The city of Goleta will hold its next City Council elections in 2010, in which Mr. Roger Aceves, Mr. Michael Bennett and Mr. Eric Onnen will be running for re-election. For those of us who follow local politics, now is the time when we start thinking about whether they should keep their jobs, and wondering who will run against them.
I asked another political aficionado if he knew who’s in the pipeline, ready to take Goleta’s challenges in their hands and, with new approaches, continue to move things ahead. The answer he gave me-that no one seems to be willing to take the lead and change the things that we don’t like, to modernize our city and the way our government operates-was a little disheartening. No new leaders on the horizon, at this point. If a viable candidate doesn’t come forward, the incumbents will run unopposed, which is not just a stamp of approval for the way things are done, but a missed opportunity to have a dialogue as to how things could be better.
To find out whether people in general are happy with the present City Council, I decided to go out and do one of my non-scientific, but very telling, surveys at the Camino Real Marketplace. After I made sure that the interviewee lived or worked in Goleta, the questions I asked were simple: 1)What do you know about City Council? 2) Can you tell me the name or names of any council member? 3) What are the most important issues facing Goleta? 4) What do you like the most and the least about Goleta? 5) In which way would you like to receive updates on what city council is working on?
Carolyn, a young mother of one who has lived in Goleta for eight years, said that she doesn’t know anything about City Council. The one thing that she keeps track of is the housing problem. “There’s a desperate need for housing. We’re renting and landlords treat us really badly,” she said. “It’s really frustrating. We’re treated without respect. Because of this, we bought a house in Arizona, and lived there for a while but came back because here you find very educated, interesting people from all over the world, and because it is so beautiful. Updates? Maybe a mass e-mail with a link to the latest news about Goleta might work for me.”
Robert, a husband and a father of two, works at Mika’s: “I don’t know any of the names of Council members or the issues affecting Goleta. Look, I work a 12-hour day and I don’t have time for anything else. I’ve worked and lived here for five years. I used to live in Colorado and it’s way better there. Here I work 72 hours a week and I can barely financially make it. My wife in Colorado was a stay-at-home mom, and I was making about the same money, but my rent was $600 for a two-bedroom home. We’re barely surviving and can’t even save the money we need to go back to Colorado. Wages here are way low for the cost of living. We need a living wage here, otherwise the hard-working people will have to leave the area and that won’t benefit anyone. I’m not really interested in politics or politicians or in knowing what they do. I’m busy trying to survive.”
Mike, living the peaceful life of a retired person, told me that he doesn’t know anything about our City Council members or what they do. “Here’s an outstanding issue: Old Town. It needs to be rejuvenated. If they don’t fix it the merchants won’t be able to make it. Another one: Goleta is getting old. Just six months ago they finally started fixing the off-ramps of the freeway and the mid-sections of Hollister. A good thing: We don’t have as much crime and graffiti as Santa Barbara. Kudos to whomever is responsible for that. Information: I don’t want any. I won’t ruin the quality of my life by paying attention to politics.”
A young UCSB student-her name was inaudible in my recorder: “I don’t know anything about City Council. Last week I learned about Council members going to I.V. to experience Halloween. That’s all I know. I’d like to see Goleta and UCSB more integrated. Students could be volunteering more for community programs, and school kids could have more activities at UCSB. Goleta is a beautiful location and the coast line is gorgeous. Text messages make up for a good conversation among friends. City Council should send updates in the middle of the day so we could read them, and talk about them with others.”
These are only four examples representing 10 people that I interviewed. None of them knew Council members’ names or what they’re working on, thus they were unable to evaluate their performance. Nine out of ten accepted that they’re not proactive in looking for information, and none of them uses or was aware of the website. Eight out of ten were concerned about the very basics: housing, living wage, water, quality of life. Six people’s personal priorities were reflected in the city’s strategic plan, and seven people suggested that tidbits of information in text messages or short emails with links to the latest about Goleta would be helpful in keeping people informed.
These findings showed once more how little our involvement is in the very things that have the potential to affect our lives the most. The government’s responsibility is to keep us informed of what’s happening in our city, but having the information available is not enough. Should they look for more modern ways to communicate with us? On the other hand, it is in our best interest to be proactive in finding out what our government is doing in order to hold them accountable.
Maybe politicians will start behaving more responsibly when we start paying the same attention during their terms, that we paid when we elected them.