Steve Pappas hopes to use inclusive politics to unify a deeply divided Santa Barbara County if elected to the Board of Supervisors.

Los Olivos resident and businessman Steve Pappas announced his intention to run for the position of Santa Barbara County Supervisor for the fractious 3rd District two weeks ago. After current Supervisor Gail Marshall announced she would not seek reelection for the position, several residents of the 3rd District have filed with the county for the March primary, including Los Olivos vintner Brooks Firestone and Buellton resident Dave King. Most recently, Gail Marshall’s executive assistant John Buttny has also announced his candidacy.

Pappas, who has resided in Santa Barbara County for 12 years, is a conservative businessman and entrepreneur. He and his wife Lori own Vocational Trends, Inc., which focuses on assisting employers and their injured employees with workers’ compensation issues. He also contracts with vendors to develop product lines sold at retailers such as Claire’s and Limited Too.

Pappas said in a statement he decided to run because he is deeply concerned about the “exclusionary, divisive and unrepresentative political environment [that] has precipitated a possible tear in the county.”

On Nov. 12, Citizens for County Organization, Inc., the organization spearheading the county split initiative, submitted a petition with approximately 35,000 signatures to the County Elections Office. If the split passes, Santa Barbara County would be divided into two counties, with the North becoming “Mission County.”

Pappas described the rift in the county as “an extremely serious issue” and said he hopes to avoid a split.

“In my opinion, if something isn’t done soon, it is going to happen,” Pappas said. “My objective is … to meet up with as many people as possible on both sides of this issue and listen as much as I can to find where the common ground is.”

Jim Diani, chairman of CFCO, said he did not see the county split being at all affected by the Board of Supervisors elections.

“CFCO is not involving itself with supervisorial candidates or the makeup of the board,” Diani said, “because we do not believe the makeup of the board solves the inherent differences between North and South. We respect each candidate’s right to have an opinion on the issue as we would desire them to respect our opinion regardless of whether or not we agree.”

Diani said the 3rd District, historically caught between the two sides, is a political battlefield in which each side vies to dominate the other.

“We see the balance-of-power issue being played out in the 3rd District regardless of the potential future of a county split. We believe that the North and South battle with both sides trying to impose their will on the other is counterproductive, regardless of which region has three votes.”

Pappas said he felt that if the county government and Board of Supervisors were run the way they are supposed to, then the majority of Santa Barbara County residents would not actually want the split to occur.

“It is because those things are not happening [that] we are being driven there,” Pappas said. “I do understand, while I’m trying to find a way to avoid it, the impetus from which it has been created.”

Although the signatures have already been submitted, Pappas said he felt that the split could still be averted if the county government, especially the incoming 3rd District supervisor, handled the situation fairly.

“Even though it may end up on the ballot, if the right actions are taken, and the right government is in place … [then] it can be avoided,” he said.

Pappas said that in addition to the split looming over the county, communities within the county are also divided.

“Outside the scope of the county split, there’s a clear split within each community within the 3rd District,” Pappas said. “It’s very clear, especially in the unincorporated areas, that the public has had little or no participation in the planning process that is going in the Santa Ynez Valley community planning.”

He said that though the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) process is usually the safeguard against environmental hazards caused by development plans, it is no longer the case when the same people who write the plans review them. He said that the Santa Ynez Valley plan and the Isla Vista Master Plan are examples of this.

“The whole EIR process and the report is predominantly being done by the same staff that wrote the plan,” Pappas said. “So they’re grading their own test – the bottom line is, there’s no safety net.”

The planning department had announced that it anticipates hiring contractors to review portions of the plan. Pappas expressed doubts as to whether this would actually happen.

“The word ‘anticipate’ usually turns into ‘we didn’t do it that way,'” Pappas said.

Pappas said one of the main problems in the county that causes the public to be excluded is a lack of public notification of planning meetings, and that as 3rd District supervisor he would try to be more inclusive.

“The entire development process – the entire community plan- should have intimate public access from day one. If we’re to have input, there has to be clear and obvious notice that these meetings are taking place,” Pappas said. “The [Santa Ynez] GPAC [General Plan Advisory Committee] has been meeting for 35 weeks, but 95 percent of this valley was not aware of [the meetings] until about six or eight weeks ago.”

Pappas said if he were elected, he would change the GPAC process to ensure that more of the population is represented.

“What I propose to do is to refresh the GPAC process and bring it back to the way it was intended: an open forum, public discussions on all topics, clear and obvious notification of all meetings. And a diverse membership, in terms of who the committee is made of, so you get all the different people represented, not just one special interest group.”

Pappas also said he would review the fiscal management of the county and cited his experience with budgets, funding priorities and making payrolls.

“Typically, with fiscal irresponsibility, you see it later. The mismanagement of the past three years is going to start showing up now. That is typically how the cycle works,” Pappas said. “Of course, that revenue has to come from somewhere, so the next thing that happens is, how do we pay for it?”

Pappas said the first part of his strategy to revise government spending would be to “break it down.”

“It may take a month of 12-hour days to go through it, but I need to see the details, and I would need to see how each dollar’s being spent,” Pappas said. “The proof is in the details.”