not run freely when pipes burst. Existing structures need to be retrofitted to require flow-restrictors. These are important because, during the Tea Fire, water department employees had to go into the fire zone to shut off the water as the city came within an hour of running out of water in the area.
New multifamily projects should not be approved in areas, such as Hidden Valley, until measures, such as traffic lights, are taken to ensure safe egress from the area. Care must also be taken so potential evacuation routes, such as Cliff Drive, are not narrowed needlessly.
NOOZHAWK: A grocery clerk asks you, “Paper or plastic?” You say:
CM: I brought my own cloth bags. If I forget them, then paper is my fallback choice.
NOOZHAWK: How often do you use alternative transportation?
CM: Unfortunately, I do not. It is neither convenient to get to from where I live and it does not go to the destinations I need to reach.
NOOZHAWK: What is Santa Barbara’s most precious asset?
CM: The Courthouse. Both the exterior and its setting and the interior are a unique gem of Santa Barbara.
NOOZHAWK: What’s your favorite view?
CM: Seeing the mountains from many different locations provides a respite from the urban environment and all that goes with it. I also particularly enjoy the view of the city and the harbor from Shoreline Park on the Mesa.
NOOZHAWK: Health care is all over the news these days. What do you do to stay fit?
CM: Running for office. I also enjoy gardening and tend to many plants.
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?
CM: Only if I can design it.
Click here for Cathie McCammon’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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