June 2008 Endorsements

The Santa Barbara Independent's Picks for the June 3 Election

For 3rd District Supervisor: Doreen Farr

Of the county’s five supervisorial districts, none are so difficult, so contradictory, and so critical to the overall direction of county government as the 3rd District, which encompasses much of the Goleta Valley, all of Isla Vista, and a sizable bite of the Santa Ynez Valley and Vandenberg Village. The 3rd District seat has long constituted the balance of power on the board. The trick is to find a candidate who can represent such a diverse district. Of the five candidates, only two seem to have the financial and political backing needed to make it through the June 3 primary: David Smyser and Doreen Farr. We endorse Doreen Farr.

Doreen Farr
Paul Wellman

The most serious challenge the new board will confront is redistricting. The 2010 census will require the district lines to be redrawn based on the new population figures. The outcome of that riotous political exercise will have profound consequences on every county election during the next 10 years. Whoever wins the 3rd District race will hold the pen that redraws that map.

Also at issue is the fate of the Gaviota Coast, one of the most drop-dead gorgeous and biologically unique ecosystems anywhere on Earth. Gaviota is continually facing the ravishing wolf of development, and so far the board has dickered, never developing a unified vision to protect the coast. It even refused to allow the long-anticipated Gaviota Study Report-the work of a widely diverse group of Gaviota stakeholders-to come before the board. We need supervisors who will be open to finding a way to save this most precious Californian natural resource.

And then there is the dunderheaded approach to the budget crisis taken by the present board and its county executive, Mike Brown. Their solution is a ridiculous 5 percent cut through all departments. This will destroy vital public services, but, cruelly, allow managers to keep most of their $100,000 salaries. In the process, the mental health system will further deteriorate to such a dysfunctional level that public safety will be threatened.

Given these daunting prospects, it might seem odd to endorse the only candidate who has never run for elected office. But Farr has unique sensibilities and connections that will prove essential in navigating the tripwire cultural divide that defines the district. Throughout her long tenure as an activist and public servant, she has always impressed us with her intelligence, knowledge, consistency, and, most of all, her hard work. Settling in the county 21 years ago, Farr entered the public fray, ultimately successfully fighting for sidewalks where none existed, despite strenuous opposition from the county. In the early ’90s, Farr was deeply involved in the campaign for Goleta cityhood. Later, she became active with the Patterson Area Neighborhoods Association (PANA), one of the many groups trying to preserve Goleta’s community character. But she remained committed to expanding the opportunity for affordable housing. In 1999, Farr was appointed to the county’s Planning Commission, where she got a crash course in the politics of countywide land-use planning. During her three years on the commission, Farr earned a reputation as a dogged pragmatist rather than an ideologue or obstructionist. But she proved effective in securing substantial open space protections from the developers who came before her. Four years ago, when Farr moved to Solvang, she wasted little time immersing herself in the slow growth and environmentalist community there.

Of the other candidates, only Victoria Pointer matches Farr’s talents. She certainly has considerable experience as an elected official, serving 16 years on the Buellton City Council. But she entered the race late and missed the many community endorsements that Farr was able to garner. Nevertheless, she is an honorable candidate and we hope she continues her public service for years to come.

Dr. David Bearman has more than paid his dues-first with the Goleta Water Board and more recently with the Goleta West Sanitary District-but his close ties to the Isla Vista community make it almost impossible for him to effectively reach out to the rural constituency of the district. Steve Pappas of Los Olivos enjoys a credible track record as a neighborhood preservationist, but he has little base outside the region.

And this brings us to David Smyser-Farr’s most serious rival-and Supervisor Brooks Firestone’s heir apparent. Smyser has experience as a county planning commissioner, member of the Solvang City Council, and Firestone’s aide de camp. However, we remain troubled by the seven checks he received from out-of-town donors who gave his campaign $5,000 each. It turned out they were all close business associates of Bacara owner Alvin Dworman. At the time, Smyser explained he was more focused on writing thank-you notes than worrying about such petty details.

The most dangerous development during the last four years has been this board’s pro-business majority’s willingness to surrender its authority to the controlling fist of Mike Brown. Complaining of long hours and late nights, they even sought to limit public participation during the supervisors’ Tuesday meetings. This disturbing trend cannot be reversed without supervisors willing to put in a full day’s work.

We’re confident that Doreen Farr is the best candidate to make these changes. We’re equally confident that if elected, she will work well with supervisors Salud Carbajal and Janet Wolf in forming a new board majority. Please vote for Doreen Farr.

John Sterling

For 4th District Supervisor: John Sterling

In her 10 years on the county Board of Supervisors, Joni Gray-who represents Orcutt and Lompoc-has provided a reliable vote on behalf of pro-growth North County interests, frequently accompanied by an in-your-face combination of spunk and sass. Too often, however, Gray has been missing in action when it came to the nitty-gritty of collaboration, agricultural protection, and consensus building. The problems confronting the county government have grown so colossal during Gray’s watch-a vast and intractable budget deficit, a crushing need for affordable housing, a landscape crying out for protection, and a mental health system that could drive anyone crazy-that we can ill afford the luxury of appeasing one’s narrow base with predictable posturing anymore. We need political leaders inclined and capable of reaching out to competing community interest groups. Sadly, there will be more than enough pain to go around.

John Sterling is the candidate who can do the job. A Lompoc native, Sterling will do the hard work that Gray has so often complained about. If she had her way, the public’s right to address the supervisors at board meetings would be seriously cut. That might have resembled a more streamlined meeting, but it would not have looked like democracy : Santa Barbara style.

Sterling served four years as police chief of Santa Maria where he accomplished the seemingly impossible. He managed to win strong support from his own troops while simultaneously forging new relationships in Santa Maria’s Latino community and with other organizations long suspicious of law enforcement. Sterling did so because he understood, then as now, that most social problems can be better addressed when people work together and not against each other. We’re confident Sterling will work much harder than Gray. We’re also confident that on land-use issues and budgetary concerns, he will have the nuanced judgment and experience needed to guide the county through the difficult times ahead.

Measure V: Yes

Measure V would generate $77 million in local revenues for Santa Barbara City College, perhaps the South Coast’s most vital educational institution. In exchange, the State of California has pledged to match that amount with $92 million out of its own coffers. The money will be spent largely on much-needed repairs and maintenance for existing SBCC classrooms and buildings. Measure V will increase South Coast property taxes by only $8.50 per $100,000 of assessed real estate value.

Nearly $17 million will be spent fixing up the historic but ailing Schott Center; another $15 million will keep the Wake Center functioning. These two structures constitute one of the finest adult education programs on the planet. In addition, $9.3 million from Measure V will be spent on a new building for SBCC’s flourishing media arts program and allow its old space to go to the now overcrowded nursing, culinary arts, and automotive technology departments. Seventy percent of SBCC’s nearly 19,000 students hail from South Coast schools. And they deserve all our support.

As a matter of political consideration, Measure V needs 55 percent of the vote in order to be approved. Given the exceedingly low turnout expected for the June 3 election, that threshold might be harder to achieve than it otherwise would be. That makes your vote all the more essential. Measure V has been endorsed by the local Democratic and Republican parties, four chambers of commerce, and even the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association, which traditionally opposes anything remotely resembling a tax increase.

Proposition 98: No

The real villain here is Proposition 98, one of the most flagrantly self-destructive measures ever put before California voters. And that’s saying something. Prop. 98 is a classic Trojan horse, purporting to solve one problem-the government use of eminent domain to condemn privately owned residential property to benefit private commercial developers-while creating many others, each one considerably worse than the one allegedly targeted.

In reality, Prop. 98 was hatched by a cabal of statewide real estate lobbyists whose tactical and ideological extremes do disservice to sincere-minded property rights advocates everywhere. First and foremost, Prop. 98 would abolish rent control throughout California. In Santa Barbara County, mobile home park rent control ordinances are all that stand between hundreds, if not thousands, of tenants and the streets. The vast majority of these tenants are elderly or of limited means or both. We recognize that rent control is an imperfect solution to an insoluble problem; however, we feel the appropriate place to address such laws are the cities in which such ordinances originate, not the state constitution as Prop. 98 dictates. Beyond that, Prop. 98 is written so broadly that simple zoning changes could construe “government takings” that required compensation. If the Santa Barbara City Council required increased set-backs for commercially zoned properties, for example, Prop. 98 would construe that as a taking. And City Hall would be forced to compensate the owners. The law encourages litigation by offering the lucrative promise of attorneys’ fees to the prevailing party. That’s nothing short of a full employment act for attorneys.

If you think we’re exaggerating for political effect, look what happened just two years ago when Oregon voters passed something similar with Measure 37. No less than 7,000 lawsuits were filed by irate property owners, and many of the basic government functions were paralyzed. Prop. 98 also changes the legal threshold by which such taking disputes are resolved. Under existing law, the courts recognize the discretionary power of the local government so long as those local governments can cite some reasonable evidence justifying their actions. If Prop. 98 passes, local judges would be charged with making the call on a case-by-case basis. Under this scenario, judges will soon be electioneering on their land-use philosophy rather than their judicial temperament. Prop. 98 claims to address the arbitrary and capricious powers of the state to condemn property in response to government actions that occurred in New London, Connecticut. California law provides property owners far more protections against involuntary takings and condemnation than does Connecticut law.

At best, Prop. 98 is a solution in search of a problem. At worst, it’s a calculated act of political vandalism on local government hatched by a small, reckless group of real estate operators seeking unfettered development rights for their property. That’s why its opponents include the likes of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, State Senator Dianne Feinstein, and former governor Pete Wilson.

Proposition 99: Yes

By contrast, Proposition 99 would ban local governments, pursuing various redevelopment schemes, from forcing the sale of owner-occupied homes to private developers. As such, Prop. 99 is a narrowly crafted response to the New London scenario. Rent control ordinances would stand; zoning changes would not be affected. Sponsored by the California League of Cities, as well as a coalition of environmental and tenants’ rights organizations, Prop. 99 was designed to provide an antidote to Prop. 98. If more people vote for Prop. 99 than 98, then Prop. 98 is effectively killed even if a majority of voters endorse it. If you think you can keep the two measures straight when you go to vote, by all means support Prop. 99. But if you think you might get confused, vote no on both.


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