Born in San Francisco and raised in San Jose, James Farr came to Goleta in 1977 with his then-wife Doreen (who is now a county supervisor), attending UCSB to earn his doctorate in American history. Aside from a few years back in San Jose, where he worked for the FM radio station that his dad founded, Jim, as he’s known to most, has been in Goleta ever since.
A father of three grown sons, Farr ran some radio stations, sold them to ClearChannel for a pretty penny, wrote a screenplay about that experience, bought the Valley Voice community newspaper in 2001, and later acquired the surf mag Blue Edge and Spanish language paper El Mexicano. He’d sell all three to Wendy McCaw’s Santa Barbara News-Press empire in 2006, and both the Voice and Blue Edge closed down soon after, senseless victims of the notorious publishing storm that ensued. Only El Mexicano survives, known today as S.B. Latino.
As publisher of the Valley Voice, Farr advocated loudly for Goleta cityhood, which passed under his watch in 2002. Said Farr last week, “I like to think that we had something to do with that success.” In that vein, Farr is now running for Goleta City Council, but as only the second person to throw his hat in the ring for one of two seats (the other being incumbent Ed Easton), it’s not shaping up to be much of a race at all. Indeed, with a well-liked incumbent like Easton and a popular man-about-town like Farr, any additional challengers will find quite an uphill battle to wage.
Nonetheless, Farr, like Easton, is focusing on the issues that matter to him, and last week, he discussed a few of them with me over the phone. Unlike Easton, who speaks deliberately and slowly (read my interview with him from last week here), Farr is more of a spontaneous staccato talker, making the standard Q&A format a bit harder to achieve. So I’ve boiled down his major points and arranged them under the relevant topics.
On why he’s running: “Without sounding like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, I feel that I can help this area develop in the way that will serve the people who live here. Goleta has historically been pushed around, and those days are over, but we are the point of beginning a new era for the 30,000 people who live here, and I think that I can make a contribution to making the right decisions going forward.”
On current council direction: “Actually, it’s doing quite well. Like all public entities, it could be run better according to people who live here, but when I drive around and look at it, it looks well maintained. The streets are paved, the abandoned vehicles have been dragged off, and it’s been well run. When I sit in on city council hearings, I’m very pleased to see the general collegiality of these meetings. They do have their divisions but it’s always civil and you might say that there are shifting alliances. Not everyone votes as I would expect, and everyone seems comfortable to speak their piece.”
On representing the underrepresented: “I want to make sure we’re doing right by the Latino community, particularly the ones that haven’t been here for 60 or 100 or 200 years. Most of California has a good understanding that the Latinos are huge in the future of California and the Southwest, and we need to make sure that we put enough resources into the schools to make sure they are getting the education they need to run things efficiently and well.”
On the streets and circulation: “The transportation grid needs to be looked at carefully. As [former Santa Barbara city councilmember] Gil Garcia said a number of years ago, this is an agricultural area with an urban grid overlaid on it, and that creates a bit of a problem. One of the things is that we need to connect Calle Real all the way through. If anything happens on 101, the only two other east-west corridors are Hollister Avenue, which is busy, and Cathedral Oaks. It will just become worse and worse. Having a fourth east-west corridor is certainly a public safety issue and an economic issue. If we ever have a calamity here, we’re gonna need that.”
On reclaiming the beach: “I don’t see Goleta Beach Park being taken back by nature as a solution. I see that as a terrific mistake. Although naturalizing the coastline is certainly a commendable thing to do, Goleta Beach Park is the busiest in Santa Barbara County. It has a million and a half visitors per year. Everything should start from the idea that the park will not go away. Then we can look at all the measures to save the area’s ecology after it’s conceded that it needs to be protected.”
On the budget: “There was a document that came out of the Goleta financial planning that shows, in two or three or four years, the city will be upside down. One of the things we have ro be careful about is spending money we don’t yet have and resisting the temptation to give money to everyone who asks for it. The first priority is to balance the revenues and the expenditures. That’s not even a debatable point. We can’t be living in a deficit. We’ve seen what happens, and when you pay the piper there, it’s a very ugly thing. We need to look at every aspect of Goleta revenues and the business community, and see if we’re aligned with them.”
On how to grow: “There are 30,000 people out there and we have a blank sheet on what we want to do with it, while acknowledging the preservation of the character of Goleta. I’ve never met with anyone who’s a long way off from my position on what Goleta should look like.”
On open space: “We need more open space. We need to buy it now while we can afford it, assuming we can afford it, and let future generations have the active element of recreation handled. Buy the land now and preserve it for future generations. The city is going to be here for the foreseeable future, and everything we do needs to be examined in terms of its impact then.”
November’s ag preservation initiative: “It’s a difficult position I am in. People doing the initiative are all good friends of mine and people I worked with in the Goleta Now! organization. I am reluctant to sign it because the gorilla in the room is Bishop Ranch, and the other five properties were included because you can’t have one initiative aimed at one parcel. I am a supporter of preserving Bishop Ranch, but does that mean we get it all? I hope it does, but we’ll see what we get. That’s a complex one. I feel like it’s a litmus test for all the environmentalists and the business community. I understand what business is saying and do think it will damage the business climate in the area. I think it’s possible to do both, to have a healthy business community and preserve the ag land.”