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For the first time this election, all four candidates running in the 3rd District County Supervisorial race shared the stage in a public discussion hosted by the Santa Barbara Independent and the Santa Ynez Valley Star. More than 100 residents packed a Hotel Corque meeting room Wednesday evening as incumbent Joan Hartmann and challengers Karen Jones, Bruce Porter, and Jessica Alvarez Parfrey traded pitches, jabs, and promises on the topics of cannabis, tourism, Camp 4, and others.
Hartmann touted her middle-ground pragmatism, while Jones positioned herself as a fierce defender of American rights. Alvarez Parfrey held a view that unity and collaboration would move Santa Barbara forward. And Porter talked repeatedly about rolling up his sleeves and getting to work. Hartmann and Jones agreed that they almost always disagree, but both said they admired the integrity of the other. They couldn’t ― and didn’t ― say the same thing about Porter. Alvarez Parfrey, meanwhile, stayed clear of the slings and arrows.
Here are the highlights, edited for length and clarity.
CANNABIS: Cannabis has become the county’s most controversial issue. Joan, you were sitting on the board when a lot of the policy decisions were made. Knowing what you know now, would you have done anything differently? To the other candidates, what’s your stance on the cannabis industry, and what would you do as supervisor to regulate it?
Hartmann: I’ve been the leader in getting constraints and regulations on the cannabis industry. First and foremost: to protect residential areas, especially small agricultural parcels. I got the board to institute a countywide 1,760-acre cap. And I also got the board to give direction to the planning commission to reconcile the differences between traditional agriculture and cannabis and to look at further protections for urban areas. I led the charge on each and every one of these.
Jones: When you look at marijuana, it’s a different kind of crop. It’s agriculture, but it’s also vice, like casinos and strip clubs. And vice does not belong in neighborhoods. … As a native Californian, as somebody who’s been around marijuana most of my adult life, I can tell you that they should have foreseen a lot of the problems. Smell can be mitigated. And what can’t be mitigated is somebody kicking in your door and looking for coke and a barrel of cash. It doesn’t belong with tomatoes, folks.
Alvarez Parfrey: The fact that we’ve been able to generate a significant amount of revenue off of cannabis is really great, in my opinion. And I think we have to look to the future in a really constructive kind of way. … I’m wondering why we can’t incentivize folks to implement better behavior, instead of punishing them. There was $347 million worth of product recently confiscated that could have been taxable revenue. … The permies — the permaculture peeps — I think they can help us kind of create a bridge between traditional ag and the cannabis industry.
Porter: The bottom line is, the rollout of cannabis cultivation and all the regulations was just a botched job. … Whether you’re a resident of the Santa Ynez Valley or whether you’re a cannabis cultivator, we’ve been in this zigzag course of unfairness for just about everybody. … And as far as Joan Hartmann being excited about more amendments, that would be like your child driving out with the family car and wrecking it and bringing it back and being proud that on the way back, he or she washed the windshield. That’s not exactly what we should be celebrating.
AGRICULTURAL TOURISM: A lot of farmers and ranchers would like to do more with ag tourism. Is it a good idea, and if so, how would you approach looking at options?
Jones: I’m very much a private property ownership rights person. I think if you own it, then you are responsible for it, and you have the right to use it in a way that makes sense, as long as that doesn’t infringe on other people’s rights. … I think ag tourism is a nice way for people to subsidize their farm. Just like having an oil- or gas-pumping unit is a way to subsidize the cost. … This is an expensive place to live. I don’t think everybody has the right to live in Santa Barbara County. I think that it is something that some of us have earned.
Alvarez Parfrey: Santa Barbara County is the perfect melding of an innovative tech, future meets agriculture, permaculture, and this real consideration and rootedness to the land. … If we can make it accessible, if we can make it fun, and if we can generate some revenue for our county, I think that’s a win. … But I also want to make sure that we’re treating our workers in this county well and that this is a place where we’re truly elevating and uplifting this idea of what community wellbeing is really about.
Porter: Agriculture tourism is a way of reinventing the way we view ourselves as a tourist economy here in Santa Barbara County. … But we don’t want busloads of people coming up from L.A. … If we can have fewer tourists who are here for an experience to enjoy the beautiful place that we live, to enjoy our agricultural products, to learn what it’s like to be on a farm, to bring their kids and show them where food actually comes from, there is great value in all of that.
Hartmann: I think we have a responsibility to connect people back to the land and back to food. … So, I’m eager to promote ag tourism. We’ve had several forums to find the contours of what that regulation should be, and I’ve pulled out special funds to pursue a farmstay ordinance. But I think agricultural tourism is even broader than that. I believe it has an opportunity to really advance the cache of the Santa Barbara plan. I also held a bike tourism summit with e-bikes.
WINE: As we all know, wineries and vineyards are a major component of business across the entire Santa Ynez Valley, and yet we constantly hear from vendors who say the county is not really supportive of their growth and success. Do you think there should be more wineries in the area, and should the county do more to support the existing wineries?
Alvarez Parfrey: I think we should be more proud about the wines we produce here in Santa Barbara County. I think we should encourage more of our neighbors to purchase Santa Barbara wines. I live in Isla Vista, so I’m around a lot of college students. It’d be great to see them buy less Barefoot brand and see them buy more county-produced wine. … The industry is an important part of the experience of living here. It’s a wonderful offering. It tells a history and the story of the land, and I’d like to see it more valued.
Porter: One of the first things I would do as the next supervisor is have a sitdown with all the winery owners and find a better way of doing all of this. Right now, if you’re going to have a wedding, you can do it here, but you can’t do it there. If there’s a winery, you can’t, but if it’s just grape mills, you can. It’s all just crazy. We need to rationalize all of that and help our farmers, help our vendors, make this a place of truly world-class wine and spirits.
Hartmann: Yes, the county can be more supportive. It’s a $1.75 billion industry; 10,000 jobs. It’s a lot of jobs for young people who can stay here. I think that is especially important. … What have I done so far? I meet regularly with the director of the vintners association. I was a strong advocate for their grant application that brought $400,000 for marketing to Los Angeles, and I’m supporting the application for Orange County and San Diego County marketing. … We are putting forward farmworker housing. … The county is working on the analysis for a business improvement district. … And I am very eager to bring food to wineries for safety reasons and because that’s how many people enjoy wine.
Jones: When you talk about a business improvement district, that’s something that the wineries are doing. It’s just really crazy for me to hear the government taking responsibility for personal business. I think these people are winners because they know how to do it. That’s how our system works. It’s fine to have tourists, and you have to sell hamburgers or wine or something, but just remember, most of the valley is stuck in traffic. We’re breathing the brake dust. We have these people invading our town. Think of our rights as well.
HOUSING: The state is actively passing laws to reduce local control and build more housing. Are you in favor of more housing? Where in the 3rd District would it be suitable, and what should the county do to ensure that our quality of life is not overly impacted?
Porter: The bottom line is yes, we do need more housing, but I think we can do it with innovation. We can do it with accessory dwelling units. We can do it with second residential units. We don’t want high-density urbanized housing, but if we think it through carefully, I think we can do a lot. … A big part of our constituency is going to be Isla Vista. Extremely dense, but there are a lot of ways to do things better down there with modern housing and a better layout. I think every community is going to have to share this burden, whether it’s Santa Barbara or Guadalupe or Los Alamos.
Hartmann: We need more housing. This is what I have done: We’ve eased permit requirements for farmworker housing. We have allowed accessory dwelling units in all areas. We are exploring best practices for incentivizing more employee developed housing. … In the Central Coast, a lot of second homes exist, and a lot of people don’thave first homes. That’s an issue about how we allocate housing funds. … We also have a number of constraints here as we think about housing. These include a water moratorium, the need to protect agricultural lands, and reducing risks from fire, flood, and sea-level rise.
Jones: I’m somebody who understands that affordable housing is housing I can afford. I didn’t have a home at one point in my life. I was 15 and pregnant. I lived in the Salvation Army. They don’t get government grants. I had a series of things I had to do to live there, and it prepared me to then enter the workforce, to rent an apartment, and to meet a guy; we saved; we bought affordable housing. It was a house we could afford. We sold it, and we were able to buy out the family in the house that we now have. That’s how you buy a house, and that’s how affordable housing works.
Alvarez Parfrey: Traditional development models are probably not going to help us meet this crisis. We need to be able to deploy low-carbon, low-capital housing development models ― adobe, super-adobe, all kinds of beautiful aesthetics that meld so well with Santa Barbara County. I think if we’re going to do affordable housing, then Santa Barbara could show the rest of the country how to do it right.
CLIMATE CHANGE: Climate change is one of the largest crises of our existence. What can actually be done to combat or prepare for climate change at a county level?
Hartmann: This is my number-one priority. We have a thickening blanket around the globe that’s raising our temperatures, and it’s happening faster in Santa Barbara County and Ventura County than anywhere else. … Getting solar, better battery storage, electric charging infrastructure, reducing vehicle miles traveled by our employees ― all these programs are underway right now. Last week, the board of supervisors approved the Strauss Wind Project, which triples the renewable commercial energy in our county and brings good jobs with it.
Jones: I appreciate this question because it’s one of the many topics where I am different than the other three people running. This scare tack ― I’ve been living with it my entire life. I lived through “Peak oil! Peak oil!” It’s just one thing after another, and these people don’t have degrees in science. … Public safety is the government’s number-one job. For these people to be getting their tentacles in all these areas is troubling to me.
Alvarez Parfrey: This is something that our species is going to have to figure out. I myself, I’m willing and ready to throw in to say that Santa Barbara County can figure it out and we can do it well and we can do it beautifully. We need to recognize the immense human capital and social capital that we have here to meet the challenge. I’m part of a group called Eco Vista, and we’re imagining how Isla Vista can become a living laboratory for what truly sustainable and just communities look like in this climate. I think we can do it.
Porter: A big problem, very complex, but what if we did this? What if we had government just to get out of the way? Why don’t we pre-zone every single existing energy facility as a renewable energy facility? Make the permitting super simple, make it doable in a very short period of time. Still hold people accountable, make sure they clean up their mess, but give them a very clear path to converting their facilities to renewable energy.
OIL & GAS: Should there be more production here, or not?
Hartmann: I would absolutely not have more offshore oil. I oppose fracking. I’ve been leading the charge against that in federal BLM regulations.
Jones: I believe in oil and gas. I believe in responsible production of energy of any sort.
Alvarez Parfrey: I think oil and gas are a part of our past. They have no place in our future. It doesn’t make any more financial sense for us to be investing in these legacy energy sources.
Porter: It’s all about the transition. I might consider [more production] if it gets oil ships out of the Santa Barbara Channel. I would consider it if it would put us on the path to better transition to the future. But it would be project by project. I’d do the numbers and see what’s going to be best.
CAMP 4: As you know, the federal government is putting Camp 4 into the Chumash Reservation. Is there anything the county should or can do to monitor and influence development on that piece of property?
Jones: I was very involved in trying to stop Camp 4 from being taken off the county tax rolls. … My plan is for everybody to be treated the same. It’s a bit of a racket to pretend like these are helpless people. They’re not, and they’re taking advantage of a law. I don’t see anybody who is a casino owner or a beneficiary needing that special treatment. … So I see a big problem when you’re treating 140 people and their descendants in a different way than other people. … I will do my best to make the federal government recognize the problems and the way they’re destroying our county.
Alvarez Parfrey: I believe that we need to move forward with a true partnership. … I want to recognize the value of this community and I really think that we have so much to gain by collaborating, listening, and recognizing our shared histories. … We are on the ancestral lands of the Chumash people. I come from indigenous heritage and ancestry. This is something that’s very personal to me, so that’s how I feel. Partnership.
Porter: If they want to take land out of the county and put it in the reservation, it’s your job as a county supervisor to stand against that. That’s the way things work. … The Camp 4 agreement was an abomination that stripped money away from our schools. It has a very limited time period, and in just 20 years, the tribe is going to be able to do whatever they want with it. If we could do a better job of negotiating when we have to, we might be able to avoid that, and that’s what I would want to do.
Hartmann: We have an agreement. We have an agreement for 143 one-acre residential parcels and a tribal center. It includes setbacks from our valley scenic roads; 85 percent of the property will remain open space and agriculture. There will be no net increase in water use. There will be no commercial development. There will be no gaming, ever. … We negotiated and we built trust and good faith. … I think there’s greater peace and harmony in the valley since we have this agreement.