The focus on the new U.S. president may tend to divert us from challenges facing local governments. Cities and counties nationwide are grappling with similar social and economic issues such as jobs, crime, environmental protection, and affordable, work-force housing. But our nation has always faced and risen to such challenges, often with remarkable success.
Just think back 100 years to 1917 and to the enormous challenges our leaders faced — the war in Europe, widespread poverty, diseases such as polio, women still having to demand the right to vote, and minorities still denied equal rights. Workers sought an 8-hour day and safe work conditions while our nation faced a challenging transition from horses to cars, handwork to assembly lines.
With leadership and widespread participation, our nation exceeded any realistic goals it might have set for itself at the dawn of the 20th century. We electrified our cities, created transportation systems that took us first to all 50 states and eventually to the moon. We conquered major diseases, reduced elder poverty through a social security system, and we split the atom. We integrated our armed forces and made major strides toward social and economic opportunity.
We did all this and more, despite the tolls of the great flu epidemic, a nationwide depression, two world wars, and the Korea and Viet Nam actions. And before the end of the 20th century, we replaced adding machines with computers and welcomed the Internet and smart phones, ushering in an entirely new social and economic dimension.
As we now strive to truly position our community for success in this 21st century, I believe we must focus on improving our economic environment. Doing so will not only provide opportunities for our children to stay in our communities, it will also increase our tax base so we can provide services we all need — updated infrastructure, public safety, libraries, parks, social services, and affordable, reliable, and sustainable supplies of clean water and energy.
For Goleta, I believe we need to focus on four key drivers to boost Goleta’s economic expansion and vitality:
• We must manage traffic and parking and good roads so people want to come and shop here. But we must also promote transportation alternatives and work harder on public transit, biking accessibility, pedestrian safety, as well as flex hours and tele-commuting.
• We must protect our natural beauty and environment such as our views, the butterfly preserve, local beaches, Ellwood Mesa, and to continue to attract visitors, fill the new hotel rooms and restaurants, and most importantly, preserve the character of Goleta’s neighborhoods.
• We must ensure public safety with sufficient police and fire, but also with dependable, safe, and affordable supplies of clean water and energy.
• We must continue to work on housing affordability, once we evaluate the effects of the thousands of new units currently being built in Goleta and at UCSB.
How do we meet these challenges? First, we must get more residents participating in local affairs. This challenge is illustrated by the story of the political science professor addressing one of his less motivated students. So, he asked him, “What do you think is the biggest challenge facing this country, ignorance or apathy?”The student casually responded, “I don’t know, and I don’t care.”
Yes, at the very time that we need the involvement of everyone in addressing our city’s challenges, too often few residents are found at public city meetings where important matters are being discussed.
Our city must reach out to the Chamber of Commerce, UCSB, and to other Goleta groups and regional nonprofits, in gatherings large and small, formal and informal. And we must encourage more people to apply for our many commissions where so much of the city’s work gets done.
We also need both experienced and innovative leadership. Councilmembers Michael Bennett, Roger Aceves, and I have a combined total of 26 years of experience on our City Council. And we each bring with us many years of public service experience — Michael with County Fire, Roger with Santa Barbara City Police and County Sheriff, and me with PTA and the Community Action Commission.
Our two new councilmembers are invaluable additions. Stuart Kasdin has a PhD in Government and has worked in Washington at the Office of Management and Budget. Kyle Richards has served on Goleta’s Parks Commission, was president of his homeowners association, and has been active with the Bicycle Coalition. Both have ties to UCSB as alumni, and Kyle works there as a Policy Analyst. They bring a wealth of experience in government, new ideas, and, candidly, youthfulness with all its accompanying optimism and energy. We five are united by the bright prospect of what we can achieve when we work together.
Now, still at just the dawn of the 21st century, let’s draw our inspiration from accomplishments of those who came before us. Let’s resolve to be similarly bold and ambitious. Let’s work together to lay the foundation for another quantum leap in this 21st century. And let’s prove that when good leadership is matched with community-wide participation, our reach can indeed exceed our grasp for a better and brighter future for all our communities.
Paula Perotte is the mayor for the City of Goleta.