North County residents crowded into St. Mark’s Episcopalian Church in Los Olivos on Friday night for a debate between the candidates for 3rd District supervisor.
The forum was sponsored by the Santa Barbara chapters of the League of Women Voters and Women’s Environmental Watch Organization, and was moderated by Jean Reiche, treasurer of the league. The candidates – John Buttny, Brooks Firestone, Slick Gardner and Steve Pappas – faced off on a variety of topics, including budget cuts, how to govern the 3rd District, freeway congestion and negative campaigning.
The candidates were asked how, in light of recent state budget cuts, they would fund or cut public services such as fire stations, sheriff’s and police departments, and mental health.
Buttny said because the county’s public services are already short-staffed, Santa Barbara County should join with other counties and municipalities to challenge the state’s budget cuts.
“It’s really regrettable that the governor’s budget people have seen fit to go after those who are least able to fight for themselves – children and the elderly,” Buttny said. “Some service cuts will definitely bring inconvenience to the public, but we must do all of this without threatening our health and safety.”
Pappas said funding cuts should begin with unnecessary projects. As an example, he cited a recent water safety study that cost the county $250,000. Pappas said the results were “nothing we didn’t know 30 years ago.”
“It’s about efficiency and cutting the fat,” Pappas said. “How do we get the most mileage out of what we do have?”
Gardner said any funding cuts should occur in overstaffed government departments, not public services.
“If you take the sheriff’s department and cut it in half, you’ll pay for it in crime,” Gardner said.
Firestone said administrative excesses must be curtailed as the state’s fiscal picture grows grimmer.
“As I read the budget, out of $640-odd million, there are $80 million in administrative costs,” Firestone said.
The cost of running for the 3rd District supervisor’s office has increased, Firestone said. The 3rd District staff under Willy Chamberlain consisted of three people, but now the office has a staff of five people and a budget of $500,000.
“It’s impossible to ask others to cut back [when] you’re running an office like that,” Firestone said.
The candidates were asked if they plan to have a staffed office in the Santa Ynez Valley.
Firestone said he would consider the possibility, but it would require a close look in light of the current state and local budget constraints. He said that when he ran his state assembly campaign, he rented a mobile office and traveled to different areas.
Buttny said the question was a “no-brainer” for him.
“We maintain our office in Solvang; it was open full time,” Buttny said. “We do have two full-time offices. If you reduce the staff to three people, you will not be able to serve the constituents.”
Pappas said he would like to keep multiple offices in the district, but staff would need to be reviewed.
“We need offices in I.V., Goleta and Santa Ynez,” Pappas said. “Staff is the problem.”
Gardner said he would have multiple offices scattered around the 3rd District and would visit all of them regularly.
The candidates also bumped fenders over traffic congestion on highways 101, 154 and 246.
Firestone said congestion will only increase.
“We have to look into the future. Alternative fuels, especially hydrogen fuels, will keep people in their cars,” Firestone said. “The widening of 101 at Montecito has to happen. I’m concerned about this. We have to work with the department of transportation to relieve congestion where it happens.”
Buttny also said it is important to find a balance between housing and jobs to reduce commuter traffic because the county cannot pave its way out of traffic problems.
“Trains are a good [solution], but trains cost about 20 times what it costs to implement a good bus system,” Buttny said.
Pappas said traffic is a major issue for the county, especially Highway 154, which has been transformed from a scenic drive to a congested freeway into the Santa Ynez Valley.
“My overall answer is rail,” Pappas said. “Caltrans can add more lanes and it would be safer, [but we should] reduce the lanes in the Santa Ynez corridor to discourage people from going through it, to go around it [instead]. We should move our people north to south using trains.”
Gardner said the main cause of traffic is people who have to commute between their homes and their jobs every day.
“If we put people where they work, they don’t need to be running up and down the highways,” Gardner said.
At the end of the debate, the candidates were asked if they would pledge not to engage in negative campaign advertising.
Gardner said “too late,” which was met with laughter by the audience.
Buttny also said the negative campaigning has already started.
“The hit piece that went out on Steve [Pappas] was totally uncalled for,” Buttny said. “And it’s not just him. [Firestone’s staff members] have subpoenaed all my files at the county.”
Pappas laughed and thanked Firestone for sending him the same postcard that had been sent to constituents listing the “negative findings” on Pappas.
“I will not engage in negative campaigning; I will never go there,” Pappas said. “It’s not my personality, I don’t believe in it.”
Firestone said he had been in a number of campaigns and there is an American system involved in running a campaign.
“It’s rough sometimes, [but] public record is fair game. Public records need to be known and need to be addressed,” Firestone said. “If you can’t stand the heat, don’t cook. It’s a good system, it’s an American system and it results in the best candidates.”