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Monday, December 10 , 2018, 6:53 pm | Fair 57º


Five Mayoral Candidates Square Off at Santa Barbara City College Forum

Topics include marijuana, housing, the homeless, State Street and the environment

The five candidates for mayor of Santa Barbara faced off Tuesday night in a forum at Santa Barbara City College, with topics ranging from marijuana, housing and the homeless to State Street and the environment. Click to view larger
The five candidates for mayor of Santa Barbara faced off Tuesday night in a forum at Santa Barbara City College, with topics ranging from marijuana, housing and the homeless to State Street and the environment. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

An energetic, standing-room-only crowd of nearly 400 people packed Santa Barbara City College’s Garvin Theatre Tuesday night to hear the five mayoral candidates talk about marijuana, housing, the homeless, State Street and the environment.

Hal Conklin, Harwood White, Angel Martinez, Cathy Murillo and Frank Hotchkiss are vying to become Santa Barbara’s next mayor.

The forum was hosted by the Santa Barbara Independent, KCRW and the Santa Barbara City College Foundation.

Independent executive editor Nick Welsh and KCRW producer Jonathan Bastian moderated the event, which was simulcast on radio and the web.

The forum offered little new in terms of the candidates positions on the issues, but the one-hour forum showcased the candidates’ personalities, and, in some cases, sense of humor.

On the issue of regulating recreational marijuana, Councilman Frank Hotchkiss quipped, “I worry it’s going to be so successful that no one is going to get to work on time.”

Former Deckers CEO Angel Martinez also attempted his own pithy one-liner.

When asked if he supported a recreational marijuana dispensary on State Street, Martinez said “If someone wants to open one on State Street, it better be a nice one.”

The forum was highlighted by Hotchkiss and Martinez occasionally challenging each other on the issues.

Hotchkiss, who would be the first Republican to lead Santa Barbara in more than 40 years, is engaged in a political chess battle with Martinez, over moderate and conservative business votes. The two have sparred at previous forums.

Martinez said taxing recreational marijuana sales would be a revenue driver for the city and a “potential boon to the economy.”

“We need all the revenue we can get,” Martinez said.

Hotchkiss, however, suggested a more cautious approach. He said he is worried about the drug, particularly edibles, reaching kids.

“We have to be mindful, not just of our own enjoyment, but there are other social responsibilities here,” Hotchkiss said.

Hotchkiss blamed the Chamber of Commerce for failing to recruit new businesses, and at one point challenged Martinez to “open a flagship Deckers downtown,” if the former CEO and chairman of the shoe company was so confident he could bring business to downtown Santa Barbara. (Deckers’ corporate headquarters are in Goleta.)

The comment irked Martinez, who responded directly to Hotchkiss, saying that Deckers tried “for four years to open an Ugg store.”

He said four months out of the year “you could shoot a cannon down State Street and not hit anyone.”

“Santa Barbara couldn’t cut it,” he said.

Hotchkiss disagreed with Martinez. He touted the things that are working about Santa Barbara, the arts, the architecture, the airport, the zoo and the climate.

“I think we are the preeminent small city in America,” Hotchkiss said. “The job of the next mayor, whoever he or she may be, is to ensure that this gem of a place remains bright and shiny.”

Hotchkiss was jeered a couple of times during the evening by the partisan liberal crowd.

On the issue of the homeless, Hotchkiss said “a lot of people choose to live on the street.” He said the urban travelers, usually a couple with a dog, don’t want services. He recommended a greater police presence downtown.

“There’s no silver bullet,” Hotchkiss said. “It’s a multi-pronged problem.”

Hotchkiss also stood his ground under pressure. Welsh joked that the birth certificates for babies born at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital are printed with the phrase, “Santa Barbara, the birth of the environmental movement,” and how could Hotchkiss represent Santa Barbara if the candidate didn’t believe in climate change.

Hotchkiss responded: “There are some who will agree with me and others who will disagree with me.”

His rival Martinez rejected the notion that he didn’t understand government and the idea that he would rule the mayor’s seat like a CEO from a corner office.

“One of the things that people don’t understand about being a CEO of a business is that it is all about compromise,” Martinez said.

Martinez also repeated his pro-millennial mantra, saying that Santa Barbara needs to build housing downtown, and that young people don’t mind living in 600 square feet and using Uber to get around.

While Martinez and Hotchkiss threw jabs at each other during the evening, Democrats White, Conklin and Murillo where mostly on the same side. All three drew applause from the crowd at different points of the evening.

When asked if she could govern for everyone, and not just the partisans who agree with her, Murillo responded confidently.

“I have a friendly personality and I bring people together,” she said. “People do see me as mayoral.”

Murillo advocated for more affordable housing in Santa Barbara.

“It takes political courage in this town to build housing,” Murillo said.

Murillo said she would bring “responsive and energetic” leadership to City Hall.

She spoke in favor of outdoor personal recreational marijuana cultivation. The new state law that goes into effect Jan. 1 allows people to grow up to six plants of marijuana for personal use, but cities have the power to ban outdoor growth.

“I would like people to grow in their homes,” she said. “It’s a medicine. People should be able to grow inside or outside.”

Murillo said she has “the trust of the people,” because she is hardworking and connected to the community. She said she would focus on job creation, economic development and protecting the character of neighborhoods.

White said he was “the steady hand” at City Hall, and that he represented the preservation values of Pearl Chase. He said that in addition to bringing housing to the downtown, he envisions turning La Cumbre Plaza into a mixed use mall, with commercial, residential and retail.

White said “sticks and bricks retail” is in a tailspin throughout the world.

“I will set the table for repurposing State Street, for taming AUD (the city’s high-density housing program), all the while protecting Santa Barbara’s protective charm.”

Conklin said Santa Barbara needs to build housing downtown.

Conklin said he would do three things if elected mayor: Make Santa Barbara the environmental capital of the world; create a 20-year economic plan focused on the environment; and return power to the residents.

“I’d give the power of decision-making back to the people,” Conklin said. “I think the people collectively should make these decisions, not City Council.”

The vote-by-mail election is Nov. 7.

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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