Clockwise from top left: State Senator Monique Limón, Congressmember Salud Carbajal, 1st District County Supervisor Das Williams, and Assemblymember Steve Bennett | Credit: Paul Wellman (file), Daniel Dreifuss (file), and Office of Salud Carbajal

The Santa Barbara South Coast Chamber of Commerce gave its first legislative update on Friday with the help of speakers Congressmember Salud Carbajal, State Senator Monique Limón, Assemblymember Steve Bennett, and 1st District County Supervisor Das Williams. 

As the result of the merger between the Chamber of the Santa Barbara Region, the Goleta Chamber of Commerce, and the Carpinteria Valley Chamber of Commerce, the newly formed South Coast Chamber represents 1,100 members and 75,000 jobs. 

Friday’s update highlighted the impact of COVID-19 on county businesses along with federal, state, and local responses to the pandemic. 

Beginning by addressing the resiliency of Santa Barbara residents, Williams noted the multiple hardships that the county has faced over the past few years, from wildfires to the current pandemic.  

“We’ve essentially been dealing with disasters and their aftermath for three years,” he said, alluding to 2018’s Thomas Fire and 2019’s 1/9 Debris Flow and Conception boat fire. 

But no challenge has been greater than the one posed by COVID-19, Williams said. 

Although active cases in the county have decreased by approximately 40 percent over the past few weeks, Williams says he anticipates another surge in case numbers. However, Williams believes this rise should be comparatively smaller, thanks to increased vaccinations and testing resources.

While Santa Barbara is currently in the purple tier, Williams suspects that with a combination of luck and increased testing, the county will be in the red tier by the start of next month. (Following the webinar, the county Public Health Department determined the county will likely return to the red tier as soon as Tuesday.) However, Williams stressed that this advancement is contingent on data reflecting the numbers needed to do so, urging the audience to encourage their family members, coworkers, and neighbors to get tested so the county can reach the red tier threshold. 

Pivoting briefly from COVID-19-related issues, Williams announced Santa Barbara’s decision to join the Community Choice Energy initiative, which will allow for local control of energy procurement and cleaner energy options. Santa Barbara’s North County has already joined, and the South County is set to formally join in October. 

Additionally, Williams reported the unexpected buffer that the cannabis tax has provided the county budget. While both property and sales taxes took a greater hit from the pandemic than expected, cannabis tax revenue surpassed projections for the 2019-20 fiscal year, which allowed the county to provide additional health-care staffing without making reductions to other services. 

Bennett, California assemblymember for the 37th District, spoke to the state’s legislative agenda. As a former high school economics teacher, Bennett underscored his commitment to fiscal responsibility and said he hopes to help stabilize the state’s budget. 

Emphasizing businesses as a mainstay of a healthy state economy, Bennett informed the audience of California legislature’s recent passing of $2 billion to go toward loans for small businesses.  

“We’re really trying to get businesses back on their feet,” he said. 

Bennett is also working toward getting BEACON, Beach Erosion Authority for Clean Oceans and Nourishment, recognized as an appropriate recipient for state grants, which he said would be a great source of funding for both Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

State Senator Limón commended the chamber for its activism and advocacy, both of which she claimed play a critical role in bringing issues to the attention of legislators.

Limón was hopeful in her appraisal of the state’s proposed budget, which designates $90 billion to helping schools safely reopen. 

Regarding the state’s ability to recuperate from the pandemic, Limón stressed the importance of both schools and childcare reopening. 

“We cannot rely on a California workforce without these two elements being part of how we reopen the economy,” she said. 

Also included in the budget is $372 million to help speed up vaccine dispersals and $777.5 million for the California Jobs Initiative, a program that helps the state create and keep jobs. 

Additionally, Limón announced that the budget allocates $1.75 billion to combat the growing homelessness crisis, up from $846 million last year, to purchase additional motels, develop mental-health services, and preserve senior housing.

In a much-awaited update on federal legislation, Congressmember Carbajal discussed the American Rescue Plan — the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill signed by President Joe Biden the day before — and the priorities of Congress in moving forward amid the pandemic. 

Building on the work of past relief packages, the American Rescue Plan furthers the national effort to help Americans during the pandemic. Carbajal said he is proud to bring these resources to the Central Coast. 

The package also extends federal unemployment benefits and provides $1,400 in direct relief to individuals and families, Carbajal said. 

Reflecting on his commitment to providing resources for children while serving as a county supervisor, Carbajal said the act will make an enormous impact on child poverty, reducing the national childhood poverty rate from 14 percent to 6 percent. 

Additionally, the package will send $15 billion to California for K-12 funding, which Carbajal says comes at a crucial time for Central Coast students. The bill also provides $259.5 million in recovery aid to cities and counties on the Central Coast, including an estimated $22.49 million to the City of Santa Barbara and $86.6 million to the County of Santa Barbara.

Carbajal also addressed the continuing crisis of climate change, along with the need for renewable energy incentives. In response to these issues, Carbajal has put forth three bills: the California Clean Coast Act, the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act, and the California’s Land Preservation and Protection Act. 

In closing, Carbajal praised President Biden for embracing the challenges of the pandemic, and reiterated the president’s goal for July 4 festivities to celebrate both national independence and freedom from the pandemic. 

However, Supervisor Williams was less optimistic of the July 4 benchmark.  

“As the ones who actually have to execute what the president says, it’s very unrealistic,” he said. 

Williams estimated that it will take around 70 weeks for everyone in Santa Barbara County to get vaccinated, saying that the county is still hoping for an increase in vaccination supplies. 

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