Tuesday, March 20 , 2018, 10:46 pm | Overcast 55º


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Santa Barbara Council Hopefuls Roll Through Presentations

With a deadline looming and 46 applicants to consider, the City Council will begin deliberations; use Noozhawk's poll to make your pick

With the clock ticking on decision time to select a new seventh member, the Santa Barbara City Council spent Tuesday night hearing presentations from 46 applicants.

The seat was left vacant by newly elected Assemblyman Das Williams, who was sworn into office on Monday, kicking off the 30-day deadline outlined in the city’s charter, according to City Manager Jim Armstrong. An appointment requires five of the six votes, a breadth of consensus tricky in any issue for this particular council.

The city charter does not, however, provide for what happens if the council can’t make a decision, Armstrong said. Some cities would hold a special election, but that option probably sits somewhere between highly unlikely and ridiculous, as it would cost about $300,000 and take several months to organize.

In the meantime, as many as three council members can meet with individual applicants to talk about city issues and the value the person would bring to the position. Some of the 46 candidates already have done so.

Tuesday night’s four-minute individual presentations came and went with no questions or feedback from council members, which made the evening seem like a one-way speed-dating event. Of course, choosing an individual for this position will result in more than one awkward date if it’s not a good fit.

The council can’t deliberate in private, so its first opportunity to discuss its many options is next Tuesday’s meeting. The appointee could throw the General Plan update discussion one way — or want to pursue a whole new direction — and serve as a balancing or unbalancing power among the ideologically split panel.

For many issues, votes are split between the more progressive side — with Mayor Helene Schneider, Councilman Grant House and, previously, Williams — and the more conservative side — with Councilmen Dale Francisco and Frank Hotchkiss and Councilwoman Michael Self. Francisco and Williams would famously get into one-on-one debates on a multitude of issues, more so than any of the other members.

Councilman Bendy White, a former member of the Planning Commission who was elected last November with Hotchkiss and Self, has a voting record that is more unpredictable. He seems to take each issue under consideration individually.

And none of that is lost on the applicants. As attorney David Hughes put it, the council needs seven members for next year’s decisions — which will require a majority vote.

“I applied because I believe, perhaps naively so, I would be acceptable to both sides of the proverbial aisle,” Hughes said.

To make any movement on “stalemated” issues, a new kind of member needs to be elected, according to Planning Commissioner John Jostes. They need to “see differences as problems to be solved, not battles to be won,” he said.

The levels of related experience range from first-time applicant for the post to formerly holding the position for multiple terms, so the question must be asked: Do unknowns stand a chance?

It became clear from Tuesday’s presentations that most of the applicants’ motivations are either civic and/or born of frustration with the way the city is being run, particularly with the polarization of the council on major efforts such as Plan Santa Barbara.

“City government is not about political parties; it’s about what is best for the city from the ground up,” Bonnie Raisin said. It was a sentiment echoed by many other applicants.

Each City Council member is paid $40,000 a year, plus benefits, and the mayor makes $50,000 a year.

Those who have experience in planning, government and related fields argued that their knowledge would help them beat the learning curve and get to tough decisions faster and more informed, while nongovernment types said their particular work and personal experience would help bring a much-needed fresh perspective to city issues.

With Latino/a and Chicano/a individuals making up 32 percent of the city’s population, that accounts for 2.24 of the seven council seats, according to Cruzito Herrera Cruz. He said there currently aren’t any representatives from that demographic, which shows in the decisions that are made.

For the upcoming General Plan decisions, there are land-use experts. For the ongoing city budget cuts, there are accountants, former CFOs, small-business owners, attorneys and finance managers.

Experience is abundant in dozens of career pathways, but applicants unanimously advocated their ability to work with people on all sides of an issue to reach a consensus.

There were basically three types of applicants: those who advocate representation for a certain demographic, those who advocate representation for a certain issue, and those who advocate their own decision-making skills and experience and will (for the most part) be glad to leave come the next Election Day.

Most of the 46 contenders fall into the latter category, including former mayors and council members who say they would fill in without ambition and with experience that almost eliminates the learning curve.

“I have no desire to be mayor again. The mayor gets blamed for everything that goes wrong,” Sheila Lodge said lightheartedly.

Also among the applicants are failed candidates from previous elections, members of local boards and commissions, businesspeople, civic-minded residents and, to round out the group, a recent San Marcos High School graduate.

At age 18, Diego Torres-Santos is a youth intern on the Parks and Recreation Commission, a member of the Santa Barbara Youth Council and otherwise is involved with his alma mater and community at large.

He spoke of the need to gain the perspective on young people on long-range planning issues, as well as the problems among the community’s youths, including gangs and suicide.

The City Council will first publicly deliberate its choices next Tuesday. While six of the 46 were considered invalid, many have tried to make their case and were allowed to make presentations on Tuesday.

About half of the candidates participated in a forum held in the Faulkner Gallery on Sunday. Click here to view video of the event, provided by Larry Nimmer.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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