Saturday, October 20 , 2018, 1:35 pm | Fair 86º

 
 
 
 

Santa Barbara City Council Race: 8 Candidates Battle in 3 District Elections

Neighborhoods, housing and State Street dominate the conversation among hopefuls

Eight people are running for three seats on the Santa Barbara City  Council — in three separate districts. They are, clockwise from upper left, Eric Friedman, Gregg Hart, Jim Scafidi, Warner McGrew, Jack Ucciferri, Aaron Solis, Jay Higgins and Kristen Sneddon. Click to view larger
Eight people are running for three seats on the Santa Barbara City Council — in three separate districts. They are, clockwise from upper left, Eric Friedman, Gregg Hart, Jim Scafidi, Warner McGrew, Jack Ucciferri, Aaron Solis, Jay Higgins and Kristen Sneddon.

No matter what happens on Nov. 7, the city of Santa Barbara is going to see some new blood.

City residents will elect a new mayor, in one of the most intriguing mayoral elections in the modern era. No single candidate has a clear path to the city's top ceremonial spot.

And we're going to see new council members in at least two of the three district races on the ballot. Two of the contests, District 4 and District 5, do not include an incumbent.

The council contests are a bit of a mystery. It's the first time since Santa Barbara adopted district elections in 2015 that an election coincides with an at-large mayoral race.

No one is quite sure what the voter turnout will be and whether the old strategy of locking up key endorsements, raising lots of money, and knocking on doors is the key to victory. Conventional wisdom says yes. The candidates who raise the most money usually win. Not that great ideas alone don't matter. It's just that money allows candidates to broadcast their ideas to a wider audience and develop name recognition.

Some of the candidates in this race, however, believe that the paradigm has shifted, and the old rules don't apply because of district elections.

Jason Dominguez, for example, two years ago won a seat on the Eastside without the backing of the Santa Barbara County Democratic Party, an upset considering his opponent benefited from a wealth of party resources.

Between now and Nov. 7, everyone who qualified for the ballot by the deadline on Monday, will be knocking on someone's door, talking about preserving neighborhoods, high-density housing, the struggling retail market on State Street, and the future of vacation rentals, among other city issues. 

When you combine the money in the mayor's race with the City Council contests, this election will be the most expensive in Santa Barbara's history, with combined fundraising likely to soar over $500,000.

Along with the 1-percent sales tax increase proposal on the ballot, this year's election could bring some surprises.

District 4

Jay Higgins

A Santa Barbara planning commissioner and longtime planning consultant, Jay Higgins brings the most local government experience into the contest.

Married with two children, Higgins said he is running because he has a “passion for the neighborhoods.” He also wants to help the city become more business-friendly, and streamline some of the permit and development delays that can sometimes sink a project.

He’d like to focus the AUD high-density housing program on the downtown and State Street to “let the neighborhoods breathe.”

A former Republican, Higgins is now a “no party preference” candidate after the election of Donald Trump as president.

“I wanted to eliminate national politics from city politics,” Higgins said.

He is endorsed by Planning Commissioner Addison Thompson and Councilman Randy Rowse. He has raised $20,500.

Kristen Sneddon

The daughter-in-law of the late Tom Sneddon, the former Santa Barbara County district attorney, Kristen Sneddon works as an environmental geology instructor at Santa Barbara City College.

“I am going to knock on every door I possibly can,” Sneddon said. “A lot of people are really concerned about the affordability of homes. I share those concerns.”

Married and the mother of three children, 18, 14 and 9, Sneddon graduated from Santa Barbara High School.

Although she is not endorsed by the Democratic Party brass, Sneddon has received the backing of Mayor Helene Schneider and Councilman Jason Dominguez, as well as Santa Barbara Unified School President Board Chair Kate Parker, county Supervisor Janet Wolf and former Santa Barbara Mayor Sheila Lodge.

She wants to focus on the environment if elected, and help the city meet its "Fossil Free by 2030" goals.

She was energized by the March for Science rallies in April, and she knew then she wanted to make adifference.

“The attack on science is real,” she said.

Sneddon reported no fundraising dollars as of June 30, but said she is actively raising money now for her campaign.

Jim Scafide

Attorney Jim Scafide was elected to the City Council in the city of East Liverpool, Ohio, as an 18-year-old. He served two terms and then was elected mayor at 26.

He’s lived in Santa Barbara since 2008, although he also lived in the city and attended Santa Barbara City College in the early 1980s.

He said he decided to run for City Council because “the events of Donald Trump” inspired me.

His years of governing, he said, are an invaluable asset.

“I can work with people. I understand the issues. I am really talented at bringing people together,” he said.

Scafide was endorsed by the Santa Barbara County Democratic Party in March, and said he would not have run for the office if he didn’t get the party’s endorsement.

Scafide’s office is on State Street, and he said he wants to revitalize downtown.

“I know how important a downtown is to a community.” Scafide has raised $25,400.

District 5

Warner McGrew

Former Santa Barbara City Fire Chief Warner McGrew is looking to return to City Hall after more than a decade since he retired.

McGrew, whose son, Sgt. Mike McGrew, was a longtime Santa Barbara police officer, said he wants to help the city set goals and plan for the future.

The city, he said, has lost track of the importance of visioning.

“I think there’s a sense of complacency at the city,” he said. “We need a defined direction and vision of where we are going. Everyone needs to know which way we are pulling the rope.”

McGrew wants to make sure Santa Barbara continues to be a great place to live for his great-grandchildren.

McGrew said experience in the city of Santa Barbara matters.

He has has some big-ticket endorsements from the Santa Barbara Police Officers Association, the Santa Barbara County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, former councilman Dale Francisco and current Councilman Randy Rowse.

“We need to bring people together to solve problems,” McGrew said. He has raised about $12,000.

Eric Friedman

Eric Friedman spent nearly 15 years as a staffer for former First District County Supervisor Salud Carbajal and his predecessor, Naomi Schwartz.

“I really want to provide a voice for working families,” Friedman said. “I am excited about this opportunity.”

Friedman said he plans to model his public service on that of his mentor, Carbajal. He said he wants to be a responsive public official and provide an “open and transparent government.”

Friedman is married and has two children and said he wants to focus on neighborhood parks, affordable housing, environmental sustainability and the backlog in infrastructure.

A lot of attention has been focused on State Street, but Friedman said he also wants the city to take a close look at La Cumbre Plaza and address the vacancies in the mall.

Friedman has a long list of endorsements from politicos, including county Supervisor Janet Wolf, Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, and groups such as the county Democratic Party, UCSB campus Democrats, and Tri-County Building Trades. Friedman has raised $52,000.

District 6

Gregg Hart

The longest-serving member on the council, Gregg Hart would be serving his fourth term on the City Council if re-elected.

He served for eight years in the 1990s and 2000s, took a break, and then returned four years ago.

Hart, who is also a public information officer for the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, brings historical context and years of decision-making to the council.

Hart said he wants to continue his focus on workforce housing, city infrastructure and alternative transportation.

With heavy name recognition and backing by most of the political movers-and-shakers in the community, Hart is feeling good about his chances. For one, he’s raised more than $100,000 for the seat.

“It’s a demonstration of my commitment to the race,” Hart said. “I am taking the race very seriously, and I am knocking on doors, which is the most important part.”

Hart has raised $101,600

Jack Ucciferri

A Realtor, Jack Ucciferri said he’s running to help modernize Santa Barbara and get the decision-makers focused on the next generation of millennials.

Ucciferri is married, with a 17-month-old child, and he wants to make Santa Barbara a place where biking and walking are safe and convenient. He has proposed closing part of State Street to cars to make it a large area for pedestrians. He's also an advocate for short-term vacation rentals. He was forced to close his "Our Town" short-term vacation rental business when the city banned vacation rentals in most residential zones in 2016.

Ucciferri is a self-professed fan of Bernie Sanders, and believes that a guy like him, outside of the political machine in Santa Barbara, can win through hard-work and determination.

He didn’t get the Democratic Party endorsement, and felt as though the group was already committed to Hart, but he’s not worried about it.

“Connecting with voters is what matters most,” he said. “If I can energize the younger voters to come out and vote, I can get a strong turnout.”

With all the money Hart raised, Ucciferri wonders if the incumbent is going to stay in office for the full-term if he is re-elected.

“I care about this district, and I care about it right now,” Ucciferri said.

Ucciferri plans to raise money for the seat, but did not report any fundraising dollars as of June 30.

Aaron Solis

Aaron Solis is a late-entry into the race. He’s the activities director and boys' golf coach at San Marcos High School.

Solis plans an unconventional campaign; he’s not going to raise any money to win a seat.

“I am running a grassroots campaign, and I am going in without an agenda,” he said.

Solis said party politics have ruined people’s ability to make good decisions based on what’s best for the community.

A renter, Solis said he wants more workforce housing options in the city, but questions why the city’s AUD program only requires one off-street parking space per unit.

“They are grossly underestimating the number of people who drive cars,” Solis said. “Where are all these cars going to park?”

If elected, he promises to to look at the issues from a pragmatic perspective and see “both sides.”

He’s troubled by the amount of money that Hart has raised for the campaign.

“That just doesn’t make sense to me,” Solis said. “That is not what politics should be about.”

Solis believes door-to-door campaigning is his ticket to City Hall.

Here's a city map of the districts:

Here's a breakdown of districts by specific street boundary:

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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