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Saturday, February 23 , 2019, 12:03 am | Fair 43º


3rd District Race Attracting Money, and Scrutiny

Next supervisor will occupy critical position in battle over visions, issues and Santa Barbara County's future.

Recent media stories have reported on the campaign contributions for candidates seeking the 3rd Supervisorial District seat. So far, those running are David Bearman, Doreen Farr, Steve Pappas, Victoria Pointer and David Smyser.  The 3rd District covers most of the Santa Ynez Valley, Goleta and Isla Vista.  It is often seen as one of the most contentious districts, as the person holding this seat plays a key role in balancing North County and South Coast interests — or not.

According to the Santa Barbara Independent, the “most questionable” contributions have gone to the Smyser campaign.  Smyser is a former 3rd District planning commissioner and Supervisor Brooks Firestone’s former chief of staff. Many regard him as Firestone’s hand-picked replacement.  Indeed, Firestone donated $10,000 to his campaign.

The SantaYnez Journal reports that “Smyser’s campaign is being financed primarily by contributions from mysterious companies that have no apparent connection to Santa Barbara County ... a fact that has caused opponents to question his campaign motives.”

More than half of the $55,000 raised by Smyser appears to come from outside the county.  Four companies in San Francisco gave a total of $20,000, but three of the firms are not listed in the California Corporate Record.  What concerns many is that Smyser claims not to know these donors, and has no interest in finding out who they are.

Other large contributions come from donors with hotel interests, mostly associated with “New York real estate developer Alvin Dworman — who built and owns Bacara Resort in Goleta — and Bacara president B.J. Hoppe,” according to the Journal article.

None of the other candidates has been funded by donors outside the county — except Bearman, for a modest sum. Pointer just took out paperwork signaling her intention to enter the race.

While I don’t question Smyser’s integrity and have no reason to believe he would trade favors for dollars, I am concerned that big developers outside the county have targeted his campaign for large contributions.  Apparently, they see Smyser as the candidate most likely to support the development of luxury resorts, hotels and casinos in the Santa Ynez Valley and beyond.  Indeed, one of the contributors owns land on the Gaviota coast and is seeking re-zoning that would allow him to develop his land.

It’s not surprising that big hotel developers are targeting Santa Barbara County.  In 2006, county CEO Mike Brown created a Blue Ribbon Budget Task Force to “Identify and seek revenue-generating land uses.”  The task force report recommends the creation of “Village Centers” that include resort hotels, big-box stores and auto dealers.

We’ve already seen a number of these developments being proposed, including the North Hills development south of Orcutt, and La Purisima Resort in Santa Rita Hills.

These developments require the rezoning and loss of agricultural land, and represent the worst kind of planning: leapfrog and piecemeal development. The village concept has not been vetted in a community visioning process, and the community plans and updates long needed for the Lompoc, Orcutt and Santa Ynez areas are continually delayed and unfunded by the county.

Another serious problem with developing luxury resorts and high-end tourism, is that for every “guest” who visits the county, several low-wage workers will be needed to service their needs. Every bed tax and tourism dollar brought into the county will be more than offset by the need for more affordable housing and social services to subsidize the employment of low-wage earners.

Voters in the 3rd District should look carefully at the candidates seeking to represent them.  What vision do they have for the county? Who is funding them and why? More is at stake than the 3rd District. The next 3rd District supervisor will have a powerful influence over the quality of life throughout Santa Barbara County.

Deborah Brasket is executive director of the Santa Barbara County Action Network  (SB CAN). She can be e-mailed by clicking here, or call 805.722.5094. This commentary originally appeared in the Santa Maria Times.

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