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Mesa Forum Attracts Candidates, Public For Santa Barbara City Council Contests

Gathering draws hopefuls from all three district races on the ballot; Election Day is Nov. 3

Andria Martinez Cohen addresses the crowd Monday night during a Santa Barbara City Council candidates forum on the Mesa.
Andria Martinez Cohen addresses the crowd Monday night during a Santa Barbara City Council candidates forum on the Mesa. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Nine of the 12 candidates running for a spot on the Santa Barbara City Council gathered on the Mesa Monday night to express their views on everything from affordable housing and the minimum wage to the drought and vacation rentals.

Even though the city this year moved to a district election format, Monday's forum invited all the candidates from three districts to participate and talk mostly about common themes throughout the city. 

About 75 people filled Holy Cross Parish Hall near Cliff Drive. The forum, hosted by Our Mesa Neighborhood Inc. and La Mesa Neighborhood Association, was recorded for a later broadcast on TV Santa Barbara. 

Event organizers put out a name tag for District 3 candidate Sharon Byrne, but she was absent from the meeting.

Two other candidates, Michael Merenda and Robert Burke, will appear on the ballot, but do not appear to be running active campaigns. 

Monday's forum was so large that it lent itself to only fleeting moments of substance from the candidates. Answers were limited to only one minute, leaving candidates typically just enough time to state their credentials before getting cut off.

In what is shaping up to be the most competitive district, Cruzito Herrera Cruz, a perennial candidate, is running against Jacqueline Inda, Andria Martinez Cohen and Jason Dominguez. 

Inda carries the most high-profile name in the race. She was one of the plaintiffs behind the lawsuit that forced the city to adopt district elections.

She also publicly opposed the Milpas Community Association's proposed Eastside Business Improvement District, saying that it was handed down from a small pocket of business interests, setting a dangerous precedent that could lead to gentrification in the working-class business community. 

Inda touted her support for working families, youth programs, a more educated populace, and a way to increase affordable housing.

She supports an increase in the minimum wage to $15, but said that she would work side-by-side with business to construct an ordinance under which their concerns were heard and respected. 

"We have homes that are divided into three or four sections so families can live there," Inda said. "Most of our local families have to move out of the city because they can't afford it."

Mesa neighborhood residents listened to candidates for November’s district City Council elections. Click to view larger
Mesa neighborhood residents listened to candidates for November’s district City Council elections.  (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Inda touted her local roots. She grew up on the Eastside and believes she knows the community better than the other candidates. 

Inda is facing a strong challenge from Martinez Cohen, who moved to Santa Barbara in 2005, but is riding a surge of major endorsements from Democratic party heavy hitters.

She's backed by the Democratic Party, Santa Barbara Board of Education member Monique Limon, county Supervisor Salud Carbajal and the Tri-Counties Central Labor Council.

At the forum she said she is a supporter of affordable housing and higher wages.

"I do support an increase in the minimum wage," Martinez Cohen said. "It's not necessarily a job killer."

The two of them face Dominguez, who likes to tout the fact that he is an attorney, mentioning it a few times Monday night.

Dominguez is a moderate, saying he's endorsed by Democrats and Republicans, and on the council will work to find common ground on issues that matter to all residents citywide.

He's a former prosecutor and county counsel for Santa Barbara County, where he practiced land-use law and litigation.

Dominguez said one of his goals if elected is to help reduce the parking and traffic congestion on the Eastside.

"I would like to encourage more people to walk and bike on the Eastside," Dominguez said. 

He would also like to devote more resources to public safety.

In District 3, incumbent Cathy Murillo, a former journalist, faces Cristina Cardoza and Sharon Byrne.

Murillo touted her focus on alternative transportation, youth programs and affordable housing as part of her accomplishments on the council.

"Crime is down under my watch," Murillo said. "Gang violence is down under my watch."

Cardoso touted her story of rising from a humble background.

"I am the one who worked in the strawberry fields, but I decided that that was not the life I wanted for me or my family," said Cardosa, adding that she was "fully bilingual."

In District 2, where the forum was held, incumbent Randy Rowse is the clear front-runner. Rowse owns The Paradise Cafe in downtown Santa Barbara, and is popular among business owners and in civic circles.

Rowse, a moderate, opposes an increase in the minimum wage. 

"You cannot create the revenues out of nowhere to pay this new wage," said Rowse, adding that business owners should compete among themselves for the best employees, a process that would increase wages for qualified candidates. 

Rowse is running against Luis Esparza and Kathleen Missy McSweeney-Zeitsoff.

The election is Nov. 3, but Santa Barbara holds a vote-by-mail ballot, which will be sent out on Oct. 5. 

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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