Five candidates have an eye on the position that controls Santa Barbara’s geographically largest district, an expanse of land that includes the beaches of Isla Vista, the Goleta suburbs, North County ranch land, and everything in between. They stood before 60 of their potential constituents Tuesday night in Isla Vista’s Embarcadero Hall at the first-ever forum featuring each of the five vying for 3rd District supervisor-Dr. David Bearman, Doreen Farr, Steve Pappas, Victoria Pointer, and David Smyser. For nearly two and a half hours, the five answered questions pre-formulated by the event organizers, Campus Democrats, as well as those asked by attendees to give those present an idea of how he or she might direct this chunk of the county.
The 3rd District supervisor is Isla Vista’s only elected official, and members of the audience ranged from UCSB students likely to soon move elsewhere to longtime residents with an axe to grind. All, however, were there to hear the potential supes talk about such subjects as affordable housing, public safety, forced evictions, long-range development plans, the potential incorporation of Isla Vista, and-seemingly the hottest subject on the table-potential development on the Gaviota Coast at Naples.
“Except for a few developers, few people support developing [Naples],” said Bearman, summing up the sentiments of most of the candidates, except for Victoria Pointer, who contended that having between 54-72 McMansions at Naples is preferable to having all of the 275 legal lots developed. Many environmental groups, including the Naples Coalition and Surfrider Foundation, seem to be at odds with current 3rd District Supervisor Brooks Firestone on this matter, but his hand-picked successor, David Smyser, vowed to keep the Gaviota coastline as it is today. Smyser did, however, express his objection to the approach adopted by these groups in regard to Goleta Beach. “I agree with the experienced environmental staff of the county and members of the community that managed retreat is not a viable option,” he said.
All of the candidates also took a few minutes-or more, in some cases-to describe their strengths. Presenting a laundry list of committees and boards he has served on-including that of the Isla Vista Clinic, which he founded-Bearman underscored his experience in and dedication to the communities of Goleta and Isla Vista. Farr noted that she has been an activist for 15 years and has been a staunch defender of public safety, housing issues, and environmental and land use concerns.
Steve Pappas stated that although he has not been in public office for long-currently serving a four-year term on the Los Olivos School Board, with a year as its president-he is not affiliated with any party and is therefore a nonpartisan candidate. Pointer said her experience as a Buellton city councilmember and the fact that her campaign is a grassroots effort not impacted by campaign finance made her the best candidate. “I am not a politician,” she said, “I prefer to be referred to as a public servant.”
Smyser, who served as a planning commissioner under Firestone and his chief of staff, promoted the current supervisor’s work from the past three years, promising to continue in his footsteps. With the exception of Smyser, all of the other candidates pledged to do things differently than Firestone. “I’m running because of a concern for Mr. Firestone’s environmental policy and his tepidness in dealing with development issues,” said Bearman. Farr was unabashedly critical of Firestone’s tenure. “To be clear, I would do many things different than Supervisor Firestone,” she said. “I would work hard to protect the environment and open space and be very tough on oil drilling.”
The tenants evicted from Isla Vista’s Cedarwood apartment complex last year were brought up repeatedly during the evening’s discussions. Although the other candidates supported an ordinance that would increase the amount of notice time required of landlords to allow tenants to find other lodgings, Smyser felt that adding it into Isla Vista’s general plan would be more appropriate.
One of the tougher questions posed by audience members was aimed at Smyser regarding alleged large donations from out-of-town but unnamed development interests. He replied that because his campaign had sent out more than 2,000 requests for funding to many different parties, they did not have the inclination to investigate the origins of every one. Eventually, he said, there was a private investigation that uncovered some of the larger donors as tourism interests. “That’s fine,” he said. “Local tourism proponents support me because I support tourism as one of the three main prongs in the county-tourism, sales tax, and property tax.”