This one’s for all the marbles. Or at least that’s the way it feels.
Up for grabs on this November’s ballot for City of Santa Barbara voters is a brand new mayor plus three City Council seats. Given that two of the mayoral candidates are already on the council-with time left on their terms-we could see as many as four council seats change hands. While that possibility remains very real, voters can only select three of the 13 council candidates, and one of the five mayoral contenders. Either way, the council majority and future tilt of City Hall is entirely up for grabs.
At a time when the city’s finances have come unglued-and there’s a push to substantially lower the maximum allowable building heights-it’s little wonder there are enough candidates to field not one, but two baseball teams. Adding to the intrigue, a couple of billionaires-one from Texas, the other from Russia-have tossed their money into the ring to a degree never before seen in Santa Barbara.
Plus, 2009 marks the first year Santa Barbara voters will select councilmembers by mail-in ballots only. Since those ballots will be mailed out early next week, we thought it wise to get our key endorsements out now, so here they are.
NO ON MEASURE B
This is a buzz-saw solution where a scalpel is called for. Measure B would reduce the current maximum building height of 60 feet to 40 feet downtown and 45 feet elsewhere throughout the city. As a response to the three big buildings sprouting up on Chapala Street, the measure fails to address the more immediate issues of set-back requirements and hyperventilated design. It is also dangerously rigid and inflexible. If Measure B were in effect, Cottage Hospital could not be approved-nor could the Arlington Theatre, the Lobero, or many of the churches that define our city’s architecturally undulating skyline. We liked the proposed compromise that would have reduced the city’s maximum building height but would have also allowed exceptions for projects deemed a community priority. Measure B proponents rejected that idea. We say reject Measure B.
The remaining propositions will be addressed in future issues.
FOR MAYOR: HELENE SCHNEIDER
Of the five candidates vying for the top post, Helene Schneider has the best chance of engendering the degree of collaboration-and creative sacrifice-necessary for City Hall to address the daunting challenges ahead. Schneider emerged from the South Coast’s progressive establishment, but first and foremost, she’s cautious, careful, and pragmatic. Smart and exceptionally hard-working, Schneider has demonstrated sustained leadership on issues of affordable housing, neighborhood compatibility, homelessness, alternative transit, and ecological sustainability. Key to her concept of public safety are intervention and prevention, not just tougher enforcement. Given Schneider’s constructive relationships with the public employee unions, she stands the best chance to wrangle the necessary concessions from them in light of City Hall’s obvious budget woes. The biggest rap on Schneider is that she’s deficient when it comes to grandstanding. We could do a lot worse.
FOR CITY COUNCIL: BENDY WHITE, GRANT HOUSE, DAVID PRITCHETT
Harwood “Bendy” White comes to the race better prepared than any candidate in 100 years. He’s spent the past 14 years on the Planning Commission, eight before that on the Water Commission, and before then, he worked as an emergency fire planner. On fiscal matters, White will be a budget hawk. On land-use issues, White has already demonstrated a propensity to tell developers no. But he also has demonstrated an ability to work constructively with those inclined to say yes. Smart, inventive, and persistent, White will know how and where to push developers to maximize community benefit and compatibility.
The only incumbent in the race, Grant House has done exactly what he said he would when he ran for office four years ago. Behind House’s “Mr. Nice Guy” fa§ade beats the heart of a tough-minded policy wonk, dedicated to protecting the city’s stock of affordable housing while expanding ownership opportunities for nurses, teachers, and emergency workers. On transit issues, House recognized long ago that Santa Barbara can’t build-or police-its way out of the South Coast’s growing congestion problem. Only by offering more transit options-and re-engineering our personal commuting habits-House concluded, can we get from points A to B without wasting hours in traffic and polluting the air. This path, however, has been fraught with considerable controversy, exceeding House’s impulse to seek consensus. House is to be applauded for opposing Measure B, one of the few candidates with the courage to do so. Responding to clear community concern about out-of-scale development, House actively encouraged members of the city’s many design review boards and commissions to exercise the authority they already possess to send projects back to the drawing board. Last week’s rejection of the 30-foot-tall mixed-use project proposed for next to the historic Brinkerhoff District indicates they got the message.
David Pritchett brings to the race a rare combination of an insider’s experience with an outsider’s attitude. Equal measures smart, inventive, and decidedly outspoken, Pritchett has now served on the city’s Creeks Advisory Committee and its Transportation and Circulation Committee, not to mention the essential, if unsung, Vector Control District. Throughout the years, Pritchett has championed efforts to transform Mission Creek into a vital urban waterway. Likewise, he’s backed incremental steps designed to bring the steelhead trout-once so abundant-from the brink of extinction. A renter himself, Pritchett will fight hard to buffer tenants from the economic forces leading to involuntary relocation. While Pritchett strongly supports alternate transit strategies, he recognizes that missteps by City Hall have generated significant mistrust. To that end, he’s proposed the creation of a Public Works Commission to ensure the public’s concerns are more sensitively heard and better addressed. We’re confident that no councilmember will work harder than Pritchett, none will be as free of “special interest” influence, and none will be as willing to pose the tough, uncomfortable questions. Pritchett has been known to step on toes of both friend and foe, enough to give us pause. But we’ve witnessed a sincere effort to rein this in. If Pritchett continues to do so, we’re confident he can make an invaluable contribution to city government.