The most important Santa Barbara County election in a long time turned into the least attended election in a long time, as a record low number of people cast ballots in the race for 3rd District county supervisor on Tuesday.

Not that Doreen Farr or Steve Pappas are worried about it at this point. Farr cruised to victory in the pivotal race, reeling in 35.7 percent of the vote, an impressive number when five candidates are fighting for votes. She had more than a 10 percent buffer over her November opponent Pappas, who brought in 25 percent of the vote, with 100 percent of the precincts reporting. The two will now face off in the fall general election, which should worry Pappas considering the groundswell of Democrats ready to come out in force this November in support of Barack Obama, the inevitable Democratic presidential nominee. Obama has had the ability to raise the interest and emotion of young voters, who are expected to turn out in droves to support him, including those living at or near UCSB, which is in the 3rd District. Farr, as a Democrat (although this race is technically nonpartisan) could very well ride Obama’s coattails to victory.

Third District Supervisoral candidate Doreen Farr (left) can't contain her excitement at the Hollister Brewing Company on Tuesday, while her November runoff opponent Steve Pappas (right) expresses similar excitement after checking results on a computer and seeing he was in second, behind Farr and ahead of Dave Smyser.
Paul Wellman

Tuesday’s was the lowest turnout in at least 28 years for a 3rd District race, with only 12,638 voting. The next lowest turnout within that time span was 1984, when 16,202 hit the polls to vote in the district, which stretches from Isla Vista and Goleta to Vandenberg Village and into Los Olivos, Buellton, and Solvang. The district has long been considered the swing vote on the Board of Supervisors, and with current Supervisor Brooks Firestone tending to lean toward the conservative North County bloc on most votes, progressive South Coasters have been eager to slide Farr-a Democrat more in tune with their views-into the seat.

Early estimates indicated that of Isla Vista’s roughly 10,000 registered voters, only between 1,700 and 2,000 came out to vote. Isla Vista is considered key to the election of the 3rd District seat, and both candidates had been going after I.V. votes for months. Pappas received the crucial endorsement of the Daily Nexus, the student newspaper at UCSB, and for two months he has had volunteers on the ground in Isla Vista running full speed, led by his godson Dustin Pappas. Farr has also charged hard in Isla Vista with volunteers knocking door-to-door.

David Bearman, who had worked for many years in I.V. and was counting on a bigger voter turnout, received 9.9 percent of the vote, while Victoria Pointer, a Buellton City Councilmember who ran a small grassroots campaign, had 8 percent.

It’s been a tale of two elections for Pappas. The first tale, told in 2004, saw Pappas with only 6.9 percent of the vote in the race against Firestone. He said his experience in that election prepared him to be competitive this time around. Pappas gained momentum fast near the end, bringing in thousands of dollars in support and picking up key endorsements. When Pappas, who was partying with friends and family (actress Bo Derek and former Sheriff Jim Thomas among them) at the Montanero Farm in Los Olivos, saw the first numbers, with himself 48 votes ahead of David Smyser after absentee ballots were counted, he said, “I’m optimistic now. I figured we gained momentum at the end.”

Farr, meanwhile, with the backing of the Democratic political establishment, was expected to do well Tuesday. Voters looked favorably at her experience on the County Planning Commission and leading community groups. “I’ve said I’m the most qualified. I’ve been involved in county issues for years and I don’t think any of the other candidates, including Steve Pappas, had the knowledge and background I do,” Farr said while celebrating with volunteers, friends, and supervisors Janet Wolf and Salud Carbajal, to name a few of the politicians in the crowd at the Hollister Brewing Company, where balloons and signs were hung, loud cheering was loosed, and the beer was flowing. Carbajal, the 1st District Supervisor, was re-elected on Tuesday, having run unopposed.

The beer was not flowing in celebration at Firestone Brewery in Buellton, where the Smyser campaign was supposed to convene around 8 p.m. to take in the election results. Few cars sat in the parking lot, only a couple of tables were occupied inside at 8:30 p.m., and the manager on duty wasn’t aware of any Smyser party. Neither Smyser nor his campaign manager, Marlene King, returned calls to their cell phones. Current 3rd District Supervisor Brooks Firestone said he believed Smyser to be in Solvang with a small group of supporters.

Measure V Wins

Santa Barbara City College scored a huge, decisive win Tuesday night, coming away with nearly 70 percent approval of its Measure V bond which will give $77 million to the school for 10 substantial rehabilitation projects plus the construction of a new media arts building. “Bare bones,” said outgoing SBCC President John Romo, who is stepping down immediately from his position after six years.

SBCC set out to neutralize its critics early in the campaign, wining and dining members of the Taxpayers Association at the school’s famed culinary arts building. The Measure V campaign also enlisted the likes of moderate Republican stalwart Dan Secord, a former Santa Barbara City Councilmember and noted bean counter, into the effort. Romo and his fellow campaigners argued that the money will be used to leverage an additional $92 million from the State of California. “And all this is going to cost the average property owner the equivalent of half a tank of gas a year in extra property taxes,” Romo said. The only public opposition to the bond came from the Santa Barbara News-Press. To have presided over the first successful bond campaign since 1972 makes Romo’s swan song all the sweeter, leaving a pot of gold under the rainbow for his successor, Andrea Serban.

With 100 percent of the vote counted, 4th District Supervisor Joni Gray coasted to an easy re-election, beating her only rival, former Santa Maria Police Chief John Sterling 57.4 percent to 42.3. “Oh well,” Sterling said. “I’ve played a lot of sports, been in a lot of car crashes, and life just moves on.”

In the race to replace former Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Diana Hall, John MacÂ-Kinnon will take on Jed Beebe. The moral of the results in the judges’ race appears to be one of geographical determinism: Although the race is countywide, the judgeship is regarded as a North County position. The only candidate with South Coast roots, Kevin Ready, an attorney in the County Counsel’s office, came in fourth even though he enjoyed strong backing from elected officials-especially from those on the Democratic and South County sides of the aisle. MacKinnon is a prosecutor in the District Attorney’s Santa Maria office, and Beebe works as a court researcher for Santa Maria judges. Beebe was just barely ahead of another Santa Maria prosecutor, the outspokenly acerbic Lynn Cutler, who dropped out of the race almost immediately after qualifying for the ballot. The upcoming race pits Beebe, the judges’ choice, against MacKinnon, the prosecutors’ choice. McKinnon took nearly two votes for every one that Beebe got.


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