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Two Eastside Santa Barbara Council Candidates Talk Business at Forum

Jason Dominguez and Andria Martinez Cohen answer questions at the Fess Parker Doubletree forum as two of five candidates running for the newly created District 1 City Council seat

Santa Barbara City Council candidates for the Eastside neighborhood, District 1, include Jason Dominguez, left, and Andria Martinez Cohen, right. Milpas Community Association president Alan Bleecker moderated Thursday’s forum.
Santa Barbara City Council candidates for the Eastside neighborhood, District 1, include Jason Dominguez, left, and Andria Martinez Cohen, right. Milpas Community Association president Alan Bleecker moderated Thursday’s forum. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Come this January, Santa Barbara’s Eastside will get its own representative on the City Council.

Two of the five candidates vying for that spot met up Thursday night in forum put on by six business groups and led by the Milpas Community Association.

Called “One Very Important Debate,” Jason Dominguez and Andria Martinez Cohen answered questions about the future of Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone, whether to raise the minimum wage and how to contend with the city’s homeless problems. 

It was polite and cordial, with both candidates displaying a sunny disposition and often agreeing with each other.

Candidate Jacqueline Inda was supposed to attend the event, but pulled out a day prior, according to the MCA. 

Candidates Cruzito Herrera Cruz and Michael Merenda were not invited to the event because they have not raised at least $2,500, the standard created by the MCA for candidates to participate.

The forum at Fess Parker's Doubletree Hilton Resort was moderated by Alan Bleecker, president of the Milpas Community Association. About 50 people attended, including representatives from the MCA, Santa Barbara Association of Realtors, the Santa Barbara Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, The Chamber of the Santa Barbara Region, The Greater Santa Barbara Lodging and Restaurant Association and Downtown Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara is moving from at-large to district elections this November as the result of settling a lawsuit that alleged Santa Barbara’s elections were racially polarizing and, as a result, Latinos were underrepresented on the council.

Both candidates spoke mostly in generalities throughout the event, focusing more on their credentials and background than on specific solutions to many of the Eastside and Santa Barbara’s problems.

Martinez Cohen said she would “work together” with the council to raise revenues to pay for unfunded infrastructure needs. Dominguez was specific on that issue, saying he believes a bond measure or a special tax is the best way to fund a new police station, while blaming Gov. Jerry Brown for taking away redevelopment agency funding.

On the question of whether to raise the city’s minimum wage, however, Dominguez was cautious, saying “we definitely have to study the issue. We have to tread very carefully.”

Martinez Cohen said, “In general, I support a raise in the minimum wage.”

On the controversial issue of a business improvement district on the Eastside, Martinez Cohen said that any assessment to improve the business climate on the Milpas Street corridor needs to come up organically from the people, and not from the top down. She also criticized the city of Santa Barbara for not doing more to stimulate Milpas Street.

“There is a lack of economic development and direction coming from the city,” Martinez Cohen said.

On the issue of density in the neighborhoods, Dominguez said he would encourage more car sharing and bicycle riding to alleviate the traffic and parking problems created by high density housing projects.

Martinez Cohen said she would like the Eastside to have a combination of commercial and residential development. 

“Affordable housing is a huge issue and would be a real focus of mine,” she said.

In response to a question about the opportunities and challenges of the Funk Zone, Martinez Cohen called the area unique. 

“Unique would be the No. 1 word I would use to describe the Funk Zone," she said, without identifying the big-ticket matters that have frustrated Funk Zone businesses.

As the Funk Zone has ballooned in popularity, so have the problems with a lack of parking, and increasing tension between the artisans and craftspeople that once dominated the area who now have to compete for business with the proliferation of trendy restaurants and boutique wine-tasting shops in the area.

Dominguez joked that the biggest problem in the Funk Zone is not enough space at the community table at the restaurant The Lark, before tackling the real issue.

“Parking is probably the No. 1 issue there,” he said.

Santa Barbara will hold its district City Council elections Nov. 3 this year and three of the six newly-created district seats will be on the ballot including the Eastside (District 1), Westside (District 3) and Mesa (District 2) neighborhoods. 

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.

The new election map adopted by the Santa Barbara City Council splits the city into six districts, each electing a seat on the seven-member council. The mayor’s seat will still be chosen at-large. Click to view larger
The new election map adopted by the Santa Barbara City Council splits the city into six districts, each electing a seat on the seven-member council. The mayor’s seat will still be chosen at-large.  (City of Santa Barbara photo)

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