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Election Q&A with Helene Schneider

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?

HELENE SCHNEIDER:After a 10-year hiatus, police bike patrols returned to the Westside and started on the Eastside. These patrols have already assisted our police officers in creating and maintaining positive relationships with residents and individuals associated with gangs. My work on the Finance Committee ensured that funding was available in this year’s budget to return this popular program. Our beat coordinators are also working with new neighborhood watch groups, which reduce crime. Benchmarks for success include an increase in residential involvement in their neighborhood, a reduction in calls for service and less time between a crime incident and an arrest.

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

HS:I do not believe enforcing a gang injunction is appropriate at this time. In fact, gang injunctions can have negative consequences toward our police work when they try to communicate with individuals who may know and/or are involved with gang members, thus reducing preventing crime in the first place. There are other methods we can use, such as restraining orders, which could be more effective as an enforcement tool.

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

HS:The city of Santa Barbara will be a place renowned by locals and visitors alike for its beauty, cultural and recreational activities, clean environment, safe neighborhoods, and innovative business climate, and where its diverse community participates in thinking globally and acting locally. Streets will be less congested because people can choose from the ample number of transportation options to get from Point A to Point B, including cars, bikes, buses and the return of the streetcar. Every neighborhood will have sufficient open space for kids to play. Chronic homelessness will be a thing of the past.

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

HS:LAFCO (the Local Formation Agency Commission) just determined that Santa Barbara’s Sphere of Influence should not be expanded at this time. Any future proposals must be initiated by the residents in the area. I do not support expanding the Sphere into the mobile home parks in the unincorporated areas, as that may jeopardize their rent-control protections.

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

HS:Given the many years of community input on this topic, I think the expansion will happen — but only if county voters approve extending the Measure D ½–cent sales tax initiative on the November 2008 ballot. The extra lane should be devoted to carpools, buses and vanpools only.

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

HS:Yes. Measure D must include funds for commuter rail. Commuters need a variety of transportation modes to choose from, and our local city streets cannot handle the increase in single-occupancy car traffic from thousands of commuters each day. A commuter rail program must also include a solid transit system within the city, so people can easily get to their final destination.

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

HS:Street narrowing should only occur in limited circumstances, such as curb extensions so pedestrians can more safely cross the street. The Milpas roundabout and the Five Points roundabout have worked very well for years. The temporary traffic circles that have been placed in the Upper Eastside neighborhoods are ugly and should have been transformed to its final product over a year ago. Once the permanent structures are in place, we can then determine its ultimate success rate. Small traffic circles, when landscaped well, are very successful in many cities throughout this country and around the world.

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?

HS:The current charter gives 60 feet at the height limit in the downtown area and 45 feet in other commercial areas. Before amending the charter, the city needs to complete its General Plan update and also strengthen its urban design guidelines, so that our design review boards and the council will no longer approve big fat buildings filled with luxury condos. Quality design, adequate setbacks and open space are just as paramount as final height: no one wants to see a 40-foot high cubic building either.

NOOZHAWK: Is Santa Barbara losing its middle class?

HS:Yes. It is well established that there is a jobs/housing imbalance on the South Coast, and thousands of people who used to live and work in Santa Barbara are now commuting from out of the area — to the tune of 17,000 from the south and another 10,000 or so from the north.

NOOZHAWK: Should the city help develop more workforce housing?

HS:Yes, in a limited manner. We must remember that we cannot build housing for everyone who wants to live here; otherwise we will lose our unique and special character. The city can and should work with employers in assisting them with providing housing for their own workforce (as Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital is doing). New housing developments must include a workforce housing component as well, and not be limited to luxury large condos for wealthy people.

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?

HS:The city of Santa Barbara already has the zoning available to accommodate its regional housing mandates from the state. The I.V. Master Plan and its connection to RHNA numbers are based on the county’s mandates, not the city of Santa Barbara’s.

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?

HS:The transit center project must first and foremost meet the current and future needs of MTD in terms of providing enough space on-site for the ingress and egress of their buses. All the other potential uses of the site (affordable housing, retail commercial space, child-care center, underground parking, etc.), while potential positive improvements, are secondary.

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?

HS:Three reasons why voters support Measure A. 1) Most important, increased voter turnout. If residents want a representative City Council, then we need true representation from the voting public. Turnout doubles in even years. Voters in other cities (e.g. Carpinteria) do not ignore their city elections in even years. 2) Significant taxpayer cost savings — at least $220,000 per election cycle. 3) An independently elected county Registrar of Voters should run elections, not the City Clerk’s office, which is comprised of employees governed by the City Council. Moving to even years would allow the county to run the election.

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

HS:B+. The Mayor’s grade had to do with the city staff’s efforts related to its Performance Management Program. While the city has accomplished a number of laudable tasks, and continues to expand its goals into other areas (especially in its quest to become as sustainable as possible), it needs to communicate better with the general public, both in terms of overall customer service and community outreach and education.

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?

HS:To be honest, I really need to learn a lot more about this before taking a definitive position.

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

HS:It will be up to the community organization that proposed this project in the first place to determine whether this community has "heard the last" of this project, not the City Council. Community discussions and dialogue related to climate change and how it can affect all of us locally will not go away.

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

HS:I support the use of medicinal cannabis for people with specific illnesses and/or who deal with severe chronic pain, and I believe patients should have safe access in receiving these services. I also believe the city has a responsibility to ensure public health and safety and should create regulations that will stem any potential criminal activity from occurring. Ideally, medicinal cannabis should be dispensed at a pharmacy; however, federal law prohibits this and pharmacists could lose their licenses if they provide such service. So we are left with regulating local dispensaries.

NOOZHAWK: What’‘s your favorite neighborhood?

HS:The Westside. It’s where I live and own a very small slice of the paradise we call Santa Barbara. I love walking around this neighborhood with its charming small cottages. It is home to El Zarape, Super Cucas and Paesanos (the best pizza place in Santa Barbara — and that’s coming from someone who grew up in Manhattan!). I’m not forced to use my car for small errands, such as buying a quart of milk, or even for getting downtown, as I can easily walk via the Micheltorena or Anapamu Street bridges, or take one of two bus lines.

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

HS: The Phantom Tollbooth, written by Norton Juster and illustrated by Jules Feiffer.

NOOZHAWK: What’‘s your favorite movie?

HS:Young Frankenstein.

NOOZHAWK: What music are you listening to now?

HS:Lila Downs, White Stripes, Beck, Bebel Gilberto, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and anything Nic Harcourt plays on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic radio show.

NOOZHAWK: What kind of car do you drive?

HS:Toyota Corolla.

NOOZHAWK: What do you do for a living?

HS:City councilwoman and a human resources consultant and trainer with a local firm, HRxpress.

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

HS:Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. She is a true national leader who has always spoken out on important issues related to women’s rights, health care and environmental protections, no matter the political threats she faces from major corporations and other special interests that do not agree with her views. Sen. Boxer stands her ground.

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

HS:You’re a funny man, Rob Kuznia.

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