The candidates for 3rd District supervisor sparred last night at a forum sponsored by the Santa Ynez Valley Bar Association at Andersen’s Pea Soup Restaurant in Buellton.
Candidates John Buttny, Brooks Firestone, Slick Gardner and Steve Pappas answered both questions prepared by the SYVBA as well as those submitted by audience members.
The first question given to the candidates concerned growth and development planning in the Santa Ynez Valley.
Buttny emphasized the general planning commission, which was established 25 years ago.
“I think the best way to manage growth is to continue [that process],” Buttny said. “We need to maintain the rural character of the valley.”
Firestone agreed, but said the county must avoid growth and development mistakes in the valley, such as farmland development and urban sprawl.
“If growth must come, I’d like to have it very creatively done,” Firestone said.
Gardner said Santa Ynez Valley does not need any more housing units, and the county should focus its development in South County.
“I’d like to see the growth go to Isla Vista; there’s enough houses here,” Gardner said. “I think every time they grant a housing permit, they should tear down 10 other [houses].”
Pappas said the general planning process does not represent the community as a whole, and there needs to be more community involvement in decisions.
“What we don’t need is more bureaucracies; we don’t need more government or red tape. We need the voice of the people to be heard again,” Pappas said. “There are creative ways. We are smart people; there are better ways than smashing two and three stories onto one-acre parcels.”
Next, the moderator asked how the candidates proposed to bring more high-paying jobs to the county and to Santa Ynez Valley in particular.
Pappas said the key factor of employment is transportation.
“Right now our situation is we have a lot of commuting going on,” Pappas said. “We can’t have all affordable housing in the North County and all high-paying jobs in South County.”
Buttny said he recently read in a newspaper that many new jobs are coming to Santa Maria and Lompoc because businesses are attracted to the lower cost of housing in North County.
“Santa Maria and Lompoc are very friendly and open to this kind of development,” Buttny said. “I think we keep doing what we’re doing, [working to] maintain a higher quality of life.”
Firestone said that because he is a founding member of the wine industry, he is experienced at providing jobs.
“The problem for the nation, California and certainly our county is to develop jobs that are compatible with the environment,” Firestone said.
Gardner said he agreed with the other three candidates, but the difficulty with providing high-paying jobs is the lack of any local industry that would pay its employees well.
“No one is trying to pay their employees more than they have to,” Gardner said.
Moderator Sandra Knight said voters had expressed concern over the candidates’ legal histories and gave the candidates an opportunity to respond to those concerns.
Buttny said he supposed that the issue was raised in response to his five felony convictions relating to his antiwar activities and participation in protest demonstrations in the 1960s.
“I am extremely proud of my involvement,” Buttny said. “I think we have a duty to speak out when we disagree with the government.”
Firestone said he was uncertain as to how the question applied to him.
“I’ve never been arrested and I have no criminal record,” Firestone said. “I’ve been in five campaigns in which my record was torn inside out; that’s what campaigns are about. I believe in the process.”
Pappas said he has no criminal record, but Firestone has started a “negative findings” campaign against him anyway. Pappas said the campaign questions his voting record, property tax payments and a corporate suspension.
Pappas said he has only voted three times in Santa Barbara County in the past 12 years, but this is because he was living and voting in Los Angeles during that time. Property taxes were only brought up because his most recent payment had not yet been posted when the inquiries were made, Pappas said. He said his corporate suspension only occurred because the business’s statement information form had not been forwarded when the company moved to Santa Ynez in 1999.
“When you’re gonna dig dirt up, get it right,” Pappas said. “Let’s stop it and get on with [the campaign].”
Gardner said he also had never been arrested. He referred, however, to being “in trouble” with the county and the Dept. of Fish and Game over land management on his ranch.
“We’ll see what happens down the road,” Gardner said.
Each candidate was allowed to ask a question to one other candidate on the panel. Firestone, Gardner and Pappas all directed their questions to Buttny.
Firestone said that during Buttny’s years as chief aide to the 3rd District supervisor, Buellton and Solvang had elected to become cities so they would have their own city officials instead of being directly dependent on the 3rd District supervisor for political representation.
“In light of past events, how do you present yourself as one who can heal the county split?” Firestone said.
Buttny said the supervisors supported the formation of the city of Goleta and that it was a “positive thing” that Buellton and Solvang became cities.
“Whenever communities form new cities, it’s a good thing,” Buttny said. “I’ve been successful in solving problems for people in all walks of life. I think we need to get beyond silly rhetoric.”
Gardner asked Buttny for a clarification of the oak tree ordinance set up by Gail Marshall’s office. Buttny said the ordinance protects existing oak trees from being cut down, but any oaks planted by landowners on their own property in the year since the implementation of the ordinance are not regulated.
Pappas asked Buttny to comment on the process of the current community plan for Santa Ynez Valley. Pappas said Marshall had announced in June that the plan would be put on hold for six months and then presented to the community for comment, but in actuality the county staff was secretly working on the community plan. Buttny denied the allegation.
Buttny asked Firestone about his environmental voting record during his term in the state legislature. Buttny said Firestone supported bills that relaxed controls on contaminants in drinking water and voted against or abstained from voting on bills that required redistribution of treatment facilities to keep air pollution levels low.
“How can you call yourself an environmentalist with this voting record?” Buttny said.
Firestone said the bills Buttny mentioned all came up in 1998, the one year of his four-year term in the legislature that he did not meet or beat the environmental average vote.
In their closing statements, the candidates spoke briefly on the key issues of their campaigns.
Pappas opposed the proposed moving of contents from the Santa Ynez Valley landfill to another landfill in the valley.
“The estimated monitoring costs for [these] landfills is $20,000 per year,” Pappas said. “To move it would cost $3 to 5 million; that’s if nothing unexpected happens.”
Gardner said he is concerned with the sway I.V. residents have over the rest of the district.
“Some people would say [students] have no right to vote in this district,” Gardner said. “We’ve been dealt a hand and we have to live with it. I think it’s great that the students vote, but I think that if they come from out of the county and out of the state they should vote there. [Buttny’s] got the upper hand in I.V., and we have to break that.”
Firestone said the county split is a big deal but that the forum did not address the current budget problems or land use.
“We need more good management – a [supervisor] making tough, creative, good choices,” Firestone said.
Buttny used his time to “speak to the GPAC issue” and publicly thank the 15 members of the Santa Ynez Valley General Plan Advisory Committee.
“They have been unfairly attacked by people in this valley because they don’t do what people want them to do. The
loudest shouters don’t carry the day,” Buttny said. “If naysayers had constructed arguments, we wouldn’t have the acrimony in this room today. The community plan was not planned in secret. I hope we can get beyond the ignorance and acrimony.”