The 3rd District of Santa Barbara County has a little something for everyone. From the growing City of Goleta and the college town of Isla Vista on the coast to the other side of the mountains, where the rolling hills of the Santa Ynez Valley wine country are peppered with the small-town feel of Los Olivos, Solvang, and Buellton, the district is undeniably diverse. But just as vast as the district’s geographical differences are the philosophical divides between the conservative North County and liberal South Coast, which makes the 3rd District supervisor seat, by default, the swing vote on more issues that come before the five member Board of Supervisors than not.
And today, the County of Santa Barbara sees itself at a crossroads: a fragile budget has been stretched thin because of decreasing revenue and increasing needs, housing prices are outpacing many residents’ ability to pay, and the fate of the Gaviota Coast is at hand. Meanwhile, many residents of the 3rd District-which has been represented by Brooks Firestone for the past four years-feel their voices have been left behind.
Vying for the right to jump into this mess are two people-Doreen Farr and Steve Pappas-and one of them will receive the blessing of voters in less than two weeks to help decide the direction the county will head. Both not only want to win this seat on November 4 but also see their pursuit of it as a natural progression from their community involvement over the years.
Pappas, currently the president of the Los Olivos School District, is a 48-year-old business owner operating in the workers’ compensation industry. In 1991, he and his wife, Lori, moved to Los Olivos, where they live with their two sons. Pappas is one of the founders of Preservation of Los Olivos, or POLO, one of the reasons he has come under fire. Some have painted Pappas as a one-trick pony because of POLO’s bouts with the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash. Pappas, who ran against Firestone in 2004 and lost badly, has opposed the expansion of gambling at the Chumash Casino and appealed the application by the Chumash to annex 6.9 acres of land out of county control. But Pappas views that fight as only one of many he has fought on behalf of residents for the good of the county, participating in several land-use battles over the years.
Farr’s activism began as a quest to get a stoplight installed near her neighborhood. Through that experience, she learned how local government worked and how involvement made a difference. From there she came to lead the Patterson Area Neighborhood Association and also worked as a planning consultant with the City of Goleta at the beginning stages of its incorporation in 2002, transferring cases from the county’s purview to the city’s. She was the co-owner of the Goleta Valley Voice newspaper with her former husband and was a County Planning Commissioner for the 2nd District from 1999 to 2002. After 21 years of living in Goleta, Farr moved to the Santa Ynez Valley and, in 2004, became the president of the Santa Ynez Valley Alliance, a group committed to preserving the rural character there. Using almost identical words as Pappas in explaining why she was running for office, Farr, 57, explained that the seat is a “natural extension of the work I’ve been doing.”
The similarities don’t stop at their reasons for running. At community forums, they often echo one another, so much so that Pappas even admitted so during one “debate.” (He later clarified the statement, explaining that he thought they aligned when it came to the environment.) But as alike as Pappas and Farr are, they’re certain to be much different than Firestone. The incumbent’s hand-picked successor, David Smyser-who pledged to follow in Firestone’s footsteps-was knocked out of the running in the June primary, which has given Farr and Pappas plenty of time to say they’d be doing pretty much the exact opposite. Both are quick to question Firestone’s leadership, especially in Isla Vista and in his campaign promise to fairly represent the interest of the entire district. His votes, despite a promise to be balanced, have almost always aligned with the two North County supervisors.
The sore feelings Pappas and Farr share toward Firestone seem to be reciprocated by the 73-year-old supervisor, who initially indicated he was going to run for re-election but later backed out. Over the course of the campaign, it’s pretty clear Firestone won’t be endorsing either of the two candidates. Firestone has an unmistakable dislike of Pappas-when Pappas first announced his candidacy last year, Firestone couldn’t have been more blunt: “I do not think he would make a good supervisor.” He also called Pappas “pretty misinformed.” And Firestone, a Republican, and Farr, a Democrat, don’t exactly see eye-to-eye on most things politically.
Though it’s technically a nonpartisan race, everyone knows that Farr is the product of the South Coast Democratic political juggernaut, enjoying endorsements from Rep. Lois Capps, supervisors Salud Carbajal and Janet Wolf, and pretty much every other progressive South Coast politician. Pappas, however, touts his independence from parties or high-powered endorsements as a registered nonpartisan. “I am unbeholden to any political machine,” he explained.
Farr’s support has helped her take the lead in campaign contributions, although Pappas has remained competitive. With a district more vast than any other in the county that works in two media markets-one on each side of the mountains-money is key to getting the message out. It’s also a good indicator of gauging support for a candidate. Since she filed to run, Farr, who beat Pappas by roughly 10 percent in the June primary, has raised roughly $543,403. Pappas, who filed to run not long after, has raised roughly $342,601. The final statements before the election were due today, October 23. Both candidates have begun to put that money toward advertising on television and radio.
No known polling has been done, so it’s tough to tell where the candidates stand leading up to election day. General consensus among politicos is that the race is Farr’s to lose, but in a contest where the June primary had five candidates-Smyser lost along with David Bearman and Victoria Pointer-there’s 40 percent of the vote up for grabs, and anything could happen.
The unusually quiet primary has been followed with a general election runoff that’s been equally calm, particularly when paired with the magnitude of the contested seat. A summer lull followed the June primary, which saw the lowest voter turnout for the 3rd District in at least 28 years. Onlookers expected the campaign noise to pick up in August, but press releases and announcements from either camp remain rare, and commercials didn’t start popping up on televisions until recently.
Many political spectators believed Pappas would have to be more aggressive and start earlier in going after Farr to make up the known 10 percentage point difference from the primary. But that’s not his style, he said, and he believes hard work and getting his name and platform out to the public while keeping it positive is most important. “We can make our case professionally,” he explained. “We don’t need to take swings at one another.”
Farr was dominant in the primary on the South Coast, earning almost 62 percent of the vote in Isla Vista and UCSB and more than 50 percent in Goleta. Pappas came in with 10.3 percent in I.V. and UCSB, and 14 percent in Goleta. With those sorts of numbers, she would easily take the race in November. She is also expected to receive a boost from enthusiastic Democrats voting in the presidential election, but Pappas-a Republican turned declined-to-state-is thinking there will be a boost for him too. “It’s a season of people looking for something,” he explained.
And there’s still the 40 percent of 3rd District voters who picked someone else in the primary. Pappas received the endorsement of the left-leaning Bearman, who garnered just under 10 percent of votes in June, and could snag some of both Pointer’s and Smyser’s North County votes. He also had the endorsement of UCSB’s student newspaper, the Daily Nexus, in the June primary, which should be a help with the student population.
But all of the political posturing, speculating, strategy, and analysis aside, what should matter most to voters are the issues, and in 2008, Santa Barbara County has plenty to go around. Here’s a look at how the candidates approach some of them.
This is the county’s number-one issue, because the supervisors have spent the past year cutting roughly $15 million in spending, with more cuts expected to come both before and even after the end of the fiscal year. Even then, the supervisors were told at an October 14 meeting that a potential deficit of $30 million-plus is still possible. As such, both candidates consider the budget one of the biggest issues.
Pappas touts both his small business ownership and his leadership on the Los Olivos School District Board as proof he is equipped to handle the county’s $760 million budget. The county needs to stop spending more than it takes in, he said, and if it keeps dipping into its reserves, “It won’t be too long before the county is bankrupt.”
Farr’s take on her budget abilities is similar to Pappas’s: experience. “The numbers may be bigger, but the basic strategy is the same,” she said, lauding her time running the Goleta Valley Voice with her ex-husband as her experience with a budget. She said the county needs to see how government has expanded its budget in time of good revenue and work to make it reasonable, while still providing needed services to residents. She also said any costs associated with monitoring, enforcing or cleaning up after businesses like Greka should be paid by the company, not the government.
When the Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 in August to send a letter to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in favor of expanded offshore oil drilling here, the move was mostly symbolic and a political attempt to appease constituency pressure for leaders to do something about high gas prices. While the effect of opening the coast to more drilling is up for debate, how Farr and Pappas would vote is not.
“The case can’t be made to lift the moratorium,” Farr said. Pappas also doesn’t believe drilling off the coast of the county should happen.
They’re also in agreement on a proposed wind farm plan in Lompoc, which would generate enough energy to power 50,000 homes. “It’s a perfect example of where everyone wins,” Pappas said. They’re also in agreement with the supervisors’ recent decision to deny an appeal and allow oil company PXP to drill on the Tranquillon Ridge offshore from Lompoc. A deal struck between environmental groups and the oil company limits the timetable in which PXP can drill, and the new oil operation would also bring in a lot of money to the county. “We’re all winning there,” Pappas said.
THE GAVIOTA COAST
With board approval of the 485-acre Naples parcel on the forefront of everyone’s minds, both Pappas and Farr have expressed concern about the county’s closed session action on October 6 to amend an existing agreement with developer Matt Osgood to allow phased development.
Pappas, who said that if he had his way there would be no development on the Gaviota Coast, believes a process violation occurred, while Farr thought splitting the project into phases was wrong. “The project has always been evaluated as a whole,” said Farr. “A bifurcated project is not acceptable to me.” Farr added that she was “sorry these issues came up on Mr. Firestone’s term.”
Likely still to come during Firestone’s tenure is the appeal of a 13,333-square-foot, single family luxury home on 17 acres of ridge-top land at the southern end of the Gaviota Coast. With a Firestone approval likely, the house should make it past the supervisors.
While both candidates profess to be strict protectors of the Gaviota Coast, the environmental community has made it clear who they believe is best for the job: the Sierra Club, Brian Trautwein, Linda Krop, Marc Chytilo, and Scott Bull all have endorsed Farr for the job. “If you want to be able to deliver,” said Farr, “you need to have this kind of support.”
Both candidates seek to make life easier for owners of agricultural land and intend to strike a balance between protecting open space and respecting land owner rights.
Farr said it is important to buffer agricultural uses from housing so that agriculture can stay viable, but that owners of agricultural land shouldn’t be responsible for providing that buffer. Pappas said he is okay with lot splits as long as they take place within existing zoning, are unobtrusive, and don’t face community resistance.
Every decade, the state allocates to each county a certain amount of increased housing, and Santa Barbara County is assigned a fair chunk. But even though the county is large and has many acres of undeveloped land, much of that acreage is taken up by Vandenberg Air Force Base and the Los Padres National Forest as well as agriculture, which is crucial to county coffers and community culture.
The state needs to understand that, Farr said, and teamed with infrastructure restraint, Santa Barbara County doesn’t have many options to fulfill the mandates from the state to provide housing. “There are still opportunities to build housing but we need to be mindful of it,” she said, adding that a delegation needs to be in frequent talks with the state about the issue. “It’s not workable.”
Pappas, who said the state housing mandate is one of the main reasons he got involved, uses slightly stronger language. “This thing is absolutely flawed,” he said of the housing mandate, which requires counties to rezone to allow for a certain number of housing units. “It is absolutely riddled with inefficiencies, fraud, is antiquated and filled with loopholes.”
Both believe Isla Vista has been underrepresented by Firestone, and as the only elected official to represent the coastal community home to thousands of students and permanent residents alike, they both have plans to improve their support. Pappas wants to establish an advisory committee, made up of administrators, faculty, and students from UCSB and permanent I.V. residents. Each group has unique and shared concerns, he explained and “need to be able to come together with the supervisor.” Farr plans to re-open a county office space in I.V. with consistent hours. Smart planning when it comes to the density of housing in I.V. is needed, both candidates agree.