Wednesday, May 23 , 2018, 1:25 pm | Overcast 63º


Local News

Public Safety Top Concern Among Santa Maria Council Candidates

Two incumbents and three challengers are running for seats in the Nov. 4 election

Two incumbents on the Santa Maria City Council will face three challengers — including a familiar face plus two newcomers — in the Nov. 4 election, where public safety remains a top priority and the handling of an immigration facility continues to stir up strong feelings.

Four-year terms held by Jack Boysen and Willie Green are up grabs this year. Also running are Etta Waterfield, Tony Coles and Amy Lopez.

The top two vote-getters will win the seats and take office in early December.

Boysen, 65, is seeking his second term on the council and said he first ran for office amid concerns about the city’s direction.

“Our police department, quite honestly, was in chaos,” Boysen said, adding that morale was at an all-time low, training was inadequate and positions weren’t being filled so he provided a strong voice for voices in public safety. “Public safety, even in economic downturns, that has to be our last cut. We really have to ensure that this is a safe city.”

Now, morale is improved, new fire stations are staffed, many police officers have been hired and a new chief has changed the tone of the department, he added.

Boysen also said he hopes to see the city’s permitting process streamlined.

“We need to make it business-friendly, not just lip service,” he said.

Challenges facing Santa Maria include public safety although Measure U, a sales tax hike to benefit public safety, is a big help.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the city of Santa Maria become much more community police oriented,” he said, adding that the city has some work to do when it comes to community development and business development. “I’d like to see us do an overhaul of our Downtown Specific Plan.”

He said that after seven years without action, the city needs to look at the realities of what developers are willing to create in the area.

He is chief financial officer for Good Samaritan Services. Prior to that, Boysen operated a general construction business and worked at a bank. He and his wife of 40 years have two grown daughters and four grandchildren.

Coles, 45, is a business consultant and legal mediator who said people should vote for him for a couple of reasons.

“It comes down to recognizing the city is in need of new leadership and a change of direction,” Coles said, adding that to continue to operate as the city has been in recent years would cause some “pretty significant trouble.”

Additionally, he said, the city’s leaders need to bring together a “very fragmented” community as it faces challenges in the future.

“Number one, public safety has to be strong,” Coles said. “Not only do we need more feet on the  street and more staff, but we need to develop programs that bridge the gap between the community and our public safety departments.”

Santa Maria also must implement strategic plans and execute the points in that document, he added.

“Right now, our plan is expired. It’s old,” Coles said, adding the community doesn’t agree with it and it’s not been successful. 

The cornerstone of the strategic plan has to be nurturing and developing small businesses, not just retail but also entrepreneurs, he added. Additionally, he said, the city should start to plan for the expiration of the voter-approved Measure U. 

Coles also noted Santa Maria is a diverse community, and “we seem to be struggling with embracing that.” 

Regarding the ICE approval, Coles contended the current leaders ignored what local residents wanted.

“In my opinion the leadership has to be responsive to its citizenship,” Coles said. “That means you have to listen to what they’re telling you. And you have to figure out how to put that into action. “

Coles is married and has two children, an 18-year-old and a sixth-grader.

Green, 80, retired from the Air Force after more than 20 years and later from a civilian job as a labor arbitrator in the grocery store industry. He teaches various business courses on a part-time basis at Allan Hancock College.

He is an appointed incumbent, after being named in February 2013 to fill a vacancy created when Councilwoman Alice Patino was elected mayor. He decided to apply after someone suggested he might be good for the position.

“Number one, whatever I’m involved in I’m totally dedicated to the betterment of the business, the city or whatever it is,” Green said. “I go into things with my eyes open to do the best I can for  the particular job or that particular mission.”

He said he is very proud of Santa Maria’s status as an “All-America City.”

“That’s a very important certificate,” he said. “All-America means that we’re all for each other. It should mean that, I’ll put it that way. A lot of us don’t practice that. If everyone cared the same amount about each other, what a magnificent society that would be. That’s the way it should be.”

Among the biggest issues facing the city in the coming years, Green cites unemployment.

“It’s still a problem area,” he said. “Number two, we have got to find a way to curb the violence and horrible incidents in town. There’s a lot of different things we can do on a  regular basis.”

As for the ICE facility, Green said a lot of folks don’t understand how the agency works.

“ICE, I think, is a check and balance situation,” he said. “I’ll just put it at that.”

Green is married and has three sons plus grandchildren.

Lopez, 39, works for Santa Barbara County Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services. She has been employed for the county since 1999 and previously worked for two other agencies, giving her familiarity with managing government-funded programs and budgets.

She said she is a product of Santa Maria after growing up in a working-class family so understands the plight of small business owners and the struggles of keeping people employed.

“I’m not a politician. I am a community advocate and a leader,” the 1993 graduate of St. Joseph High School said. “That’s what this city needs. The city needs somebody who understands and who can relate to the population, to hear them and to take their voice to the City Council and to speak on behalf of them.”

In mentioning public safety as one of the biggest challenges facing the city, she noted the recent string of armed robberies in the city.

“Community safety is huge right now,” she said. “People are afraid.”

The city’s leaders need to do everything within their fiscal abilities to add police officers and enhance public safety because it impacts every aspect of the community, she added.

“People aren’t going to want to come  to a city that appears to be unsafe or unattractive so public safety affects that as well,” she said.

Job growth, business development and affordable housing are other challenges facing the city which she said has a number of vacant buildings.

Lopez said she disagreed with the council’s approval of the ICE facility on West Century Street, explaining she opposed the location.

“The people spoke and they weren’t heard,” she said

She is married and has two stepchildren, a 19-year-old and a 17-year-old.

Waterfield, 58, missed winning a seat on the City Council by two votes in 2012.

“I’m the poster child for every vote counts,” she said.

Most recently, she has worked as executive director of the Santa Maria Police Council and previously worked for the Santa Maria Valley Economic Development Association.

She has spent 11 years as a planning commissioner, which has served as her impetus to move into another role.

“I just want to go up to the next level that will allow me to do more and make other decisions that will impact the city of Santa Maria in a positive way,” she said, adding a desire to make a difference is the driving force behind her candidacy.

Public safety remains a top priority, and her role with the police council has given her a different look inside the city’s operations, she said.

Santa Maria is the largest city on the Central Coast — “with that unfortunately comes good and bad,” she said, including a rise in crime.

“We’ve got to make sure that the men and women are well-equipped to handle all of those issues,” she added. “We need more boots on the ground.”

Another priority is related to the housing market in the city where some residential developments stalled by the economic downturn have restarted. 

“I want to make sure the people who live in those houses have a job to go to every day,” she added.

As a planning commissioner who reviewed the Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility she said the panel’s members were tasked with looking at permitting and zoning matters to make a recommendation to the City Council and had to remove emotions from the decision.

She and her husband have three children and eight grandchildren.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully 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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