Doreen Farr eked out a narrow victory over Steve Pappas early Wednesday in their runoff election for the 3rd District seat on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.
Tuesday’s battle seesawed from the beginning, with Pappas bursting out of the gate for an early lead, then Farr cruising past him late Tuesday, and Pappas narrowing the gap toward the end.
With all precincts reporting early Wednesday, Farr, a former member of the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission, had won 51.38 percent of the vote. Pappas, president of the Los Olivos school board, garnered 48.37 percent.
“It was certainly a long evening, but I’m very happy with the way it turned out,” Farr said at her victory party Tuesday night at Hollister Brewing Co. in the Camino Real Marketplace. “The job is going to be a real challenge, but I’m up for it.”
The 3rd District is the most politically polarized of the five seats on the Board of Supervisors, which technically is a nonpartisan entity, but in reality is anything but. Farr is a Democrat, Pappas a registered independent. They were vying to replace Supervisor Brooks Firestone, a Republican.
The county is roughly split between the Democrat-leaning South Coast and the Republican-leaning North County. The 3rd District — which encompasses the Goleta Valley, Isla Vista and the Santa Ynez Valley — has long been a swing district.
Farr, a resident of Solvang, was largely backed by the South Coast’s Democratic Party establishment, receiving endorsements from the likes of Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum, Rep. Lois Capps and the two other Democratic supervisors, the 1st District’s Salud Carbajal and the 2nd District’s Janet Wolf. Pappas, an entrepreneur with two consulting businesses, listed as one of his top endorsements veterinarian Doug Herthel, a staunch critic of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians and an early supporter of former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Despite running for a polarized seat, Farr and Pappas ran a decidedly cordial campaign, and the distinctions between the two candidates have not been very sharp.
During the campaign, both expressed their distaste for the idea of more offshore oil drilling both said more county budget cuts are probably necessary, both opposed the Chumash Casino’s proposed expansion, both wanted to minimize development of the Gaviota coast, and both vowed to improve relations with the college community of Isla Vista.
Still, they clearly were two very different candidates, with many of their differences seemingly centering on style.
During the campaign, Farr was the more cautious speaker, but also came across as more of an insider with a deeper knowledge of county policy. Pappas cast himself as more of a straight-talker, unbeholden to either party. Although admitting a need to study up on a few issues — such as the financial quagmire surrounding the county’s Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services Department — he was more willing to use rhetoric that sometimes bordered on accusatory.
Last fiscal year, the Board of Supervisors, which manages an $800 million budget, grappled with a $25 million shortfall, largely because of the mortgage crisis and runaway retirement costs. Local county government watchers warn there’s more misery to come.
To weather the financial storm, Farr called for reducing the costs of large-scale fires by updating disaster planning, and increasing revenue by reviewing county surplus properties to determine whether any can be sold.
Pappas, meanwhile, called for an outside audit to find out “where all the money has gone” and bluntly recommended “cutting the fat,” offering up a specific example of a department he believes is bloated: “The bureaucracy in both the Planning and Development office and Department of Long-Range Planning.”
Some differences were based more on policy. On pensions, for instance, Farr, whose biggest financial contributor was the Service Employees International Union, emphasized the importance of a healthy benefits package to attract and retain employees. Pappas, whose biggest financial backer was Nancy Crawford-Hall, publisher of the Santa Ynez Valley Journal, called for a downgrade for new hires, saying, “We cannot afford what we did five years ago.”
Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at email@example.com.