There’s a lot on the ballot this November, especially if you live in Goleta, where the usual city council election will be drowned out by board races for three service districts: Goleta Water, Goleta Sanitary, and Goleta School. Though distinct in their charges, there’s a recurrent theme to their races: There doesn’t seem to be much campaign activity whatsoever, no signs, no debates, no mailers, nor do there seem to be ways for the general public to learn what distinguishes the candidates from each other. In hopes of helping that situation, here is a brief rundown on each race.
Goleta Water District: 4 Running for 2 Seats
In this race, two incumbents, Jack Cunningham, who’s been on the board for 14 years, and Bert Bertrando, who is running for his second four-year term, are trying to stay in charge of the district that sells water to nearly 90,000 people. They are being challenged by “community volunteer” Bruce Wallach, who was inspired after reading a National Geographic article about water resources to run on a conservation slate, and wants to reduce the one-percent growth allowed each year down to a half-percent; and retired librarian Ken Warfield, a longtime Isla Vista resident and boardmember of the I.V. Rec & Park District who calls his “hero” Bertrando a “real reformer.” While supporting Warfield’s campaign because he would bring new blood to the board, Bertrando wants another four years to accomplish his own goals, which include getting an accurate assessment of groundwater supplies across all climatic conditions in order to properly plan for growth. Cunningham was unavailable for comment.
Goleta Sanitary District: 3 Running for 2 Seats
Although there’s the possibility of an election for the Goleta Sanitary Board every two years, there have only been a total of two elections in the past 25 years, according to incumbent John Carter, who last had to run for his seat a decade ago. Along with the other incumbent, Jerry Smith, who has 30 years of relevant experience as the former general manager of the Montecito Sanitary District, Carter is curious as to why challenger Mary Whalen has thrown her hat in the ring. “We have an extremely well-run district as far as operations and depth and plans for the future,” said Carter. Whalen is active with the Coalition for Sensible Planning, which has fought against density in the Noleta area, and announced at the Republican Party’s Labor Day event this month that she would like to see more turnover in district incumbents.
UPDATE: After this article was published, Mary Whalen contacted The Independent to discuss her reasons for running. Expressing concern over the fact that the incumbents have served for over 25 years and only been challenged once, Whalen explained, “The majority of people in our community do not know the Goleta Sanitary Board of Directors is an elected position or that the Board has the power to issue debt, impose taxes, and to levy assessments which show up on their property tax bills. By challenging the incumbents, I am creating an opportunity for there to be an election for the second time in 25 years. In doing so, I am also raising the public awareness of this District. As a community advocate and someone who believes strongly in the democratic process, this alone is reason to run.”
Secondly, Whalen is running to “facilitate greater fiscal oversight and transparency within the District,” where she says that charges have increased 76 percent over the past three years.”
And thirdly, Whalen wants to “continue to advocate, as I have done for the past seven years, a coordinated, long term approach to infrastructure development in the Goleta Valley. With drought and climate change upon us, it is also imperative that we utilize the latest energy efficient technologies that provide the most environmentally sustainable and cost effective solutions to meet our growing demand.”
Goleta School Board: 4 Running for 3 Seats
The City of Goleta’s public information officer Valerie Kushnerov and UCSB psychology professor Richard Mayer are running to retain their seats on the Goleta School Board, which has managed to avoid many of the budget-cutting controversies that plague other school districts across the state. Retired teacher Pam Kinsley, who is active with the Santa Barbara Teachers Association, has been attending board meetings recently, so her campaign for the third open seat was expected. But “teacher/educator/parent” Tammy Merritt’s entry in the race caught everyone by surprise, and little is known about her, other than she missed one forum, has told others that she does not plan to run a campaign, and has a child coming into kindergarten. And her motives are likely to remain unknown, for only Kushnerov and Mayer filled out campaign statements. “There is a lack of information available to the voting public in Goleta on who the other candidates are and why they are running for the School Board,” said Kushnerov. Calls to Merritt were not returned.
UPDATE: Following the publishing of this story, Tammy Merritt, who grew up in Goleta, graduated from Dos Pueblos, and got her Masters in education at UCSB, called to explain her reasons for running. Merritt said that she’s been a teacher for 14 years, but resigned when her second child was born three-and-a-half years ago. Since filing her campaign papers, her child’s kindergarten class has begun, so Merritt explained, “I have decided I would rather spend my time working closer to home (so to speak) at our local school site (La Patera).”
She remains on the ballot, but did not pay the $1,800 required to publish a campaign statement. “As a member of the Goleta Union School Board, I will strive to represent all of the people in Goleta and the school community at large,” said Merritt. “I have a vested interest in the future of our schools and community. I love Goleta, grew up here, and want it to be a great place for our kids — all kids — to grow up, learn, and thrive.”