Thursday, February 22 , 2018, 7:33 am | Fair 36º


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Santa Barbara Chamber Endorses Das Williams for Supervisor After Delay Due to Business Pushback

The Chamber of the Santa Barbara Region is sticking with its earlier decision to endorse Das Williams for First District Santa Barbara County supervisor, and made the announcement Thursday after backlash from members and the community.

Das Williams Click to view larger
Das Williams

Williams and Jennifer Christensen are running for the supervisor seat, which covers part of Santa Barbara, Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria, as well as Cuyama.

Williams is a state assemblyman and former Santa Barbara city councilman, and Christensen is the Santa Barbara County investment officer.

The chamber held a candidate forum May 20, and the 19-member board decided to endorse Williams at the regular meeting the following week, said Chamber CEO Ken Oplinger. The members present unanimously voted to endorse Williams.

“I was charged along with a couple of other folks within the organization to write the statement, and we were in the process of doing so when it was unfortunately circulated by someone in draft form,” Oplinger said.

The chamber circulated the draft endorsement for board comments and at the same time released it to each of the campaigns.

Christensen sent out emails quoting a portion of the draft endorsement language telling people she needed their help.

“Our local Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce is considering endorsing Das, even in the face of the $15/hour minimum wage, AB 1513 and AB 2757 (to name three recent pieces of legislation that are absolute deadly for local and California businesses),” she wrote in the email, which was forwarded to Noozhawk by Oplinger.

“Even in the face of a response from SLO and Ventura Chambers of Commerce that this is a bad idea, and the fact that the California Chamber of Commerce consistently rates him as a job killer, the chamber is on the verge of endorsing Das for supervisor.

“If you could send an objection to this endorsement, it might help change their minds. No good can come of this.”

The chamber held off on the endorsement and fielded comments from members and the community over the last week, Oplinger said.

Oplinger, and the chamber in its endorsement statement, said many of the comments came from non-members, and less than 1.5 percent of the membership contacted the chamber about the decision.

Jennifer Christensen Click to view larger
Jennifer Christensen

This week, the board held an hour-long conference call, and the board decided not to vote again, so the endorsement went forward – five days before the election.

“In light of the feedback received from the Christensen campaign and her supporters, the board revisited the endorsement to see if any new information had come out that would cause the board members to reconsider the endorsement decision,” a board member, who asked to remain anonymous, told Noozhawk .

“There wasn’t any new information so the board stood by its original decision to endorse Das.”

The chamber endorsement statement released Thursday is tepid at best, and starts by listing the ways Williams is not an ideal candidate for chamber support.

He has a low rating from the California Chamber of Commerce for his legislative platform, it states.

“At the state level, he has too frequently voted in ways that have been detrimental to business, including supporting the elimination of redevelopment agencies (an invaluable tool for urban planning and business investment), raising the minimum wage and supporting several measures that increase the costs of doing business in California,” reads the second paragraph of the endorsement.

“Mr. Williams is also far less concerned about supporting the county’s energy sector than we like,” it continues.

In the plus column for Williams is his opposition to Measure B, the defeated 2009 building-height initiative in the city of Santa Barbara, supporting a tip credit in California, and his promises to support more infrastructure spending, addressing pension costs and streamlining the planning process.

The line in the sand appears to be the Highway 101 widening project.

Williams “has for years expressed his clear and unequivocal support,” while Christensen’s conditions to move forward would cause further delay and cost for the project, according to the chamber endorsement.

Scroll down to read the full Chamber endorsement.

“I was, to say the least, very surprised,” said Paradise Café owner Randy Rowse, who is a chamber member and city councilman.

As a chamber member, he said, he was disappointed in the decision to endorse Williams.

“I asked to chamber not to endorse if they couldn’t back Jen because to put Das’ name in with the business community, I just don’t think it’s a very good representation of what the membership of the chamber thinks it should be doing,” he said.

“The endorsement is baffling, because when you look at the California Chamber of Commerce, out of 80 Assembly members, they ranked Das third from the bottom in support of small business,” said Bruce Giffin, co-founder of Giffin & Crane general contractors in Santa Barbara. 

“As a small business operator, we need all the help we can get,” he said.

The 30-year-old company isn’t currently a chamber member – though Giffin has been on the board in the past – and Giffin said this decision means the company won’t be rejoining the chamber.

“We haven’t felt that it’s been relevant, and this proves the point,” he said.

The neighboring Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce has been fielding feedback from members angry that a business organization would lend its support to Williams, and chamber president and CEO Kristen Miller said she understands the concerns.

“The Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce has a long history of advocacy and of endorsing and promoting candidates for office,” she said in an email to Noozhawk.

“We handle our endorsements in a very systematic, transparent process, and our public policy committee meets personally with the candidates who request our endorsement. In addition, we have a policy platform that guides our decisions and our mission focuses our efforts on pro-business candidates only.

“This year, we chose not to endorse First and Fourth district candidates only because those supervisors are not who our chamber would call first if there were a Board of Supervisors or county issue we needed to address.”

COLAB executive director Andy Caldwell said the move is a “betrayal of the business community,” and he has been calling the fallout for the last week “the chamber death watch” on his radio show.

“To vote for this guy that has one of the most abysmal records in the whole Assembly, as rated by the Cal Chamber of Commerce, and for them to endorse him over that is politically tone deaf,” Caldwell said.

Full Chamber endorsement statement:

There are two good candidates competing to serve as the First District Supervisor: Das Williams, a one-time Santa Barbara City Councilmember and currently member of the State Assembly, and Jennifer Christensen, the County's Investment Officer.  We were pleased to host both at a recent forum on May 20th, where both candidates provided clear answers on a number of issues affecting the business community.

Volunteer leaders here at the Chamber have looked at the records of both candidates.   In 2014, Das Williams agreed with the position of the California Chamber of Commerce 29% of the time.  In 2015, that support dropped to 15%.  At the state level he has too frequently voted in ways that have been detrimental to business, including supporting the elimination of redevelopment agencies (an invaluable tool for urban planning and business investment), raising the minimum wage and supporting several measures that increase the costs of doing business in California.

Mr. Williams is also far less concerned about supporting the County's energy sector than we would like.  While there are some examples of efforts to work with this important sector of our economy, like the Tranquillion Ridge deal, these have been few and far between.

At the same time, we do see promising signs that Mr. Williams is open-minded when it comes to issues of concern to the local business community.  For example, he helped defeat Measure B in 2009, an anti-business and poor planning measure for downtown Santa Barbara; he has been a full-throated supporter of allowing tip credit in California; and has helped a number of small industries, including the craft beer industry, to break down barriers for their businesses.

Ms. Christensen is admirably making her first attempt at public office, and thus doesn't have a voting record to examine.  Yet, she has unambiguously offered her support for many issues of importance to the business community, including the need for better fiscal management at the County and investing in County infrastructure.  She presents herself as a strong fiscal conservative, who would provide a vote in favor of many of the things the business community wants to see from County government.

But as we look at the priorities of the Chamber of Commerce of the Santa Barbara Region, there is one issue that is important across every business sector: the rapid completion of the Highway 101 widening project.  On this important issue, Mr. Williams has for years expressed his clear and unequivocal support.  Ms. Christensen's position is well intentioned but comes with too many conditions to an already well-considered plan, and will lead to further delay - and cost - of this urgent matter.

While we see merit with both of these candidates, we believe that Das Williams is the better choice for this seat in Santa Barbara County at this time.  For certain the Chamber wishes to see Mr. Williams place a higher priority on helping make our business community the best it can be, as our regional quality of life depends upon a healthy economy just as much as a healthy environment or good schools.  We offer this endorsement as a means of expressing our belief that he has been and will continue to be a strong and effective voice for solutions to a myriad of government practices and regulatory challenges.

We take Mr. Williams at his word when he states that he is committed to supporting more robust infrastructure spending and investment, addressing unfunded liabilities such as astronomical pension obligations (both without simply calling for additional taxation) and streamlining a difficult and unnecessarily arcane planning, development and environmental review process.  We believe he is a leader we can work with and, in the long run, is the business community's best choice in 2016.

Finally, we issue this endorsement after some unfortunate events.  An early draft of this statement that was released out of courtesy was abridged by others and circulated as a means of trying to stop the Chamber from taking this action.  Over the week that has passed, the Chamber heard from some people expressing their opposition to the endorsement, that number totaling less than 1.5% of our membership.  In response, we delayed issuing this position while our staff engaged with many of these individuals, and the matter was reconsidered by the Board again earlier this week.  The result of that process was the Board again agreeing that endorsing Das Williams is in the best interests of our membership and the business community.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli 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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