Water and traffic were the among top concerns raised by the Solvang City Council candidates running for seats in the Nov. 8 election.
The four candidates seeking a pair of terms on the City Council aired their opinions last week on a variety of issues during a forum at Bethania Lutheran Church Parish Hall.
W.E. Watch and the League of Women Voters of Santa Maria Valley united to organize the event.
Incumbent Robert Clarke has been challenged by Elizabeth Orona, a technology sales executive, for the District 4 seat, while newcomers David Brown, a small business owner, and V. Louise Smith, a chef, are running to represent District 3.
Asked the top challenge and solution for the city, several candidates mentioned water as the city wrestles with supply, conservation rules, and costs.
Smith said the city needs some time and financial resources to seek new water sources while working to craft creative ways to conserve water.
“We actually need infrastructure to help build a system to reclaim and recycle water,” Smith said. “It’s going to cost money, but it’s going to help the citizens of Solvang in the long term. It’s going to help establish water independence and keep us a tourist destination. By ensuring water independence we can ensure responsible growth for our residents, businesses and tourism.”
Orona also mentioned water and the city’s new fines for not reducing usage along with planning and development among the top issues.
Solvang’s leaders should adopt a moratorium on multi-unit, multi-family dwellings until water and traffic issues have been addressed, she said.
“Traffic’s a big issue that I hear from all of the residents…” she added. “These are difficult problems, but we have to properly assess impacts and how it affects residents and visitors alike.
Clarke said he knew water would be identified as a top challenge for Solvang, but added that another big issue is how cities deal with state mandates that affect local funding.
He also said Solvang needs to prioritize water sourcing, enhance pumping water west of the Alisal Bridge, try to negotiate with Improvement District 1 to seek under retail rates, explore cleaning silt from local reservoirs to increase capacity, and more.
He rejected a building moratorium in Solvang, noting Goleta adopted one but was sued.
Brown said he doesn’t believe conservation could solve the city’s water woes. Instead, he said, Solvang needs to enhance storage capacity, explore more wells, open dialogue with Improvement District 1 despite “bad blood,” and consider purchasing water from local sources such as Alisal Ranch.
“I’m for exploring those options and providing a stable and reliable source of water for Solvang,” Brown said.
Solvang voters also will be asked to support a 1% sales tax hike, dubbed Measure U, to city coffers.
Clarke said he is opposed to tax hikes but believes voters should decidedd the issue.
Brown said he doesn’t like taxes but favors Measure U.
Smith said it would benefit the community to have the revenue from the 1% increase, and Orona urged voters to approve Measure U.
Other topics focused on the Latino community, urban growth boundary, the city manager vacancy, campaign financing and more.
Solvang’s city manager, Xenia Bradford, left in late September, so the new council likely will pick the next leader.
“It’s the most important decision this next council can make is the next city manager,” Clarke said.
A third District 3 candidate, Janice Mathews, a retired banker, withdrew from the race, but her name still will appear on the ballot.
That seat now is filled by Jim Thomas, a retired county sheriff who chose not to seek another stint on the panel after he was elected to finish the term of Chris Djernaes, the subject of a successful recall election in 2020.
This year marks the first time Solvang voters will choose their elected officials by district, instead of the at-large system.
Two seats appear on the 2022 ballot, and the other two will be up for grabs in 2024, but voters across the city will continue to choose the mayor.
However, that job doesn’t appear on the ballot since only one candidate, current Councilmember Mark Infanti, was the only candidate to file for the job after incumbent Charlie Uhrig chose not to run for re-election.
The city has been carved into four districts with one council member representing each one.
The new terms — four years for the council members and two years for the mayor — will begin in December.
Infanti’s elevation to the job of mayor also means the council will have a vacancy to fill since his current term doesn’t expire until 2024.
A video of the Solvang City Council forum can be found on the You Tube channel for the League of Women Voters, available by clicking here.
— Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.