Santa Barbara Mayor-elect Helene Schneider, who will be sworn in Tuesday, knows that the city budget and controversial projects will be on everyone’s mind this year, and said she hopes to work with the new City Council to find agreement among stakeholders.
There’s no doubt there will be debate — and lots of it — on the dais. During campaign season, it became clear there will be many differing opinions among the city’s policymakers.
Schneider said people like a diversity of opinion as long as it’s not negative or bickering. “They want action, not a rubber stamp,” she told Noozhawk.
With the city likely to face additional budget cuts this year, managing costs will be a priority, Schneider said.
Salary and benefits are by far the city’s largest expenditure, and discussions are under way with bargaining units to negotiate costs. The Police Officers Association already has extended its contract until June through mutual agreement.
“We can only cut so many services before we’re not fulfilling our mission,” Schneider said.
New measures of reorganizing the city’s structure, including leaving positions vacant, reallocating staff and reaching out to volunteer organizations, will be necessary to continue providing necessary services to the community, she said.
Massive amounts of retirements — nearly half of the work force will retire within the next 10 years — also will help with cost savings.
However, with the loss of longtime staff members — such as finance director Robert Peirson and assistant city administrator Joan Kent — the city loses a lot of institutional memory, Schneider said.
The council’s experience in city affairs will be less, as well, with the loss of Mayor Marty Blum and Councilmembers Iya Falcone and Roger Horton.
“Das Williams and I have the longest institutional memory, which isn’t long,” Schneider said. Both were elected in 2003 and re-elected in 2007.
Councilman Grant House will begin his second term, Dale Francisco is in the middle of his first, and the three new members are Bendy White, Frank Hotchkiss and Michael Self.
During Schneider’s first year as mayor, many controversial projects are slated to come through the pipeline, including Plan Santa Barbara, revisions to the medical marijuana ordinance and several building projects, such as Elings Park, Hillside House and a development near the Arlington Theatre.
Given the amount of attention the building-height issue received during campaign season, Schneider said she thinks the community is ready for a broader discussion about design standards — especially for mixed-use buildings — including maximum unit size, bulkiness and setbacks in addition to height limits.
Personally, she said she wants to continue her work on the 12-point plan to end homelessness and expand the number of detoxification beds, she said. The ACLU has sued the city over bed availability, and Schneider said the lawsuit is to “keep us honest” and continue working on the problem.
She said she also wants to boost the South Coast Gang Task Force and promote local energy efficiency by coordinating with the county.
Most of all, she said she looks forward to bringing different groups together that have common interests — such as the work of South Coast Homeless Advisory Committee of Santa Barbara County. Plans for more detoxification beds and alternative giving programs resulted from just that, Schneider said.
Key people were put into a room to discuss the problems and solutions. “And, by golly, we have a short-term solution coming forward,” Schneider said. “It could have happened ages ago, but there was no one there to say, ‘OK, let’s make this happen.’”
She also hopes to work with other California cities on bigger issues such as sustainability.
“As a councilmember, people tend to answer your phone calls, and I think as mayor that’ll happen, too,” she said.
As mayor, Schneider will be on the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments and other regional organizations, and most likely will continue her involvement in several city commissions.
Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremony will be at 2 p.m. Tuesday in the second-floor Council Chambers at City Hall, 735 Anacapa St. Click here to view it via the city’s live Webstream.
— Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.