Spoiler Alert for Santa Barbara County 3rd District Race

Bob Field’s Candidacy Prompts Frustration Among Conservatives

Supervisor Steve Lavagnino took Bob Field (right) to task for his appeal of a winery project when he'd advertised his own home as suitable for one. Field states he entered the 3rd District supervisor race to ruin it for Bruce Porter.
Paul Wellman (file)

When Bob Field jumped into the 3rd District supervisorial race, fellow conservatives flinched. Conventional wisdom says the third Santa Ynez Valley candidate’s bid makes it all but inevitable that the election will be decided in November. In presidential elections, that brings out younger liberal Dem voters. This hurts conservative-backed candidate Bruce Porter and makes Field the spoiler. If so, Field had no qualms. “I am not in this race to spoil it for [Bruce Porter],” he said. “I’m in this race to ruin it for him.”

To recap: Field — known for crusading for the past 10 years against the proliferation of wine-tasting rooms and vacation rentals in the valley — was backing Democrat Joan Hartmann until March when he threw his name in the mix. He even donated $1,000 to her campaign last December.

Conservative strategists say the best shot for Porter is to win the seat at the June 7 primary election — when Republicans tend to turn out more. To do that, a candidate must secure 50 percent of the electorate plus one single vote. With Field (and newcomer right-wing candidate Karen Jones) in the race, that’s all but statistically impossible.

Isla Vista resident and software company founder Jay Freeman is also vying for the seat.

Two weeks ago Supervisor Steve Lavagnino expressed this frustration, personally blasting Field during a Board of Supervisors hearing. He all but called Field a hypocrite for appealing a 14,000-square-foot Santa Rosa Winery expansion project while promoting his own property on the market as a small winery.

From the dais, Lavagnino displayed Field’s house with the address on the screen, pulled from the Sotheby’s International Realty website. Lavagnino explained he took the liberty of figuring out exactly where Field lived — 30 miles away from the Santa Rosa expansion he was appealing, he stressed — and discovered his house was for sale. Lavagnino highlighted the description of the “1930s farm house”: “The classic red barn offers multiple opportunities including … a small scale winery.”

Lavagnino complained that county staff had wasted tens of thousands of dollars and countless staff hours on the appeal. The project had already been unanimously approved by the Planning Commission last year. “It’d be different for me if this was a neighbor,” Lavagnino said.

“This is bull,” Field shot back. Lavagnino told Field he could respond later. He argued that the appeal process should be changed. “We should never have to deal with this again,” he said.

Taken aback, Supervisor Janet Wolf called Lavagnino’s outburst “really troubling to me.” Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr was silent. Supervisor Salud Carbajal advised Supervisor Peter Adam, who is the chair, to move the meeting along. “We are treading lightly on a slippery slope,” he said.

Adam said of Lavagnino’s remarks: “I’m sure it wasn’t anything personal.” He declined, however, to allow Field to respond — “No, we’re not going to do it,” he said — and called for a vote on the appeal. It was unanimously shot down.

In an interview after the hearing, Field appeared calm, relaxed, and collected. He said his real estate agent “has his reasons for marketing things” and that the ad did not promote wine-tasting rooms or events. “Here I didn’t even complain about events and wine tasting. It’s just about how much,” he said.

By the time he got home that night, however, Field lost his cool. At about 6:30 p.m., he sent an email to all the supervisors: “ … [Lavagnino] made an incendiary speech clearly intended to get some people angry with me, and then gave my home address and displayed a photo of my home on the screen,” he wrote. “I certainly hope that nothing unfortunate happens around here, and you can rest assured that you will hear from me if it does.” He signed the email: “80 percent respectfully, Bob Field.”

He also emailed Adam: “ … after last Tuesday’s winery appeal hearing at the BOS, and after Mr. Lavagnino’s disgraceful performance, I told you that I was ‘OK’ with you on the issue. After going camping for a couple of days, and having time to reflect upon it, I must tell you that I am distinctly not OK with you on this.”

Adam — conservative and blunt — shot back: “Welcome to the arena. There will be many times when things will not go to your liking over the next 3 months. Get used to it.”

Field called for an apology from Lavagnino and pointed out he actually lives about 20 miles away from the winery and tasting room project.

Lavagnino has not responded. “I really didn’t think what happened at the meeting was that big of a deal,” he said afterward. “I got [the address] off the World Wide Web. Six billion people had access [to it].” But he definitely took exception to Field’s entry into the race

“There are ways to manipulate elections; this is one of them,” he said. “[Field’s] best way to help Joan Hartmann is not to give her $1,000. It’s to get into the race.”

The 3rd District supervisorial seat is the swing district, and it determines the balance of power at the Board of Supervisors. The 1st and 4th District seats are also up for grabs. Assemblymember Das Williams and County Investment Officer Jen Christensen are in the 1st District race, an open seat. Incumbent 4th District Supervisor Adam is being challenged by SEIU 721 board president Eddie Ozeta.

In the 3rd District, registered Democrats have an 8 percent lead over Republicans, with 30 percent of registered voters declining to state a party preference. On April 6, the Santa Maria Times will host a forum with the 3rd and 4th District candidates.


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