Candidates for the upcoming Santa Barbara City Council elections met Wednesday night at the Faulkner Gallery to discuss plans addressing the city’s need for affordable housing and employment opportunities.
The council contenders are vying for three open spots on the November ballot and include incumbents Michael Self, Dale Francisco and Randy Rowse, as well as newcomers Sharon Byrne, Cruzito Cruz, former Santa Barbara Mayor Pro Tempore Iya Falcone, Jerry Matteo, Cathy Murillo, Milpas Community Association Vice President Sebastian Aldana Jr. and Santa Barbara Planning Commissioner Deborah Schwartz. The forum — co-sponsored by the Santa Barbara Conservancy and online magazine Santa Barbara View — provided the candidates an opportunity to share solutions for the area’s chronic housing and job shortages while maintaining its historic culture.
According to Democratic candidate Cathy Murillo, tourists provide a significant portion of the city’s wealth.
“The tourism industry is the foundation of the economy,” Murillo said. “We want people to come and see our historic preservation. They will use our hotels, restaurants, pay the bed tax and contribute to our general fund.”
Aldana said development plans should also account for the surrounding region’s large college-level workforce.
“There are no jobs and our rent is high,” Aldana said. “What does the work in Santa Barbara are students and the tourism industry.”
Investing in the community’s infrastructure could also provide work opportunities and increase tourism, according to conservative-leaning independent candidate Sharon Byrne.
“We should be renovating the historic neighborhoods we have,” Byrne said. “It reduces municipal waste, creates long-term skilled jobs in construction and helps to foster a sense of neighborhood unity.”
The city council currently sits with a 4-3 conservative majority for the first time in recent years after local businessman Rowse replaced California Assemblymember Das Williams last December. Local Democrats began campaigning earlier than in previous years in an attempt to reverse the council’s majority during the November elections.
According to incumbent Francisco the local officials should focus on retaining Santa Barbara’s student workforce.
“In reality the most government can be is an aid in accomplishing the goals of the people themselves,” Francisco said. “It is unrealistic for government to change demographic reality of the community. Most of my UCSB classmates moved away just because this is not where the jobs were.”
UCSB graduate and candidate Cruz said development money is especially needed in Eastside and Westside neighborhoods in order to reinvigorate the slumping communities.
“We have to build up reasonably and equitably,” Cruz said. “By developing housing equitability we enable young people to buy into the local housing market.”
Forum moderator Susette Naylor said the overall discussion was productive, allowing the candidates to discuss their respective views on pertinent local issues.
“We had an informative and civil discussion that allowed every candidate to express their views about the concerns of local citizens,” Naylor said. “We want to develop what we have first, it is the most sustainable way to go about it, but we want to be creative and facilitate to what the local needs are now.”