There’s something improbable — miraculous, even — about the Mesa, the heart and soul of Santa Barbara city’s District 2. Sprawling from Las Positas Road to the harbor, it boasts more beachfront and park space than anywhere in town. In the city’s early days, the Mesa was covered in lima bean fields, and then in rows of oil derricks. But by the end of World War II, the oil fields had gone dry, and swatches of modest matchbox homes began spreading over the Mesa on small suburban lots with multimillion-dollar views.
To the extent the California Dream — middle-class homeownership coupled with affordable higher education — is still alive in Santa Barbara, it lives on the Mesa. About 40 percent of households make between $75,000 and $200,000 a year. In this unhinged economy, that’s middle class. Nearly 70 percent of its residents live in single-family homes; a lucky 56 percent are owners. Mesa kids attend one of three district elementary schools. Santa Barbara City College, a world-class community college, has a campus overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and its tuition is free to any student graduating from a high school in its district.
And the waves aren’t terrible, either.
Like the Pacific Ocean, District 2 is solidly blue. Of the 15,000 people old enough to vote there, nearly 10,000 are registered. Of those, 50 percent are Democrats, 26 percent are card-carrying “decline to state”s, and only 17 percent are Republican. Turnout was low four years ago: Only about 3,100 ballots were cast in the race that Randy Rowse, the fiercely moderate Mesa incumbent, won by a landslide with 2,130 votes. Term limits now preclude Rowse from running again, creating a genuinely open seat for the five candidates energetically campaigning.
Michael Jordan: A Civic Insider
For more than 20 years, Jordan has labored in the bullpens of city boards and commissions, a sometimes crotchety, no-nonsense, decline-to-state, old-school City Hall insider doing the grunt work of government. At first, he served on the Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Organization, and hospitality industry boards. But soon he was appointed to the Creeks Advisory Committee, where he served three terms, and then to the Planning Commission, where he has played the role of Everyman. Recently appointed also to the Regional Water Quality Control Board, he spoke out against Big Ag’s contamination of groundwater while serving on its first environmental justice committee. He wasn’t reappointed. Jordan reregistered as a Democrat only last March and expressed astonishment that the party endorsed him with his history of insider moderation.
Jordan grew up in San Pedro, one of five kids. His father operated a major construction warehouse; his mother worked as a hospice nurse. As a young kid, Jordan and his family often visited his grandparents at their Mesa home on Mohawk Road. He remembers roaming the neighborhood, with its eucalyptus trees and vacant lots.
When he and his wife graduated from Chico State, they moved to Japan to work on United States military bases, running their parks and recreation facilities. Then, in 1991, the couple and their four children moved into his grandparents’ home, and Jordan got a job working for an insurance company.
On the Planning Commission, Jordan was known for seeing both sides of a debate. At one meeting, he verbally thrashed a local developer for chopping down trees without the necessary permits, and in the next breath thrashed the angry neighbors for vilifying the developer. Both sides needed to talk to one another, he lectured, and name-calling would make that impossible.
Jordan has expressed support for new housing downtown, relaxing the city’s current height limits, and rethinking parking requirements. He supports simplifying the permit process and not being afraid to experiment with change. Jordan thinks the large rental-housing complex slated for the 700 block of Milpas Street is a success because no existing housing will be destroyed.
Jordon has sewn up the most endorsements, including the Democratic Party’s; has raised the most money; and has a more experienced résumé than all the other candidates combined. Other candidates attack Jordan for being an insider and blame him for City Hall’s apparent paralysis. But at a time when the council meetings too often devolve into what he’s termed “a reality show,” Jordan contends he’s the candidate best equipped to inject knowledge and civility into the meetings. “People like to call me a ‘career politician’ and an ‘insider.’ I’d say this is the time and the place for an insider.”
Brian Campbell: Sounding the Alarm
Of all those vying for District 2, Brian Campbell is easily the most dramatic. At a recent forum, Campbell — the only Republican running in this election — held up 20 years’ worth of city documents on homeless issues: When is City Hall going to stop “kicking the can down the road” and start doing something? he demanded. At another forum, Campbell suggested the Mesa was “becoming a Skid Row,” given the number of vans in use as housing parked on the streets. On climate change, Campbell said, “Mother Earth is 4.5 billion years old. The Ice Age was two and a half million years ago, and the Earth has been warming ever since. We’ve been tracking climate for about 120 years. So do we really, really know what affects climate change?” he asked rhetorically.
Campbell is quick to acknowledge he’s no politician. “I am a family man,” he said, as well as an attorney, a real estate agent, and a businessperson. He’s in the race only because he drew the shortest straw among a group of actively involved parents at the school of one of his children. Last year, Campbell said, the school was placed on lockdown two times because people experiencing homelessness behaved in a threatening manner outside the grounds. (District officials stressed the school was placed on lockout mode — a less drastic security precaution — not “lockdown.”)
Campbell himself grew up in Long Island a self-described “latchkey kid,” his father a 4th-grade schoolteacher and his mother a county administrator who administered police exams. He moved to Santa Barbara 25 years ago, where he sold financial services door-to-door in Montecito. As tough as that sounds, Campbell made enough to buy a home on the Westside for $225,000, a king’s ransom at the time.
He met his wife jogging by the Bird Refuge. The rest, as they say, is history. Two kids later, Natalie Grubb is his main confidant and campaign copilot. Campbell now works for Village Properties, the real estate sales empire started by his wife’s mother, Renee Grubb.
Not all people experiencing homelessness, Campbell has said, should be regarded the same. He himself has been temporarily “homeless,” he said, and forced to couch surf and live on a leaking boat. But at campaign events, he’s quick to cite the number of fights between homeless people at Ortega Park or the number of syringes and piles of human feces he encountered at Pershing Park when he was a Little League football coach. The city has 3,000 parking spaces; he noted, so why aren’t they being used to provide space for people living in their cars? What’s needed, he said, is permanent supportive housing, not more plans on how all the many stakeholders around homelessness might better communicate. Holding those old planning documents high in his hands at last week’s forum, Campbell scoffed, “This is the first time we’re going to work collaboratively together? Sure.”
Tavis Boise: Lifeguard of the Apocalypse
Young, blond-haired, and blue-eyed, Boise is blessed with a warm grin and an easy laugh. But when he starts talking, watch out; his message is inescapably grim. Climate change is coming, and it’s going to be worse than anyone imagines. And the consequences of economic inequality will be devastating also. That’s why he’s running for City Council. “There’s going to be more fires, more debris flows, and more mudslides,” he said. “Fishermen won’t be able to fish anymore because there won’t be enough fish in the ocean. This is not fearmongering; this is reality.” And then, almost apologetically, Boise grins. “I just want a seat at the table for me and my generation,” he stated. “I want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to avert the worst disaster in human history.”
Boise was born on Hollister Ranch and claims the distinction of being the first kid to have been so in 100 years. His father owned and ran Island Seed & Feed, a popular alternative plant nursery and pet food store. Boise’s mother died of cancer when he was young.
He attended Vista del Mar, where there were 10 kids in his 8th-grade class. When Boise jumped to Dos Pueblos High School, he found himself swamped in a class of 652. “Oh my god, so many girls,” he remembered. For the last eight years, Boise has worked as a lifeguard while attending City College, San Francisco State, and Cal State Channel Islands, where he is now working on a master’s degree in business administration.
His campaign webpage features a photo of Boise crouched on his surfboard, catching a wave, wearing a button-down shirt, soaking wet. It’s a riff on the duality Boise is attempting to encompass: surfer and long sleeves, environment and business. On the campaign, Boise is so urgent he burns. And then, of course, he grins.
Economically, he said, Santa Barbara can be pretty grim. Boise talks of young people working three jobs to share an apartment with four others so they can live in the third least affordable city in the state. As a student and as a worker, he’s known many people who live in their cars.
Or as he put it, “If I can’t make it here, who can?”
For Boise, all roads lead back to climate change. He warned about the arrival of 30-50-year droughts. It’s happening, he said. It’s real. “Nature never happens slowly,” he warned. “It happens really fast.” Boise later elaborated, “If your house is on fire, you have to act like it. Well, guess what? Our house is on fire.”
Luis Esparza: A Voice of Reason
Luis Esparza doesn’t shout. Of the five candidates running for District 2, he is by far the softest-spoken. An attorney by trade, Esparza knows the Mesa. He and his wife, whom he has known since elementary school, are now raising their 5-year-old son in the same Mesa house in which Esparza and his three sisters grew up. His father, a Mexican immigrant whose small cement business built thousands of driveways and building foundations, died just last year.
Esparza, who just turned 40, ran four years ago for the same seat and came in a far second behind Randy Rowse. This time around, there’s no incumbent, and he reckons he’s got a better shot. He’s believes he’s the best qualified, having served on the city’s pension review board and, more recently, been appointed to serve on the board of financially strapped Earl Warren Showgrounds. He also sits on the board of the Mesa’s neighborhood association.
Esparza said he shares many of the same social equity values espoused by the Democratic Party but differs from the Democrats on matters of fiscal prudence. He termed the city’s pension liability — how much City Hall will have to spend on retirement benefits for former city workers — “a ticking time bomb.” That, he added, “is something no one else is talking about.”
Esparza objects to the influence wielded by the Democratic Party in City Hall affairs. He objected to the council’s decision to give the building trades’ unions the last word when it comes to awarding large city construction contracts. He expressed concern that this agreement will effectively ice many smaller local contractors from lucrative city deals. “I respect the importance of unions in promoting economic equity, but the fact is many small businesses are nonunion.” He added that the council decision on such contracts failed to pass the smell test when it came to the influence of special interests.
Esparza attended local schools growing up — he ran against Santa Barbara Assemblymember Monique Limón for 7th-grade student president and lost decisively — and graduated from USC law school. One of his sisters worked 20 years as a procurement officer for the City of Santa Barbara; another sister worked for the County of Santa Barbara’s Probation Department. The intricate mechanics of local government are, in other words, a matter of familial familiarity to him.
As an attorney, Esparza has represented some large cannabis operators, giving him a strong belief that City Hall has failed to tap the true fiscal potential of the new industry. In campaign forums, Esparza has lamented how much money City Hall “has left on the table” and the extent to which the heavy regulatory burden has effectively chased many local operators out of the city. Limiting the number of recreational dispensaries to only three, he claimed, was extremely shortsighted.
Esparza supports the creation of a day center where homeless individuals can hang out, eat, shower, and obtain a range of services. Homelessness, he said, should not generally be treated as a law enforcement issue. Esparza has voiced concern with the plethora of six-to-one votes by the current City Council, suggesting the council has tilted too far in the direction of the Democratic left. “Randy [Rowse] was a popular voice of reason up there,” he said. “I’d like to continue that legacy.”
Teri Jory: Do the Right Thing
Teri Jory might be the first candidate in the historical sweep of Santa Barbara politics who holds both a PhD and a fourth-degree black belt. Both are milestones in her personal and political narrative. The descendant of Russian Jews, Jory’s family settled in Las Vegas back when it still retained some small-town character. Her grandfather opened the city’s first pawnshop. By age 9, Jory — then an accomplished ice-skater — had tried to unionize child skaters in local performances.
By the late 1980s, she had moved to Yuma, Arizona, where she was racking up awards as a television journalist for an NBC affiliate. She’d also become the focus of an obsessed fan who broke into her apartment and attempted to kill her. With her assailant’s hands wrapped around her neck, Jory recalled resolving, “I’m not going to let my mom find me dead.” That’s when she bit him as hard as she could, causing him to loosen his grip. After she escaped, the police found her armed assailant and shot him dead. That trauma put Jory on the trajectory that led her to settle in Santa Barbara in 1990.
Jory attended UCSB, where she earned a PhD in how political advertising is processed by the human brain. During that time, Jory met her husband, Seth Geiger, who runs a successful media consulting firm. Jory also started the self-defense company Poise and teaches self-defense to homeless women in Alameda Park. She is also part of a task force on human trafficking.
She and her husband have twins, now 22 years old. The son is a U.S. Army lieutenant in the 101st Airborne. Her daughter is a successful ballerina. When her daughter was accepted to train at the Bolshoi Ballet in 2015, Jory sent the news to the Mesa neighborhood association paper and got the bug for local politics. Since then, she’s jumped into Mesa matters feet first, and she now presides over the neighborhood improvement association Our Mesa Neighborhood Inc., or OMNI for short.
There, she’s been — by any reckoning — a ball of fire. “I get things done,” Jory proclaimed. “I lead by listening, but I lead.” With OMNI, Jory has spearheaded numerous Mesa improvement projects, the most obvious being artwork painted onto the above-ground utility boxes around the Mesa’s shopping area. She launched a door-to-door campaign whereby Mesa residents provide the small fire station with a list of how many people live in each house. She’s been a champion of music and arts events on the Mesa and an outspoken activist for street crossings and other safety improvements for Cliff Drive.
In addition, Jory has served on the county’s Mosquito and Vector Management District, appointed by then-supervisor Janet Wolf. According to Wolf, Jory served with distinction, and Wolf — along with former Santa Barbara mayor Marty Blum — has endorsed Jory’s campaign. Jory, the only woman running for the District 2 seat, has also been active on the board of Democratic Women of Santa Barbara County. None of the candidates running could garner the necessary number of votes from that organization to secure its endorsement.
Although a lifelong Democrat and avid union supporter, Jory stressed she will always operate independently of any political party. “We don’t have time,” she emphasized, “to not do things right anymore.”