Where have all the Goleta candidates gone?

When you open your ballot for this November’s election, notably absent will be any candidates for the Goleta City Council. At the close of filing on August 8, only the three incumbents had submitted papers. There were no challengers.

For the City of Goleta this is the second election in a row without a campaign. Jim Farr and Ed Easton were elected in 2012 unopposed. This December, the new council will consist of five members, none of whom have had to conduct a campaign to gain their seats.

When Ed Easton had to resign his seat because he moved out of the city, six people applied to be appointed as his replacement. Out of this group, the council chose to appoint Tony Vallejo, the one applicant who had made clear that he would run for election if not appointed. None of the remaining five filed as candidates for the November election. There was no lack of interest in serving, but none wanted to face the rigors of campaigning and presenting themselves to the voters.

The Goleta Chamber of Commerce, in a recent newsletter, commented that this “avoids a possibly contentious election and resulting hyperbole and divisiveness.” But it also means that the voting public will have no opportunity to test the candidates’ positions on issues that we know are of concern to many in the city. Elections are an important part of the democratic process and benefit both the public and the candidates.

High on the list of concerns to Goletans are growth, traffic, and water. A constant refrain is that we are being told to conserve water at the same time that massive projects for housing, hotels, and commercial buildings keep popping up like mushrooms. People are not mollified when told that these projects are in keeping with the General Plan and that the recent burst of activity is because projects were delayed during the recession and are now active again.

With development comes traffic, and there is roadwork everywhere. It is designed to mitigate the impacts of the new development, but it remains to be seen if it keeps pace with the growth. In addition, the capacity of our parks, library, and police and fire protection in the face of this growth is of concern to Goleta residents. Then there is Venoco’s proposed expansion of oil operations at Haskell’s Beach and Platform Holly, the city’s relations with UCSB, which is also building and growing, and the Santa Barbara Airport, Goleta Beach, and Isla Vista.

There is surely enough here to inspire a few challengers. I asked some individuals, including potential candidates, what they thought had deterred people from running during the last four years. Here is some of what I heard.

• Apathy. No one cares. But we have seen enough engagement over building and traffic issues to belie this position.

• Satisfaction with the job the current council is doing. This is the position of the Chamber of Commerce, and perhaps there is some truth to this.

• A sense that the incumbents are unbeatable. To beat an incumbent is a challenge and usually only happens when there is general dissatisfaction with the direction of the council, triggering a “campaign of protest.”

• The cost of campaigning and fund raising. It has become more expensive to run for the Goleta City Council — $40,000-$50,000 in the last two contested elections. And Goleta does not have a surfeit of big political donors

• Time. It is a challenge to combine serving on the council with a full-time job. It requires someone with a flexible schedule. The stipend of $532/month, which is fixed by state law, is not enough to compensate for lost time in a regular job.

• And for some there are personal reasons even when the interest is there. Serving on the council may not fit with other aspects of their lives, whether family, work, or nonprofit service.

So what does inspire people to run? Briefly, it could be ambition or a burning desire for change; the encouragement of friends, colleagues, or stakeholders; or a history of engagement with the city or the community through service on bodies such as the Design Review Board and the Planning Commission. These latter can and should be a training ground for future candidates.

Regardless of the dearth of candidates this year, the issues remain. It is important that Goleta residents remain engaged, challenge the council, and monitor every development to ensure that it preserves and protects the beauty and desirability of the Goodland that we love. Citizens can have an important impact as critics and advocates before the council. As a former councilmember and mayor, I can attest to that.

Beyond the City Council, there is one contested election in Goleta this November that needs your attention. It is for the Goleta Water Board. Every day we are urged to conserve, let our lawns dry up, and water our gardens with gray water from our showers and clothes washers. We are warned that more restrictions may well be on the horizon. There are four candidates, including two incumbents, running for two seats on the Water Board. This is a race about an immediate issue affecting all of us. Water and growth go hand in hand, so the outcome of this election may well impact the future of the city. The Goleta Chamber will be holding a forum on September 24 at noon at the Frog Bar and Grill at the Glen Annie Golf Club. It behooves anyone interested in the future of the Goleta Valley to be there.

Longtime Goleta resident Margaret Connell created the original Goleta Grapevine column and served on the Goleta City Council as its first mayor and a two-term councilperson.


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