Like many residents of Santa Barbara County, and particularly the 1st District, I consider myself to be an environmentalist. My family has been solar since the 1980s, I collect and store rainwater, and I own a hybrid vehicle. I believe environmental organizations like the Sierra Club can play a constructive role in encouraging robust civic engagement on issues ranging from transitioning to cleaner energy to preserving wildlife habitat and our beloved National Parks. Unfortunately, I believe the Sierra Club has done itself and voters a disservice with its bombastic and overly enthusiastic endorsement of a slate of Democratic candidates in the upcoming June 7th primaries.
Although referring to oil companies as criminals, and suggesting that they are trying to “take over our county government,” may make for good copy and energize certain single-issue voters, it reflects the type of divisive rhetoric that many centrist and independent voters have tired of. It also ignores the fact that single-issue voting on environmental issues can be counter-productive.
Today, the county has no money to devote to additional environmental protection because it has a limited tax base and other spending priorities. Is Das Williams, a veteran Sacramento politician, going to change this dynamic? We should be skeptical. Over the past several years, the state has racked up debt and unfunded liabilities at an alarming rate, leaving the state unable to find the paltry $750,000 to $1 million required to fix the perpetually leaking Becker Well at Summerland Beach, which is fouling a beautiful beach and undermining Summerland’s tourist economy. The lesson for the Sierra Club and single-issue environmental voters is this: When sound fiscal management is ignored, the environment suffers.
It is also worth noting that three of the candidates the Sierra Club endorsed — Williams, Hannah-Beth-Jackson, and Salud Carbajal — did not mount a serious effort to fix the leaking Becker Well until late last year, which is coincidentally when the current election cycle heated up. If their day-late plans are not a dollar short, we may see environmental relief in our community in 2017 — a full decade after this oil leak was open and obvious. The indifference to Summerland exhibited by these officials highlights another problem with the Sierra Club’s endorsements — they reflect a “think globally, ignore locally” mindset. We can debate the proper role of our county and state in tackling the global problem of climate change, but there is no debate that if our elected officials’ heads are in the clouds, their feet are not on the ground.
Why haven’t we made more progress on recycling wastewater despite the admirable efforts of Heal the Ocean? How can anyone think that the endless delays in widening the 101 are good for the environment, given the air pollution generated by the thousands of idling cars stuck in our community every day? It’s hard to understand the Sierra Club’s unqualified endorsements of Williams and others when they have failed to make tangible progress addressing the daily environmental concerns of the very community they claim to serve.
Fortunately, there are other candidates running with strong environmental qualifications. You do not have to vote for the Sierra Club’s endorsees to protect our environment. Mayor Helene Schneider, for example, offers strong environmental and fiscal management credentials. In the 1st District, we are very fortunate to have Jennifer Christensen running for the Board of Supervisors. Not only is she a strong defender of our environment, but she is a public finance professional and an independent problem solver who eschews divisive rhetoric. I believe these are the qualities 1st District voters are looking for in a supervisor. So, although I do not agree with the Sierra Club’s endorsements, we do agree on one thing: It is a good year to be a voter in Santa Barbara who cares about our environment. Let’s vote for Santa Barbara on June 7.