With an election in Santa Barbara just around the corner, we asked Santa Barbara’s mayoral candidates to answer a few questions important to our community — from affordable housing to local economy, and revitalizing the downtown area.
Here are Mr. Bendy White’s responses.
1. What is going well with Santa Barbara’s current City Council? What policies/programs do you support under outgoing Mayor Helene Schneider?
The current Santa Barbara City Council is actually on the right track. From the years 2000 through 2010 and even beyond, local governments not just in the City of Santa Barbara, made incredibly bad financial decisions, particularly regarding employee pensions. Promises were made to Public Employee Unions that were irresponsible. Pension deals have saddled future generations with debt that is resulting in loss of local services. Since the beginning of my 2 terms in office in 2010, a primary focus of mine has been the City’s budget.
When I was first elected, the City had virtually no strategic budget reserves left. Leadership prior to Mayor Schneider had chosen to spend them down to grant raises, benefit increases, and even support employee home purchases. The result of my last 8 years of work – and I give the Mayor and the majority of the City Council equal credit for making prudent decisions – is a fully funded reserve system that we can depend on when hard times return.
The result of the last 8 years of prudent financial management is further evident when you compare the City to the County. The County had to make over $30 million in cuts this year, with another $56 million over the next 5 year. As a result, the County has drastically cut homeless and mental health services. Santa Barbara feels the brunt of those cuts in the form of more people in desperate straits on the streets.
2) What is not going well under the current city council and mayor? What do you want to change?
Too much growth of high-end housing. I want to preserve our community’s character and environment. What growth does occur must fill our needs — primarily for workforce housing. Right now, there is a tremendous amount of pressure to grow and build. I believe if we allow ourselves to be carried away with this pressure we will lose the very essence of what makes our community so special.
We have a finite amount of resources and are constrained by water limitation, traffic capacity and simply physical space. We should be extra cautious as to how we proceed with development and ensure we are getting the affordability we need.
The City’s updated general plan encourages rental units, through zoning known as AUD, that theoretically should be affordable. Unfortunately, AUD has not worked. Recent developments like The Marc at the corner of State and La Cumbre – where a 1-bedroom apartment was advertised for over $3,200 per month – is not providing attainable rental housing. There are now more than 1,000 new units in some stage of development. Their applications have been deemed complete, which means that they will be built.
I have been working with my colleagues Councilmember Jason Dominguez and Mayor Schneider to limit growth beyond these 1,000 plus units, and to manage the rate of growth.
3) What should the City do in the areas of jobs/economic development to ensure people can live here and be able to afford the cost of living?
State Street, like all retail corridors, malls, etc. is undergoing a complete reworking of the traditional retail business model, brought on by the rise of internet retailers such as Amazon, Ebay, etc. Everyone seems to agree that those businesses, which are going to survive and thrive, must become more consumer “experience” oriented. I will support additional restaurant establishments specifically on the State Street corridor as well as allow the re-purposing of commercial/retail property for residential use.
I recently read a story that the United States has more commercial space per capita than any other industrialized county. These challenges will be facing State Street, our city, and our country as a whole until market forces re-balance the supply and demand of commercial space in the new age of e-commerce. I think there is opportunity in re-purposing underutilized retail space as housing opportunities.
4) What do you think needs to be done downtown for economic development?
Our City’s downtown is endowed with a layout, an infrastructure, if you will, which, will work well in the 21st century. For 60 years landowners and local government have collaborated to make State Street pedestrian friendly, and to provide parking in communal lots and structures. City leaders, landowners, and the business community will need to double down on that collaboration to rejuvenate our Central Business District.
5) Should tourism remain a key pillar to Santa Barbara’s economic health? Why or why not?
We are blessed to live in a desirable place to visit. As long as we don’t do damage to our City’s desirability, tourists will want to visit here. In short, tourism will remain an important part of our economy. With the redevelopment of lower State Street and the addition of hundreds of hotel rooms, tourism will be a growing share of our City’s economic health.
6) What do you think needs to be done downtown to address social issues such as aggressive panhandling?
Anyone who says that we can wave a magic wand and solve the homeless issue is selling snake oil. The City has an “aggressive panhandling ordinance” – our ability to enforce certain undesirable activities such as sleeping on sidewalks or parks is severely limited by California State Courts, as well as Federal Courts.
For example, solicitation cannot be regulated, as it is protected as freedom of expression. Loitering prohibitions were long ago ruled illegal. That being said, the City has taken actions that I believe will improve the situation. For example, we have prohibited smoking on State Street — which will allow Police to issue citations and hopefully change the behavior of people who are causing problems but cannot be cited for other actions.
7) What should the City do differently to attract/develop housing that is affordable for middle-class residents?
The City’s famed AUD program does not work. I am chair of the City’s Housing Taskforce. We have been working to revise the program and add “inclusionary” requirements, which will require developers to offer units at rent below market rate. Recently opened development, such as The Marc on upper State are not meeting the affordability goals originally imagined by the AUD program.
8) The City’s current water supply comes from the newly re-opened desalination plant and from a 100+-year-old delivery system from Lake Cachuma. What should Santa Barbara do to ensure a safe and sufficient water supply in the future?
The Cachuma Lake (Bradburry Dam) project was not completed until the 1950s. Before then the City was solely served by Gibraltar Dam which was completed in the 1920s. I have led the City’s efforts to responsibly re-tool and reactivate the desal plant.
When the plant was built in the early 1990s, it was done so in haste that resulted in poor quality control. Where the city did an excellent job was in maintaining its permits, which allowed us to re-activate relatively quickly (remember the Carlsbad plant took over a decade we took 2 years). The City originally built the plant with both the Montecito Water District and the Goleta Water District.
Our sister agencies chose to relinquish their ownership rights rather than pay for maintenance over the long haul. Statewide, we had a good rain year. Hopefully, ample rain comes soon. But Santa Barbara remains in a Stage 3 Drought Emergency. Desal is great insurance against the next drought, which is inevitable, if not ongoing.
9) A 1% sales tax is on the ballot to improve infrastructure in the City. Do you support it? If so, what should the money be spent on? If opposed, how should the City deal with aging infrastructure?
My record on Council shows no one has been more focused on investing in infrastructure than I have. Santa Barbara, like all local governments, has robbed their maintenance budgets to increase employee compensation. We must never let the bad decisions of the early 2000’s be made again, and we must find ways to invest in our infrastructure over the long term. A road is cheaper to slurry seal today than re-pave 5 years from now.
We do need to pass Measure C. And this election is critical to ensuring the money is spent appropriately. Over the next four years, we will bond against the Measure C revenue stream using that money to invest in infrastructure.
If the wrong person is elected, he/she could divert money away from bonding and use it for operating costs – which I vehemently oppose.
10) Does Santa Barbara need to construct a new main police station? Why or why not?
Yes, it only gets more expensive the longer we wait.
11) The City of Santa Barbara has a council-manager structure. The mayor is one vote out of seven to approve any new policies. How do you plan to provide leadership and direction with only one vote?
The last eight years have crystallized the importance of working constructively with people whom you might not agree with on every political level. Mayor Schneider has done a magnificent job compared to some of her predecessors. There is very little public bickering which was the hallmark of the Council prior to my arrival.
I have a record of working with my fellow colleagues to move forward important policy. I was the leader of the General Plan update, the Housing Task Force and the City’s Sustainability Committee.
Watch the entire KEYT NewsChannel 3 Santa Barbara Mayoral Forum below.