NOOZHAWK: What experiences from your professional or personal life make you uniquely qualified to be a Santa Barbara City Council member?
GRANT HOUSE: I am an active participant in local government, having served two terms on the Santa Barbara Planning Commission before my current term on the City Council. As a councilmember, I have an ongoing liaison role to several of Santa Barbara’s boards and commissions. I represent the city on the board of the Community Action Commission, addressing poverty throughout the county; the Santa Barbara Task Force on Co-Occurring Disorders initiated by Families ACT!; the Downtown Santa Barbara Childcare Task Force coordinated by First 5; and the city’s regional effort to enhance transit and begin commuter rail service between Ventura and Santa Barbara counties called On-TRAC. I have worked extensively at the regional level on issues that are shared among jurisdictions, such as air quality, housing and transportation.
My wife and I are small-business owners. Thirty-two years ago, I started Grant House Sewing Machines, and 30 years ago, Peggy Jo opened Head West hair salon with her longtime friend and business partner, Leslie Mann. We believe that our contribution to the community is not constrained within the four walls of our businesses. This has led to our active involvement with nonprofit organizations and community groups that reflect our values.
My educational background in sociology and psychology led to work with children in a highly regarded residential school for children with learning disabilities and, for the past 15 years, to my professional work conducting leadership training for school district management teams, risk management pools and Head Start directors in my role as senior trainer for locally based McGrath Training Systems Inc.
I served as president of the Greater Eastside Merchants Business Association, representing the interests of small- and large-business owners and managers. I helped found and operate César Chávez Charter School, working with parents, teachers and the school district to create a new vision of academic achievement for underserved members of our community. I have represented Santa Barbara on every major committee and task force addressing the future of transportation along the Highway 101 corridor since 1993. I also have participated in the prioritization of the city’s annual capital improvements program since 1997.
I bring a lifetime of experience in our community that has fully prepared me for my ongoing role as a city councilmember. Every day, I give thanks for what I have learned through these years of service.
NOOZHAWK: With all of the city’s fiscal challenges, why are you running now?
GH: I am seeking re-election to ensure that our community’s values are at the table as we address the national economic crisis affecting our community. We have nurtured a culture of efficiency, initiative and customer service throughout the city organization. This has paid off over and again at every level of our more than $250 million enterprise. Policy board support to continue this effort is essential to accomplish the reductions and efficiencies that will be required as we move forward.
So far, we have succeeded in keeping service reduction impacts away from the public. Our enterprise funds, which comprise $150 million of our ongoing budget, are sound and weathering the financial storm well. We have adequate reserves in each of the funds, and we have been able to capitalize on the favorable bidding environment for major projects, saving the public millions of dollars in revenue. Our general fund’s $16 million in disaster and capital reserves remain untouched, along with essential general fund services such as our fire and police departments.
The difficulties our city faces are due in large part to the precipitous drop in revenue from the sales tax and transient occupancy tax — a double hit that tells the story of a private sector that is struggling. The state raids on the Redevelopment Agency, upon which we depend for many important community projects and affordable housing, has taken millions of locally generated tax dollars from reinvestment in local infrastructure and services. Unlike other cities and counties, our pension liabilities are well-funded (80 percent), and recent agreements with our staff have resulted in reduced labor costs from what had been budgeted. The organization is smaller and will need to be reduced even more if the situation continues. To prepare, we have already begun working on a reduced 2011 budget.
These decisions will have noticeable impacts on the level of service we have come to expect. Great care will have to be taken to manage our way through this difficult period so that short-term gain does not damage our long-term prospects for recovery. The private sector will bounce back as long as we don’t get in the way. It will require public/private partnerships and a cooperative spirit that seeks new, more efficient ways to accomplish what the public expects from their local government. It would be easy to apply quick fixes and silver-bullet solutions, but that’s not helpful in addressing the structural changes that are called for. It is essential that our community’s varied interests be represented at the City Council level as we take on these challenges.
NOOZHAWK: What three steps would you take first to resolve Santa Barbara’s financial crisis?
GH: The administration, staff and City Council have just made significant one-time and ongoing adjustments that cut more than $10 million, then another $3 million, and now several million dollars in additional revenue from our annual operating budget. It is projected that we may have to cut $6 million more in the coming fiscal year if we do not see a turnaround soon. All departments have been asked to make changes that will keep our budget in balance as these large revenue reductions play out. We are increasing efficiencies using new technology, reorganizing to cut duplication of effort and reducing the size of the organization overall.
Cutting is just one of side of the equation. Going too far during a crisis can have long-range implications with much higher costs to retool and retrain during the following recovery. Our budget work continues in quarterly meetings of the City Council and the Redevelopment Agency so we can assess and address the changing situation. In my second term, I will work with my colleagues to ensure that we:
» Take the lead from the reorganization of our Parks & Recreation Department to generate more public/private partnerships and expand our use of volunteers.
» Recover the full cost of development review processing and other direct services.
» Work closely with the bargaining units to manage labor costs and ensure stability and confidence in the work force to retain qualified personnel.
» As things begin to improve, to set aside half of our year-end variance to replenish policy reserves and save the other half to fund future infrastructure upgrades.
» Do nothing that would hinder the private sector’s rebound.
Perhaps the most important thing the city can do is communicate with the public at large about the effects of these reductions in service and the opportunities they have to participate in getting through this crisis.
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?
GH: So far, the best suggestions for streamlining, improved efficiency and additional revenue have come from within the departments themselves. We must look to the police and fire personnel first for what can be changed that does not hinder their ability to respond when there is a call for service.
Since soon after taking office in 2006, I worked closely with my colleagues to restore funding to recruit and retain the full recommended force of 140 sworn officers in the police department. We addressed the low pay and benefits that had created an incentive for Santa Barbara officers to leave the force after they had been trained for other jurisdictions. We have continued full funding to attract qualified applicants from the academy and from lateral hires. We worked cooperatively with the Firefighters Association for a new schedule that better addressed their needs.
Our upgrades to Fire Station 1 are soon to be complete. This will be the new Emergency Operations Center for the city. We are actively working on much-needed upgrades to the police station.
Addressing the current economic downturn is not just about reductions. There are opportunities to generate revenue from our cooperative work with other agencies. For instance, the fire department is positioned to be a regional training organization that can charge other departments for advanced firefighting techniques, and we have generated significant additional revenue through our cooperative firefighting support in wildfires in California and other Western states.
NOOZHAWK: Would you support increasing or adding new municipal taxes as a revenue source?
GH: There has been talk about taxing plastic bags and marijuana dispensaries, but it is hard to see how this would generate much additional revenue. Any new tax would have to be approved at the ballot box, not at City Hall. Santa Barbara residents are already doing their part. In the last election, the citizens of Santa Barbara County renewed the local ½-cent sales tax, and Santa Barbarans revised and renewed our utility users’ tax. Without these local sources of funds, we would not have the small local portion required to qualify for state and federal matching funds for much-needed infrastructure projects.
But the biggest change that would positively affect local finances is at the state level. State raids on city revenues are being fought by all California cities. We prevailed in the past, but there seems to be no end to their efforts to take or “borrow” from local jurisdictions the money that is needed to keep vital local services and infrastructure whole and healthy. The $6 million ERAF taking from our Redevelopment Agency is an example of the kind of damage that poor planning at the state level can do to the local economy. We have joined the other cities in fighting this approach to solving state budget woes.
NOOZHAWK: Should any municipal services be privatized? If so, which ones?
GH: I would not propose any major changes to the way we are currently doing business. There are some services better provided by private contractors, but most local municipal services belong in city hands. Marborg and BFI/Allied provide our trash and recycling services. The airport contracts out for management of the long-term and short-term parking lots. The city Fire Department contracts with local contractors for street tree trimming to provide fire access on narrow roads in the high fire areas. MTD provides bus service for the city and region, a service that is provided by many other cities themselves. Major infrastructure projects are almost entirely contracted out, except for minor ongoing maintenance of city streets and sidewalks.
For the most part, our city crews are better equipped and trained to do the hard work of keeping the city maintained and beautiful. Safeguarding our water supply, running our sewage system, keeping up our parks, striping our streets, maintaining streetlights and control signals, running our local consolidated parking program — contracting out these services can cost more and result in diminished quality. Our city personnel are under the guidance and accountability measures of our local management and provide most local services that we take for granted. On occasion, we share these duties, such as the contract the city has with the Downtown Organization to steam-clean State Street sidewalks while the Parks & Recreation department maintains the landscaping. But these special arrangements point to the value of discretion and care in deciding whether to keep a job in house or send it out to bid.
NOOZHAWK: Why do you support or oppose Measure B, the ballot measure that would restrict downtown building heights to 40 feet?
GH: I do not support Measure B and will be voting against it. I have many concerns about a single-issue initiative that could have wide-ranging impacts to the city when there are more comprehensive ways to address the aesthetic concerns that were its impetus. Housing, transportation, our city’s commitment to sustainability and the benefit that our town’s beautiful, significant structures provide (unique among small California cities) — these weigh on my mind as we consider whether to cut possibly one-third of the development potential from many of our downtown properties. There are ways to address historic resources, aesthetics, views, compatibility and small-town character that are not addressed and may be thwarted by the current proposal.
Reducing our current building-height limits is an issue that will be decided by voters, not elected officials. Whatever is decided Nov. 3, I will honor the results of the election. I will also make sure the full range of issues and opportunities raised by the public during this process are thoroughly addressed in Plan Santa Barbara, the city’s General Plan Update as promised, no matter what the outcome of the election.
Even before there was an initiative on the ballot, the council passed new measures that have already strengthened the role and effectiveness of our design review boards in addressing the complex issues surrounding the design, size, bulk, scale and suitability of new projects. Compatibility, functionality and aesthetics are now embedded in the city’s new system of communication between the Architectural Board of Review, the Historic Landmarks Commission and the Planning Commission. This directly addresses many of the issues that gave rise to the initiative.
I also tried unsuccessfully to bring forth an alternative measure that addresses concerns raised by the public and by the sponsors of the measure in a way that the initiative process does not allow. While I will be voting against the measure, I am eager to see what voters say and promise to uphold their decision. Just as before, during my two terms on the Planning Commission and this first term in office, I will continue to seek ways to make sure future development is in keeping with the city’s high design standards, character and scale while meeting our need for housing and commercial vitality.
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?
GH: The general plan update, Plan Santa Barbara, is a process to include the public in a discussion about the future of Santa Barbara. To the degree that it is gathering input from the broad range of interests and perspectives in the city, it is so far successful. The work that has been done has begun to distill the comments of hundreds of participants into coherent documents that are beginning to take shape, but there is more to go, and I do not want to judge the work until it is ready to be reviewed by the City Council.
My biggest concern is the slow pace of the plan’s development. Those of us on the City Council are to blame for at least a year of delay as we redirected staff to focus on the upper State Street corridor to be sure we had our policies and vision for the area in place in advance of expected significant development proposals. I was heartened to see the recent Planning Commission meeting where the comments and responses by staff seemed to move the project along nicely. The direction was clear, and the staff had what they needed to respond with the information that was being requested. Some of the concepts, such as the Mobility Oriented Development Area (MODA), that have been proposed around transit corridors were explained and redefined. With the idea of a MODA, flexibility and variation were introduced to address concerns about the effects of such an approach on our existing single-family neighborhoods. Speaking with planning commissioners and staff after the meeting, it was reassuring to hear that they felt the same way.
It worries me when I hear other candidates railing against this process as if it were done or somehow headed off in the wrong direction. Statements have been taken out of context and fear invoked. I am more patient and will wait to see how it turns out before reacting.
In a somewhat fantastical response to another group’s question about my “vision” of the future of Santa Barbara, this is what I wrote:
“It is 10 years from now — 2019. Santa Barbara continues to be a wonderful place to live, work and raise a family. We use fewer natural and man-made resources in our everyday life. Santa Barbara keeps its reputation as a regional medical center, but now everyone has access to excellent preventative and urgent care reducing the strain on Cottage’s emergency rooms in Goleta and Santa Barbara.
“Drilling has stopped in the Channel, and the oil companies are dismantling the rigs. The fiber-optic hub that was installed on Cota Street 15 years ago is now servicing a whole new crop of small start-ups. The airport specific plan area is beginning to come to life with the new research complex that the city worked out in cooperation with UCSB.
“Most of Santa Barbara’s commuters use a bus, train, van or carpool to get to work, and most downtown workers have found better, lower-cost ways than clogging the consolidated parking lots with their vehicles. More families are able to find a place to live near work, and the children of local workers are able to start their families here on the South Coast ever since the new Housing Element of the General Plan went into effect encouraging new apartments and condos in key areas along local bus routes. Nearby single-family neighborhoods have been protected, and fewer single-family homes are occupied by multiple families. The local streets are safer now that fast pass-through traffic has been discouraged and a new generation of more considerate drivers is on the streets. Santa Barbara’s reputation as a ‘walkable city’ has made it a model of community development worldwide.
“Our cultural center above Carrillo is bustling. Schools from around the region bring students and seniors from as far away as Bakersfield to take the educational tour of our amazing local museums, galleries and theaters. Lower State Street has experienced a renaissance, and the local business people who own the small galleries, restaurants and specialty stores are doing brisk business. Multi-lingual hosts assist visitors from around the world who have chosen to come to Santa Barbara because we are renowned for our hospitality and the authentic character of our community.
“Milpas Street is the happiest place in the world now that the street performers have organized into small groups in the new placitas. The new technical training center has recently opened with an emphasis on degrees in the trades for high school students and young adults. The Media Arts Center at SBCC is producing highly skilled graphics candidates who go on to great careers. Upper State Street is much the same as it has been for years, except there are rumors of plans to convert both La Cumbre Plaza and 5 Points parking lots into livable small, low-impact communities of shops and residences.
“The schools are doing fine now that the state education fund has kicked into high gear. Splitting the new gas tax between upgrading worn-out infrastructure and funding our schools was a big seller in the last election. We still get tar on our feet at some of the beaches, but at least it’s from natural seepage. And sewing has made a big come back.”
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?
GH: Please see my answer to the next question.
NOOZHAWK: If elected, what is the one issue on which you would focus to improve Santa Barbara’s quality of life?
GH: Besides the overarching issue of addressing the local effects of the state and national economic crisis, there are three at the top of my list: housing and transportation, youth violence and homelessness, and sustainability.
I believe it is our duty to do what we can to ensure that all members of the community have access to safe and decent housing. The city remains a leader in providing affordable housing through its long and successful relationship with the Santa Barbara Housing Authority and a dedicated funding stream from the Redevelopment Agency and Community Development Block Grants. As hard as we try, the need is ever larger than we can address.
This and the related issue of transportation are most certainly environmental issues. Our land-use and transportation planning are directly related to climate change in the macro and to air and water quality in the micro. Social equity becomes environmental justice, and I am deeply concerned about both sides of the coin.
The majority of residents in Santa Barbara are tenants. The pressure to convert apartments to condominiums is strong. We have worked hard to craft effective protections and accommodations for tenants and those who may be displaced. One example is our Condo Conversion Ordinance that has undergone revisions to assist vulnerable tenants during demolition of their apartments. Upgrades and remodels have the same effect. We will need to revisit this ordinance to see if there is a way to assist them when these kinds of major projects result in their displacement. One of the programs that provides direct services to this population, both in Santa Barbara and also for much of the rest of the county, is the city’s Rental Mediation Housing Task Force. We have found funding to keep this going for a couple of years at a minimum level, but I will work to see that it is fully funded in the future due to the importance of the services it provides.
From low- to moderate-income housing, we have the Housing Authority and the tax increment from the Redevelopment Agency, at least until it sunsets during this next term in office. We must be prepared to address this loss of critical funding for affordable housing first as an outcome of Plan Santa Barbara and then in drafting implementing measures.
Workforce housing is very much in short supply, resulting in long commutes, effects on surrounding communities, air pollution, excess traffic on local streets, parking shortfalls that affect local business customers, greenfield development of agricultural land and open space. Those long commutes also result in extraordinary costs to workers’ families. They lose family time, not to mention opportunities for full involvement with our community. The city cannot, by law, subsidize this sector’s housing needs.
We have and, with my leadership on council, we will continue to seek ways to incentivize private subsidy for workforce housing. Right now, that takes the form of state and local variable and bonus density allowances and our local inclusionary housing ordinance. Our pyramid zoning and mixed-use overlay both encourage housing where it displaces higher-impact commercial development and where necessary infrastructure already exists. Coupled with improved building standards and strict design review, and guidelines, we can add needed housing units while reducing social, economic and environmental impacts.
I am an author of and an advocate for the city’s Circulation Element. I have worked hard to implement this keystone document that first and foremost integrates land-use and transportation policies for the first time. The Bicycle Master Plan, Pedestrian Master Plan, Neighborhood Traffic Management Plans, MTDs South Coast Transit Priorities and our regional approach to encouraging transit and other alternatives to single occupant vehicle use are outcomes of this important part of our General Plan.
Transportation decisions affect us all. We have set up a system to respond directly to the concerns of neighborhoods when pass-through traffic makes local streets dangerous. We have marshaled federal and state funds with small, local matching funds to improve interchanges, overlay streets and rebuild bridges over our creeks. As a community, we passed Measures A and G that, together, help ensure we have adequate funding for repairing, replacing and maintaining our critical transportation infrastructure and enhancing transit.
My experience in transportation planning is extensive, and it is an area in which I have a keen interest as we move forward. One example is the inter-regional plan for commuter rail that I initiated. It is called On-TRAC. On-TRAC was put forth by the city’s commuter rail subcommittee (me, Roger Horton, chair, and Helene Schneider). On-TRAC proposes to take the initial steps toward a robust commuter rail service that has been endorsed by partner agencies and jurisdictions along the corridor, including LOSSAN, CCRC, SBCAG, VCTC, Ventura, Goleta, MTD and more. This is just one example of the kind of efficient and environmentally sustainable partnerships that will be the way we must do business in the future.
All of this is being thoroughly discussed in the General Plan Update as we seek the balance that is right for Santa Barbara.
The vast majority of Santa Barbara and South Coast youths are doing fine and moving ahead in their education and career. However, we have recently seen an increase in youth violence. We have pulled together a remarkable assembly of service providers and stewards to address youth violence head-on. This approach is working. Prevention, intervention and suppression are all needed to be effective. This is the approach I endorse. From the Twelve35 Youth Center and Youth Council at one end to the intense and effective Operation Gator Roll on the other, the city is pressed to address not only the harm of youth violence, but also the possibility of young people and the amazing contributions they can make.
It is widely acknowledged by law-enforcement personnel that suppression of criminal and violent activity is bolstered by effective prevention and intervention. Our first priority, of course, is public safety, including support for firefighters and the police. But the public is safest when danger is prevented through education and essential services for the most vulnerable members of our community.
I am particularly proud of our ADAP and Youth Council kids for initiating conversations about a social host ordinance. I felt compelled to encourage and initiate action on such an ordinance after being informed and inspired at a joint Youth Council/ADAP event at the Cabrillo Arts Pavilion. With a little encouragement, the young people walked that ordinance all the way through the process. When it came to us on Ordinance Committee, I was so proud of them. My role had been to open doors and show support for this ordinance to come through the system. Their role was everything else and, with the help of Susan Young and other staff, the ordinance was adopted by the City Council. Lives will be saved and tragedy averted due to this ordinance, and the young people who did the research and carried it through to fruition.
Our Parks & Recreation Department and the Library Department both have multiple empowering things for kids to do from after-school activities to internships. Budget realities are threatening some of these programs. We must rely on innovation and cooperation to continue to achieve the same results in the future. I hope to see new programs either come online at the city or be picked up by nonprofits or other organizations. I am especially excited about nonprofit organizations that immerse young people in nature. Surfing, fishing, biking, hiking, backpacking, bird watching and other ways to get physically involved with the environment changes lives no matter where the young person finds himself or herself on the continuum. Fortunately, we have several groups locally that provide this kind of transformational experience for youths.
Job and career training are sorely needed. SBCC does this in certain key areas of interest. Some of the high schools have this as a strand. I am actively looking for ways the city might participate in giving young people assistance in moving successfully from high school into successful careers if they are not going to go to college.
Due to my active involvement, Parks & Recreation and the Library Departments took the task of qualifying the city of Santa Barbara as a “Community of Respect.” This is a program offered by ADL that assists schools, cities and other organizations to address bias, prejudice, discrimination, racism, sexism, bullying and related problems and become “No Place for Hate” or a “Community of Respect.” We are the first city in our area to achieve this goal. Now we are positioned to encourage others, notably youth-serving organizations and schools, to continue our movement to a more just society while educating and empowering new generations to do even more.
As Councilmember Horton is about to leave the City Council, I will be picking up some of his responsibilities. Since we share a commitment to youth and families, I will be joining our Council Committee that addresses these issues, and I have joined the Downtown Childcare Partnership to address the serious shortage of quality licensed child-care facilities for working families.
Regarding homelessness, our collaborations are deep and broad. As a councilmember, I am committed to serve you no matter where you came from, what you do for a living or where you live.
As one part of our city’s comprehensive strategy to assist those among the most vulnerable of our society, the Ten-Year Plan stands out as an invaluable collaborative effort. The city is a critical partner in this plan and, although ostensibly not the “provider of last resort,” we do play a critical role in dealing effectively with this worsening problem.
Implementation of the plan may be hampered, unfortunately, by state cuts in mental-health services and raids on local property taxes. As a member of the Task Force on Co-Occurring Disorders, I recognize that each reduction at the state and county levels places more of a burden on the city. Addressing the complex issues surrounding “dual diagnosis” cases is particularly at risk but needed more than ever. We are actively engaged as a partner in these efforts, and the presence and participation of the councilmembers and our staff makes a difference to the service providers who need to know they have municipal support for their work.
Casa Esperanza and our relationship with New Beginnings, especially the RV Safe Parking program, are two initial points of contact to begin the long road back to secure housing for many who are homeless by choice (rare) or necessity (growing). I want to work closely with our partners, including the Housing Trust Fund, to provide more SROs such as Casa El Carrillo that match secure permanent housing with services that not only get the homeless off the streets, but also meet their needs in ways that allow them to obtain employment and get on their feet for good.
We have approved a new active panhandling ordinance that will go into effect when the city’s compassionate giving program is activated later this year. This will be another tool to assist the police in keeping our sidewalks safe. But it is just one more way to address the situation at the point of contact. Restorative policing has been a key element in the success we have been having with many of the homeless and indigent, especially downtown. The goal is to move away from the revolving door of incarceration and get people into stable living environments with the services they need restore their lives.
Cleaning up encampments and making sure residents and visitors are safe from aggressive panhandlers and from unsafe and unsanitary living conditions or, worse, fires that could be caused by outdoor cooking are problems we are actively addressing. Creeks take the brunt of the impact because of unsanitary practices surrounding encampments and other concentrations of people, such as the work line on Yanonali Street near Laguna Channel. Notable successes include working closely with Union Pacific railroad to clean up areas along the train tracks. A similar effort has produced results on the Mesa below TV Hill with the cooperation of the property owner. Providing porta-potties at the work line is just one simple solution with immediate impact to the adjacent riparian environment. It is important that there is council support to continue this work.
It is equally important to protect the homeless from violent crime. The loss of so many lives this year, many of which appear to have been caused by violent or suspicious attacks on helpless homeless victims, is completely unacceptable. This will not be tolerated, and the police are actively investigating the deaths. Safe places to sleep indoors, help with immediate needs and progressive assistance leading to safe, permanent housing and income are goals that the city shares with the 10-Year Plan. We must ensure full implementation of our recently adopted 12-point “Strategies to Address Community Issues Related to Homelessness in the City of Santa Barbara.” I will provide continued leadership in this area to meet not just one or another of these goals, but all — including the restoration of degraded environments where homelessness has taken a toll.
Sustainability is often seen as an environmental term, but in the context of our city’s government, it also means that we are careful to use the public’s resources in the most efficient way possible. Resource efficiency, both fiscal and environmental, is a primary principle that informs the way I approach my role as a city councilmember.
Our work for the environment extends beyond how the city organization functions. It is present in the way we are treating our creeks and how the new bridges are being developed. I have fought for increased setbacks since first becoming a planning commissioner — even where it is not required by city ordinance — and I have been involved in the long discussion of how Mission Creek and all the other urban creeks will be maintained and restored. Little things add up, such as renewing and expanding our street sweeping program, filters on storm and parking lot drains, and daylighting of Mesa Creek at Arroyo Burro — all of which I have encouraged, helped process and supported.
When we work on creeks, we have an opportunity to involve the surrounding residents (especially the children) in cleaning up not just the creek but also the surrounding neighborhood. We can address important priorities that would not be noticed in large state-level projects. An example that is important to the lower Eastside is the flood-control features of the Highway 101 Milpas to Hot-Springs Operational Improvements project. It includes unique sound walls that will relieve the lower Eastside of the potential to flood as in the past. It also provides a wider bridge over Sycamore Creek that is designed to allow more water to pass and improves the environment in the nearby neighborhood. I served on all of the committees that made the design decisions that included these features. We also took the opportunity to get Cacique extended to Milpas to make it safer for Eastside workers and Franklin children to access jobs and recreational opportunities on the other side of the freeway.
I am the liaison to the airport and have participated in all of the city’s capital program priorities since 1997. We have many opportunities to express our environmental agenda (deeply embedded in our legislative platform). This is revealed in the solar panels on our workshops, the new rental-car facility at the airport, the Cacique fire station and designed into every aspect of the new air terminal. Our capital program projects must continue to demonstrate our commitment to efficient use of natural resources.
Integrated Pest Management was initiated by colleagues on the council before my becoming elected, but I support it 100 percent and have continued to monitor its progress. I have also joined with members of the public to strenuously oppose the county’s use of pesticides (Nalid) and to get the school districts to model the city’s IPM approach at all levels, including the most recent example of squirrel population management on and near school campuses.
Encouraging private parties to do the right thing includes our city’s sewer lateral inspection program. I helped initiate and implement this important protection that guards against water incursion into our water treatment facilities with timely inspections and replacement of faulty laterals. The key to this program’s success (the demand is increasing; it is now three times as successful as originally envisioned) is our financial assistance for homeowners that incentivizes participation in the program with recirculating public funding.
I serve on the city’s Ordinance Committee. The Contractors Association worked hard to bring us the most up-to-date, energy-efficient building codes in the nation. With their support, advice and encouragement, the city adopted them. We worked on updating our Fire Code, and recently added a residential sprinkler ordinance that was the result of input from all sectors of the community that would benefit and be affected by its implementation. Our Urban Design Guidelines and El Pueblo Viejo Design Guidelines may seem to be all about aesthetics, but they are also about environmentally responsible design in buildings, including new strategies such as how to appropriately site solar panels on buildings and passive approaches to energy conservation. By keeping this in mind, we will find new ways to integrate environmental sustainability into all aspects of the built environment.
I also serve on the board of the Community Action Commission as official liaison for the city of Santa Barbara. One of our programs to assist low-income families stretch their limited budgets is our Energy Services Program. This is another example of where energy efficiency and conservation pay back dividends in economic terms, in this case for the vulnerable families throughout the county. The program is designed to ease the burden of rising utility rates for low-income households, conserve natural resources, increase home comfort and safety, provide long-term energy efficiency and behavioral change fostering self-sufficiency, and leverage funds to maximize local financial resources.
Home weatherization, replacement of old energy-guzzling heaters, water heaters, refrigerators and other appliances, and safety tests and education make a difference to the families and the environment. Recent ARRA funding has expanded the program dramatically by injecting millions of additional dollars into the local economy. I have insisted that we employ local contractors and train at-risk youths and local contractors in the new technology to enhance the long-range benefit to our county.
Water conservation is a keystone of our city’s resource management. I am particularly proud of bringing a comprehensive policy framework for water conservation to the council and of getting my colleagues approval for the Ahwahnee Water Principles for Resource Efficient Land Use. For many years, we have been implementing many effective water-conservation strategies and practices. Water conservation is not just about water. The tremendous amount of energy spent to provide potable water and, at the other end of the pipe, to treat it can be reduced with strong conservation measures.
These measures will only be effective as long as we keep at it. Relying on acute emergency response once a drought has forced us to act is shortsighted, costly and ineffective. Long-term sustaining conservation that is institutionalized is the approach I support and, fortunately, the way the city conducts itself. For example, as a result of the adoption of the Ahwahnee Principles, we have a policy framework to give a foundation for current and future practices, including support for private graywater systems, purple piping and water retention on-site.
At the Ordinance Committee, we just brought a new business recycling rate plan to the City Council for consideration. It is designed to significantly increase diversion of solid waste from Tajiguas landfill from commercial sources using a balanced plan of increased rates for no diversion to significant rate reductions for recycling and composting. Wet waste composting for the hundreds of restaurants and institutions in Santa Barbara is now available after a successful two-year trial program. The savings to the business owners, the landfill, to the city and our contractors will be significant as the program expands. This kind of program takes initiative and flourishes in a climate that encourages innovation and initiative.
It is this kind of encouragement of our staff, this kind of policy board support, that makes all the difference in the initiative and drive these professionals exhibit in their daily work. I will continue to provide the kind of leadership that shows up in the efforts of our staff to expand our local resources by seeking and applying for grants that magnify tenfold the city‘s contribution. With another kind of leadership, this would not happen, and there could be a quelling of enthusiasm and achievement where it counts.
I want to be there to encourage and celebrate successes in these areas. Full implementation of our new composting and recently adopted commercial recycling programs is a goal of mine that I am eager to ensure comes to fruition. The results are lower rates for area businesses and less trash in Tajiguas landfill. Already, Marborg’s construction-material recycling facility is relieving the dump of hundreds of tons daily. The list of accomplishments is long. The list of future environmental projects, often in coordination with other organizations such as the Community Environmental Council, Urban Creeks, Heal the Ocean and others, is even longer. With your help, I will be there to continue this tradition of environmental stewardship that has distinguished Santa Barbara for generations.
NOOZHAWK: What is Santa Barbara’s most neglected neighborhood?
GH: The Eastside M-1 (manufacturing) zone. In some large degree, the neglect has benefited this vital section of town because it has been able to evolve into one of the most productive areas of the South Coast on its own, providing scores of small businesses with relatively low-cost accommodations. It is, by any count, a true incubator that must be protected from gentrification, even as we catch up on basic infrastructure improvements and deferred maintenance.
NOOZHAWK: How would you control aggressive panhandling?
GH: In response to the rising concern about aggressive panhandling downtown along with many other issues associated with homelessness, the City Council Subcommittee on Homelessness and Community Relations published “Strategies to Address Community Issues Related to Homelessness in the City of Santa Barbara.” The 12 strategies outlined in the report are intended to function together as a whole in addressing five key issue areas. The 45 participants represented a broad range of interests and worked diligently to come up with cogent recommendations that would make a difference while coordinating with the county’s 10-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness.
We considered the issues of aggressive panhandling at the Ordinance Committee and passed our recommendations on to the City Council for approval with the caveat that our updated panhandling ordinance would be implemented in conjunction with a new alternative giving campaign as intended in the subcommittee’s recommendations. We have passed this new ordinance that makes critical distinctions to protect the city from challenge on First Amendment and civil liberties grounds and it will go into effect soon. This will give the police the tools they need to better enforce against the threatening and objectionable behaviors we have seen increase in our most popular parts of town. The public will be educated about the harm caused when they give money to panhandlers, and they will have an appropriate alternative that helps fund the services that can provide effective solutions. We will review its effectiveness to be sure it is working or decide if it needs to be revised.
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?
GH: Three proposals have been approved. Just one is in operation under the city’s new ordinance, while others that were in existence before the ordinance’s approval by the City Council will have to move to an appropriate location or go out of business within 18 months (sooner if a pending revision to the current ordinance is passed by the council). Any other dispensaries or outlets for marijuana are illegal and subject to immediate closure by the police or our zoning enforcement officers.
Santa Barbara is ahead of other cities, including Los Angeles, because we have a comprehensive ordinance in place that must be followed by any new proposed dispensary. Under the current ordinance, there are a limited number of places in town that could host a dispensary. We are engaged in the formulation of a strengthened ordinance that would more narrowly define acceptable areas around town, stiffen requirements and limit the number of dispensaries citywide.
It is in the public’s interest to regulate and hold accountable medical-marijuana dispensaries that are permissible under state law. Secure, safe access is important to legitimate users seeking to fulfill their doctor’s recommendation. Clear requirements for safe and responsible management of a limited number of dispensaries is far superior to the situation facing other cities that took too long to get their rules and accountability system up and running.
We are considering several improvements to the current ordinance in response to the council’s direction. Constructive suggestions about how that ordinance will take shape have been very helpful. More public input is welcome.
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?
GH: The city’s Wildfire Assessment District was a big part of the success in these last two front-country fires. This was voted into existence by the neighborhoods themselves. The most important thing that remains to be completed is a full, cooperative effort between fire departments in the county, Santa Barbara and Montecito and the fire service. This has already begun, but much more work is needed to be fully prepared for the fires to come. The creation of a county WAD would be an important step within the hands of area residents, especially in the Mission Canyon area. Evacuation practice by residents and fire personnel was pivotal in the safe and efficient evacuations for the Tea and Jesusita fires. Lessons have been learned from these tragedies that will help us do even better in the future.
This interagency coordination has already begun at the staff level in recent debriefing sessions. The city, its partner agencies and the public should not diminish the effort that got us this far. A lot of suggestions have been made as to what could be done differently in the next fire. We will listen to the professionals to see what they recommend after the current round of interagency work sessions.
NOOZHAWK: A grocery clerk asks you, “Paper or plastic?” You say:
GH: No, thank you.
NOOZHAWK: How often do you use alternative transportation?
GH: I frequently ride my bike to work and to get around town. I relocated my business from Goleta to Canon Perdido Street across from El Presidio near City Hall. This has allowed me to reduce my frequent trips back and forth to Magnolia Center, where I had been located for the past 10 years. This lets me do much of my city business on foot and, along with switching to a hybrid Prius for driving, has reduced my gas consumption to next to nothing. I had been using the bus for occasional trips downtown, but I have not done so recently since I am close to most of my daily destinations.
NOOZHAWK: What is Santa Barbara’s most precious asset?
GH: Our greatest strength is our sense of community and the knowledge that by working together, we will handle all our challenges and come through even more resilient than before.
It is my intention to continue to focus on our core assets: the immense generosity at all levels of ability, a demonstrated willingness to step up and help one another, and an enduring spirit of volunteerism that puts in action who we see ourselves to be as a community.
A spirit of generosity and community service is at the heart of who we are as Santa Barbarans Our land, air, water, infrastructure and civic life all depend on this culture of active engagement. We must cultivate this precious resource and work diligently to foster the openness and respect that allow it to flourish.
I know we share these values, and I have done all I can during these last three and a half years to express them in my work on the City Council.
NOOZHAWK: What’s your favorite view?
GH: Loma Alta, moon rising, crescent beach, mountains, mist.
NOOZHAWK: Health care is all over the news these days. What do you do to stay fit?
GH: Since 2005, I have met my trainer/friend John Alford at SBCC track at 6 a.m. and put in an hour of rigorous exercise and stretching daily. I also ride my bike and walk for many appointments. By the way, John is the fittest 70-year-old I have ever met.
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?
GH: Great idea! Perhaps we could commission Bud Bottoms to do the honors.
Click here for Grant House’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