In the first bid to represent Santa Maria’s northwest neighborhoods, four candidates with varying backgrounds have joined the race to represent District 1 on the City Council.
The quartet — Carlos Escobedo, a community outreach specialist; Osvaldo Sotelo, a nonprofit educator; Christopher Diaz, a college professor; and Brian Billones, a health care business manager — recently participated in a virtual meet-the-candidate event hosted by the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Housing and public safety were among issues cited by the four candidates, who are all making their first bid for a Santa Maria city office.
Escobedo, an immigrant from Mexico who said he moved here to pursue the American dream, works at Allan Hancock College.
He said he became a citizen more than two years ago, and then became inspired to get involved by the judge presiding over his ceremony.
“I have an established history of giving back to this community which I love,” he said, adding that he volunteers for multiple nonprofit organizations.
He said District 1 needs a council member who has a history of doing things in the community, not just making promises.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from, but what matters for me is what you want to do to make Santa Maria a better place,” he said.
Escobedo said he wants a safe city that helps small businesses succeed and has opportunities for youths. Additionally, he said he wants to strengthen public safety and intends to promote community policing initiatives.
“Public safety is not just about how we can lower crime. It is also about making sure that we all feel safe in our neighborhood,” he said.
Diaz said he sees “lots of potential for growth” in Santa Maria, adding that he has lived in Austin, Texas, New York City and Southern California.
“I hope to bring a bunch of diverse ideas and different perspectives based on my experience in different cities that have different types of policies and different goals based on completely different cultures and populations,” he said.
After living here for a while, he said he decided youths and young adults need more to do.
“Our youths need better schools and arts and recreation programs to keep them off of the streets,” Diaz said. “I plan to push our teacher-to-student ratio to the lowest in the state, and hire public service professionals to develop social programs for our unique youth.
“I also think we need to protect all of our retired citizens living on fixed incomes in the many senior parks in my district with an active rent stabilization law.”
Diaz, originally from Texas, said he came to Santa Maria four years ago to work as an Allan Hancock College music professor.
His campaign site on Facebook is available by clicking here.
Sotelo became the first candidate to kick off his campaign with an announcement in mid-January.
A native of Santa Maria who graduated from Pioneer Valley High School, he is employed as a workforce services supervisor for Goodwill Industries of Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties.
“I returned home because I wanted to give back to my community,” he said.
During his campaign kickoff, Sotelo said growing up as the son of immigrant farmworkers who achieved their dream of purchasing a home only to lose it in the housing crisis spurred his focus on affordable housing.
“I’m running for City Council because we must embrace bold and innovative solutions to solve the housing crisis,” Sotelo said.
He also said he supported an inclusionary housing ordinance to require developers to designate some units as affordable.
Sotelo did not provide answers to questions asked by Noozhawk.
Billones, a Santa Maria native, said he remains passionate about the community.
“To be able to return to my roots here in the valley with a renewed sense of perspective gives me the ability to incorporate my different life experiences in developing public policies that will hopefully benefit our community into the future as it grows and thrives,” he said.
He also called for more business in the city’s downtown core, adding that it would be “great for the community, for community spirit and pride.”
Billones did not respond to a Noozhawk request for more information.
This is the first election for the District 1 and 2 seats since the city switched from at-large to district-based elections. Only voters in the district will choose council members for that area.
The top vote-getter will replace Councilman Michael Moats, a southwest Santa Maria resident whose at-large term ends in December.
District 2, generally northeast neighborhoods, has just one candidate running for the job — Councilman Mike Cordero.
On Nov. 3, city voters also will select the mayor from a field of three candidates — incumbent Alice Patino and challengers Will Smith, an educator and an author, and Alberto Ugalde, a businessman and barber.
While council members will represent districts, the job of mayor remains an at-large slot with voters across the city making the selection every four years.