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Tuesday, March 26 , 2019, 12:25 am | Fair 52º


Westside Candidates Try To Stand Out at Santa Barbara City Council Forum

For the fourth and final time, the four candidates for the Santa Barbara City Council made their cases for why they deserve to represent the Westside during a forum Wednesday night.

Oscar Gutierrez, Elizabeth Hunter, Ken Rivas and Michael Vidal are competing for the District 3 seat that became vacant when Cathy Murillo was elected mayor.

In many instances, the forum offered a lot of the same, with Vidal again talking about walking the streets with the local PTA president, how he once helped a woman claim her husband’s life insurance benefit, and how his mother had four kids and was the “glue” of his family.

Gutierrez, a TVSB producer, repeated his catch phrase, “I am from the Westside and for the Westside,” while continually stressing his local roots, in contrast to Vidal, a financial planner who grew up in Fresno.  

Rivas, a campus safety officer and community volunteer, is also a lifelong resident of Santa Barbara. 

Hunter, a Santa Barbara City College student, said people should vote for her because she’s a 22-year-old woman who brings a millennial perspective.

But some of the candidates seemed to finally come out of their shells and go off-script, surprised by the questions posed by moderator Tyler Hayden, news editor at the Santa Barbara Independent.

After Vidal took the microphone and began to answer questions while pacing back and forth in front of the other seated candidates, Rivas, when it was his turn, said: “I’ll stand back here. I am not gonna try to grandstand or anything.”

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

Vidal’s manner and delivery has irked the other candidates on the campaign trail. Standing 6 foot, 5 inches tall, Vidal speaks in Ted Talk-like fashion, and asked the audience questions again Wednesday night: “How many of you know what it’s like to have two jobs?” and “How many of you work on Tuesdays at 2 p.m.?”

Although it is his attempt to engage the crowd, he carries himself with an air of aloofness and a politician’s veneer.

He did become noticeably agitated when asked why he has never voted in a Santa Barbara election. Vidal didn’t answer the question, but instead pointed to his participation in the Legal Aid Foundation, his work on behalf of seniors, and “sticking up for the underdog.”

By contrast, Gutierrez comes across as authentic, but less informed on some of the issues. He was caught flat-footed Thursday when asked about the future of the Tajiguas landfill.

“The location of the landfill was not ideal in the first place,” Gutierrez said. “It’s too close to the ocean. We’re gonna have to look at new places to take our trash.”

Elizabeth Hunter Click to view larger
Elizabeth Hunter (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

He made no mention of the proposed Resource Recovery Project and anaerobic digester facility at the site to extend the life of the landfill, and the controversy surrounding the cost, litigation and potential environmental impacts of the project.

Rivas was equally flummoxed by the question, saying: “We’re losing a lot of money where it’s at and it’s not going to get any better.”

By contrast, Hunter acknowledged the project and said she supported the trash-to-energy proposal. She added that she has toured Tajiguas and said “it is one of the best landfills in the country.” 

Vidal suggested that the city lacked expertise on Tajiguas.

“We need to have a special department that knows about dumping waste to make sure we are as efficient as possible,” Vidal said.

Vidal also said he supported the city’s 2015 decision to hire an outside consulting firm to manage the Santa Barbara Municipal Golf Course. The Service Employees International Union Local 620 opposed the decision, and the union’s workers were reassigned to other parks jobs or offered chances to interview with the new company.

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

Rivas and Gutierrez opposed the privatization of the golf course workers.

Gutierrez said that city employees are paid a “living wage” and that they typically live in the community, while no one knows where the outside consultant’s employees might come from.

Rivas said: “We have a good staff at the city. I don’t think we need more consultants or analysts.”

Although Gutierrez boosted some city workers, he criticized the city’s television and web departments.

Gutierrez is a videographer and community access television producer at TVSB

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

“The city’s website is not user friendly,” Gutierrez said. He said the city should be an educational outlet for the community and that the two-minute videos developed to show people how to start a business are too short.

He also said there’s a disconnect between the current staff and potential technology capabilities.

Gutierrez also said he was in favor of parking meters and paid parking permit program to help generate revenue for the city.

Gutierrez also fielded a question on whether he could be independent from the Santa Barbara County Democratic Party and Cathy Murillo, who have endorsed him and are working hard to get him elected. Murillo also gave his campaign $5,000.

“I’ve always been an independent thinker,” he said. “My loyalty will always be to the residents.”

Hunter, who said she was making presentations about her council run to La Cumbre Junior High School students, made a case that she was most qualified because of her age and perspective.

She said students are used to working full-time jobs while going to school.

“I am a female and we are underrepresented,” she said. “I represent the generation that will inherit this city.”

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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