Voters marked Tuesday’s election by staying away from the polls in droves. In Santa Barbara County only 27.96 percent of registered voters cast their ballots in an election conspicuously devoid of any cliffhangers, nail-biters, or contests that could be remotely construed as barnburners. In fact, more than a few major seats went totally uncontested, including two county supervisorial districts. Regardless, the election ushered in a new Santa Barbara city councilmember and new taxes — one to benefit Isla Vista and another that taps legalized cannabis to fill county coffers.
Sheriff Bill Brown managed to win a third term in a three-way race pitting the two-term incumbent against two of his own lieutenants, Brian Olmstead and Eddie Hsueh, both of whom announced their candidacies only a few months before the election. Brown won outright with 54 percent, meaning there will be no runoff in November. Brown spent election night at High Sierra Bar & Grill, shaking hands with supporters and well-wishers. An accomplished campaigner and a true political pro, Brown not only fiscally out-raised his two opponents by a considerable margin but also out-hustled them in terms of securing key endorsements. Brown, a registered Republican, won endorsements from such high-profile Democrats as Governor Jerry Brown, Senator Dianne Feinstein, and Senator Kamala Harris, even though the local Democratic Party had thrown its lot behind challenger Hsueh. Brown also managed to secure the endorsement of the local Republican Party, something he had not managed in his two previous efforts. “I am that rare breed, a genuinely moderate Republican,” Brown said. “That makes me an endangered species.”
A 32-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, Hsueh — pronounced “Shway” — had championed increased crisis intervention training for all law enforcement personnel to minimize physical and violent interactions. Hsueh took 14 percent of the vote.
Brown’s stiffest challenge came from Lieutenant Olmstead, a 30-year veteran of the force, who argued departmental morale had sunk to new lows in large part because Brown had grown dangerously disconnected from the day-to-day realities of running the department because he’s been so focused on statewide issues and Sacramento politics. Brown is now stepping down as head of the California State Sheriffs’ Association. Olmstead — backed strongly by the S.B. County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association and the county firefighters’ union — won 31.6 percent. Brown took exception to Olmstead’s critique, stating, “That’s just my opponents trying to turn one of my political strengths into a liability.” Brown said his connections in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., have served the department well, allowing him to compete for more funds, under better terms, for the new North County Jail than had he not been so politically engaged outside the county. “That’s just what modern day sheriffs have to do,” he said. “It’s what the role demands.”
Both Hsueh and Olmstead got into the race very late, well after the Thomas Fire and 1/9 Debris Flow. To wage a credible challenge against an entrenched incumbent at that stage is a steep challenge, barring major scandals. “It says something when the majority of public safety endorses me,” said Olmstead, who spent election night at Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. in Buellton. “It says we need change. Hopefully we’re still able to get it.”
Hsueh noted with a grin, “I spent $2.68 per vote while Olmstead spent $11.39 and the sheriff spent $8.64. That’s real fiscal responsibility,” adding, “I’m just saying.” For his efforts, Hsueh was saluted by the Democratic Party faithfuls celebrating at Casa Blanca restaurant, “Eddie! Eddie! Eddie.” More substantively, Hsueh said his campaign helped highlight the need to fund more and better mental-health training for officers. He noted that the proposed budget the supervisors will soon vote on now has funding for a full-time position for mental-health training and support. Currently, that position has been funded for only six hours a week.
In the much-watched District 3 race for the Santa Barbara City Council, Oscar Gutierrez, 34, a videographer/reporter for Santa Barbara’s public access TV, won a council seat by securing just 538 votes. His closest rival, Michael Vidal, took 369. Gutierrez will fill out the remainder of the term of former District 3 representative Cathy Murillo, who stepped down when she was elected mayor last November. When Murillo ran for the District 3 seat — which represents the city’s largest minority-majority district, the city’s Westside — she won with about 940 votes. Murillo backed Gutierrez to the hilt throughout this campaign, donating $5,000 to his effort and walking precincts on his behalf. Given the council’s complex web of allegiances and bruised feelings now going back several generations, Gutierrez’s win marks a significant victory not just for Gutierrez, but for the mayor and the Democratic Party as well.
More substantively, Gutierrez — who campaigned as a “poor kid from the Westside who did good,” he said — will provide the council’s much needed seventh vote. As such, he could play the role of tiebreaker on a host of controversial housing measures that have been held in abeyance pending the outcome of this election, including a raft of tenants’ rights proposals.
Although Vidal, Gutierrez’s chief rival, was also a Democrat, he’d received substantial donations from real estate interests generally hostile to tenants’ rights protections. On election night, Gutierrez thanked the Democratic Party, Councilmember Gregg Hart, and Mayor Murillo before giving a shout-out to his girlfriend, Geordie Scully, whom he affectionately described as his “partner in crime.” The two could frequently be seen in recent weeks, walking precincts.
In the race for auditor-controller, Betsy Schaffer prevailed decisively over Jen Christensen with a strong push from local Democratic Party activists. The seat was open, and Schaffer enjoyed support from her two predecessors, of whom Christensen had been outspokenly critical throughout the campaign. In addition, Christensen alleged Schaffer had a conflict of interest because the Auditor-Controller’s office relied on a business program invented by Schaffer’s ex-husband and from which, she alleged, Schaffer had materially benefited. Schaffer denied the allegations, and the dogged vehemence with which Christensen leveled these charges wound up backfiring. On election night, Schaffer was light and goofy, partying with the Democrats and thanking them for their support. As a numbers person, she concluded her remarks with a riddle about numbers. “Why is six afraid of seven?” she asked. “Because seven eight [ate] nine.”
Democratic Congressmember Salud Carbajal, as expected, was the top vote-getter in a three-way race for the 24th Congressional District against two Republicans. Carbajal went home with 54 percent of the vote, while his three-time Republican challenger Justin Fareed won 37 percent and newcomer Michael Erin Woody from Morro Bay won 8 percent. Carbajal, a first-term congressmember and well-known county supervisor before that, is a prodigious fundraiser who accumulated a $1 million more than Fareed, who helps run his family’s sports medical device business.
From the beginning, this race has always been about the November runoff. Fareed’s imperative was to perform credibly enough to attract significant sums of Republican money for a district that’s seen as moderately competitive by party strategists. Had Democrats found themselves effectively locked out of runoff elections for highly competitive congressional seats in Orange County, that would have freed up more outside cash for Fareed. As of this writing, however, the outcome of those Orange County races remains uncertain. As a first-term Democrat, Carbajal has wasted few opportunities attacking the policies of President Trump and the Republican majority. Fareed, by contrast, has tried to walk a challenging tightrope, neither embracing nor disavowing Trump but seeking instead to carve out a nebulous in-between. Fareed issued a statement asking Woody and his supporters for their votes come November. “Washington is broken,” Fareed stated, and needs “a new generation of leadership” to fix it.
Measure T was arguably the single biggest local ticket on Tuesday’s ballot. The countywide cannabis tax, which is expected to generate anywhere from $5 million to $25 million annually, won overwhelmingly with 75 percent of the vote even though no campaign was organized on its behalf. The Democratic Party paid for one pro-Measure T campaign mailer; that was it.
In Isla Vista, the utility user fee opposed by landlords also passed overwhelmingly, by nearly 83 percent of the vote. This fee — known as Measure R — will be used to fund the newly formed Isla Vista Community Services District, which voters approved only last year, as a vehicle of limited self-governance. At that time, no funding stream had been designated. The new tax is expected to generate $642,000 dollars a year. Many landlords, wary of new tenant protections that they fear the new district might get behind, opposed the funding measure, arguing that increased costs will likely get passed along to tenants. Measure R supporters countered that rents in Isla Vista will go up no matter what because they always have.
For a complete list of results and play-by-play updates, click here.
City of Santa Barbara District 3
Oscar Gutierrez: 538, 52.90%
Michael Vidal: 369, 36.28
Elizabeth Hunter: 67, 6.59%
Kenneth Rivas: 37, 3.64%
Santa Barbara County Sheriff-Coroner
Bill Brown: 28405, 54.01%
Brian Olmstead: 16626, 31.61%
Eddie Hsueh: 7465, 14.19%
Santa Barbara County Auditor-Controller
Betsy Schaffer: 27883, 57.34%
Jennifer Christensen: 20577, 42.31%
Measure T, Cannabis Tax
Yes: 41095, 75.73%
No: 13170, 24.27%
Measure R, Isla Vista Community Services District Tax
Yes: 638, 82.75%
No: 133, 17.25%
State Assembly 37th District
S. Monique Limón (Dem) 42,295, 83.1%
David L. Norrdin (Dem) 5,111, 10.0%
Sofia Collin (Dem) 3,465, 6.8%
U.S. Representative, 24th Congressional District
Salud Carbajal (Dem) 58,730, 52.6%
Justin Fareed (Rep) 41,254, 36.9%
Michael Erin Woody (Rep) 11,726, 10.5%
United States Senate
Dianne Feinstein (Dem) 1,702,445, 43.8%
Kevin De Leon (Dem) 438,352 11.3%
James P Bradley (Rep) 341,576, 8.8%
Arun K. Bhumitra (Rep) 206,902 5.3%
Paul A Taylor (Rep) 198,402, 5.1%
Governor of California
Gavin Newsom (D) 1,344,128, 33.3%
John H. Cox (R) 1.057,066, 26.2%
Antonio Villaraigosa (D) 543,179, 13.5%
Travis Allen (R) 391327, 9.7%
John Chiang (D) 361,753, 9%
State Attorney General
Xavier Becerra (Dem) 1,743,601, 45.3%
Steven C Bailey (Rep) 973,285, 25.3%
Eric Early (Rep) 571,418, 14.8%
Dave Jones (Dem) 560,068, 14.6%
Proposition 68: Parks and Water Protection Bond
Yes: 2,164,920, 56.0%
No: 1,699,842, 44.0%
Proposition 69: Locks Gas-Tax Increases into Transportation Projects
Yes: 3,112,741, 80.4%
No: 759,861, 19.6%
Proposition 70: Cap-and-Trade Spending Restrictions
No: 2,368,822, 63.6%
Yes: 1,354,365, 36.4%
Proposition 71: Extends Date New Ballot Initiatives Take Effect by Six Weeks
Yes: 2,881,510, 76.8%
No: 870,962, 23.2%
Proposition 72: Exempts Rainwater-Capture Systems from Property Taxes
Yes: 3,173,230, 83.3%
No: 637,874, 16.7%