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Our 1st District needs an experienced community leader more than ever, and you’d have to look pretty hard on your county ballot this year to find a more experienced leader than Das Williams. January 9, 2018, was the harbinger of a new era. In the eerie red glow of a giant gas main explosion, we witnessed the hellish consummation of a climate tragedy right here in our sunny little community. The largest wildfire California had ever seen joined forces with a freak rain event to bring the mountain down on Montecito and Carpinteria in the biggest natural disaster in Santa Barbara County history.
Our county was tested on all levels, from first response, to our relief and recovery efforts, to the long-term recovery that continues today. As a community we were also tested. Would we pull together and come to the aid of our neighbors, or would the tragedy pull us apart and sink us in a quagmire of blame, finger pointing, and grief?
It took leaders in all sectors to unite this community to face what seemed like an insurmountable crisis. We had to depend on both community and government aid networks to weave together a new safety net and we had to lean on the 1st District Supervisor more than ever before in our county’s history.
Das Williams carried the weight. If there is any doubt about that, let me dispel it. As both chair of the Board of Supervisors and our 1st District supervisor, Das worked around the clock for 19 nights and days following the disaster, dealing with challenges on multiple fronts: search and rescue efforts, communications, helping stranded 1st District residents, and connecting needy people with services. He didn’t just coordinate from afar; as soon as a convoy could get in, he was on the ground, delivering water and supplies to residents, and helping Village Cheese & Wine to stock up on food for first responders and stranded neighbors alike.
On January 27, Das received a phone call. A small group of friends had decided it was time to go out and dig out their neighbors’ homes. The mountain had come down on our community, and we weren’t going to leave people out there in the mud alone. Side by side, 50 friends and neighbors waded out into the mud and debris and started digging, forming what came to be known as the Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade. And who was out there with us? Das Williams. Deep in the mud, there was Das shoveling like a maniac with a huge smile on his face and an encouraging word for the people working next to him. This is the Das I know. He was with us on the first day and he’s continued to come to Bucket Brigade events ever since, helping to dig out homes, rebuild trails and restore public open spaces. (Let me add that I make this endorsement independent of the Bucket Brigade.)
Das’s experience out there in the mud helped to connect him with the community.
His long experience in government, combined with this community connection, has made all the difference in our recovery. After his six years at the Assembly and seven years on the Santa Barbara City Council, Das knew how both local and state government worked. He knew what resources were available and, perhaps more importantly, how to access those resources to boost the recovery. His office opened and staffed a Montecito Recovery Center specifically to help the thousands of people affected by the disaster. For those who lost their homes, he pushed for a new “like-for-like” ordinance that lets homeowners rebuild quickly, without an extended permitting process. He worked with residents to get ring nets up to reduce the short-term risk of another debris flow, and he worked on the Randall Road debris basin expansion to help protect the community for the future.
This is the kind of leadership we need in challenging times. A lot of people like to say that they will be there for you when the time comes. Well, the time actually came in 2018 and Das was right there with us. If that means something to you, then you’ll know who to choose for Santa Barbara’s 1st District in 2020.
John Abraham Powell is a cofounder of the Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade and makes this personal endorsement of Das Williams for himself, not on behalf of the Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade or any other organization he currently serves.