Today registered Santa Barbara City residents will have a chance to elect three out of eight city council candidates and decide upon a measure that would temporarily extend the term of those seats.
Voters can go to the Santa Barbara City Hall Council Chambers at 735 Anacapa St. until 8 p.m. today to cast their ballots.
The eight candidates have notably different backgrounds and perspectives. Three incumbents are taking part in the race, while the other five are fresh faces in Santa Barbara politics. Newcomer Dale Francisco said he believes his roots in the community will serve him better than any government experience.
“I’ve got a lot of life experience,” Francisco said. “I’ve got degrees in computer science and English at UCSB, I’ve worked in construction, printing and software engineering. A lot of the people currently on the council have been working for government organizations. There’s nothing wrong with that, but their experience is relatively narrow.”
Conversely, current Councilwoman Helene Schneider said she believes that her term in office will prove her aptitude to her constituents.
“I currently sit on the city council,” Schneider said. “I’m on the council sustainability committee. It’s about how to leave the smallest footprint possible. We’re putting solar panels on city buildings. We’re the first city in Southern California to monitor the energy output of each of its buildings per year.”
Another challenger, Michelle Giddens, said that she would use her corporate history to facilitate a more fiscally responsible government.
“I come from a business background,” Giddens said. “I think we need more of that in government, a more pragmatic approach.”
Despite varying histories, each candidate is concerned about the issues that most significantly affect Santa Barbara and its residents. All three interviewed candidates took a strong position against youth violence in the community, stressing the importance of other options for at-risk teenagers. Francisco said that having unaffordable programs is a disservice to those who need them most.
“We already have all kinds of programs and opportunities, but lots of kids have economic barriers,” Francisco said. “They charge $15 for an ID card. That may sound like nothing for you, but I’m sure there are kids in this town that [find] $15 is an insurmountable barrier. We need to get these kids into those programs.”
Schneider also promised to take a tougher position toward youth vagrancy if she is re-elected to her position.
“We’ve been able to augment all the services we provide,” Schneider said. “If I’m elected again, the city would take a leadership role in acting as a hub for these organizations.”
The candidates also said it is important for the public to vote in these elections, despite the inconvenience of the odd-year schedule. According to Giddens, the race may be won by a very small margin.
“This is a significant election,” Giddens said. “It could be won or lost by just a few votes, so everyone’s vote does count. This community has a chance to make the change that everyone has been asking for.”
Due to rising election costs, the city has opted to run this year’s election itself. The city has traditionally relied upon county staff and facilities, and this year will mark the first in which the city has undertaken this responsibility. City Clerk Services Manager Cyndi Rodriguez said that it was simply cheaper to cut the county out of the election process.
“It was cost savings,” Rodriguez said. “[A cost of] $500,000 to $650,000 was the county estimate. We made a presentation to the council and it is going to cost $300,000 or less.”
Measure A, an initiative designed to save additional money by shifting city elections to an even-year schedule, will appear on the ballot along with the names of eight potential council members. The legislation would cut election costs by grouping the city election with other elections taking place in Santa Barbara County, thereby sharing the cost with other jurisdictions. However, by shifting the election schedule, members elected this year will have an extended term lasting until 2010, the date of the next election.
One issue an even-year schedule would alleviate is the historically depressed attendance that odd-year elections receive. According to Rodriguez, 2006 boasted a turnout of 68.78 percent of Santa Barbara residents, while expectations are sizably lower at this year’s polls.
“We don’t have a projection, but we’re hoping to get 40 percent, if not higher,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said the public will have three ways to monitor the election’s progress in real time. Channel 18 will have regular updates into the evening, and the election is available for viewing as a streaming online video at www.citytv18.com. For those who want to view the progress in person, public viewing areas are designated within the city hall council chambers.