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 Deborah Schwartz
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?
Deborah Schwartz: Throughout my years as a City Planning Commissioner, I have consistently made myself accessible through email and telephone to residents and business owners. One of my priorities (on my website www.schwartzforsb.com) is “Open Communication with the Mayor’s Office.”
Voters are telling me this is missing from and they’ve lost confidence in current city leadership. My commitment is to restore this including in-person office hours at city hall and more importantly in neighborhoods. Attending all possible community events is an essential aspect of the mayor’s role – in representing and demonstrating a genuine interest in our entire community while also representing city government.
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?
Deborah Schwartz: It’s vital that the State Street Promenade continue to remain closed to cars. At the same time improvements are urgently needed in cleanliness, safety, aesthetic beauty and diversity of experiences for locals, and not primarily tourists. When locals want to spend time and money enjoying downtown, it will naturally attract visitors.
Long-overdue changes to city regulations prevent downtown property owners and merchants from making desired investments for improvements. As mayor I would ask council colleagues to join me in fast-tracking implementation of the 31 community development department changes recommended by a publicly-funded consultant. If city leadership had made this a priority in 2020, our city would be on its way to redevelopment improvements – including housing downtown – throughout the city.
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?
Deborah Schwartz: To me “equity” is about opportunity in practices and processes based on fair and objective decision-making. I have mentioned in several candidate forums that I would recommend the city’s HR department director undertake an audit to determine equity of 1) hiring practices, 2) employee performance evaluation processes, and 3) pay structures. Only then will the mayor and council have facts to make decisions, not just assumptions of disparities.
Noozhawk: How will you reduce the number of homeless encampments, unhoused people, and homeless-related nuisance crimes in Santa Barbara?
Deborah Schwartz: Of the eight cities in the county, Santa Barbara has the highest number of homeless. Our current mayor could have – with council cooperation – declared homelessness a public health emergency last year in order to raise this issue to a level of crisis which is the reality while proactively seeking regional, state, and federal funds. The funds now urgently needed are for mental health treatment (required to be provided by the County under CA state law), drug addiction treatment, and transitional housing.
Delaying this important leadership action has led to the current, ongoing public health crisis which is negatively impacting our economic revitalization. The portion of the chronic homeless population who are severely mentally ill and/or hard drug addicted (heroin, meth) are creating most of the adverse behavioral issues including crimes. We must work to reduce all crimes including “nuisance” crimes. However, fines and/or incarceration alone are not solutions. I researched and would propose with council colleagues proven programs and service-delivery methods other cities have implemented not pursued by our city leadership, along with funding sources not yet secured.
Noozhawk: How should Santa Barbara respond to Senate Bill 9, which allows for duplex development (up to four units) in single-family-zoned neighborhoods?
Deborah Schwartz: Now signed by the Governor for January 1, 2022 implementation, SB 9 allows one more residential unit to be built on a property. There are three exemptions (exclusions) and two limitations that will limit the number of qualified Santa Barbara properties. Exemptions include properties at high fire risk, at risk of flooding, and in historic districts. Limitations include low-income units rented within the past three years can’t be demolished or altered, and units constructed under this Act cannot be used as short-term rentals.
It’s very important to let the community know that cities can still impose safety standards and regulate design, which still gives us influence over neighborhood compatibility in project approvals. According to my recent communication with city planning, “staff has not yet inventoried parcels (that) may or may not qualify, but … will within the next few weeks (while drafting) an ordinance.”
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?
Deborah Schwartz: I served on the city’s Sea-Level Rise Adaptation Plan Subcommittee where we considered the best available science in order to 1) identify our city’s areas most vulnerable to sea-level rise, 2) recommend potential actions to the City Council using a phased approach through the year 2100.
Sustainability is a broad term, which is why I announced my Santa Barbara S.A.F.E. Plan to: Strategically address emergencies that put “Access” in/out of the city at risk. Incorporate new Flexible approaches effectively planning for and responding to environmental disasters including fire, earthquake, and sea-level rise. A policy priority of my plan will be championing housing for first responders – which no other mayors or council members have done. We have to make it easier for our firefighters, police officers, teachers, and healthcare workers to live in Santa Barbara – making a more sustainable future for us all.