The two candidates running to be the county’s 1st District Supervisor — incumbent Salud Carbajal and challenger Carole Lieff — debated Monday night about a variety of issues including pension reform and services for the homeless.
Hosted by Santa Barbara’s League of Women Voters at the Louise Lowry Davis Center, the debate got heated at times but presented voters with clear pictures of their candidates.
Lieff, a self-proclaimed “economist,” “financial expert,” and “turnaround specialist” who assured voters that she will not be accepting any campaign contributions, called the current Board of Supervisors “amateurs” and a “dog and pony show,” saying that if policies for high-density housing continue, Santa Barbara will drastically change.
“They’re going to Los Angeles-ize this place,” she said, noting that she might move to Montana if she loses the election. “We cannot support more housing of any kind. I don’t believe in forcing a shoe that doesn’t fit.”
Supervisor Carbajal, though, called for balance in regard to affordable housing, saying that “we need to look at how we can be creative.” Doing that, he said, can result in a “win-win.”
When questioned on what they believed to be the most pressing issues facing the county, Lieff and Carbajal again diverged, with Carbajal stressing the need for a new jail and the importance of looking after the homeless and mentally ill populations and Lieff lampooning what she believed to be too much growth.
When there are too many people, she said, “people start to kill each other. Rats kill each other. They get violent.”
Lieff also criticized the fiscal actions taken by her opponent and the board, complaining about disability payments for county employees who are obese or get cancer. “That’s not from their job,” she said.
Narrowing down their concerns to the 1st District — which includes Carpinteria, Summerland, Montecito, Cuyama, and much of Santa Barbara — Supervisor Carbajal and Lieff again could not find common ground. For Lieff, employee pensions and oil fracking made the list. For Carbajal, water-quality testing, Highway 101 changes, and the hiking trails were important, he said, to “just make life a little better for the residents of Santa Barbara County and my district.”
When questioned by members of the public on their prospective financial policies, Carbajal and Lieff agreed that some spending changes had to be made, but still took different stances.
Calling the deal reached with hotel developer Rick Caruso a “bailout to a billionaire,” Lieff stressed the importance of small businesses to the middle class. “We need to think about people and not about things, about money,” she said.
Her opponent took a different tack, mentioning the actions that the county has taken given the current economy, including instituting a hiring freeze, getting rid of retiree medical benefits for future employees, and implementing a new two-tier retirement system. Lieff was quick to criticize that system, though. “We’re reducing a workforce to pay people who don’t work,” she said, sharing an anecdote of how she was once briefly put in jail for getting “testy” with a sales clerk.
In regard to their views on the homeless, Carbajal stressed his commitment to providing “basic essential needs” to those who are mentally ill and/or have drug and alcohol issues. “We could always do more,” he said.
Lieff, however, felt that homelessness need not be addressed by the county, saying that “people should go home to their families like they did in the olden days.”
Addressing the attendees asking the candidates for their plans to balance the interests of farmers, environmentalists, and real estate developers, Carbajal cautioned against class warfare while Lieff criticized the “chess games” played by politicians.
At the end of the debate, Supervisor Carbajal kept his closing remarks short — saying that he was “very privileged” to represent his constituents — but Lieff stayed critical of her opponent and the Board of Supervisors.
“There’s going to be insurrection in the police department, in the fire department,” she said. “Young people who work aren’t going to support retired people who don’t. I blame the elected officials.”
The primary will be held on June 5.