Friday, April 20 , 2018, 3:25 pm | Fair 63º


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Santa Barbara City Council’s District 3 Election Could Be Won with Just a Few Hundred Votes

3 Westside Democrats — but just one with the party’s endorsement and that of Mayor Cathy Murillo — vie for the seat along with an SBCC student

The intersection of San Andres and Micheltorena streets is one of the busy commercial hubs of Santa Barbara’s Westside, and an area that the District 3 City Council candidates would like to pay attention to if elected. Click to view larger
The intersection of San Andres and Micheltorena streets is one of the busy commercial hubs of Santa Barbara’s Westside, and an area that the District 3 City Council candidates would like to pay attention to if elected. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Westside Santa Barbara residents will choose a new City Council member to represent them in the June 5 election, in what is shaping up to be one of the more intriguing council contests in recent memory.

Four candidates are vying for the District 3 seat on the council that was vacated when Councilwoman Cathy Murillo was elected mayor in November.

The candidates are Oscar Gutierrez, Elizabeth Hunter, Ken Rivas and Michael Vidal, all Westside residents as required by the city’s district elections system.

The seventh council member could wield a significant swing vote role.

Throughout 2018, the council has met nearly every Tuesday with only six members, not an ideal situation when trying to craft public policy.

The winner of the District 3 seat could triumph with just a few hundred votes, since only voters of the district can cast ballots in the special election.

When Murillo won the seat in 2015, she received 941 votes with three candidates in the race. In that election, 1,506 people voted.

The Santa Barbara City Council district elections map. A special election is scheduled June 5 to fill the vacant District 3 seat. Click to view larger
The Santa Barbara City Council district elections map. A special election is scheduled June 5 to fill the vacant District 3 seat. (City of Santa Barbara photo)

With four candidates on the ballot, it could take even fewer votes to win the seat. As of November 2017, there were 4,927 registered voters in District 3, according to the City Clerk’s Office.

Although the City Council is officially a nonpartisan body, Murillo has already endorsed Gutierrez and lobbied hard for the Democratic Party of Santa Barbara County to endorse him, too. The party complied with a unanimous endorsement on March 1.

Rivas, a longtime Democratic Party volunteer for candidates such as Murillo, Santa Barbara County Supervisor Das Williams and state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, also filled out the endorsement application and was interviewed by the party, but did not get the backing.

Vidal, who boldly states that he is “a registered Democrat” on his campaign website, didn’t fill out an endorsement application or attempt to get an interview.

Hunter, a Santa Barbara City College student, could not be reached for comment for this article.

Oscar Gutierrez

Gutierrez, 34, works as a producer for TVSB, a nonprofit community access channel. The station features several shows about local politics, and Gutierrez said he’s been staying in touch with local issues by listening to the programs.

Born and raised on the Westside, Gutierrez still lives in the house he grew up in. He has taken care of his disabled mother since his father died in 2011.

Gutierrez said he got his will and work ethic from his parents — his dad, a janitor and gardener, and his mother a housekeeper.

Oscar Gutierrez Click to view larger
Oscar Gutierrez (Gutierrez family photo)

“They couldn’t afford babysitters so they would take me to work with them,” he said.

He said he learned how to mow lawns in the mornings with his dad and vacuum in the evenings with his mother.

Gutierrez and his sister would sit on top of the vacuum cleaners while his mom pushed them, he said.

He said he was surprised to earn the Democratic Party’s endorsement for the race. Even though he said he has always “voted Democratic,” he only formally registered as a Democrat in late January, after the City Council decided to hold a special election instead of making an appointment to fill the vacant seat.

Gutierrez said he previously was registered as a “decline to state” voter and was embarrassed to learn he hadn’t been a registered Democrat all these years.

With a goal of raising $30,000 for his campaign, Gutierrez said he plans to launch a website soon and looks forward to knocking on more doors.

He said his top issues in the campaign will be affordable housing, the environment and economic growth.

“Everyone who is running is a good person,” Gutierrez said.

Ken Rivas

Rivas was born and raised in Santa Barbara, attending Franklin School, Santa Barbara Junior High School and Santa Barbara High School. He spent the early part of his life on the Eastside.

He has volunteered with neighborhood groups on both the Eastside and Westside, and canvassed and phone-banked on behalf of Democratic Party candidates.

District elections, Rivas said, are perfect for someone like him, because they removed the barrier of having to raise tens of thousands of dollars for a successful campaign.

“In my mind, it’s anybody’s race,” said Rivas, 57. “Before district elections, someone like me was far-fetched. This is a good opportunity for me to become involved in the community.”

Rivas works as part of the campus safety staff at Goleta Valley Junior High, and was a union organizer and field representative at UC Santa Barbara for about a decade.

Ken Rivas Click to view larger
Ken Rivas (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Regarding city issues, he said he wants to make sure the Average Unit-sized Density Incentive Program “is being followed and serves its purpose of creating affordable housing.”

Rivas said he also wants to improve the sidewalks and create more lighting on San Andres Street.

“Some people might not want to come here because it’s too dark,” he said.

Rivas also sought the Democratic Party endorsement, and said he was disappointed not to get it, even though he has volunteered for Democrats dating to the days when Jack O’Connell represented Santa Barbara in the Legislature.

He felt Murillo locked up the endorsement ahead of time for Gutierrez. He said she even sat next to him at the Democratic Central Committee meeting, after the interviews, but before the vote.

“I need to impress the people on my own merits,” Rivas said. “My campaign is going to be about my experiences in the trenches, in the community. My endorsements are going to come from the voters, not the Democratic Party.”

Michael Vidal

Vidal, a certified financial planner, said the toughest decision he has made so far in the campaign was not to seek the endorsement of the Democratic Party.

He said that when he heard Murillo was endorsing Gutierrez he decided not to spend the “four to six hours on the questionnaire and drive to Buellton” where the party holds the endorsement interviews.

Vidal said candidates seek the party’s endorsement for the resources that come with it, but that his greatest resource is “time” and that he needs to “move as quickly and quietly as possible.”

Michael Vidal Click to view larger
Michael Vidal (Vidal family photo)

He describes himself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal.

“I don’t feel like I fit 100 percent into either bubble,” he said.

Still, Vidal, 37, proudly touts his Democrat label.

His father was from Spain and his mother is Mexican-American, and his parents owned a janitorial business.

“I feel like I am a poster child for the Democratic story,” he said.

Vidal is a partner with Cornerstone Wealth Management Services and touts his business experience.

“I have been in the business of people for 15 years,” said Vidal, who owns a house with his mother in Fresno, where he was registered to vote from 2008 to 2015.

Vidal highlights affordable housing, safety, livability and parking as his core issues, suggesting a combination of angled parking and one-way streets to help solve parking problems.

He said that during the Thomas Fire he personally handed out hundreds of “air pollution masks” to people in District 3.

                                                                 •        •        •

The June 5 ballot will include numerous Santa Barbara County races, including the contest for Sheriff-Coroner and local measures.

Click here for more information about the District 3 council race from the City Clerk’s Office.

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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