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Few Sparks as Farr, Pappas Face Off in Third District Supervisor Candidate Forum

Both hopefuls stay on message in emphasizing their successes and priorities as they head toward the June 5 election

Doreen Farr and Steve Pappas, who battled each other four years ago in a razor-close and contentious race for Third District supervisor in Santa Barbara County, faced off Wednesday night in a candidate forum in Goleta that could only be called sedate.

Both candidates, running in the June 5 election, maintained a calm demeanor and stayed on message throughout the hour-long gathering at the Goleta Valley Community Center and sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Santa Barbara.

Farr, a Santa Ynez Valley resident with considerable ties to the South Coast, emphasized her accomplishments as a first-term incumbent, repeatedly enumerating steps she has taken with her colleagues on the Board of Supervisors to address the county’s financial woes, rein in runaway pension costs, protect agriculture and open space, and provide strong constituent services.

Pappas, in turn, consistently touted his years of experience as a successful businessman, his service as a school-board member in the Santa Ynez Valley, and his willingness to challenge a status quo that he asserted has been “kicking the can down the road” on too many issues.

“I think this just comes down to a choice between my background and Ms. Farr’s,” Pappas told the group of about 60 people. “My background comes from a small business my wife and I have maintained for 22 years, meeting a payroll every week, making sure that the business is healthy and viable, and making sure that we adapt to the environment that we have faced over the years to keep our business moving forward.”

He said that same approach is what is needed to address the county’s many challenges — including budget deficits, job creation, lack of affordable housing, protection for agriculture and open space, and providing social services to those in need.

Farr recounted the priorities she pledged to pursue when she ran in 2008 — making fiscally responsible decisions, protecting public safety, agriculture and open space, maintaining services of the most needy and serving her constituents.

“Since being elected I’ve worked hard to fulfill those commitments,” Farr said. “I’ve made tough but fiscally prudent decisions to close whatever budget gaps our county faced and voted every year for a balanced budget.”

She also pointed to her support for public safety agencies and efforts to improve safety on roads such as Highway 154.

The candidates were asked their views on a variety of issues, including growth, pension reform, protecting the Gaviota coast, affordable housing and Isla Vista.

The issue of pensions for county employees cropped up several times during the forum, with Pappas asserting that “the unfunded pension liability is one of the greatest threats to the county.”

“We’ve just got to reform and restructure it for new hires,” he said.

Farr countered that the county “has made a number of reforms already,” creating a less-expensive program for new hires and eliminating the ability for employees to game the system through what is known as spiking. She also defended the county workforce, saying that most employees are hardworking and don’t end up receiving extravagant pensions.

“A lot of information that’s out there is not accurate,” Farr said. “Most employees don’t get big pensions.”

Asked by an audience member to identify the most pressing issue facing the county, Pappas said it is the fiscal situation.

“The unfunded pension liability is part of it,” he said, “decreasing revenues, increasing expenses. … The bottom line is this — the county is now facing a situation where it is constantly facing a potential deficit. ... We need to change the philosophy in how we deal with the budget.”

Farr also noted that the county’s financial situation is crucial.

“Certainly, keeping our budget balanced, and economic development and job growth are key. We have met the challenges of the budget,” Farr said, noting that the expected deficit for the coming year is $14 million to $15 million, much lower than in previous years. “We’ve cut about as much as we can.”

The only contentious moment of the evening came when Farr gave her closing statement, and asserted that Pappas “hasn’t kept up” on the issues and has been inaccurate in some of what he has said during the campaign.

Asked afterward what she was referring to, Farr mentioned issues such as the status of the controversial Naples development on the Gaviota Coast and pension reform.

After the forum, Pappas responded that the specifics of those issues weren’t as important as each candidate’s overall approach to the job.

The Third District typically provides the swing vote on the five-member Board of Supervisors — with the two South Coast members typically taking more liberal positions and the North County members swinging to the right. The district straddles the Santa Ynez Mountains, and includes the western Goleta Valley, Isla Vista, the Santa Ynez Valley, parts of Lompoc and all of the coastline up to San Luis Obispo County.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton 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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