For months, it appeared as if this November’s City Council race would be a total non-event. No one, other than the three incumbents seeking re-election-Brian Barnwell, Helene Schneider, and Das Williams-evidenced any interest in the contest. Republicans, business interests, Latino activists, neighborhood advocates, fiscal hawks, and slow-growthers upset by the high-density direction of City Hall might grind their teeth about the current council, but no one had fielded a candidate.
But by last Friday, six challengers had submitted the signatures necessary to qualify for the November ballot; all said they were motivated to some degree by their rage at the Light Blue Line, a public art statement against uncontrolled global warming. Additionally, many of the challengers say they are outraged by the mini roundabouts sprouting up throughout the upper East Side.
Of the challengers, only one-Bob Hansen-has run before. A homeless rights advocate, Hansen has run for elected office more times than all the other candidates combined. Like all the challengers, Hansen was critical of the Light Blue Line-a 1,000-foot-long stripe painted on city streets to show where the water level would rise if Greenland’s ice sheets melt-but quipped that City Hall should have made it a wall instead. On a more serious note, Hansen advocates converting the National Guard Armory into a tech training academy so that teens can learn a gainful trade.
Of the others, perhaps dentist Dr. Michael Cooper has the longest track record of civic involvement, serving in both the Downtown Organization and on the city’s Transportation and Circulation Committee. A onetime Republican who registered as a Democrat after watching George W. Bush in action, Cooper said he’s most concerned about City Hall’s not-so-subliminal campaign to use “anger and frustration” to encourage residents to use other forms of transportation.
Dale Francisco, a Republican computer engineer and resident of Santa Barbara for 23 years, became actively involved in the campaign to stop the mini-roundabouts. City Hall, he charged, ties up smaller projects in bureaucratic red tape while giving the green light to developers it likes. Dan Litten, a Libertarian, doctor, and five-year resident, complained the council wastes time on silly symbolism-like the Light Blue Line-while ignoring the pollution caused by gas-powered leaf-blowers despite the existence of a citywide ban. Frank Hotchkiss-a real estate broker and onetime actor, reporter, and PR executive-described himself as a “conservative Libertarian” and charged that the Light Blue Line will depress property values. He said he’s also concerned about overdevelopment and gang activity. Finally, there’s Michelle Giddens, the Mesa resident who campaigned against the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance that the council recently passed in an effort to limit the proliferation of mini-mansions and large homes in more modest residential neighborhoods. A registered Democrat and owner of an air purification business, Giddens said she favored “fairness, flexibility, and appropriate size.” She complained that too often the council acts without reflecting adequately on the consequences. But for councilmembers Barnwell and Schneider, who spent two years laboring on the Neighborhood Preservation Committee, there was nothing the least bit hasty in the deliberations.