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Bark Twice, Bite Once

Rewarding Enemies and Punishing Friends with Supervisor Salud Carbajal


MADNESS TO HIS METHOD? If politics is the art of the possible, then it seems 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal is stretching the limits to include the impossible, the improbable, and the downright peculiar, as well. How else to explain Carbajal’s vote on election Tuesday two weeks ago to recommend über-contrarian Joe Armendariz, Carpinteria’s combatively conservative city councilmember, to the California Coastal Commission? Why a shrewd political operator like Carbajal — steeped in the liberal, environmental wing of the Democratic Party — would appoint so gleefully truculent a Republican as Armendariz to anything — particularly on the Day of the Red Tide — is more than a little mysterious. But to support someone so suicidally sympathetic to the oil industry, as Armendariz has outspokenly been, to the last line of governmental defense against that industry? It seems weirder still when you consider that Carbajal’s political career was painstakingly hatched, incubated, and nurtured by former supervisor Naomi Schwartz — who, not coincidentally, was one of the very first Coastal Commissioners back when that was still considered a radical thing to do.

Angry Poodle

But who doesn’t remember flushing cherry bombs down the toilet back in junior high school? In the spirit of political vandalism, it might be tempting — irresistible, actually — to appoint Joe. After all, here’s a guy who claims climate change is a hoax and peak oil is a myth and in the immediate aftermath of the BP disaster issued a stirring defense of the oil industry’s offshore safety record. Natural seeps and hydrogen cars cause more pollution, he argued. More tellingly, Armendariz was the only member of the Carpinteria City Council to not oppose oil company Venoco’s naked effort to bypass the city’s normal environmental review process by placing major expansion plans on Carpinteria’s ballot this summer. While Armendariz — who also serves as executive director of the Industrial Association and Taxpayers Association — took pains not to explicitly endorse Venoco’s plans, the Industrial Association did. And as a councilmember, Armendariz wasted little opportunity to express his ever-withering scorn for anyone critical of Venoco’s game plan. (The voters, it turned out, were equally withering in their rejection of Venoco’s scheme, and the company’s initiative lost by more than 70 percent.) Likewise, Armendariz supported Proposition 23, which would have effectively repealed California’s landmark anti-global warming legislation, and, as a voting member of the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, initially backed a plan that would have made Santa Barbara the only county in the state to refuse to reduce emissions associated with climate change.

As a member of the commission, Armendariz would be in hog heaven. The man relishes a good fight — any fight, actually — and nothing sets him off like the self-enlightened howl of liberal indignation. Like many afflicted with libertarian leanings, Armendariz suffers the loneliness common to people who know they’re smarter than everyone else but cannot resist saying so. As a personal disclaimer, I should state for the record that I like Joe. Santa Barbara would be poorer without him. The same cannot be said, however, for the Coastal Commission.

Perhaps Carbajal was feeling especially magnanimous Election Day and felt he could afford to reach across the ideological chasm. Certainly if he looked into the mirror and saw King Tut, he had good reason. Das Williams cruised to victory in his race for the State Assembly. But without Carbajal’s early and aggressive help, it’s highly doubtful Williams would have survived the June primary intact. By helping Williams, Carbajal smote not just Susan Jordan — Williams’s Democratic foe in the primary — but Jordan’s husband, outgoing Assemblymember Pedro Nava, whose name Carbajal cannot utter without experiencing an outbreak of Tourette’s syndrome. Likewise, Carbajal’s candidate Monique Limón didn’t just win in her bid for the school board; she came in first. In his efforts to clear competing candidates out of Limón’s way, Carbajal had been as subtle as a Mack Truck.

Or maybe Carbajal had his nose out of joint with the Coastal Commission over its ongoing jurisdictional turf battle with Santa Barbara County over who will need permits in the future — along the coast — and to do what. There are arguments on both sides, and how that all shakes out will be determined later this week. But conspicuous among those outraged by the overreaching effrontery of the commission are people just like you and me but who happen to have stairways linking their homes to the beach down below and horses parked in their yards. This demographic is disproportionately represented in Carbajal’s district, and the size of Salud’s bulging campaign war chest has always been directly proportional to his ability to feel their pain. In his recent expressions of empathy, Carbajal has proven so harshly critical of the commission that fellow supervisor Janet Wolf felt compelled to remind him that previous boards of supervisors would have happily sold out the coast many times over were it not for the intercessions of the Coastal Commission.

Or maybe a brain fart is just a brain fart. Carbajal explained the supervisors had been given two names for consideration for the vacancy on the Coastal commission. One was an arch conservative from Pismo Beach. If conservatives were on the menu, Carbajal explained he’d rather order one from Santa Barbara. Accordingly, he sided with supervisors Joni Gray and Joe Centeno — both conservative Republicans — in recommending Armendariz. His more liberal colleagues — Wolf and Doreen Farr — opted instead to vote against both Armendariz and the conservative Pismo clam. Duh!

To the extent Carbajal was throwing Armendariz a bone for some ulterior political purpose, there never was any meat on it. At the end of the day, Armendariz never stood a chance. Schwarzenegger regards the bill to control global warming as his historic legacy and has loudly denounced “the black-hearted oil companies” — and anyone else — trying to scuttle it. Armendariz would fall into the “anyone else” category. If Schwarzenegger doesn’t get around to making the appointment, then his successor, Jerry Brown, will. Last I heard, Brown likes a good laugh, but his sense of humor is nowhere near as perverse as Carbajal’s.

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