As part of Noozhawk’s Nov. 2 Santa Barbara City Council election coverage, we are publishing Q&As with candidates running for mayor and City Council seats. Candidate answers may be lightly edited for spelling and formatting, but are otherwise presented as they were submitted.
For mayor, candidates include James Joyce III, Matt Kilrain, Cathy Murillo, Randy Rowse, Deborah Schwartz, and Mark Whitehurst.
Two candidates are running for the District 4 seat: Barrett Reed and Kristen Sneddon. District 5 incumbent Eric Friedman is running unopposed.
There are four candidates on the ballot for the District 6 seat, including Jason Carlton, Meagan Harmon, Nina Johnson and Zachary Pike.
Mayoral Candidate Cathy Murillo
Noozhawk: Many residents responding to a Noozhawk survey said current City Council members have not been visible during the pandemic and are not always responsive to citizen concerns. If elected, how will you make yourself accessible to your constituents? Will you hold in-person office hours? Personally respond to emails and calls? Attend public community events?
Cathy Murillo: I’m proud of the City of Santa Barbara’s outreach to residents and businesses related to pandemic conditions, County Public Health orders, and all the ways the city responded to COVID-19, such as preventing cruise ship visits, offering municipal services online, and organizing the Business Advisory Task Force to help small businesses survive the pandemic economy.
As Mayor, I responded to voluminous emails, phone calls, inquiries by social media, and had one-on-one meetings mostly by video communication. During the 2020 pandemic time period, I gave out masks on the State Street Promenade and had safe open-air conversations with many people, which was particularly gratifying because there was so much fear and unknown information about the virus at that time. I look forward to attending in-person community events and holding my community office hours (First Thursday, Farmers Markets, Eastside Library) when pandemic conditions allow.
Noozhawk: What is your long-term vision for downtown State Street and live/work options in the downtown core? What is your plan for reducing the number of vacant storefronts in that area?
Cathy Murillo: My vision for downtown State Street is a corridor bustling with commerce, family activities and street recreation, entertainment and concerts, new housing that provides foot traffic and a customer base for businesses, and retail stores responsive to the needs of locals and visitors. I am already working with Downtown Santa Barbara and the business community on solutions related to infrastructure, storm water retention, and strategies to make the city more business-friendly.
I support city planning staff in their efforts to refine our dense housing program and to streamline permitting and building processes. The empty and under-utilized buildings are opportunities for housing and for office space for companies offering high-paying jobs. The city’s Economic Development Plan is focused on recruitment of new businesses, and city staff is collaborating with business-focused organizations to bring new businesses to Santa Barbara.
Noozhawk: Can you please define equity, and what your approach would be to make city government more diverse and more representative of the community it represents?
Cathy Murillo: As Mayor, my public service has been driven by a desire to create a just society with opportunities for everyone to succeed and have access to affordable health care, education, housing, and child care services.
In the context of your question, equity means every disadvantage is acknowledged and addressed, and that a system is fair as to opportunities for employment, professional development, and promotion. I have been clear with City Administration, as has our City Council, that we want women, people of color, and people of all abilities and gender / sexual identity to be hired into management and executive positions, and that we want pay equity.
Looking inward at city operations, our employees undergo trainings with the Anti-Defamation League, with a focus on recognizing bias and the harm it inflicts and increasing understanding of the value of diversity, as well as confronting racism and other forms of bigotry. Through these programs, our employees better serve our community. In terms of City Council diversity, which directly influences policy-making, I have always supported women and especially women of color in their candidacies for elected office.
Noozhawk: How will you reduce the number of homeless encampments, unhoused people, and homeless-related nuisance crimes in Santa Barbara?
Cathy Murillo: The city’s successful Safe Shelter program is moving unsheltered individuals from fire-prone camps to bridge housing and getting them the help they need to get into permanent housing. It is working. Overall, we need more housing for the homeless, and I will have the courage to find locations for new shelter beds, transitional housing, and permanent supportive housing.
I have consistently voted to fund our outreach efforts when someone living on the streets is in crisis or has had a mental break, or is committing a crime. In these cases, various responses are available: our red-shirted ambassadors, the police department’s VIP community service corps, our City Net partners, and uniformed officers when necessary. The latter are working with co-response teams that include behavioral health specialists. We are working with the county on regional solutions and strategies, and I chair the SB ACT Homelessness Collaborative Steering Committee and the Cities-County Affordable Housing Task Group, which focuses on housing for the homeless.
Noozhawk: How should Santa Barbara respond to Senate Bill 9, which allows for duplex development (up to four units) in single-family-zoned neighborhoods?
Cathy Murillo: The city has been focusing on housing development in areas already zoned for multi-family housing, along transportation corridors and commercial areas because new housing should be walkable and sustainable, near parks and schools. SB 9 is an extreme solution to creating housing, and we are reviewing areas that may be exempted such as high-fire neighborhoods and those close to historic resources.
Unfortunately, the bill did not come with requirements for affordable or income- restricted units and a prohibition on housing being turned into vacation rentals. Our city wrote a letter in opposition based on the tenet of preserving local control but the Governor passed the law in the face of a dire housing crisis statewide. Indeed, housing insecurity has so many impacts: homelessness, children doing poorly in school, domestic violence, and pollution-causing commuting for work. I will continue fighting for sustainable, affordable housing and at the same time protecting our neighborhoods.
Noozhawk: What can Santa Barbara do, that it’s not already doing, to reduce climate-change-related hazards for its residents and move toward a more sustainable future in terms of energy and water resources?
Cathy Murillo: I have led the effort on fighting climate change: the recent vote to require all-electric new construction in the city, the founding of the city’s new Sustainability and Resilience Department, and the launch of a community choice energy program called Santa Barbara Clean Energy are among our top achievements. SBCE makes the city an electricity utility requiring (Southern California) Edison to provide green and carbon-free power to our residents, businesses, and industries.
We have a sea-level rise adaptation plan, a strategic climate action plan, and a strategic energy plan, which is a roadmap to meet our 100% carbon-free electricity goal by 2030. Our internal city operations are now more energy conservative, our fleet of vehicles relying on renewable fuel sources, and we are developing a program of solar- fueled micro grids in our jurisdiction.
I chair the City’s Sustainability Committee and the Community Choice Energy committee. Regarding possible hazards related to climate change, our municipal government and public safety departments are ready to respond to emergencies such as wildfire, drought, sea-level rise, and extreme weather. In terms of water, our residents and businesses are still conserving at the level they were during the worst of the last phase of the drought, and I am grateful they care so much about our resources and our planet.