Doreen Farr, supervisor of Santa Barbara County’s 3rd District, hosted an open forum on Thursday afternoon at Coffee Collaborative to hear concerns from Isla Vista community members and give feedback on recent political decisions and the upcoming election.
Sitting at an outdoor table overlooking Pardall Road from 1 to 3 p.m., Farr listened to community input about her work on the Board of Supervisors and spoke with students, I.V. residents and business owners about local issues including the California Supreme Court’s Dec. 29 decision to dissolve redevelopment agencies statewide. Farr also discussed the potential impact of ABX1 26 — which reallocates funding from RDAs to street maintenance, homeless shelters and transition houses — as well as her campaign for reelection in this November’s election.
Farr said it is difficult to foresee how the elimination of the Santa Barbara Redevelopment Agency will affect the community and local government.
“It’s hard to tell the total impact, but I would have to say in the short term there’s a lot of uncertainty because the RDA has done a tremendous amount of good since it came into being,” Farr said. “It provided affordable housing [and] helped to improve the appearance of streets in I.V. It’s also paid for a lot of needed infrastructure — drainage, street lights, sidewalks — and helped businesses. And in that process, it has created a lot of jobs in a time when the economy has been in a downturn and we needed opportunities to create work.”
Former UCSB student and Occupy I.V. member Scott Day said the RDA’s dissolution left him with several concerns including the future of I.V.’s St. Athanasius Orthodox Church, which provides a number of local services such as the St. Brigid Fellowship homeless outreach program.
“St. Athanasius and the I.V. Medical Clinic are closing, and others have been inhibited from lease because the RDA bought them and needs to sell them,” Day said. “People at Occupy I.V. were looking to use them as community space. With the RDA going away, it’s become a completely legal issue.”
Reverend Doug Miller, the spokesperson for the Greater Santa Barbara Clergy Association and the Interfaith Initiative in Santa Barbara, said he is anxious to see what impact the RDA decision will have on funding for the homeless ministry.
“We’re trying to enhance the St. Brigid’s Ministry for our friends and neighbors without homes,” Miller said. “We’re exploring ways in which that can be done to preserve the services we run which are in jeopardy. We’re hoping the county, since they are the successor agency to the RDA, will … somehow use the old St. Athanasius building to provide services for the poor in I.V.”
According to Miller, there is no way to predict which of the numerous programs vying for the RDA’s resources will be successful.
“It’s hard to see — it’s all up in the air,” Miller said. “[The RDA] funds will go to teachers and police and firefighters, and they’re going to be competing for the funds now, but we hope the county will consider this a worthy project at least in the interim.”
Farr said despite the bill’s approval, hopes for the RDA are not entirely lost.
“There has been a lot of pressure to reinstate the RDA in some fashion, but the situation is in flux and all the board can do is to follow whatever rules are in at the time, and right now that means the RDA dissolves from the beginning of February,” Farr said. “We’re going to have a special meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 24 to talk specifically about this issue and people in the community are certainly welcome to attend.”
In the meantime, Farr said the county will assume the responsibilities held by the RDA, including its commitments to the I.V. area.
“As I have told the board in the past, since I represent I.V. and I.V. is an unincorporated community … whether there is an RDA or whether there is not an RDA, the county is responsible for taking care of I.V.,” Farr said. “It’ll be my job to advocate for this community strongly so services that the RDA provided continue through the county’s general policies and programs.”
Day said he also attended the forum to assess whether Farr is actively advocating for Isla Vista’s political rights.
“When Doreen was running for office she said [she aimed] to help self-determination of Isla Vista,” Day said. “I.V. has always been disallowed self-government because we have a Parks and Recreation District, but [the community] has to have jurisdiction and authority. I wanted to make sure she follows her campaign promises.”
According to Farr, she aims to address this issue by proposing a successor agency solely dedicated to I.V.
“We’ve also talked about whether it would be appropriate to create a Community Services District that will be specific to Isla Vista and that will help maintain the improvements and perhaps provide an additional funding mechanism, but those are ideas that still have to be explored,” Farr said. “I would have to figure a way to somehow institute some sort of a regular meeting in the community to talk about community issues and [decide] whether it has to do with post-RDA projects or whether it’s to do with issues like homelessness and others that were really not RDA-specific issues. That will be one of my projects once we sort out whether the RDA is going to come back or not.”
Farr said she intends to run for reelection this November and hopes to maintain her support base of I.V. residents, whom she has fought to represent throughout her three years as 3rd District Supervisor.
“I’ve worked very hard … to respond to the issues in the community, to earn the trust of the public and to be a very responsive and accessible representative,” Farr said. “I think the votes that I’ve taken as 3rd District Supervisor have also reflected the concerns of the community here. I did not support the Social Host Ordinance, I did not support the ban on medical marijuana dispensaries and I did support a revision of the tenants’ rights ordinance to protect renters from unfair evictions. I really feel like I have responded to the community when the votes of interest to the community have come to the board and I hope the voters will agree and reelect me in November.”
Farr will be competing against former opponent Steve Pappas for oversight of the county’s most diverse district, which includes the Santa Ynez Valley, Guadalupe, Goleta and the unincorporated region of Isla Vista.
Erik Anciaux, president of the Campus Democrats, said Farr has consistently been a strong proponent of I.V. residents’ liberties.
“I was riding my bike down the street and saw Doreen and just wanted to say hi. I’m a big fan of her work for I.V., especially student voting rights,” Anciaux said. “Elsewhere in the county, especially with Mr. Pappas, we’ve seen disinclination of people to work with I.V., but Supervisor Farr has done a great job representing I.V. and being open to the concerns of our residents.”
Farr will continue to hold open forums on the second Thursday of every month at Coffee Collaborative, located at 6560 Pardall Rd.