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2012 Santa Barbara County Supervisor Q&A with Joyce Howerton

[Noozhawk’s note: One in a series of questionnaires with the candidates running for three seats on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors in the June 5 election. This installment is the 4th District. Click here for the complete series index.]

NOOZHAWK: What, if anything, should Santa Barbara County do to make up for the loss of funding from the state of California’s elimination of redevelopment agencies?

Joyce Howerton
Joyce Howerton

JOYCE HOWERTON: We need to be more judicious as to how we spend taxpayer money. A re-prioritization of projects needs to be accomplished and only the most critical ones moved to the top of our “to-do” list. I am convinced that a thorough review by the County Auditor of increased efficiencies in county operations would provide a significant influx of cash for these projects.

NOOZHAWK: Given the loss of redevelopment agency funds throughout the county, should the revenue-neutrality agreement with the City of Goleta be modified? Why or why not?

JH: These agreements are required by state law to ensure that, upon incorporation of a portion of a county, county revenues would not be unduly reduced as a result. The law requires that any income generated by a new city over and above the cost of city services that the county would no longer have to provide has to be shared with the county to fund those services the county would continue to have to provide. This law serves to assure that those remaining unincorporated areas of the county (i.e. those areas without hotels, car dealerships, etc.) would remain fiscally viable. I support the purpose of the law, as enacted, and see no pressing reason for the agreement’s renegotiation.

NOOZHAWK: Several local jurisdictions are considering an increase in the transient-occupancy tax as a way to address revenue shortfalls. Should the county increase its bed tax?

JH: This, of course, would have to be put to a vote of the people. Although this tax is paid primarily by out-of-town visitors, I would want to see a thorough analysis of increased revenue estimates vs. potential dampening effects on visitor traffic before taking a position on this issue.

                        |  2012 June Primary Coverage |  Complete Series Index  |

NOOZHAWK: With gas prices at record highs and chronic budget shortfalls prevalent at all levels of government, should Santa Barbara County encourage more oil and gas development? If so, in what ways? If not, why not?

JH: No, I don’t think we need more development. Gas prices are set on the global market, so our little bit of oil would not make a difference. What a lot of people don’t realize is that the United States exports more oil than it imports, so we have enough oil. I would support an oil tax. I was part of the environmental team that worked with PXP on the Tranquillon Ridge Project that would have generated large sums of money for the county and the state. The agreement would also have shut down four platforms. I believe it was the first time that an oil company and environmentalists have worked out an agreement, only to have it killed at the State Lands Commission.

NOOZHAWK: Although realignment of California’s criminal justice system was imposed abruptly, it appears to have potential for real reform. How should the county’s justice system be re-created, and how would you ensure that the reforms are successful?

JH: The core of this realignment plan is to shift low-level offenders from state prisons and parole to local corrections programs. Relatively recent statistics show that two out of three new state prison admissions in 2009 were parole violators, and only about a fifth of those had actually committed new crimes. There appears to be general agreement that low-level offenders can be reformed. To the extent that this realignment helps reduce the state’s annual $10 billion expenditure to run its prisons, funding would be freed up for education and other critical community services.

NOOZHAWK: Assuming funds can be found to build a North County jail, how will the county pay for ongoing operational costs?

JH: In any budgetary situation, demands for funds typically always exceed the funds available. As a supervisor, I would insist that a source of operating funds be identified prior to a commitment to begin construction on a needed North County jail. I support alternative treatment for people with drug and alcohol problems, as well as people with mental illness. If these programs were developed there would be some additional money for these programs.

NOOZHAWK: What should the county be doing to address deficits in county Fire Department budgets?

JH: The county Fire Department, as an integral part of our public safety apparatus, is of the highest priority. I would request the County Auditor to do an independent, objective review of Fire Department operations to identify opportunities for operational efficiencies while simultaneously performing a line-by-line review of the county budget to identify money-saving opportunities.

NOOZHAWK: Do you support reforming the county’s pension system, and if so, how aggressive should that reform be? If not, why not?

JH: Yes. Pension benefits currently being paid to retirees represent contractual obligations of the local governments. These payments are therefore secure. Pension benefits accrued to date by current employees are also contractually secure. Any changes to benefits for current employees would have to be negotiated with the applicable bargaining units as part of their overall compensation package. The benefits offered future employees (those yet to be hired) are the most susceptible to reform. Any proposed changes in this area need to be based upon fiscal realities and negotiated with the bargaining units.

NOOZHAWK: Do you support Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed tax increases on the November ballot? What impact do you foresee if voters approve them or reject them?

JH: Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to increase the sales tax and raise levies on upper incomes is for the purpose of helping raise money for schools and balancing the state’s budget. State sales tax would increase a quarter-cent per dollar for the next four years and a graduated surcharge on incomes of more than $250,000 that would last seven years would be imposed. Although I am not a big fan of tax increases, I would personally support such a measure (as would approximately two-thirds of the voting public), because of the dire consequences to our schools if this measure is not passed.

NOOZHAWK: What solution do you support to help prevent erosion at Goleta Beach County Park?

JH: I support the county’s Goleta Beach 2.0 Natural Solution being proposed. It would protect the beach, park and restaurant, while keeping the sand on the beach. I believe it was supported by the Coastal Commission.

NOOZHAWK: What changes, if any, do you think the county should be pursuing in its Housing Element?

JH: Affordable, decent housing has a direct impact on the quality of life of our residents. I would propose that any federal and state funds made available for housing, as well as funds generated from developer fees for this purpose, be directed to the building of affordable rental units. Experience has shown that we can affect the quality of life for the greatest number of low-income people by providing them with affordable, decent rental units by partnering with local nonprofit developers.

NOOZHAWK: Do you support the Goleta Heritage Farmlands Initiative and similar land-use measures? Is ballot-box zoning an appropriate practice or does it circumvent the established planning process? Explain.

JH: I do support the initiative as a way to preserve our shrinking farm land. If enough community members sign a petition to take an issue to a vote, I would respect that. I have found in the North County that often people with money find a way around the planning process.

NOOZHAWK: How effective is the county’s current approach to issues confronted by the Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services? What changes would you like to see?

JH: I would advocate for changes at the state level concerning sound funding for local mental health efforts. The current system makes no sense. Audits of local expenditures are made five years “after the fact” with some local expenditures disallowed as unreimbursable in spite of unclear guidance up-front from the state as to what expenditures actually qualify.

NOOZHAWK: Explain your views on efforts by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians to expand the tribe’s sovereign territory, especially in the noncontiguous Camp 4 area of the Santa Ynez Valley.

JH: Although we need to respect the rights and privileges afforded to the Chumash as a sovereign nation, those rights and privileges are not unlimited. I would look to the County Counsel’s office for a legal definition of what rights and privileges are directly associated with the interests of the Chumash reservation, per se, and benefits that are, in effect, disassociated with the quality of life for those on the reservation.

NOOZHAWK: Does the county need to change the way it oversees agencies like the Lompoc Housing & Community Development Corp.? Why or why not?

JH: Absolutely. The Lompoc housing issue is a looming multimillion-dollar disaster in the 4th District. Poor oversight, spurred primarily, I believe, by admitted conflicts of interest held by the current 4th District county supervisor are inexcusable.

NOOZHAWK: Concerns have been raised about the rapid growth of wine tasting rooms and the potential impacts on public safety. Is the county effectively managing the issue? Explain your answer.

JH: The threshold question is whether the public interest would be served by the county restricting the proliferation of wine tasting rooms. It would appear to me that the answer to this question is “yes.” Although county actions in the past may have been appropriate under the circumstances then existing, if I were on the board, I would direct staff to provide an analysis of this situation so that we would be in a position to make informed decisions on this issue moving forward.

NOOZHAWK: What role should the county play in economic development? Is the county doing too much, too little, or the right amount?

JH: In view of the human resources provided to Santa Barbara as a result of the presence of UCSB, I believe the county could intensify its actions and policies to promote the establishment and growth of high-tech start-up businesses. Such endeavors would tend to provide clean, higher-paying jobs to our county.

NOOZHAWK: What is the major public issue in Isla Vista and how should the county be addressing it?

JH: I think overcrowding and high price of rental units is a major problem. The county can help by supporting workforce housing projects.

NOOZHAWK: Panga boats favored by smugglers have been found abandoned with increasing frequency and marijuana eradication requires considerable annual resources. Are our shores and backcountry safe? Is the county’s approach to these problems sufficient? With respect to smuggling from offshore, are you satisfied with the federal government’s response? Explain.

JH: I believe our shores are safe (I know of no reported incidents to the contrary) and our backcountry, with the ongoing, proactive investigations by the Sheriff’s Department and the exercise of some common sense, is at an acceptable level of safety given the resources available to us.

NOOZHAWK: Rate the county’s management of issues relating to the preservation of open space. What definitive steps should it be taking?

JH: I believe the formation of the Gav Pac is a huge step toward understanding and protecting open space. To preserve open space, the public needs to be educated on the importance of preserving this valuable resource. The county has taken steps toward this goal. I would like to see more education information available to students with a volunteer docent program going into schools to talk about open space and how to protect it for future generations.

NOOZHAWK: What county government issue should Noozhawk cover more thoroughly?

JH: The specific performance of county supervisors once in office should be covered on a regular basis. Coverage of major issues at each Tuesday’s board meeting and an analysis of each supervisor’s vote should be routine.

                        |  2012 June Primary Coverage |  Complete Series Index  |

Additional Resources

» Click here for Joyce Howerton’s campaign Website.

» Click here for more information on Santa Barbara County’s June 5 election.

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