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Connell and Easton Win Goleta Council Seats

It took a while for the numbers to get in, but by 10:30 tonight, Margaret Connell -- who served on Goleta's first city council -- and Planning Commissioner Ed Easton raised their glasses high amidst cheers from an enthusiastic crowd. Chili's Restaurant, located in the Camino Real Marketplace shopping center, was packed with the victorious duo's supporters, many of whom were coming and going from Doreen Farr's election party two doors down at the Hollister Brewing Company.

Despite charges by some campaign ads that Connell and Easton's campaigns were funded by developers -- several existing hotels contributed heavily to the campaign coffers this time around -- a regular who's who of Santa Barbara's environmental community was represented at both events. Marc Chytilo, who represents the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, participated in the revelry, as did Planning Commissioner Julie Kessler Solomon and Nicole Cerra, the Education Coordinator for UCSB's Coal Oil Point Reserve. "I think that the community has expressed a very strong preference for city council people who will take a very cautious approach to growth here," said Solomon.

In his victory speech, Easton noted -- in a mood that has already come to characterize that of the pantheon of candidates this post campaign period -- that after a tough campaign, it is time for opposing sides to come together to fix the City's problems. Later he added that voters felt Goleta was being led down the wrong track by the current council majority. "If they take a pendulum and swing it to one side, they have to expect a reaction. That's not the way a city should be run, and we intend to slow that down."

Many voters may have noticed the letter carrier bringing more negative campaign mailers as election day neared. "This is a more intense campaign than I've ever experienced before," said Connell. "This time we knew what their issues were going to be, so we were able to respond. Revenue neutrality was inflated into this big thing, and the public didn't buy into it." She continued that she hopes to enter into productive discussions with all sides concerning issues like revenue neutrality, and hopes that the new council will come to more consensus votes rather than the rash of 3-2 votes which have been seen in many cases over the past two years. Connell also thanked outgoing Council member Jean Blois for her many years of service to the City.

Having been considered the Council's swing vote, Mayor Pro tempore Roger Aceves expressed asserted his view that the new council will be more evenly balanced. "We have one side that's being characterized as pro-growth, and one side that's stated a desire for proper planning," he said. "Put it all together and the City's going to have a representative council like it's never had." Aceves felt that his training as a hostage situation negotiator while an officer in the Santa Barbara Police Department makes him best suited for the job as mediator between the two sides. "I negotiated the biggest hostage situation Santa Barbara has ever seen," he said of his negotiation of a hostage's release after a 21 hour standoff in 1994. Apparently, fellow council members are a piece of cake after having been through that.

THE OPPOSITION

Incumbent Jean Blois and businessman Don Gilman made a valiant run for the open council seats -- the percentages were relatively close -- but statistics received from early votes held true to the end, with the approximate breakdown being: Connell - 27 percent; Easton - 26 percent; Gilman - 23 percent; Blois - 21 percent. Earlier in the evening -- at the Blois/Gilman campaign party at the Holiday Inn on Calle Real -- spirits were high despite the discouraging count, in no small part due to the fervor over which Barack Obama's ascension to the presidency was accepted. "I was blown away by Obama's speech - I mean, it was amazing!" said Council member Eric Onnen, who, along with Mayor Michael Bennett, the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce's Kristin Amyx and Jim Knight, and Dr. Dan Secord, were among those of note in attendance.

No matter the outcome of the City Council election, both sides of Goleta's political spectrum were caught up in the bliss of a nation which just elected a new president who has already captured the imaginations of many. In a typical reaction of a people that has endured eight years of bad management, many were glad simply to see something new take its place. But I'd like to think that there was something more there this time -- a genuine hope for positive change here and in the rest of the world. My brother called me from outside the White House, where he said "everyone in the city under 35" was gathered. As they all sang, "Nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah, hey hey hey, goodbye!" to President Bush, who was inside, their voices were filled with a real confidence that a much better time is coming.

From the cheerful bustle I witnessed at what turned out to be Connell and Easton's victory party, I gathered that the same sentiment is felt across much of Goleta. As Aceves so aptly stated, "Tomorrow, we have a new country, a new county, and a new city." Despite a quick visit to his home this evening, Roy Zbinden was unavailable for comment.

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