During the month of November, the city of Santa Barbara will conduct elections for three positions on the City Council—a bit more than 40 percent of the total membership. This election will be extremely important for the future of the city. It comes at time when the city, county, state, and federal governments are all facing serious financial challenges. Every program and associated expenditures are being scrutinized by all responsible citizens, especially those paying most of the taxes.
The current City Council has three liberal members including the mayor, two conservative members, and two independent members; and as such it has a small liberal majority. This distribution resembling the voter make up in the city. The present configuration seems to represent an optimum balance of voter interests, avoiding the promotion of party or personal interests over the broad interests of the community.
The independent candidates are both running for reelection and they have different backgrounds and emphases. Mr. R. Rowse is a businessman who has been in the restaurant business in downtown Santa Barbara for many years and is well aware of the needs and requirements of a critical industry, namely tourism, in this City. Mrs. M. Self is more of a populist or community representative who has championed many general community issues. With these two members both business and community interests are well represented.
The top priority of the council at the present time should be on balancing the budget and correcting deficits which were the result of over commitments and excessive expenditures by previous administrations. In spite of the decreased budget, the City Council is responsible also for providing and coordinating fundamental services such as police, fire, housing and many others to the community. Past City Councils have had memberships that were weighted too heavily toward one side of the political spectrum. Only four years ago, the make up was six liberal members, including the mayor, and one conservative. This resulted in an unchecked government where additional unneeded programs and expenses were incurred. Also, their support of additional benefits for city employees not only reduced but basically eliminated the budget reserves of the city and contributed greatly to current fiscal problems.
The situation of political imbalance is a general problem for the country. The fiscal condition of any part of government is not controlled by its citizens but rather by those who govern and decide where to allocate and many times misuse funds. This problem can now be seen at all levels of government.
The function of the City Council is to represent and serve the people of the city not to favor certain segments of the community or political parties. With an at-large election system such as we have in the City of Santa Barbara, it is important that the voters be sensitive to the need to maintain a balanced City Council so that all sides of the political spectrum are equally represented. The present configuration seems to be the best balance at the present time since it has a fair distribution among liberal, conservative, and independent ideologies.
The present configuration has been in power for approximately one year and, during this short time, it has made progress on the most critical issues such as balancing the budget, protecting the citizens, and supporting an actual increase in the number of police officers in the city. The present council has also tried to prioritize needs of the city in a logical way. It would be a great mistake to try to swing the composition of the City Council one way or another by electing inexperienced new members or past members who contributed to the current financial problems.
During the upcoming election the two independent members and one conservative member, Mr. D. Francisco, are up for reelection. These three members as well as the rest of the present City Council deserve a vote of confidence, and they should be supported to continue guiding the city through these trying times.
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Albert Mercado served as foreman of the Santa Barbara Grand Jury, 2006-2007