Even if you don’t live in the 3rd District of Santa Barbara County, there’s no shortage of reasons why you should care about the battle for supervisor on the upcoming June ballot.
As the county’s biggest and most diverse district, the 3rd boasts the most miles of pristine coastline; features a mix of mining, oil drilling, and farming; contains significant swaths of both open space and urban density; and is home to the cities of Guadalupe, Solvang, Buellton, and parts of Goleta and Lompoc, as well as UCSB, Isla Vista, Vandenberg Air Force Base, the Chumash reservation, and much of the Los Padres National Forest. And at a time when the economy still hurts, when oil and gas prospectors eye offshore and inland opportunities to drill, when developers lick their chops at the beautiful Gaviota Coast, the 3rd District supervisor continues to be the swing vote between the two traditionally conservative North County supervisors and the two reliably liberal South County supervisors. Altogether, the 3rd District is a microcosm of the entire region, representing both the challenges Santa Barbara County faces and the competing strategies on how to solve them.
In other words: As the 3rd goes, so goes the county.
A Grudge Match
In 2008, Steve Pappas and Doreen Farr squared off in the general election for the right to replace Brooks Firestone on the Board of Supervisors. Farr beat Pappas by 806 votes, paved in large part by the Isla Vista turnout, where UCSB students voted for Farr at a more than two-to-one rate.
That also paved way for a lawsuit against Farr by Pappas, who claimed that illegal voter fraud tainted the 2008 election. Those charges have been officially debunked at almost every level of government, from the District Attorney to the California Secretary of State, but Pappas keeps repeating them, further alienating the student vote along the way. The Daily Nexus, UCSB’s student paper that actually endorsed Pappas in 2008, has run several editorials since that time taking him to task for his attitude toward students’ right to vote. Meanwhile, a judge has said that Pappas must reimburse Farr $525,000 in attorneys’ fees related to the case, but that bill remains unpaid. (Editor’s note: While a judge originally awarded Farr legal fees to the tune of $706,914, the official number was calculated to be more in the neighborhood of $525,000. All numbers have been changed.)
Other factors are at play, too. While Farr is a product of the Democratic machine, Pappas — an independent whose biggest supporters are right-wing conservatives — will likely be hurt by what’s happening on the national stage. With the Republican presidential nomination all but sealed for Mitt Romney, California has become nearly meaningless in the primary race, so conservative turnout is expected to take a hit. That’s a contrast to 2008, when the presidential election led to an all-time-high turnout.
Farr, meanwhile, has been active in all parts of her district, enjoying success in many corners. Farr teamed with 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf in leading the charge for a safer Highway 154. Farr first brought the controversial oil-extraction method known as fracking to the public’s attention. And for such a large district, Farr has a strong reputation for constituent service, which means she actually helps those who call on her office to do so.
But Pappas, who runs a business that works with injured employees and their employers in Los Olivos and also ran unsuccessfully against Firestone in 2004, remains hopeful that the third time will be his charm. With vote-by-mail ballots sent out this week and Election Day less than one month away, Pappas is trying not to get stuck on the lingering lawsuit and to stay focused on the issues. Since the 2008 election, Pappas says that he’s gained more leadership experience while continuing to “teach myself about how the county runs.”
During the last election season in 2008, The Santa Barbara Independent called Farr and Pappas “two politicians in a pod,” noting many perceived similarities between the candidates. But what we’ve learned over the past four years is that while those similarities do exist, there are plenty of stark differences. So if you call the 3rd District home, vote wisely, for the future of Santa Barbara County depends on it.
Of the five sitting supervisors, Farr is perhaps the hardest to figure out, both personally and politically. Deliberative and thoughtful, she is not nearly as outspoken as the others, and sometimes it’s hard to tell where she’s coming from. She often says the most by not saying much at all. Many observers on both sides of the aisle think she’s done a good job straddling the fence in a district as diverse as hers. The divorced mother of three — whose first foray into politics was on the County Planning Commission, following her leadership of both the Santa Ynez Valley Alliance and the Patterson Area Neighborhood Association — enjoys the support of the liberal community, with a growing number of conservative-leaning folks such as Santa Maria Mayor Larry Lavagnino.
Of course she hasn’t made everyone happy with some of her decisions, particularly her vote to impose a new contract on the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 721 and her approval of the county’s new redistricting map, which conservatives say was gerrymandered to the benefit of liberals.
Since the SEIU vote, with only Supervisor Wolf voting against, Farr hasn’t received any donations from that union. “It was a very difficult decision, but I made the best decision I could,” said Farr, explaining that the contract had expired 15 months prior and that SEIU was only being asked to accept what other county unions had already agreed to.
On the once-a-decade decision on county redistricting, many in the North County felt that the majority (of Farr, Wolf, and 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal) stuffed a map through without much regard for what the public wanted but rather for what was most politically advantageous.
In 2008, the rap on Pappas was that he was a one-trick pony, only interested in opposing the Chumash. Today, he could be considered a two-trick pony, if you add fighting election fraud to that list. Despite his efforts, though, nothing’s changed in the laws governing Isla Vista voters. So does Pappas think he’ll be a victim again? “I’m hoping there’s enough education out there,” he said, explaining that he doesn’t think students should be discouraged from voting but that they should be required to officially declare that Santa Barbara County is going to be their home.
The father of two moved to Los Olivos in 1998, where he was a founder of POLO (Preservation of Los Olivos) and served on the board of trustees for the Los Olivos School District for one term. While not actively engaging in county issues during the last few years, his message is largely the same as in 2008: He is a small-business owner who touts the combination of his public and private experience.
Pappas says that what he brings to the table is leadership. “I am a serious leader who will be aggressive with what needs to be changed,” he said. “I have the history and foundation to do that.” While rarely seen at county board meetings, Pappas says he has even more experience than he did as a candidate three years ago.
But his tendency to speak broadly about many issues has become an easy target for his competition. “He really needs to be more specific,” said Farr. “It’s clear he’s not kept current on the issues, and he hasn’t been involved in issues.” Pappas defends his generalities by explaining, “I’m not the sitting supervisor.”
Pappas’s campaign is heavily funded by Nancy Crawford-Hall, a rancher and owner of the Santa Ynez Valley Journal. In 2008, she poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into his campaign, and if the most recent financial statements are any indication, she will be heavily involved again.
BUDGET: Around the same time Farr took office in January 2009, the economy tanked. Since then, the county has had to resolve budget deficit after budget deficit. Last June, the county dealt with a $72-million budget deficit. This June, it will likely be around $16 million.
Both candidates agree that the budget remains the county’s number-one issue. “We have a severe fiscal issue in this county,” said Pappas, who’s worried about pension liability and wants to revamp the retirement package, complaining that the current strategy is “like putting out a forest fire with a squirt gun.” He advocates a two-tiered retirement system and changes for future employees.
But as Farr points out, that pension restructuring, along with other various cost-cutting measures, has already been undertaken by the county. Additionally, Farr said that the county has merged departments and eliminated vacation cash-outs. Since she took office, the county has eliminated 448 positions. Farr also says she has worked on connecting UCSB students with opportunities to grow their businesses in the North County.
VOTER FRAUD LAWSUIT: The elephant in the 3rd District race is Pappas’s still-lingering lawsuit against Farr, which he filed following the 2008 race. He is currently appealing a judge’s ruling that he must reimburse Farr for roughly $525,000 in legal fees. That unpaid bill continues to affect Farr’s ability to spend money on this year’s campaign. “In some ways,” explained Farr of the unfinished legal business, “the 2008 race is still with us.”
Pappas remains convinced that voter fraud took place. But Farr counters that there is still no evidence to support that claim, a stance that’s been supported by a superior court judge, an appellate court judge, the District Attorney’s Office, and the California Secretary of State.
The lawsuit is just part of Pappas’s campaign to fight voter fraud. With the support of Nancy Crawford-Hall, Pappas has been fighting to change the law so that photo identification would be required for every voter. He’s also part of a movement called Stop Voter Fraud, which sent a letter to the county elections chief requesting that the UCSB and Isla Vista precincts be “purged by the Elections Office by verifying, by mail, that the person that is listed on the voter extract as residing at the specified address is in fact still residing at that address.”
But while the lawsuit remains a financial distraction for her own campaign, Farr also sees the intense voter-fraud fight as evidence that Pappas isn’t really focused on the many decisions and processes that affect the 3rd District on a daily basis. “If this is his one issue,” said Farr, “he’s running for the wrong office.”
GAVIOTA AND GAS: Balancing growth with preservation remains a 3rd District dilemma, particularly for the Gaviota Coast, as well as the oil and gas industry. Pappas doesn’t sound too concerned about Gaviota, though, as he’s explained, “Most of the Gaviota Coast is in a conservancy.” That may be true, but there are also a lot of privately owned properties still open for development, from Las Varas near Goleta to Bixby Ranch near Point Conception, not to mention the looming threat of multiple mansions at Naples.
As for Naples, Pappas wonders what the county has been up to since the board approved and then reneged on a deal with former owner Matt Osgood. That was a lost opportunity, believes Pappas, for he felt that the deal “was a good compromise that secured that area from massive development.”
Pappas is less familiar with the Gaviota Planning Advisory Committee, or GavPAC, process, which Farr initiated when she came into office in hopes of developing a general plan for the 31,000-acre coastline. Farr remains a solid vote for the protection of the Gaviota Coast, and she’s shown her colors in votes against development at Naples, as well as in her work to track what’s happening at the Bixby Ranch.
As for oil and gas, Farr spearheaded the county’s investigation of the extraction method known as hydrologic fracturing, or fracking, near the town of Los Alamos. That process eventually led to tighter rules to govern the controversial practice, which was essentially unregulated until that time. Pappas agrees that fracking “certainly warranted a layer of oversight, and that’s good,” but he remains concerned that the rules could be used as a permanent obstacle to move projects forward.
CAMP 4: The two candidates generally agree on what to do with Camp 4, the 1,400-acre property in the Santa Ynez Valley purchased by the Chumash from Fess Parker’s estate in 2010. Both Farr and Pappas, as well as many residents of the valley, are opposed to the Chumash’s attempts to make that property part of their reservation, thereby reducing the county’s ability to regulate development on-site and taking the property off the county tax rolls. While the Chumash say they intend to build housing on the property, there are concerns they have plans for something much larger.
If there is one issue that Pappas has remained on top of, it is most certainly battling the Chumash. He has given Farr a hard time for not bringing the issue to the Board of Supervisors to “go on the record and take a position” to formally oppose the annexation of Camp 4.
But Farr has written two letters as a supervisor: one to Representative Elton Gallegly, whose congressional district encompasses the reservation, and the other to Representative Don Young of Alaska, who was supposedly in talks with the Chumash, as well. The four-page letters outline Farr’s opposition to the Camp 4 annexation, explaining why she believes that the Chumash should go through the same land-use process as everyone else in the county. Explained Farr, “If the tribe has a vision for the property, then I would hope they would come to the county as an applicant.”
Need to know more about the 3rd District race, the voter fraud lawsuit, and the unpaid $525,000 legal bill? See all of Chris Meagher’s reporting on Pappas versus Farr at independent.com/news/pappas-vs-farr.