The Santa Barbara City Council candidates participating in Wednesday night’s forum include, clockwise from top center, Meagan Harmon, Zach Pike, Nina Johnson, Kristen Sneddon, Jason Carlton and Barrett Reed.
The Santa Barbara City Council candidates participating in Wednesday night’s forum include, clockwise from top center, Meagan Harmon, Zach Pike, Nina Johnson, Kristen Sneddon, Jason Carlton and Barrett Reed.

Santa Barbara is backpedaling and the quality of life is deteriorating, according to Barrett Reed, one of the candidates for District 4 on City Council, speaking at a forum Wednesday night sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Santa Barbara.

Without naming his opponent, incumbent Kristen Sneddon, Reed talked about the problems and his plan to fix them.

“These past four years have been a true wakeup call,” Reed said. “This is not the Santa Barbara it once was or what it should be. We have this city without vision and without action where it matters the most. We’re a city that has lost its local focus. I have a deep desire to turn our special city around.”

The forum combined all of the candidates, even though they are running in different districts. Reed and Sneddon are battling in District 4. In District 6, incumbent Meagan Harmon is facing challengers Jason Carlton, Nina Johnson and Zachary Pike.

The event was livestreamed on the League of Women Voters’ Facebook page, and it will be available on YouTube.

The candidates answered a wide range of questions on issues such as downtown, State Street, the drought, district elections, equity and more.

The equity question threw candidate Carlton, who had an odd exchange with moderator Claire VanBlaricum. 

The question was: “Do you believe that diversity, equity and inclusion are important for the city, and if so, how should the city promote these values?”

Carlton responded: “Can you clarify what you mean by that question, because it’s vague?” He continued: “You mean as far as … including our Hispanic population and making sure they are part of city jobs, or are we talking about Blacks being part of the city? I don’t understand the question, I guess.”

VanBlaricum said the question was deliberately vague so that the candidates could define it themselves.

“I don’t actually have a good answer for this one, unfortunately,” Carlton said. “I think we do need to be looking at diversity, and I do think we need to be looking at equity for all walks of life. I don’t know how the city incorporates that, though. I am sorry. I don’t have a good answer for you.”

One of his opponents, Pike, also said he wasn’t sure how to answer the question in terms of what the city can do, but offered some general details.

“I have seen over time Santa Barbara has had some gentrification,” Pike said. “It’s directly related to income. It’s a class division. Affordable housing, a living wage are all going to be directly related to this.”

Councilwoman Sneddon, however, said diversity and equity are embedded into the fabric of how she approaches all of her decisions.

“We need to recruit diversity on all of our boards and commissions,” Sneddon said. “We have more women on the water commission now than we did before. I believe that all voices at the table make a better decision in the end.”

Beyond the equity question, most of the comments were conventional stock answers, much of which could be found on their websites, with some of the candidates clearly reading from scripts.

The event did showcase their personalities. Harmon exuded charisma and enthusiasm in her answers. Johnson was more subdued, with a specific focus on reciting her experience. Sneddon came across somewhere in the middle, talking about her accomplishments and background, while also acknowledging a need for improvement. Reed frequently talked about Santa Barbara losing its way because of a lack of leadership.

Sneddon outlined her environmental qualifications, her knowledge of climate change, and her willingness to see problems and take action. She said landlords are partially to blame for vacant storefronts.

“For State Street, we really need to address the vacant storefronts that are merely being held open for hope of higher profit,” Sneddon said. “We just can’t have that blight go on.”

Harmon mentioned a few times that she is a working mother, with another child on the way, and that she is a renter. Most of the people in her District 6 are renters. Harmon also talked about her time working as a humanitarian aid worker, including a year in Afghanistan.

“Representing you, my neighbors, has been the honor of my lifetime,” Harmon said. “I am so proud of what we have accomplished together.”

Harmon has served on the City Council since 2019. She portrayed herself as a quintessential Santa Barbara resident, going to church on Sundays in District 4, going to dinner on the Mesa in District 2 and living the renter’s life.

“Like so many in our district, I am a working mom,” she said. “We rent our home. I know how difficult it is for downtown families to make ends meet. I know those challenges because I live them, too. Soaring rent prices, the housing crunch, tenant protections, the very real fear of eviction, child care infrastructure, economic opportunity, and on and on.”

Harmon is facing a surprise challenge from Johnson, whose first job nearly 25 years ago was for the City of Santa Barbara. Most recently she has worked as a senior assistant to the city administrator. She decided to run for the council because she said she can be more effective in a leadership position than as a city employee.

“Today, our city is at a pivotal moment,” Johnson said. “We’re shaping our future for years to come with this upcoming election. We need strategic changes and a new council dynamic to improve our quality of life and protect what is special about Santa Barbara — the uniqueness and small-town charm.”

All of the candidates answered questions about their thoughts on what they consider the most important issues in their respective districts. 

Sneddon said that fire safety, Measure C money, water infrastructure and revitalizing downtown are among the most important issues.

Her opponent, Reed, said neighborhood preservation was the most important topic in the district. He blasted Senate Bill 9 and Senate Bill 10, two bills recently signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom that would allow more development in neighborhoods. He said he wants Santa Barbara to challenge the new laws.

“L.A. has voted to oppose SB 9 and 10,” Reed said. “Why not Santa Barbara? There’s now a referendum planned for next year.”

Reed, who has raised $161,000, according to the most recent public filings, in his bid for the council seat, attempted to leave the audience with a sense that he would help turn around Santa Barbara economics.

“I am dedicated to bringing businesses and residents back to the heart of our city,” Reed said. “We need to make our downtown clean. We need to make it safe like it used to be.”

The election is Nov. 2.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Joshua Molina

Joshua Molina, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at