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Election Q&A with Das Williams

NOOZHAWK: What specific actions are the City Council and the police department taking to fight gang violence? What are the benchmarks for success? What has been your involvement on this issue?

Das Williams
DAS WILLIAMS: The Police Department alone spends about $1.6 million a year on youth-related enforcement and prevention programs, about two-thirds on the former, including officers who go to school campuses and a gang unit, and one-third on the latter, including a Police Activites League and D.A.R.E. In addition, our Parks & Recreation Department has scores of activities for kids and teens.

Specifically, I have pushed for a number of expansions in youth prevention and intervention programs in this year’s budget. A $25,000 increase to double the current 20 kids involved in our youth apprenticeship program in Parks & Rec. We have had summer drop-off centers (free child care for 8 hours a day) for grade-school children at Ortega Park and three schools. We’ve eliminated the fees for Sports league programs with the city (which is a lot of money because of the increase of participation we will have), increased staffing of the neighborhood center on the Lower Westside, starting a handball program, and we’ve increased by $35,000 the money allocated for junior high afterschool sports. It adds up to $174,000 in Recreation and seven new or expanded programs in all.

On intervention, "nothing stops a bullet like a job," as Father Boyle (founder of Homeboy Industries in L.A. that employs former gang members) often says. The city has recently secured a grant that will allow us to fund stipends for youth jobs throughout our community. We are looking for mentorship in sectors that will be well-paying for young people to get into a real career, so if you run a business or nonprofit and want to participate, contact our Parks & Recreation Department.

Additionally, I and my collegues came up with a plan to pay for additional police bike patrols of the Eastside and Westside. Our officers have been making use of association warrants and, where appropriate, searching houses to look for information or caches of weapons. These have been very successful. The ultimate metric of success, however, is fewer gang members in the city, but that takes time. We shall see in the coming years whether our current number of 600 grows or diminishes. There is more to be done, including programs that help parents deal with "at-risk" youth, but both the people who work with our youth and our police officers are supporting Helene, Brian and me, Das Williams, for City Council. They trust us to lead on this issue.

NOOZHAWK: Would you consider an injunction banning certain individuals from wearing apparel associated with gangs?

DW: There are some real constitutional "free association" issues with gang injunctions and that should be a last-resort strategy. If we ever were that desperate, I would say you want to do the type that forbids gang members to "hang out" together, not something as indiscriminate as clothing. I question whether we should be citing people for wearing baggy pants and white T-shirts. I’d likely get cited on one of my days off.

NOOZHAWK: With the General Plan update in motion, what is your vision of what Santa Barbara will look like in 30 years?

DW: My vision is to avoid two possible fates being pushed by the momentum of the market, private-property rights and political power. The first would be to overbuild and sprawl out, becoming like Orange County. The second, and nearly as damaging, would be to not adapt and attempt to preserve a physical status quo, while losing our middle- and working class and becoming a Beverly Hills-By-the-Sea. I endeavor to preserve the distinctive feel of a Santa Barbara that is not too large, is surrounded by open space, yet still has a vibrant and diverse community. To come true, we must replace some of our commercial space with middle-class housing, to reduce commuting and traffic.

NOOZHAWK: Should Santa Barbara’s Sphere of Influence boundaries be expanded? Specifically, what should the boundaries be?

DW: Yes, it should include areas of the Goleta Valley that want better municipal services or even additional protections on land use. However, this should be up to the people themselves and should not include the mobile homes, whose affordability could be threatened by eventual annexation.

NOOZHAWK: Should Highway 101 be widened from Milpas Street to the Rincon?

DW: Yes, and it should be a carpool lane to encourage ride-sharing and be accompanied by more commuter bus service.

NOOZHAWK: Are you willing to spend local tax dollars to bring commuter rail to Santa Barbara?

DW: Absolutely. Our traffic problem is so bad we should attempt to pursue as many solutions as possible. Furthermore, freeway widening will take years, and during the construction traffic could be even worse.

NOOZHAWK: What is your opinion of street narrowing and roundabouts as traffic-control measures, and do you think they have been successful?

DW: They have nearly always been successful in slowing down traffic in neighborhoods with children, but some have been implemented in a manner that led to much public acrimony. I’m not sure how to solve this. I hate to have to slow down, too, but I think people have a right to have safer streets in areas that were never meant to be thoroughfares for traffic.

NOOZHAWK: With regard to new buildings in downtown Santa Barbara, how high is too high? What should be the height limitation in terms of stories?

DW: I vigorously will require new buildings to adhere to our current height limits of 60 feet or under, and discourage them from even getting that big. But more important than height is requiring adequate setbacks from the street and articulation of the building shape, so much of it is lower than the highest points in order to protect viewsheds and minimize how imposing the building is.

NOOZHAWK: Is Santa Barbara losing its middle class?

DW: It is. Unless we are willing to build price-controlled, middle-income ownership units and protect our stock of rentals in the city we will lose our young people, our critical workforce of police, firefighters, teachers, nurses and public works personnel (like the people who daily make sure you get water when you turn on the tap). A community without another generation is a community without a soul. I will work to avoid this dark fate.

NOOZHAWK: Should the city help develop more workforce housing?

DW: I just answered that above. We should, not only to preserve a middle class but to prevent an even larger increase in traffic. As our workforce moves away the jobs stay here, which is drowning us in traffic. The last 10 years have seen a decrease in our population but an increase in traffic. I would rather have some of those folks downtown than clogging up our freeways daily.

NOOZHAWK: Seizing on the adoption of the Isla Vista Master Plan that will yield more than 1,400 housing units, Santa Barbara County has asked the state of California to certify that the I.V. plan satisfies the county’s unmet need for affordable housing under the 2002 Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA). Is it fair to use Isla Vista’s willingness to accept increased density as a way to avoid a regional allocation of affordable housing units? How would you handle this obligation?

DW: The city has always exceeded its RHNA allocation and I think it’s fair to say that the RHNA process does not drive our land-use policy. I cannot say that is also true of the county, where unfortunately all the units used to get dumped in Orcutt and now they’re trying to dump them all in I.V. Instead, I would rezone some of our commercial areas in various parts of the county into residential or mixed-use, which would fulfill the requirement of rezoning, without losing precious ag land.

NOOZHAWK: The City Council is looking at approving a new downtown transit center of up to four stories that, conceptually, would include affordable and market-rate housing, retail commercial space, a day-care center and underground parking. But under the proposal, most MTD buses would still require street parking. Do you agree with this approach?

DW: I leave it up to MTD to tell us how to maximize the efficiency of loading and we will design accordingly. What I know is that we need to make this an attractive place to wait for the bus — with news, coffee and food service preferably. We have asked the designer to minimize size, build and scale of the buildings while maximizing the amount of affordable and middle-income units we can provide. This is an important and difficult design-challenge, because we do not have enough money left in the RDA accounts to do many more housing projects. This one has to count.

NOOZHAWK: Measure A calls for aligning the city of Santa Barbara’s Election Day with that of the nation by moving it to even-numbered years. Proponents say this would help boost voter turnout. Opponents say it would add a year to council members’ four-year terms and lead to campaigns that are more partisan. Do you support Measure A?

DW: I support it, though it would not be good for me personally because of the five-year term. It is truly important to have higher voter turnout for democracy to really work the best it can, so I support it as sound policy.

NOOZHAWK: Mayor Marty Blum recently gave her staff a grade of A minus. What grade would you give?

DW: I would agree with the mayor. Our staff is extremely competent, but like everyone, messes up sometimes. What I think is important to know is they are not malicious. We all have to learn how to serve the public, with its competing and contradictory desires, better.

NOOZHAWK: Do you support cities competing with the private sector for the deployment of Internet broadband networks? If so, what is your preferred financing method to build the required infrastructure?

DW: I don’t know this issue well enough to give it an adequate answer.

NOOZHAWK: Have we heard the last of the "blue line"?

DW:I don’t think there will be a blue line, but there should be smaller public art projects that increase both education and participation on reducing global warming.

NOOZHAWK: What are your thoughts on medical marijuana? Do you agree with the mayor that it should be available in pharmacies?

DW: It should be treated as medicine, but that should be accompanied by the regulation and restrictions that prescription medicine has. People shouldn’t be smoking in the dispensary just like people hopefully aren’t popping pills in line at the pharmacy. They also should be a proper distance away from schools and with adequate security on site.

NOOZHAWK: What’s your favorite neighborhood?

DW: The Mesa, because it has all the beaches, surf, and it votes for me.

NOOZHAWK: What book had the most impact on your life?

DW:The Bible and Lord of the Rings.

NOOZHAWK: What’s your favorite movie?

DW:The Last Temptation of Christ.

NOOZHAWK: What music are you listening to now?

DW: Thievery Corporation & DJ Sander Klinenberg. A little U2.

NOOZHAWK: What kind of car do you drive?

DW: Prius Hybrid 2001

NOOZHAWK: What do you do for a living?

DW: Teacher and city councilman

NOOZHAWK: What political leader or historical figure do you draw inspiration from?

DW: Nelson Mandela. He understood that action was more important than words, and was gracious and forgiving in both victory and defeat. That transformed his prison guards from racists into supporters of liberation, and held together the country when I was there working in 1994.

NOOZHAWK: Would you support an ordinance requiring that Santa Barbarans set their home pages to Will you propose it for us?

DW: That’s all we need …

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