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District 4 Santa Barbara City Council Candidates Spar Over Housing, Water and Sales Tax

Jim Scafide, Kristen Sneddon and Jay Higgins answer questions at election forum

Candidates for the District 4 seat on the Santa Barbara City Council debated issues including water, housing, a sales-tax initiative and the future of State Street at a forum Tuesday night. From left are Jay Higgins, Jim Scafide and Kristen Sneddon. Click to view larger
Candidates for the District 4 seat on the Santa Barbara City Council debated issues including water, housing, a sales-tax initiative and the future of State Street at a forum Tuesday night. From left are Jay Higgins, Jim Scafide and Kristen Sneddon. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Water, housing, a sales-tax initiative and the future of State Street took center stage Tuesday night at a District 4 Santa Barbara City Council candidates forum.

Attorney Jim Scafide, environmental scientist Kristen Sneddon and land-use planner Jay Higgins faced off at the First United Methodist Church, hosted by the Riviera Association, the Eucalyptus Hill Improvement Association and the Upper East Association. About 150 people  attended the event. 

“I want to bring about a change to Santa Barbara,” Scafide said. “I don’t want things to remain the same. I am not happy with the way things are.”

Scafide attempted to stand out from Higgins and Sneddon. When he answered his questions, he paced around the front of the church with microphone in hand and a sense of urgency on his face, treating the event like it was a town hall forum.

Although the District 4 council race is non-partisan, Scafide is locked in a tight battle for support among Democratic voters.

Scafide grabbed the endorsement of the Santa Barbara County Democratic Party back in March, but has watched from the sidelines as Sneddon, who joined the contest in July, has racked up the support of some prominent public officials, including state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, Second District county Supervisor Janet Wolf, Santa Barbara Unified School District Board Member Laura Capps, and the Santa Barbara Police and Fire associations.

The endorsement division has sparked some bad feelings among party brass, who believe elected officials should support the candidate backed by the Democratic Party.

Scafide touted his support from the Women’s Political Committee, the Democratic Women of Santa Barbara and others, while promising to be a responsive council member who would hold weekly office hours.

He called for more housing on State Street.

“Working people should be living downtown,” he said.

He criticized Santa Barbara’s average unit-sized density incentive program because it doesn’t create affordable rental housing.

“The Marc is a specific example of something that misses the mark,” said Scafide, referring to an AUD project on Upper State Street, where two-bedroom units rent for more than $3,000.  

Regarding water, he said, “We’re still in a crisis,” and had the city not experienced a “miracle” of rain on Feb. 13 and 14, the only issue candidates would be talking about would be water. He asserted that Santa Barbara needs to be more efficient with its water use.

“We’re still in a crisis,” Scafide said.

Scafide said he supports the Measure C 1-percent sales-tax increase on the November ballot, noting that much of the money will be paid by tourists.

“That’s a big lump of money coming into the city coffers that we won’t have to pay,” Scafide said.

If elected, Scafide said, he will “provide a detailed report every year of where the money is spent.”

Sneddon pointed to her environmental credentials, both in theory and in practice.

Unlike Scafide and Higgins, she drank from a reusable water container, rather than the bottled water on the table provided by the event hosts. Sneddon said looking at the level of water in Cachuma is a simplistic view of water resources.

The key to increasing water supply, she said, is to diversify sources, including capturing rain water that doesn’t just fall over Cachuma, recharging groundwater, and exploring new ways to capture water.

She drilled down deep into District 4 neighborhood issues, saying that San Roque and other parts of the district are particularly vulnerable to daytime home burglaries, and she’d work to increase law enforcement in the area. She also said she’d try to slow down speeding motorists who use back roads into the Riviera and Montecito to bypass Highway 101.

Modern apps, such as Waze, unfortunately steer drivers to District 4 neighborhoods.

“We want to maintain what we have, the beauty of our parks and the preservation of our neighborhoods,” Sneddon said.

She’s not sure that the city’s high density AUD program is the answer to solving Santa Barbara’s housing situation.

“I do not believe density alone will equal affordability,” Sneddon said. “We have a very strong character identity in District 4. We don’t want to overbuild. We want to preserve the character of our neighborhoods.”

Sneddon said she supports Measure C, and her first priority would be to leverage the money to build a new police station because the aging structure on Figueroa Street is not seismically safe.

She also pushed back a bit on Scafide, saying that serving does not mean just “setting up office hours,” but stepping out into the community as much as possible.

Higgins, who chairs the city Planning Commission, opened the meeting acknowledging his wife, who was celebrating her birthday, and his two children.

He disagreed with Scafide on the idea of building housing on State Street.

“I don’t want to forsake our tax base,” Higgins said. “Just because we have a housing shortage doesn’t mean we have to have housing everywhere. Housing downtown is a good idea in theory, but not on State Street. It could hurt our tax base.”

Higgins praised city residents for conserving water during a time of drought, but said they should not be paying higher water bills to make up for lost fees from conservation.

“We should not be penalizing people for doing the right thing,” Higgins said. “A $1,000 monthly water bill is not a plan.”

On Measure C, Higgins said if he were on the council at the time it was put on the ballot, he would have worked in some accountability controls.

Although the money is intended to go toward infrastructure, the taxes would go to the city’s general fund, and technically could be used for any purpose. Higgins also said he would focus on District 4 specific issues, such as historic preservation and slowing drivers down in the neighborhoods.

In one of the more memorable moments of the evening, an audience question got nixed before it was answered.

Someone asked anonymously on a card for the candidates to identify the one member of the council that they most admire. All of the candidates appeared perplexed by the question and an audience member shouted “that’s an inappropriate question.”

The moderator, through a show of hands asked if the audience agreed, and when a majority raised their hands, the question was dropped.

The vote-by-mail election is Nov. 7. The city mailed ballots Oct. 9.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina 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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