This year, we faced the classic Goldilocks conundrum in deciding which candidates to endorse in the Santa Barbara City Council race; some were too hot, others too cold, and few just right. To an uncommon degree, however, they have all contributed to Santa Barbara’s public discourse. Ultimately, we opted for the candidates we believe are most committed to using all the tools available to promote the development of affordable housing and meaningful transportation alternatives. More than good intentions, however, we selected the candidates who bring the right mix of experience, knowledge, and stubborn creativity necessary to translate that vision into meaningful policy. Likewise, we selected those candidates we deemed the least prone to hysteria and histrionics on the matters of homelessness and public safety. Also guiding our choice was the candidates’ awareness and attitude regarding some of the looming challenges now confronting City Hall. Two years ago, the city’s Redevelopment Agency — like all such agencies statewide — was abolished by state fiat. Whether right or wrong, that action has seriously hamstrung City Hall’s ability to support affordable housing projects, invest in the arts, take care of its parking lots, and solve the problem of $250 million in unfunded pension liabilities without vilifying the frontline city employees who do the people’s work at City Hall.
Helene Schneider for Mayor
We enthusiastically endorse Mayor Helene Schneider to a second term. During the past two years, especially, Schneider has come into her own. She’s smart, open, and ubiquitous. And her grasp of detail is nothing less than exceptional. Throughout most of her term, City Hall has weathered the fiscal storm of the international recession. In that time, 80 positions were eliminated by attrition — at a savings of $8 million a year — but no employee was laid off. Four more cops were hired, and a new restorative policing program was hatched. After years of intense wrangling, a new General Plan and a plastic-bag ban were both unanimously approved. Under Schneider’s guidance the Rental Housing Mediation Task Force, which had been effectively slated for elimination, was saved, and the city increased its investment in the arts. When it appeared the state might force City Hall to sell off its downtown parking lots — as a consequence of the Redevelopment Agency’s elimination — Schneider led the successful charge to save them. In the nuts and bolts of pothole politics, Schneider has excelled. She played a key role in the restriping of Cliff Drive (Highway 225) — giving that busy, dangerous thoroughfare what’s known in the parlance as “a road diet.” Even those councilmembers who regarded such initiatives as social engineering have had to admit it’s been a success. And when it is called for, Schneider can play a mean game of hardball. By threatening to withhold the permits necessary to build the massive freeway-widening project unless certain city infrastructure needs are addressed, Schneider is definitely getting Caltrans’s attention. How that plays out, however, has yet to be seen, but without such a credible threat, we’re confident the city’s needs would have gotten shorter shrift.
Of course we don’t always see eye-to-eye with the mayor. We disagree that a gang injunction is needed in Santa Barbara. Like many in the community, we were offended that such a major policy initiative would be adopted behind closed doors without benefit of even one public hearing. A similar lack of openness doomed the package of initiatives the mayor proposed early last year, which, if passed, would have generated $12 million for City Hall and the public schools. The plan was undeniably creative and bold, but because Schneider sprang it on the community without consulting any of the key stakeholders first, she was forced to beat a strategic retreat. But even so, we were heartened to see the extent to which Schneider was willing to stick her neck out to secure new revenue streams for City Hall. Despite strong personal and political differences among some of its members, under Schneider’s guidance the council has stayed working as a highly functioning body. In this time of political shutdown, it is a gift that Santa Barbara has a government that works — and that is in no small part due to our Mayor Helene Schneider.
Harwood ‘Bendy’ White, Gregg Hart, David Landecker for City Council
Of the three council seats up for grabs, two are currently occupied by incumbents Bendy White and Frank Hotchkiss. We are happy to endorse White — who seems built into the very DNA of City Hall, given his length of service on numerous boards and commissions. While there is much to appreciate about Hotchkiss — he’s plainspoken, self-deprecating, hardworking, and gets to the point faster than any of his colleagues — we differ on too many key issues relating to housing, traffic, and the environment to endorse him. For the second and third spots, we recommend Gregg Hart and David Landecker, two progressive-minded former councilmembers. While both have notable blind spots, both bring a high level of intelligence, independence, and experience.
We are confident all three will pursue the admittedly limited opportunities to build new housing that’s affordable to people other than millionaires. To that end, they will support strong incentives for multiple, smaller “affordable-by-design” housing units. To the extent City Hall can jigger land-use policies to encourage the development of rental housing — 62 percent of the population rents — we are confident that these three will do so. This, necessarily, will be accomplished by reducing the amount of parking required for new residential development. And this change can work only by expanding the range of commuter choices available to city residents. The car must become just one of many options. Even so, all councilmembers will need to remain alive to neighborhood concerns about parking, congestion, and density.
It’s an exceedingly delicate balancing act: one that Bendy White clearly gets. White has already played a quiet leadership role on these matters. When the council was polarized to the point of impasse — neighborhood preservationists objected that additional densities would destroy the city’s character — White played a key role in striking a compromise.
Gregg Hart, a spokesperson for the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG), will bring to the council an obvious intelligence and sunny congeniality; he knows traffic and transportation issues like few others on the South Coast. After his having served two terms on the City Council 10 years ago — and the Planning Commission before that — we know Hart’s qualified. We remain concerned how he will juggle his council responsibilities with the full-time job he now holds down at SBCAG. More to the point, when City Hall and SBCAG find themselves at loggerheads — as they currently are — over aspects of the freeway-widening project, we’re concerned how Hart will manage his conflicted allegiances. We are persuaded that he has the energy to do both jobs, and he should recuse himself from council votes regarding the freeway.
David Landecker, who was forced to resign for shoplifting when he sat on the council 22 years ago, has more than redeemed himself. He was an effective and inventive executive director first of the Neighborhood Clinics and then the Environmental Defense Center. He brings with him a lifetime of experience in the nonprofit world, private business, and with organizations ranging from the Chamber of Commerce to the Citizens Planning Association. If Landecker can keep his bull-in-the-china-shop proclivities on a short leash, we’re confident he can make a valuable contribution.
Megan Diaz Alley, the most progressive candidate in the race, impressed us with her passion and energy. We’re hoping that she remains active in city politics. Likewise, we hope that Michael Jordan, a city planning commissioner and shrewdly outspoken middle-of-the-roader who did not get his campaign organized early enough to compete in this large body of candidates, will consider running again.
But for this election, we believe that Mayor Helene Schneider, Councilmember Harwood “Bendy” White, Gregg Hart, and David Landecker will serve our city best.