At an otherwise light-hearted forum on Wednesday, five candidates seeking to represent the 3rd supervisorial district sparred over many Isla Vista issues, environmental protection laws, and fracking.
Moderator Shane Stark, a former county counsel, conveyed an informal tone at the League of Women Voters–sponsored event, and the candidates — Jay Freeman, Bob Field, Joan Hartmann, Karen Jones, and Bruce Porter — appeared comfortable in front of the crowd of 50 or so at the Isla Vista Elementary School.
Despite the ease, a League rule forbidding candidates from attacking each other was broken a few times. Jones — far-right, anti–big government, and an unpaid music promoter in the valley — has made it clear she entered this race to batter Porter, an army veteran who is backed by conservatives.
She made a few subtle (and less than subtle) jabs at him. “I’ve lived through these cycles,” she said when asked about the county’s most pressing water issue. “Bruce has read and studied about it.” She similarly discredited Porter’s efforts when he described riding along with sheriff and fire officials in Isla Vista last Halloween night. “I don’t have to ride along with the sheriff because I am a native,” she said.
Similarities among some candidates were equally apparent. Bob Field, a Santa Ynez Valley mover and shaker, wholly agreed with Hartmann about her support for community plans. “I don’t really have anything new to say,” he said, adding he would just “string the beads in a different order.” He continued, “Where the local community lays out its vision in the future, those communities stayed in place.”
Though Field describes himself as an old-fashioned conservative —“for conservation” — he actively supported Hartmann (a former public policy professor and environmental attorney who is backed by the Democratic Party) before jumping in the race.
Freeman — founder of the multimillion-dollar tech company Cydia, an alternative to the Apple Store for “jailbroken” devices — also lauded Hartmann. He enthusiastically appreciated the fact Hartmann called Community Choice Energy — a program that would allow the county to purchase wholesale electricity and sell it to customers — one of “the greatest things I’d like to do as supervisor.”
“Joan’s answer was incredibly great,” Freeman said, pulling out a small map to show how such a program would work. Hartmann smiled, and they gave each other a half-hug.
Isla Vista Issues
A number of the questions addressed Isla Vista — funding its services, governing its dense urban area, ensuring the quality of life.
As the only South Coast candidate living in the Goleta area, Freeman had home court advantage; he’s lived there for about 16 years. Immersed in local politics for the past two years, Freeman called for the establishment of a Municipal Advisory Council in Isla Vista. A MAC, as it’s known, would allow the Board of Supervisors to “meet in the community,” Freeman said, so that involved citizens don’t have to spend all day at the hearings just for three minutes of public comment. “That’s what we need.”
Asked about new revenue sources for Isla Vista, Freeman again pulled out a map — “I love maps,” he said — to demonstrate I.V.’s lost revenue from the dissolution of redevelopment agencies in 2012. On the quality of life, Freeman said, “Number 1: More police.” The population has doubled, but there are fewer police officers, he noted.
Porter, meanwhile, used the event to launch what he called Isla Vista 2.0. “What if overnight Isla Vista became a city?” he asked. His proposal — which is not actually a city — would “fill in the missing pieces to create an Isla Vista governance” equipped with a modest public works, planning, and administrative staff. “The City Council is critical … it’s a way to empower Isla Vista. It’s time to stop throwing pennies at sidewalks.” It would be, he added, a “perfect partner for a Community Services District,” which is the measure headed for the November ballot.
Hartmann said she’s spent her entire career working from the “bottom up rather than command and control.” She noted her work on the influential Wetlands Recovery Project — a public-private restoration effort in Southern California. Hartmann agreed with Freeman’s emphasis on safety, noting 25 percent of the crime in the county occurs in Isla Vista. She talked about an app young people could use to easily call for help if they suddenly felt unsafe walking home alone.
Jones — who apologized for calling young people in Isla Vista “kids” after an audience member gave her advice during the break — said she agreed with the others about ways to improve the quality of life in Isla Vista. “I like the [Community Services District],” she said. But “things don’t happen fast enough.” She continued, “I’ve been to parties,” and the word “slumlord is maybe not hard enough.”
Field said the word “govern” makes him “really uncomfortable.” He further dismissed Porter’s Isla Vista 2.0. “I suggest you don’t fall for it,” he said. “If you shoot for the moon you might not end up with anything.”
Asked if the rebranding of Isla Vista by the committee known as I.V. Safe — made up of county and college officials convened in 2014 — is an appropriate use of public money, all the candidates expressed varying amounts of disapproval. Porter dismissed it as a waste of taxpayer money. The “self-importance is shameless,” he said. Freeman, who spoke critically of the committee at a recent Board of Supervisors meeting, said “[T]he answer is no. … It’s just absolutely not an okay thing to do with public money,” he said.
Field and Jones also expressed a fair amount of opposition to the government being engaged in marketing. “I would like to see the money spent toward mental health services,” Jones said.
Hartmann said, “I’m going to try to give a broader perspective on that.” She spoke about student-organized efforts to transform I.V.’s culture — passing out “cookies, condoms. and water. … That is students taking a major role,” she said. “That’s where I would like to see more effort going.” As for the marketing, Hartmann said she didn’t believe enough attention was give to the people who lived in Isla Vista.
Stark asked the candidates their opinion of CEQA — the California Environmental Quality Act. Porter called it a “valuable tool.” However, he said, it “is sometimes abused by people trying to use it for political purposes,” and he would maybe “fiddle” with it a little. Field said simply, “This is the first time I agree with Mr. Porter,” and did not elaborate.
Jones said she was not familiar with CEQA — “but I am familiar with people using things as political tools.” She said, “The owner of the land is usually the best steward.” Freeman noted the bureaucratic and superfluous nature of the law, but said he supported its concept.
Hartmann, who spent part of her career working for the Environmental Protection Agency, said she was “very much in favor of [environmental impact review] and [environmental impact statement] because it holds agencies accountable to the people they serve.”
Oil, Oil, Oil
Asked about continued oil development, including fracking, Jones, who grew up on an oil lease said, “I love oil … This is oil country. The seepage is natural.” But she opposed fracking, which, she said, “sounds a lot like another four-letter word.” Hartmann likewise opposed fracking. She also noted the city of San Diego hopes to be 100 percent renewable by 2035. Field prefaced his response was like “intellectual whiplash. … I don’t love oil, but I like it a lot,” he said. “Water is the most precious resource,” noting he was “dead set against fracking” because they “won’t tell us what chemicals [they are] slamming into the ground.”
Porter said the “good news is the composition of the Monterey shale [underlying the state] is not very conducive to fracking.” He said we would move away from oil — but that could be 2075.
The next forum is scheduled for Monday, May 2, at 7 p.m. at St. Marks Church in Los Olivos.