A law student, single mother, army veteran, accountant, member of the Design Review Board, and planning commissioner walked into the Goleta City Council chambers on Thursday to make their cases for why they should be appointed to the council’s vacant seat. But after three hours of interviews, the councilmembers punted their deliberations to their June 17 meeting, voting 3-1 to postpone a decision until candidate Eric Onnen can be vetted.
The city had set the date for Thursday’s meeting weeks prior, but Onnen reportedly had a preplanned vacation. Councilmembers Michael Bennett, Roger Aceves, and Jim Farr argued it would be unfair to make their choice without interviewing Onnen, too, but Councilmember Paula Perotte disagreed, countering that they knew enough about Onnen — a former councilmember and current planning commissioner — to make an informed decision.
The council has until July 20 to fill the seat left by Ed Easton, who resigned last month after buying a home outside city limits. When news of Easton’s likely departure surfaced some months ago, the council decided to go the appointment route over waiting until the November election. If they can’t agree on a replacement by the deadline, voters will decide in November. Easton’s term ran through 2016.
The councilmembers’ questions probed the candidates for their views on the Good Land’s hot-button issues. They sussed out their stances on the city’s notable acronyms, RNA and GEM, which are its tax-sharing deal with the county (an increasingly bitter pill for City of Goleta officials) and its entrepreneur-fostering partnership with the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce and UCSB (an increasingly mentioned point of pride), respectively. They challenged them on environmental issues related to Venoco’s oil-processing facility and Goleta Beach Park, which the county maintains but the city cares about. And they asked all six applicants to look into their crystal balls on everything from Old Town and a desired City Hall to making the town more bicyclist- and pedestrian-friendly and dealing with its growth. They also made sure the candidates were ready for the time commitment, the small salary ($5,808), and the community outreach.
Recent UCSB graduate and current Santa Barbara College of Law student Dayton Aldrich went first. An intern for the District Attorney’s Office, Aldrich served on the Isla Vista Recreation and Park Committee and said he wants to live in Goleta for the rest of his life. Still, he said, “It’s not a perfect city. I see room for improvement.” He said he wants more business-friendly policies and activities to keep kids occupied after school to prevent them from doing “nefarious things.”
Bill Shelor, a UCSB graduate who served as the assistant financial-aid director for his alma mater for 28 years, went second. Shelor, who now sits on the Design Review Board, noted his appointments to the city’s Planning Commission (by former mayor Margaret Connell and then by current Councilmember Jim Farr), to the Metropolitan Transit District board of directors (by Councilmember Roger Aceves), and to the community advisory council of the county’s Air Pollution Control District (by opponent Onnen). He said the city is doing an “amazing job” for its young age but that he has concerns about its “big-bang growth spurt” and the tax-sharing deal, which he said the county “needs to be weaned” from. Shelor also suggested less of a focus on hotel bed taxes, citing its reliance on a strong economy and its typically low-paying jobs.
Iraq war veteran and Ventura native Aaron Swaney noted his record of public service. While in the Army, he was a delegate to the city council of Tunis, Iraq, where he said he worked to help revitalize business districts and deal with water and sewer issues. Another UCSB graduate, he now works in human resources and coaches the Dos Pueblos High School wrestling team. While he said that the city’s biggest challenge could be the drought, he expressed particular concern about the RNA, renovating Old Town, and making a more bicyclist-friendly Goleta.
A single mom to three kids, Catriona Orosco works full-time as a project manager for Yardi Systems and said the council needs a “wide range of constituents” to represent the city. Orosco, who earned a master’s of business administration from Cal Poly, advocated for more affordable housing and opportunities for youth and said she wants Goleta to be a “destination” not just for Costco.
“This is a city that’s really happening,” said Julie Solomon, who has sat on the town’s planning commission since 2007 after Aceves appointed her. A Goleta resident for 21 years, Solomon said she does her homework and treats the city’s General Plan like her “bible.” She said it was “alarming” to see all of the construction going on but expressed interest in looking at alternative modes of transportation and working with businesses. Solomon also sits on the county’s Human Services Commission.
Carpinteria-born accountant and UCSB alumnus Tony Vallejo — who announced earlier this year that he is thinking of running for a council spot in November — made his pitch last. “I love the small-town feel of this community,” he said, calling it “safe and comfortable.” Vallejo, a former chair of the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce and treasurer for Aceves’s campaign for 2nd District Supervisor, said that “business does well if the community does well.” He said he supports refurbishing Old Town and ending the RNA and that he would have supported the recent proposal for a drive-through at the McDonald’s in the Camino Real Marketplace, which the council rejected.
Onnen sat on council from 2006 to 2010 and has been a planning commissioner since 2012. He has owned the Santa Barbara Airbus for 31 years. In his application, the UCSB graduate said his highest priorities if appointed would include axing the RNA and finding a new city manager to replace longtime leader Dan Singer, who left in May.