Like hundreds of other newly elected public officials around the country, Doreen Farr enters office with a laundry list of things she would like to accomplish, and a budget deficit that is sure to get in her way.
Farr, the newest member of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, was sworn-in last Tuesday, and – barring a successful legal petition by former opponent Steve Pappas – will serve at least the next four years as Isla Vista’s sole elected county official.
While Farr, a Democrat and self-described environmentalist, has said she disagrees with many of the policies put forth by her predecessor Brooks Firestone, it seems the growing county deficit and worsening economic forecast, and not the priorities of the individual supervisors, will dictate the direction the new board takes.
County budget woes notwithstanding, Farr has promised not to let the group of voters largely responsible for her election, namely the UCSB student population, fall by the wayside. In an extended interview, Farr discussed her plans for incorporating the student voice into her decision making process.
“We are vigorously pursuing an office [in Isla Vista] and we’ll have Esther [Aguilera] as my dedicated person there,” Farr said. “And we’re not going to be waiting for people to call us but will be actively soliciting their opinions. This includes dealing with the university on the Ocean Road Project, tackling street lighting, parking and safety and working with the Isla Vista Foot Patrol more closely.”
“And we will make sure all these resolutions include responses from the student population,” she added.
However, Farr admits that her ability to accomplish many of her goals will be adversely affected, at least in the short term, by the current economic crisis gripping the local, state and federal governments.
“[The budget concerns] are very severe,” Farr said. “The county relies on the General Fund [as the primary source of revenue], and the money for that comes from a variety of taxes. If the economy continues to slowdown, those [tax revenues] are all going to go down, just as the money we receive from the state and federal government is also going down.”
When asked how she plans to deal with the deficit, Farr pointed back to former county budgets that were more in line with the amounts of revenue expected for 2009.
“By looking back at previous county budgets, you see the county budget has increased considerably over the past few years when economic times were good,” Farr said, “but we need to look back at times when they had about the same money we’ll have now.”
Farr stressed the need to maintain crucial social services, and hinted at delaying some expensive capital projects, such as the construction of new buildings, as a way of saving some cash.
“We may need new buildings, but that’s secondary to keeping services and keeping our employees employed,” she said.
It was Farr’s ardent self-representation as an environmentalist, however, and not her fiscal conservancy, that attracted much of the generally liberal UCSB vote. When asked about the subject, Farr, while not giving many specifics, reiterated her “green” priorities.
“I’ve always been a very strong environmentalist,” she said. “The major environmental issues are close to my heart, especially Gaviota and Naples.”
Naples, a stretch of coastline a few miles north of Isla Vista, has been a hot topic for environmentalists ever since an Orange County developer bought the land over a decade ago in hopes of building several dozen mansions on the land. The issue came to a key crossroads in the waning days of Firestone’s tenure as Supervisor, with the board eventually deciding to give the developer the green light to build, a decision heavily criticized by Farr and the other two South County Supervisors.
“The California Coastal Commission has not accepted the county’s petition for action [to build at Naples] and has come back twice to the county with reports of deficiencies,” Farr said. “We can’t stay in a continual loop of denial with the CCC. That issue will be coming up soon.”
Another key environmental issue has already come up before the new board – the ongoing troubles with on-shore oil spills. Most notable among the offenders is Greka Oil and Gas Co., who suffered back-to-back oil spills at their Bell lease station on Palmer Road two weeks ago.
Farr expressed a hard-lined approach to dealing with Greka’s propensity oils spills, saying, “It’s really unacceptable that this has gone on and on as long as it has.”
“This is a issue I am very concerned about,” Farr said. “It’s important that the county uses every tool is has… and we have to make sure all the costs of the Fire Dept. going out is covered by the violators.”
Finally, Farr dismissed any claims by former opponent Steve Pappas, who filed a petition with the California Superior Court to have half of the 9,700 votes by newly registered UCSB and Isla Vista residents discounted due to technical problems with the registration forms.
“I do not think his claim has any legitimacy,” Farr said. “[County Clerk Recorder and Assessor Joe] Holland and his staff did everything legally and correctly. While we have to respond, at the end of the day nothing will be different… This won’t distract me at all.”
And whatever budget issues, environmental concerns or other potential obstacles she’ll have to face, Farr said her ultimate goal is to simply be the best public servant she can.
“I enjoyed campaigning in I.V. and look forward to spending a lot of time there, being the very best representative of the people that live