Santa Barbara’s city council candidates are entering the campaign’s home stretch and participated in one of their last election forums Saturday. All 13 candidates shared a bit of their visions at the Santa Barbara League of Women Voters forum, and with mail-in ballots going out in just over a week, they’re working to share their platforms with the public.
About 50 people were in the audience at Saturday’s forum at the Santa Barbara Central Library’s Faulkner Gallery. Candidates were asked a total of five questions, and were allowed to give opening and closing remarks.
All 13 candidates gave a brief introduction about their campaigns and then launched into a series of questions posed by league moderator Stacy Shepherd.
Leading off, the candidates were asked to present specific ways they’d improve the city’s financial situation.
Bonnie Raisin said she’d like for city departments to do some “house cleaning” and then report back to the city administrator. Town hall meetings could be held to explore possible financial partnerships with schools and community organizations.
The city has gotten creative with fees, according to Michael Self, and she said she didn’t support increasing fees.
“They’ve had enough money, they’ve misspent, and now they need to become more efficient,” she said of city leaders. She also recommended looking at other cities of comparable size to determine whether Santa Barbara has too many city employees currently.
Nearly every candidate talked about cuts and reductions for city expenditures, but Cruzito Cruz was one of the only candidates to discuss the idea of a fee or a tax. Considering a bar and liquor tax as well as a tax on medicinal marijuana could be beneficial for city revenues, he said.
When Shepherd asked the candidates how the city should address affordable housing, John Gibbs called the concept a “non sequitur” for this community.
“It’s not here and it’s never going to come here,” he said, citing an example of a housing development made available to fire and police personnel.
“Two years later, they took the money and ran,” he said. “If we’re going to come up with government-run housing, we’ve got to have a program to keep people from reaping the profit.”
Bendy White, who currently serves as a planning commissioner, gave an example of Casa de Las Fuentes, an affordable, 50-unit complex downtown. He also touted the idea of employers helping to shoulder the burden of affordable housing for employees. Adding an high-occupancy vehicle lane on the Highway 101 would also be helpful to the 30,000 commuters who come to Santa Barbara each weekday, he said.
The candidates were asked how they would balance different points of view between city staff and members of the public who come forward.
Cathie McCammon said she felt it was important for council members to consider the views of the public.
“We have a lot of groups that have very good ideas, and they’re as valid as what the professional staff say,” she said.
Frank Hotchkiss brought up what he perceived as a disconnect between city staff and the public on a project involving the intersection of De la Vina and State streets.
“It took us 18 months for us to get them to listen to that,” he said. “I don’t think staff has all the answers. I think they’re hard-working people, but sometimes they have an agenda that isn’t yours.”
The “close-knit” relationship of city staff and the council was something Justin Tevis highlighted.
“We need to break that up so that the city council is actually listening more to the wants and demands of the people,” he said.
The candidates were also asked about changing the pension plan the city offers employees.
“The plans we already have in place for our employees we cannot change,” said Dianne Channing, but she acknowledged that the city was in a “dire situation” and employees should shoulder more of the cost of pension contributions.
On the other end of the spectrum was Lane Anderson, who said he was the only candidate who’s worked as a professional union negotiator, and he challenged the feasibility of the current pensions.
“I think we need to acknowledge that the pensions, both here and statewide, were calculated based on a tax-revenue bubble,” he said, calling on the council to negotiate more realistic salaries and pensions for the future.
David Pritchett was less definitive in his answer, but said the city needed to be flexible with the host of variables that are involved with negotiating with the city’s union.
“We all need to do our part,” he said.
On the topic of gangs, John Thyne emphasized his support for a citywide gang injunction.
“They’ve been used very positively in many outlying areas in Central California,” he said, resulting in a 30 percent reduction in gang activity in areas like Oxnard and Los Angeles. He added that outreach was also crucial.
Grant House, the only incumbent, said he’s most concerned about the gang issue and hopes it isn’t eclipsed by budget issues.
“These are not somebody else’s kids, these are our kids,” he said, calling for ways to work with children and families for prevention and intervention, and when necessary, with suppression by the police.
The League of Women Voters will hold its mayoral forum from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, also at the Faulkner Gallery.
— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.