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Planning Commissioner Deborah Schwartz Sets Sights on City Council Seat

She says her priorities include updates to Santa Barbara's General Plan, as well as public safety and youth violence

[Noozhawk’s note: One in a series of profiles of the 10 candidates running for three Santa Barbara City Council seats in the Nov. 8 election. This story was posted earlier this year and is being republished now as part of Noozhawk’s election coverage.]

                              |  2011 Election Coverage |  Complete Series Index  |

Santa Barbara Planning Commissioner Deborah Schwartz says she wasn’t planning on a run for City Council — until the phone calls came in.

Deborah Schwartz
Deborah Schwartz (Phil Channing photo)

The first call came from former Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum, who encouraged Schwartz to consider running for the seat. Then in October of last year, more calls came in, after the General Plan revisions went before the council.

Schwartz told Noozhawk on March 14 in announcing her candidacy that the calls came from people from all parts of the political spectrum, encouraging her to run for one of the three seats that will be up for grabs in the November election.

After taking the holidays to think it over, Schwartz decided to go for it. She says she has learned an important lesson after 15 months as a planning commissioner.

“Every issue is personal and has its impacts,” she said, adding that from medical marijuana dispensaries to renovations of a single-family home, each issue brings weight to those near to it.

Anyone who has sat through a Planning Commission or City Council meeting knows how time-consuming they can be. Schwartz said she’s very aware of the personal sacrifice required to run for a council seat. She’s the daughter of former county Supervisor Naomi Schwartz and watched her mother spend long hours on the job. It’s a legacy the younger Schwartz said she feels she’s ready to take up.

“In a way, there’s no greater sacrifice than to be a public servant,” she said. “It’s been in my family a long time.”

Her family moved to the South Coast 44 years ago, and Schwartz is a product of local public schools and UCSB, where she studied political science, linguistics and English. She moved to San Francisco, where she worked for AT&T for 15 years as an external director, working directly with state regulatory bodies to negotiate policies, practices and rates. She said she feels the management experience of a large group of people and the budget experience will set her apart from her competition. 

Schwartz said that 85 percent of employees at telecom companies such as AT&T are represented by the Communications Workers of America union.

“That’s something that not many people know,” she said, adding that she has experience with her former company’s labor negotiations.

She returned to Santa Barbara six years ago, and after working for the nonprofit Sojourn Services, she said she feels as if Santa Barbara residents are yearning for someone who can put ideals on the back-burner to build consensus.

“This is a nonpartisan job, but it can skew,” she said.

Schwartz said one of her highest priorities will be the progress of the city’s General Plan, which she’s been an active part of on the Planning Commission.

“We’re really at a crossroads,” she said, adding that the city’s housing element is part of that blueprint, and the city misses out on valuable outside grants by not having it certified. “Five years is not a rush job.” To be fiscally prudent with the staff time that has gone into the project already, “we need to move this along expeditiously.”

Schwartz said she is especially proud of the consensus that the Planning Commission has demonstrated on moving projects such as the General Plan updates forward, and she hopes to bring the same spirit to the council dais.

“I’m proud when I look at the last 15 months,” she said of her term at the time of her announcement. “We seek to find common ground.”

Schwartz said other priorities for her are public safety and youth violence, including organizing gang experts from the Santa Barbara police force and nonprofit organizations to explore solutions to the problem. She cautioned against comparing Santa Barbara’s gang violence problems with those of larger cities.

“Those issues are just as important to the neighbors and families affected,” she said, adding that focusing not just on statistics but whether people feel safe in their neighborhoods is important, too.

Perhaps saving the largest issue for last, Schwartz addressed the city’s daunting budget situation. She said Santa Barbara is just starting to see light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s seeing positive indicators, such as a reduction in vacancies on State Street. She said she’s been brushing up on her city budget documents and meeting with City Administrator Jim Armstrong to get a grasp on the challenges.

She suggested that looking for the best practices of similar cities could help with some of Santa Barbara’s woes. Schwartz also said she doesn’t think cuts are the only answer, but that the city will have to get creative to increase revenues. Reaching out to the private sector is one way, she said.

Schwartz cited recent talks about Deckers Outdoor Corp. moving to new headquarters in Goleta. Retaining that kind of business in Santa Barbara and being more welcoming to small businesses in general are crucial to the city’s economic vitality, she said, adding that preserving Santa Barbara’s feel and encouraging economic health aren’t mutually exclusive.

She said she has received feedback from small businesses since she started exploring a run in January.

“What they would like is to feel more welcome,” she said. “It’s not without sacrifice that they’re here.”

                              |  2011 Election Coverage |  Complete Series Index  |

Additional Resources

» Click here for Deborah Schwartz’s campaign Web site, or call 805.618.2950. Connect with Deborah Schwartz on Facebook. Follow Deborah Schwartz on Twitter: @voteschwartz.

» Click here for more information on the city of Santa Barbara’s Nov. 8 election.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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