Only 18 years old, the City of Goleta has swung from slow-growth leadership to a pro-growth City Council and back again during a new millennium that has seen explosive population increases in California and prolonged drought conditions in the southland. The two individuals running for mayor this November — Mayor Paula Perotte and Councilmember Roger Aceves — embody that split in many ways.
Perotte was elected onto the City Council in 2010 and was for several years the only slow-growth voice who voted consistently against the mammoth building projects proposed by developers. She became the incorporated city’s first mayor in a landslide victory in 2018 for a two-year term.
On the council since 2006, Aceves voted with the majority prior to 2016 to approve the apartments and hotels that tower over Hollister Avenue today. He retained his four-year seat on the council in an uncontested election in 2018.
As a side note, the question of how long the mayor should serve was raised a year ago by the city’s Public Engagement Commission, which recommended a four-year term to avoid near-constant campaigning. That question goes again to voters in November, who chose the two-year term in 2016.
In a conversation with the Independent, the two candidates vying for the mayor’s seat discussed the past, present, and future.
“We have a lot going on, and we don’t want to go backward on any of it,” Paula Perotte said, giving as examples the city’s progress on addressing climate change and beach erosion, moving forward with solar, and going green by 2030, as well as its leadership in joining an electricity-purchasing group based in Monterey, now called Central Coast Community Energy.
A member of Goleta’s City Council since 2010, Perotte said that for her it’s a change from years past when she was the only councilmember to vote against outsized housing projects.
“It was hard to be the only ‘no’ vote,” she said of the Westar/Hollister Village proposal, whose project supporters promised it would be beautiful and have no effect on traffic. “But I knew in my heart I was doing the right thing.”
Perotte noted that she voted to approve the final piece of the project, known as the Triangle Property. “It provided affordable housing,” she said, “and I like to see growth that promotes people who work here.”
Perotte has been a popular mayor and was the first to be chosen by her colleagues to preside as mayor two years in a row — in 2017 and 2018 — when the position rotated among the councilmembers. She won the incorporated city’s first mayoral contest in 2018.
Perotte runs a welcoming council meeting, which was gaining in popularity after it moved to evenings, she said. “People were starting to come…. We were on a roll,” said Perotte. “But now you have to log on and raise your hand,” and few members of the public join the video conference. “Is it too intimidating?” she asked. She checks regularly with the city clerk to see if meetings could be more user-friendly.
“We don’t rubber-stamp anything,” Perotte said of the council meetings. “We really talk it through. I have received so many emails and calls about how much our community appreciates that.”
Perotte said she has found the council’s arguments compelling at times. The sales-tax discussions during the summer found Perotte deciding that voters should be allowed to determine the matter for themselves: Was an additional one-cent tax worth the ability to sustain city services like road maintenance? Or was it too much to bear in the midst of the pandemic?
“I thought it was better to put it on the ballot and let that be our gauge,” she said. Perotte added that the new sales tax would have equaled that of nearby cities, whose residents often came to Goleta to shop at its large stores. But the proposal was defeated.
“I am Goleta proud,” Paula Perotte said. “I really feel that Goleta is doing what we need to do to beat this pandemic. The public is wearing their masks and social distancing.”
The city has been out front with videos to encourage pandemic protocols and released two featuring the mayor and a third featuring the entire council.
“It was really important to me to have a voice of calm, to let people know we will get through this,” Perotte explained. “We were getting ready to do the third one … and I thought it would be good to show the community that we all care about their health and safety and well-being.”
Nothing pleases Roger Aceves more than to serve his citizens, he said. Just recently, he said, the owner of Domingo’s Café left a message on the councilmember’s phone. The restaurant had opened its backyard patio but wanted Aceves’s help with city staff in allowing two tables in the front.
“People driving by couldn’t see that he was open,” Aceves said. “Our staff made that happen.”
Aceves was first elected in 2006. One of his terms as mayor was in 2009, when the nation was in a deep recession.
“We had to make hard decisions,” he said.
From that experience, he’s developed a five-year plan for the city to run leaner and more efficiently in order to recover from the COVID-caused recession. The city already cut about $6 million in hiring and capital projects from its budget, but Aceves believes there’s still some fat to squeeze out of its operations. Only after that is accomplished does he think it would be fair to ask citizens for a sales tax increase. The ballot measure that Aceves helped defeat was projected to raise $7 million, but Aceves called it the wrong choice during a pandemic and high unemployment.
Other elements of his plan include accomplishing goals on a two-year budget instead of carrying items over from year to year; aggressively investing the city’s millions in reserve, currently held in CDs; and setting money aside for the city’s inevitable pension costs. Asked how he would accomplish those goals, Aceves said he intended to see what the city’s staff would recommend.
Aceves also listed increased fire services among his goals. He claims part of the city is “without fire protection.” Fire response was inadequate, Aceves explained. The closest station is on Storke Road, which can be more than five minutes away to some of the western section of the city. A new fire station to be built opposite Sandpiper Golf Club received Coastal Commission approval on September 10.
Aceves said an obvious way to increase the city’s income is to renegotiate the infamous Revenue Neutrality Agreement with the county. Approved by voters when Goleta was carved out of the county in 2001, the agreement is meant to compensate for lost revenue by giving the county half of Goleta’s property tax and one-third of its sales tax — forever.
But other than the forgiveness of a $1.5 million debt the city owed the county, the agreement has remained unchanged since 2002. “It’s an egregious divorce agreement,” Aceves said. “And what extra are we getting? Exactly what the City of Santa Barbara is getting.” However, according to the last formal sit-down and county analysis in 2014, $11.8 million went toward the criminal justice, mental and public health, elections, and safety-net services for the city, which paid $8.8 million that year.
Aceves is with the majority in Goleta, however, in detesting the agreement, but he doubted a lawsuit was the best way to get this done. “The best way is to get them to the table and wean them from this,” he said, a topic he tries to discuss with the county every couple of years.
The solution may have to come from voters holding supervisors accountable when they run for office, Aceves said. “Citizens of Goleta have suffered enough.”
Correction: It was in 2018, not 2016, that Roger Aceves retained his four-year council seat in an uncontested election.
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