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2017 Santa Barbara Mayoral Q&A with Cathy Murillo

[Noozhawk’s note: One in a series of questionnaires with the candidates running for Santa Barbara mayor in the Nov. 7 election. As part of Noozhawk’s upcoming Reimagine: Santa Barbara special project, the questions were tailored toward many of the challenges and opportunities of downtown Santa Barbara. Beginning Oct. 8, the installments are being published in alphabetical order: Hal Conklin, Frank Hotchkiss, Angel Martinez and Cathy Murillo. A fifth candidate, Bendy White, did not respond to two invitations to participate. Click here for the complete series index.]

NOOZHAWK: What do you think is or should be the City of Santa Barbara’s role in downtown retail and business development?

CATHY MURILLO: As mayor, I will continue to be active in economic development activities, and pursue how our city administration can focus more resources on making our current retail businesses successful and attracting new ones to the city.

Cathy Murillo Click to view larger
Cathy Murillo (Murillo for Mayor photo)

We must create an environment supportive of business development, and the experience I bring is serving on the Women’s Economic Ventures Community Advisory Council, as well as attending and supporting grow-your-small-business events sponsored by Santa Barbara SCORE and the Eastside Merchants Association.

As a member of the City Council, I voted to rapidly implement a new streamlined permitting and licensing process for business owners leasing empty storefronts and commercial space on State Street, from Cabrillo Boulevard to Sola Street.

The city plays an active role in the vitality of downtown Santa Barbara, but can and must do more as retail adjusts to the increase in online shopping. We must continue to work closely with our partners, Downtown Santa Barbara and the Chamber of Commerce, to address issues such as nuisance street behavior, electricity service reliability, traffic and parking issues, as well as larger economic development efforts to bring high-paying jobs to the city and to Santa Barbara County.

NOOZHAWK: For years, aggressive panhandling and other homeless issues have been public concerns. The city and community partners have worked on this issue, but what would you do differently?

CM: As vice chair of the policy council of C3H, the Central Coast Collaborative on Homelessness, I agree with your statement that the city and nonprofit and governmental agency partners have been actively working to move people off the streets and into housing or residential treatment programs when mental illness or substance abuse are factors.

Despite the continued presence of panhandlers and homeless people on our streets, there have been many successes, and we must sustain those programs/actions that get people housed, return them to their hometowns, or have them processed through the criminal justice system if they commit a crime.

I support an effort by Downtown Santa Barbara, Visit Santa Barbara and Hospitality Santa Barbara to launch a new panhandling prevention program. Personally and in my professional life, I tell people to resist giving money to panhandlers, and make contributions directly to shelters or other service providers.

What I would do differently as mayor is work with our police chief to contact cities in California (or beyond) when we find out a homeless individual has arrived in Santa Barbara because someone gave them a bus ticket to our city. We hear about this happening; it’s time to take action and confirm when this is true and tell other jurisdictions to take care of their own, and not to export people to Santa Barbara.

NOOZHAWK: Do you support the Nov. 7 ballot initiative that would increase the city sales tax to 8.75 percent? Why or why not?

CM: If the voters say yes to this new revenue source, we’ll have approximately $22 million a year to go to much-need road repair and to a new police headquarters. When the city surveyed residents about our needs (through community workshops and polling), people told us they want well-maintained streets and that they valued responsive law enforcement and recreation and parks programs offered in refurbished, safe public buildings.

So yes, I support the ballot initiative because it gives people a choice to support their municipal government. Also appealing is that the new revenue fund will be audited yearly, with expenditures monitored by a citizens review committee.

NOOZHAWK: What are downtown Santa Barbara’s greatest infrastructure needs, and how would you pay for them?

CM: State Street and our downtown area is the heartbeat of our city. It’s beautiful and pedestrian friendly and offers locals and visitors the ability to spend time in a vibrant urban ambiance. So we must keep up our streetscape of attractive streets, sidewalks, trees and “plaza” amenities such as well-designed lighting fixtures.

Revenue from the Measure C initiative would help, of course, augmenting our budget for capital improvements. As the downtown business owners already pay into their business improvement district fund, we can look into increased transient-occupancy tax revenue from the newly opened Hotel Californian to support infrastructure improvements.

| Election 2017 | Complete Series Index |

In the long view, we will likely benefit from increased sales tax revenue as new activities bring people downtown. We will adapt to the change in retail, just as municipalities have adjusted to shopping malls and other consumer trends, and healthy commerce will generate revenue that can be invested back into downtown’s needs.

NOOZHAWK: Do you support the development of more housing in downtown Santa Barbara, including along the State Street corridor? Why or why not?

CM: Yes, I support more housing development downtown, including the proposal of overlaying the Average Unit-Sized Density Incentive Program on the downtown core, especially on State Street.

The challenge — and I’m confident we can succeed with this — is to respect the historic buildings and other historic resources, and develop well-designed housing structures that appeal to people who want to live in the city center.

We have empty buildings on State Street and we need housing; this is a way to address both challenges. Our downtown parking structures could help with parking demand from new housing projects.

NOOZHAWK: The Average-Unit Density program aims to create more affordable rental housing in the city. What do you think the program is doing right, and how would you improve it?

CM: I serve on the Housing Task Force, which is already making changes to the AUD program. We’ve added more parking requirements in certain projects, and we are laying the groundwork to require the inclusion of affordable, income-restricted units in each project, or ask for payment of impact fees that will fund affordable housing elsewhere in the city.

The program is finally giving us new rental units after about 40 years of virtually none being built. We need rental units. Market-rate rentals help by giving us breathing room in the vacancy rate, and affordable units can serve low-income families.

The only entities that produce truly affordable housing is the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara and nonprofit developers such as Peoples’ Self-Help Housing — because they receive subsidies and tax credits.

I fully support their work and have regular contact with them and other housing entities as I’m the vice chair of the Cities-County Affordable Housing Task Force. A refined AUD will be able to add incrementally to that affordable housing stock under a new inclusionary provision.

NOOZHAWK: What’s your favorite downtown activity?

CM: I work downtown at City Hall, so I have lunch or dinner there, buy gifts at some of the shops (Brighton, Ama SeaBeauty, and See’s are my regulars), and I go to movies after work. My favorite activity is to stroll State Street in the evening, then sit on a bench and people-watch with friends. I celebrate my birthday and special occasions at The Palace Grill.

NOOZHAWK: How many murals of Noozhawk do you think should be included in any public art projects for the Highway 101 underpass on Lower State Street?

CM: I support murals and other public art along the underpass.

Additional Resources

» Click here for Cathy Murillo’s campaign website, or email [email protected] or call 805.569.3179. Connect with Cathy Murillo on Facebook.

» Click here for more information about Santa Barbara’s Nov. 7 election.

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