Of the 18 candidates running for Santa Barbara mayor and the three City Council openings, there are two we can endorse: Helene Schneider, a six-year member of the City Council, for mayor; and Harwood “Bendy” White, now a 14-year planning commissioner, for council. (Our deliberations for the two other seats continue.)
Of the five people now running for mayor, Helene Schneider possesses the best mix of political experience, temperament, and vision to address the challenges confronting City Hall. During her six years on the council, Schneider has shown sustained focus, intelligence, and hard work. Throughout budget deliberations, Schneider articulated a broader vision of what role City Hall plays throughout Santa Barbara’s many communities. She expressed a far more encompassing vision of public safety. While Schneider is committed to maintaining current levels of patrol officers, she also pushed for intervention and prevention programs, particularly for at-risk youth.
The budget choices in the immediate future promise to be excruciating. Schneider has been the only candidate to ask all public employee unions to make contract concessions. It’s telling that these unions, including firefighters and police, endorsed Schneider. On homelessness issues, Schneider concluded that efficiently delivering social services helps City Hall save the public money, care for the chronically poor, and address the small number of street people who make life difficult for everyone. When the City Council was confronted by tearful tenants about to be evicted by a landlord intent on upgrading his property, Schneider immediately began working to amend the city’s condominium conversion and demolition ordinances to provide greater protections for displaced renters. An alternative transportation advocate, Schneider can be found regularly waiting for the downtown bus. She supports commuter rail and has lobbied Ventura County officials to embrace cost-sharing efforts. Though some alt-transit advocates find Schneider’s approach too incremental and piecemeal, she ultimately is a pragmatist who believes a few tangible gains trump rhetorical grand gestures.
In her own neighborhood, Schneider has worked to reintegrate Harding Elementary School into the Westside community. She played a major role in the decision by Harding administrators to open their campus to a weekly Farmers Market. This is the essence of community building, and should not be taken for granted.
On a more critical note, we are disappointed with Schneider’s lack of stance on Measure B, the ballot measure that would lower Pueblo Viejo’s maximum building height from 60-40 feet. Given that Schneider is seeking a top leadership position, we find her refusal to take a public position unpersuasive. In the past, she consistently has done better than this. If elected, we’re confident she will in the future.
Of the 13 candidates now vying for the three council positions-a fourth will open up should current members Schneider or Dale Francisco be elected mayor-Harwood “Bendy” White has demonstrated the experience, expertise, and rare independence to become a genuine broker between the warring slow-growth and smart-growth camps. White cut his teeth as a fire prevention planner for the county in the 1970s. In the ‘80s, he served on the city’s Water Commission, working to ensure older water mains were replaced regularly. White served as Water Commission chair during the drought of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when water customers routinely showed up, angrily demanding answers. White accommodated such complaints. People may not have walked away happy, but very few left feeling unheard. This same approach will be in much demand as City Hall figures out how to best weather the ongoing budget crisis. But make no mistake: White enters the fray a budget hawk, intent on reducing city government to an economically sustainable scale.
By contemporary political standards, White seems curiously contradictory. On the Planning Commission, he routinely voted against almost every major development proposal even though he works as a private land-use consultant. But White has been as civil as he is obstinate, developing a warm friendship with one of the most consistently pro-growth members of the Planning Commission, Bill Mahan. Where other commissioners complained of being steamrolled into approving projects, White stood his ground. While unsuccessful in stopping many projects outright, White frequently has enriched deliberations by asking the right questions and has always pushed for the maximum public benefit.
On land-use issues, White championed the preservation of green space and restoring Mission Creek to its former vitality. On housing matters, he fought to shrink luxury condominiums and to promote affordable housing. White is listed as one of the co-sponsors of Measure B, the building height initiative. On this point, we part company with White. But his support comes with a notable asterisk: At forums, he has stated he would push to change the method by which building heights are defined to secure a degree of flexibility that Measure B would otherwise deny.