A survey by Jerry Roberts’s <em>Calbuzz</em> finds mayoral candidates Frank Hotchkiss and Cathy Murillo in a dead heat.
Paul Wellman

While much of the known world is a mess, Santa Barbara remains a (relative) citadel of sanity, as shown so far in the upcoming election.

As usual, crazies, loonies, and assorted nutballs did not apply, though they might have made it more interesting. Santa Barbarans don’t like radical change, even if it’s needed.

So what figures to change after the November 7 vote? No matter how much candidates seek votes by complaining about the homeless, they’ll still be there the next morning and the morning after that.

In the meantime, they’re easy electoral targets. The nights are getting colder, and there’s little incentive to leave. Homelessness is a complex issue, involving the mentally ill and those whose minds have been wrecked by our perpetual wars.

Practically every candidate mentions the housing problem. And now rent control, a hot potato that’s been seething under the surface for years, has finally reared its head. Rents are surging in a city where renters make up 60 percent of the market. Look for a push by the build, build, build zealots, for whom the illusion of “affordable” housing is worth any density, no matter whether it degrades the quality of life of those already here or yet to be crammed in. There’s money to be made, lots of it.

The much-criticized experimental AUD (Average Unit-Size Density) overlay zoning will be a major target. It allows greater rental density without requiring a developer to contribute funds for parks, police, fire protection, parking, schools, and other necessities to help alleviate the added impacts.

Nearby towns do this. Why can’t Santa Barbara? At this point there’s no proof that AUD produces cheaper housing.

What we have on the November 7 ballot is a mix of young, new faces and some tried-and-true veterans of City Hall who have seen the same old problems come and go and figure they can fix them this time around.

Democrats have long been an electoral power in this liberal community, but this time around the business-oriented Chamber of Commerce has made some key endorsements, spent money, and made a strong pitch.

Also surprisingly, there are only two women on the ballot, mayoral candidate Cathy Murillo, a City Council incumbent, and Kristen Sneddon, City Council candidate in District 4.

Will Santa Barbara continue its tradition of female mayors? Murillo faces four men, one of whom, Hal Conklin, was (briefly) the last male mayor. Four hopefuls, including Murillo, are liberals. Conservative Frank Hotchkiss was given little chance unless the other four split the vote, landing him with the job. But a new telephone poll designed and funded by Jerry Roberts’s Calbuzz produced a shocker: It has Hotchkiss and Murillo ​— ​on opposite sides of the political and density fences ​— ​in a virtual tie.

But as the race gets hotter, that could change. The panicked Democrats are marshaling forces to support Murillo.

Some candidates have proposed more housing along the key artery of State Street, with its bus and bicycle transportation benefits. Look for planners and developers to focus on that.

Surprising, perhaps, is that most candidates and movers and shakers around town have come out in favor of Measure C, the one-cent sales-tax hike to improve streets and a long list of municipal needs, even “address homelessness.”

It will raise an estimated $22 million a year. True, there’s no sunset clause for it to end, but the ballot says that voters can kill it any time they want. That will be interesting to see, once projects are underway and the money pours in.

The list includes money for police, fire and medical response, pothole repair, bridges and storm drains, and much more. The biggest item is replacing the old, unsafe police station, built before seismic engineering requirements; it could become a “deadly pancake” in case of an earthquake, the Independent reports.

The election may reflect the attitude that Santa Barbara has lost the environmental zest and leadership it proudly won after the 1969 oil spill. It’s still anti-oil development in the channel, but will the new crop of candidates want to change direction?


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