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Supervisor Candidates Offer Overlapping Assessments of County Needs During Forum

Third district candidates Joan Hartmann and Bruce Porter debated a handful of county issues during a forum at Isla Vista Elementary School

Bruce Porter and Joan Hartmann, candidates for Third District supervisor in Santa Barbara County, faced off Tuesday night in a forum in Isla Vista, agreeing with each other more often than not. Click to view larger
Bruce Porter and Joan Hartmann, candidates for Third District supervisor in Santa Barbara County, faced off Tuesday night in a forum in Isla Vista, agreeing with each other more often than not. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

Joan Hartmann and Bruce Porter were in agreement as often as not Tuesday night as the two candidates for Third District Santa Barbara County supervisor met in a sparcely attended forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Santa Barbara.

During the one-hour meeting at Isla Vista Elementary School, which preceded a similar forum for the Goleta Water District candidates and a discussion of local ballot measures, Hartmann and Porter diverged on how well county government does its job, but offered overlapping visions of improving behavioral wellness programs and addressing chronic problems in Isla Vista.

The two are seeking to replace Doreen Farr and represent the county’s largest geographic district, which stretches from Isla Vista and Goleta in the south, up to the Santa Ynez Valley in the north and Vandenberg Village to the west.

Although the office is non-partisan, the Third District supervisor is often the swing vote between the traditionally more-conservative North County and the traditionally more-liberal South Coast.

Hartmann draws support mainly from liberal and Democratic quarters, while Porter is backed primarily by conservative and Republican constituencies.

Very few of the 30 or so attendees were students, even though I.V. was one of the key topics of the forum.

Both candidates agreed that the I.V. community is in need of attention, with Hartmann, a former county planning commissioner, stating her support for the community services district that I.V. residents will be voting on in November.

Porter, a current Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District trustee, advocated for a municipal advisory council that would advise county officials on the issues I.V. faces.

“Even though we can’t make it a city, let’s treat it like one,” Porter said.

Both backed the idea of creating some sort of neighborhood restorative justice process for I.V. residents who commit relatively minor offenses such as drinking in public.

Hartmann named safety as her No. 1 I.V. priority, and encouraged the development of greater community policing tactics, like UC Santa Barbara’s UCIV program, where students issue warnings to peers who are on the verge of violating an ordinance or law.

I.V. residents should have more ready access to and knowledge of the county services they receive, Porter said.

Setting I.V. up with a city-like government would facilitate this as well as facilitate I.V.-county communication and improve the flow of services, he said.

Both candidates also agreed on the need to reconstruct how the county addresses behavioral-wellness and mental-health issues.

“Ditto, ditto, ditto” was Porter’s response to Hartmann’s insistence that those suffering from mental health problems be treated by behavioral-wellness programs rather than be stuck in a revolving door of jail time and social services.

“We need to put some more beef into (the county Behavioral Wellness Department) to help those who truly can’t help themselves,” Porter said.

The candidates’ disagreements emerged, however, over how well county government does its job.

Big-time decisions by the Board of Supervisors and county Planning Commission are often rushed and not thought through properly, Porter said.

The supervisors’ 2015 decision to grant certain paid time off to county employees between Christmas and New Years, for instance, wastes money and leaves residents without access to some county services, he argued.

Hartmann took an entirely different perspective.

“In the last eight years, the Board of Supervisors, working together, has made huge progress” since the Great Recession, she said. “Unemployment is down, we enjoy the highest bond rating that is recognized, we have the largest rainy day fund that we’ve ever had.”

The two also diverged, though less strongly, on short-term rentals when a question on balancing regulations with personal freedoms turned to the hot-button topic.

Residents embracing the lucrative opportunities STRs present have led in many cases to considerable neighborhood disruption, Hartmann said, adding that the county needs to develop a new enforcement mechanism for the STR restrictions that exist in many county zoning districts.

Hartmann floated the idea of neighborhood representatives sitting down together to discuss and develop rules for dealing with disruptions.

Though the county should act to prevent disruptions caused by STRs, renting out homes is an important source of revenue for many people, Porter argued.

“I’m not in favor of hammering short-term rentals, I’m not in favor of letting them go wild and free, but there is nuance, and we’re going to have to think our way through that,” he said.

Because none of the original five candidates in the third district race cracked the 50-percent threshold in June’s primary to win the supervisor seat outright, the field was narrowed to just the top-two vote-getters for the Nov. 8 general election.

Hartmann topped that field with 42.8 percent of the vote, with Porter garnering 35.4 percent. Software entrepreneur Jay Freeman finished third, and community activists Karen Jones and Bob Field fourth and fifth, respectively.

The candidates will meet again on Oct. 13 in Isla Vista Theatre 2 at 960 Embarcadero del Norte for a debate hosted by UCSB’s KCSB radio station.​

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman 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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