Goleta’s political future was, until a few days ago, very uncertain. Come November 2, voters will have to fill the one city council seat that is becoming vacant—Eric Onnen’s—plus decide whether to reelect incumbents Michael Bennett and Roger Aceves. For a long time, no one else raised their hand to participate, but now two new people have shown interest. Finally.
First time I’ve seen this happen. We’ve always had more than enough candidates to choose from.
Reyne Stapelmann, a realtor who was appointed to the Planning Commission by Bennett, has pulled out papers to run for city council. She is also expected to be backed by the Chamber of Commerce’s PAC. Paula Perotte, who in the past was very involved in the Parent Teacher Association, 15th District, has too. The filing deadline is expected to be extended until August 11 at 5 p.m. But as of August 5, the only candidate who has actually filed is Aceves.
Now, let’s think about this. What would happen if no other candidate files or if candidates run unopposed?
Here is what Valerie Kushnerov, public information officer for the City of Goleta, explained to me: “If there were not enough candidates running, the election would have to be cancelled, and the two incumbents that are running would be ‘duly elected’ by the other council members. The third person would have to be appointed by the council.”
A candidate running unopposed, of course, will be automatically seated.
The question is, why is there so little interest in running for a position on the Goleta City Council? No one really knows. Believe me. I’ve asked around, talking to groups and individuals about this, and no one has an answer. It may be as simple as the fact that people are now too concerned about their basic needs (finding a job to pay their bills or saving their home from foreclosure) to focus on anything else.
Another reason might be, and I’m only guessing here, that UCSB, the airport, and the coastline have a big effect on the city; however, the city has no control or power over any of it whatsoever. This, in my view, could be enough to discourage potential candidates.
Most definitely, Goleta has important issues to deal with. I went out to ask people about what these may be:
Margaret G., a Goleta resident, professional, and mother of one told me, “There’s a big necessity for decisive and innovative leadership in defining a community vision for the entire City of Goleta and all its residents. This is a huge issue that encompasses all areas of the city: infrastructure, development, education, economics, environment, affordable housing, services (water/sewer).”
There are other issues, problems, and areas of concern about which our city still needs to make key decisions: preservation of the environment, the eternal debate over development of the Bishop Ranch, the Water District, the Sanitary District, and the debate on the incorporation of Noleta.
“With regard to development, a no-growth policy is not feasible; neither is an anything-goes policy,” said Roberta J., a 35-year-old Goleta resident. “There needs to be a unifying, sensible, and even-handed approach to the way development and redevelopment is viewed throughout the city by residents, processed by the city staff, and acted upon by the elected officials.
“Moreover,” she said, “there needs to be more frequent and nuanced dialogue between leadership at UCSB, Goleta Water District, Goleta Sanitary District, Goleta West Sanitary District, city council, the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce, the various departments of the city, and the county’s 2nd and 3rd supervisorial districts. There should be more public forums including all these entities. I think that residents will greatly benefit from these collaborations”
Old Town is another concern for Goletanos. Rafael M., Old Town resident, 64, opined about what’s needed. “The city should be providing opportunities for small businesses to sustain themselves in Old Town,” he said. “There are numerous small businesses which can be beneficial to Old Town and will draw people. These people will spend money on meals and goods and services if they exist.”
Maria Salas, a UCSB grad student had another concern. “There is a significant Spanish-speaking community in Old Town but the city has not done much to address this population and their needs. Many of these residents cannot read fliers and don’t have a computer, much less access to the Internet.
“The city needs to come up with nontraditional and more creative ways,” Salas said, “like door-to-door canvassing, public discussions, and community/business forums. They need to promote collaborations with organizations that have an established relationship with the Spanish-speaking community in order to reach such a huge segment of the Old Town population.”
Everyone agreed that a larger pool of candidates would be desirable: At stake is balanced, long-term strategic planning on issues of environmental stewardship, affordable housing, adequate infrastructure, housing-to-jobs balance, transportation, educational and economic growth for our citizens and youth, and respect for human rights.
Not a good idea to risk diminished democracy for our city. The only solution is to get involved.