Saturday, March 24 , 2018, 7:52 am | Fair 47º


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Santa Barbara Mayoral Candidates Clash at League of Women Voters Forum

Outsider Martinez clashes with Councilman Hotchkiss; Conklin, Murillo and White tout their credentials

The five candidates for mayor of Santa Barbara appeared at a forum Monday night hosted by the League of Women Voters. From left are Hal Conklin, Frank Hotchkiss, Angel Martinez, Cathy Murillo and Harwood ‘Bendy’ White. Click to view larger
The five candidates for mayor of Santa Barbara appeared at a forum Monday night hosted by the League of Women Voters. From left are Hal Conklin, Frank Hotchkiss, Angel Martinez, Cathy Murillo and Harwood ‘Bendy’ White. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Outsider candidate Angel Martinez attempted on Monday night to separate himself from the four current and former council members he is up against in the battle to become Santa Barbara’s next mayor.

Martinez touted his business experience, clashed directly with Councilman Frank Hotchkiss, and sought to portray himself as a savior of the city, at a League of Women Voters candidates forum. 

“If you are happy with everything that is happening in Santa Barbara, you feel that our future is golden, you feel that our $300 million of unfunded pension liability and that $400 million of unfunded infrastructure is perfectly fine, if you like what State Street looks like, if you like the fact that young people can’t find a job here, they can’t buy a condo, a house here, they can’t afford to live here, if you are happy with all that, if you are happy that the median salary of a city employee is $117,000 a year, then please, don’t vote for me, vote for any of these candidates,” Martinez said during his closing statements.

The five mayoral candidates — Martinez, Hotchkiss, Cathy Murillo, Harwood “Bendy” White and Hal Conklin — clashed on a variety of issues during the candidates forum at the First United Methodist Church.

More than 250 people attended the event, which is typically the most high-profile and viewed candidates forum. The event was recorded for later broadcast on TVSB, a local community-access channel.

Martinez attempted to portray himself as the outsider candidate who could bring business leadership to the city.

“If you want change, if you want a future that is collaborative in nature, where vision is what drives us, where we take the best of this community and put it to work for the future of this community, that’s the vote I want from you,” said Martinez, the former CEO and chairman of Deckers.

Downtown disagreement

Hotchkiss and Martinez pointedly disagreed with each other and each referred to the other's statements.

“I don’t agree with the dreary picture Mr. Martinez portrayed because we have had some great successes in recent years,” Hotchkiss said.

After Hotchkiss said that he wanted to bring three or four large tenants, Nike for example, to downtown to help anchor the city’s retail experience, Martinez disagreed, saying that malls are failing all over America partly because of Amazon.

The idea that we can create a mall environment has been disproven,” Martinez said.

When Martinez said that Santa Barbara doesn’t work well with Goleta or other cities on some issues to solve regional problems such as homelessness, Hotchkiss pushed back.

“Mr. Martinez is incorrect, we work well with these groups,” Hotchkiss said.

Hotchkiss and Martinez are wrestling politically over a constituent base that could sway the election: the downtown business community.

Hotchkiss has long been an advocate for restaurants and retail, and in favor of cracking down on aggressive panhandlers in the downtown core.

Still, Martinez has racked up significant community support from business leaders, including the Chamber of Commerce.

Hotchkiss touted his successful efforts to bring cruise ships to Santa Barbara. On the council he was the primary force working with the cruise liners to visit Santa Barbara, generating a “tens of millions of dollars” into the economy.

Looking to draw a contrast between himself and Martinez, Hotchkiss pointed out several city accomplishments under his two terms on the council, including boosting the number of police officers from 126 to 142, stopping the installation of parking meters in a part of downtown, removed RV parking along Cabrillo Boulevard, and halting a plan to install trails in the Douglas Family Preserve on the Mesa.

“I think I have the vision to do it right,” Hotchkiss said.

Santa Barbara is the best small city in America and the city is a jewel, Hotchkiss said.

“The main function of the next mayor is to make sure that jewel remains sparkling and polished,” Hotchkiss said.

Candidates tout experience

Former councilman and mayor Conklin said Santa Barbara has lost its path and needs to return to its values.

“In many ways we are resting on our laurels, and I see many other cities that have passed us by,” Conklin said.

“I believe there is a need for institutional memory at a time when it is disappearing,” Conklin said. “There’s very little institutional memory left.

"The one thing I can bring to the dais is years and years of experience in this community to know how things get done and what it takes to bring people together in this community to get it done.”

Conklin touted his arts background, including efforts to restore the Granada Theatre and save the Arlington Theatre from demolition. He said he helped rebuild Stearns Wharf, and was on the team that built Paseo Nuevo.

“I like to bring people together to get things done,” Conklin said.

Murillo touted her “deep connection to the community,” citing her experience as a former journalist, and her willingness to attend public events and meetings.

“I believe in taking City Hall to the people and making those connections and letting them know that somebody cares about them and I will continue to do that as mayor,” Murillo said.

Murillo said she was an “energetic” candidate, and emphasized her advocacy for affordable housing and gang prevention. She said gang crime in Santa Barbara is down 75 percent, partially because of her community work.

“We need more housing that is affordable,” Murillo said. “The need for affordable housing is critical."

The issues

On the issues, only Hotchkiss was against Measure C, a proposed 1 cent sales tax increase on the November ballot. He said there’s no accountability on how the money would get spent and that it doesn’t have a sunset clause.

All of the candidates except for Hotchkiss seemed to support Santa Barbara acting as an under-the-radar defacto sanctuary city for illegal immigrant families.

While they don’t support the “sanctuary city” designation, they support law enforcement looking the other way and not enforcing federal immigration law.

“I am not for breaking up families needlessly because we as a country failed on our immigration policy,” Martinez said.

Hotchkiss disagreed, saying that “we are nation of laws,” and that we’re “not a haven” for illegal immigrants to come here and take jobs.

All opposed vacation rentals in single-family residential areas, but Martinez said vacation rentals should be allowed where residential and hotels are both allowed.

Many Santa Barbara residents have opposed vacation rentals because they believe out-of-town investors are buying homes that could be used for affordable rental housing in the community. Some opponents also say that vacation renters hold loud parties late into the night and morning and eat up parking spaces on the street for people who live in the community.

Santa Barbara banned vacation rentals in single-family residential areas in 2015. Vacation rentals are allowed in areas where hotels and residential are both permitted, but they must still go through the planning process.

Housing ideas

Candidate White said he wants to bring housing to the downtown core because there’s too much commercial space that isn’t being used. The neighborhoods, he said, cannot sustain high-density apartment projects, because it is “overwhelming."

“On housing, we should take the hippocratic oath: First do no harm,” said White, who has served two terms on the City Council, planning commission and water commission.

He said people living downtown would infuse energy into the area and create a natural constituency for the retail shops there. He also said he is an advocate for rebuilding the city’s infrastructure, and creating more bicycle options for riders.

White said Santa Barbara is on the right track, and that the next mayor should be someone who can combine a historical context with a vision for the future, while approaching decisions with an even temperament.

“We need to protect paradise going forward,” White said.

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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