Candidates for 1st and 3rd District supervisor met at the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce building Wednesday at noon for a discussion on the county’s economic development, housing shortage and potential budget cuts.
First district candidates Salud Carbajal and John Gostovich joined 3rd District candidates John Buttny and Brooks Firestone for the discussion, which was hosted by the Carpinteria Valley, Goleta Valley and Santa Barbara chambers of commerce and the Coastal Housing Partnership. Jan Evans, president of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association, moderated the forum.
In lieu of an opening statement, the candidates were asked to identify their most important endorsements. Firestone said the most meaningful endorsement he has received is from his wife.
“We talked about it and decided that this district, in this situation and this part of time, requires someone like myself to be there, to be the supervisor and to be the bridge for the county,” Firestone said.
Carbajal said he is most proud of his endorsement from the Santa Barbara County Firefighters.
“This endorsement encompasses what public safety means to our community,” Carbajal said.
Gostovich said the endorsement he worked the hardest to get is from the Santa Barbara County Deputy Sheriff’s Association.
“I wanted their endorsement. I spent my evenings driving around with them and learning about the challenges they face,” Gostovich said. “They said, ‘after visiting with you, we thought you were the most qualified candidate.'”
Buttny said his endorsements are mostly from environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters, social justice groups such as the Isla Vista Tenants Union, and labor unions.
“Their endorsement shows that they know that in the 3rd District, we understand the needs of working people,” Buttny said.
Next, the candidates were asked what specific policy changes they would make to promote affordable housing.
Carbajal said the key to resolving the shortage of affordable housing is to offer incentives for developers to build affordable housing rather than market-rate housing.
“We really need to look at creating incentives to get people to build more housing,” Carbajal said. “We also need to tie the whole housing issue into the transportation issue and work on a regional basis with other districts.”
Gostovich said he would emphasize the need for leadership and communication between the board of supervisors and its constituents.
“If we are going to seriously produce housing for anyone, the first thing that is needed is leadership on the board of supervisors, and I don’t think we’ve seen that,” Gostovich said. “Right now, we put the burden on the planners.”
Buttny said the county would have to stand up against statewide policies in order to provide adequate housing for all its residents.
“I do not support the state-mandated housing process because it doesn’t work. The state planning process completely ignores the community planning process,” Buttny said. “Every single project that comes through the supervisor’s office has to be affordable housing. Market-rate housing will still be built, but no more big market-rate projects. Just build the affordable stuff.”
Another way to resolve the housing shortage is to provide a better system of transportation for commuters, Buttny said.
“I don’t believe we can build our way out of the housing shortage in the South Coast; it’s all out of whack,” Buttny said. “If we could move people around better, it would allow them to live somewhere else and still get to their jobs.”
Firestone said the county needs to work to keep companies that employ many Santa Barbara residents from moving out of the county.
“We need to make partnerships with large employers. If employees have to do long commutes, that’s counterproductive,” Firestone said.
However, Firestone said the county also needs to preserve its agricultural areas.
“We must not make any incursions on our rural land,” Firestone said.
After discussing the imbalance between jobs in the South County and affordable housing in the North County, the candidates were asked about their positions on the proposed county split. All four candidates said they opposed the split.
Buttny said simply, “It would be an economic, social and environmental disaster.”
Firestone said instead of splitting the county, the board of supervisors needs to consider the reasons behind the proposed split.
“The residents of the North County complained about insensitivity to the North, lack of communication and lack of respect,” Firestone said. “The supervisor needs to focus on healing these differences, on being a bridge.”
Carbajal said the proposed split has fostered more resentment than cooperation between the two regions of the county.
“There’s enough blame to go around,” Carbajal said. “We need to focus on a positive community, not get caught up on petty issues. I think the county split is a shortsighted proposal.”
Gostovich said he opposes the split, but does not consider the proposal petty or shortsighted.
“This is a lot deeper than a community problem,” Gostovich said. “A lot of people in the North feel they have not been treated as equal partners. They deserve to be considered and they deserve to be listened to.”