The cluster of candidates now running for Santa Barbara City Council are disconcertineg sane. That’s the good news. It turns out, for some, that’s also the bad news. Former mayor Marty Blum could be heard complaining, “They’re all so normal,” as she left yet another edifying exchange of well-informed, like-minded views on such barn-burner topics as AUD and ADUs. Those may sound like recently invented sexually transmitted diseases, but, in fact, they are this election’s hot-button issues. Blum was missing the good old days when two-thirds of the candidates were certiﬁably certiﬁable and at least one could be counted on to show up with a toilet seat wrapped around his neck, passing out free rolls of toilet paper. He was one of the sane ones.
When this election’s over, every single councilmember will represent a geographically distinct district. That’s new. The district election system was foisted upon the citizens of Santa Barbara by threat of a can’t-lose, slam-dunk lawsuit that City Hall fought anyway, pissing $800,000 down the drain in the process. The myth is that district elections give voters a more diverse pool of viable candidates to pick from. The reality is that in the district elections for City Council and in the citywide mayoral race, we got four white guys 10 years old or older. We got only one new woman running, whom the Democratic Party seems to hate even though she’s a card-carrying liberal-progressive-feminist lifelong Democrat. We have a Cuban-born retired corporate executive, a former ﬁre chief, one former mayor, three current councilmembers, and a former political staffer for a former county supervisor. Not exactly throwing the windows wide open. The good news is we have three candidates with younger school-age children. As usual, Ernie Salomon, Santa Barbara’s most curmudgeonly community activist, livened things up by calling out mayoral candidate Frank Hotchkiss for declining to list his age. “Did you forget it?” Ernie demanded. “For your information, you are 75.” Ernie disclosed that he was 82.“My question to you is: Do you wanna arm wrestle?” Any proceeds generated by the spectacle, he said, would go to Direct Relief. Ernie wisely did not extend the same invitation to former ﬁre chief Warner McGrew, whom only a fool would challenge to arm wrestle. Ernie may be a noisy gong, but a fool he most decidedly is not.
That sobriquet, sadly, goes to the Democratic Central Politburo, whose insistence on being the very ﬁrst political entity to ﬁeld a slate of candidates at all costs is apparently costing them a lot in terms of party strife. The Dems insist on endorsing by early spring even though the ﬁling deadline for candidates isn’t until August. This haste has caused serious problems.When their powers that be announced from on high they were anointing Jim Scaﬂde, a local attorney, to run for District 4, a lot of party loyalists were struck with instant whiplash. “Jim who?” Turned out he was an attorney who at age 18 was elected to the city council of East Liverpool, Ohio, and later would be elected that town’s youngest mayor. The Dems passed over or pushed aside well-known prospects such as Santa Barbara School Board President Kate Parker, who, while moderate and temperate in the extreme, has more than paid her dues. There was much grumbling from the party when Kristen Sneddon, an S.B. City College geology professor, announced she was inspired to run after participating in the anti-Trump March for Science this April. Jumping on board Sneddon’s bandwagon was Laura Capps of the Capps dynasty. She and her mom — former congressmember Lois Capps — also backed Hal Conklin for mayor, rejecting the party’s endorsement of councilmember Cathy Murillo. (So too did über party animal Das Williams, now 1st District Supervisor.) Political apostate Sneddon—who has emerged as the revelation of the race—has gotten numerous how-dare-you Facebook blasts from machine loyalists. Charlie Clouse, enforcer of party orthodoxy, accused Sneddon of having the effrontery to knock on his door and say she was the best candidate running. Sneddon, for the record, denies ever knocking on Clouse’s door and demanded a retraction. By breaking ranks with the party, Clouse argued Sneddon was going to split the Democratic vote and get a Republican elected. As for her list of impressive endorsements, Clouse said: “Perhaps not incidentally, they are all female,” adding, “They should know better.” So too should have Clouse; his letter has only galvanized Sneddon’s camp.
On the ﬂip side is the nasty whisper campaign unleashed by anonymous sources against party candidate Jim Scaﬁde. As mayor of East Liverpool, Scaﬁde is alleged to have sat idly by, doing only the bare mini- mum to oppose a toxic waste incinerator in his hometown. The incinerator, it turns out, is even more of a menace than anyone thought, but was built in spite of Scaﬁde’s opposition. He claims he tried to get Greenpeace and Jackson Browne involved in the early days but got nowhere for his efforts. He did vote against it twice, though the council had zero say in the decision. And he testiﬁed in court on behalf of opponents. I called Lorenzo Spenser, an East Liverpool resident ﬁghting the incinerator both then and now, who said he absolutely would endorse Scaﬁde.“He didn’t make much of a difference one way or the other,” Spenser said,“but he voted against it, and he was accessible.”
In this context, the question remains: Do you wanna arm wrestle?