This June, Marcos Vargas will move from serving as the executive director of Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) to serving as the executive director of the Fund for Santa Barbara. Fourteen years ago, Vargas founded CAUSE — along with the organization’s successor executive director, Maricela Morales — and has seen it grow across Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.
The father of three, who holds a doctorate in urban planning from UCLA, commended the leadership of former Fund leader Geoff Green (who now works for Santa Barbara City College) and interim Fund leader Nancy Weiss, and he also heaped praise on Morales in a recent chat with The Santa Barbara Independent. Despite his busy schedule, Vargas was generous with his time on issues like voting rights in Santa Barbara County (he has also headed CAUSE Action Fund, which works to get out the vote) and how he hopes to continue the Fund’s strides for “environmental justice” and “economic justice.”
First of all, congratulations. What goals do you have for the Fund?
I’m very excited about joining The Fund for Santa Barbara. The Fund has a tremendous legacy of inspiring activism in the city and the county. And I look forward to continuing to be a catalyst. The Fund would like to see as many communities — as many voters as possible — participate in the upcoming elections. The new council districts [in Santa Barbara] provide a tremendous challenge and opportunity. The Fund is very committed to doing all that we can to strengthen voter participation citywide.
You’ve been working on that at CAUSE, too.
In fact, the Fund and CAUSE have worked together on numerous issues over the years. I look forward to continuing that relationship. One of the voting rights strategies that CAUSE is working to achieve is moving the city [of Santa Barbara] to even-year elections. We’re working with community leaders and elected officials to work toward putting that on the ballot in the very near future. CAUSE played a very critical role in the drafting of the Santa Barbara City Council districts adopted by the City Council. Those districts clearly strengthened the voice of the Latino community as well as low-wage working folks, young people, renters, and other individuals who have historically had less of a voice in local politics.
Last year, CAUSE gathered 5,400 signatures in support of enacting district elections in Santa Maria. The city ultimately rejected that push. Will CAUSE still push to get an item on an upcoming ballot or is the organization looking at the route taken by Santa Barbara activists?
CAUSE is definitely going to move forward on a legal strategy [for] district elections in Santa Maria. We are in conversations with several attorneys. We should be hearing more about in the next months.
You started CAUSE. How are you doing with the transition?
It is a bittersweet experience for me. The Fund provides me a great opportunity to expand my social justice work in the region. CAUSE is an amazing organization that I’m very proud of. Over the last 14 years, it’s had some tremendous accomplishments, including [enacting] five living-wage ordinances in the county and stopping a liquefied gas terminal in Ventura County. CAUSE has been very successful at organizing grassroots leaders and voters and building broad-based coalitions around economic justice issues. I’m especially proud of our work around Proposition 30, the ballot measure in 2012 that significantly increased funding for schools. CAUSE was very active in turning out over 25,000 voters, predominately occasional voters. Since then, CAUSE has been very active around organizing the allocation of Prop. 30 funds.
The Fund for Santa Barbara greets its new diretor at a grants award party at the Lobero Theatre on Thursday, June 4, at 5 p.m. A donation of $10 is suggested, as is an RSVP here.