Mayor Cathy Murillo | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

The CAUSE Action Fund (CAF), Santa Barbara Tenants Union, and Santa Barbara County Action Network held a mayoral forum Wednesday moderated by CAF’s Wendy Santamaría, focusing on each of the six S.B. mayoral candidates’ positions on housing and tenant protections.

The housing crisis in Santa Barbara has existed long before the COVID-19 pandemic and only worsened with shutdowns and a widespread rise in unemployment that resulted in millions of Americans being unable to pay their rent. There have been Band-Aid solutions at the national, state, and local level, but many across the country and in the city are still suffering from these lasting issues. 

In December 2020, the Santa Barbara City Council passed an ordinance mandating landlords pay for three months’ relocation costs should they evict without just cause. Current Mayor Cathy Murillo, who is running for reelection this November and voted on the ordinance, stood by her decision but believed there could be improvements made to it.  

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“It definitely needs to stay at three months’ rent,” Murillo said, joking, “Finding a rental in Santa Barbara is like the Hunger Games.”

Candidate Deborah Schwartz, a longtime city planning commissioner and land-use consultant, argued passing the ordinance was ill-advised because it opened up the city to litigation.

“My concern with the council vote is that it went against the wise advice of our city attorney,” said Schwartz. “I think we need to stop chasing un-winnable lawsuits, and that includes not pursuing policies that increase lawsuits and squander public funds.”

Candidate Randy Rowse, a former nine-year city councilmember and onetime owner of Paradise Café, said he did not believe it was the city’s place to meddle in private affairs such as tenant and property management agreements. “As far as getting between what a property owner and a tenant have agreed on personally, I’m uncomfortable, and I think it’s been destructive in other communities.” 

Candidate James Joyce III — founder of Coffee with a Black Guy and onetime aide to former state senator Hannah-Beth Jackson — said too often the conversations regarding housing are centered on property managers and not the larger majority of renters. 

“There is a multipronged approach that needs to happen,” Joyce said. “’Just cause’ is one leg of that stool to improve the quality of life and living in Santa Barbara.”

Candidates Mark Whitehurst, publisher of the real estate magazine Voice, and David Matt Kilrain, a harbor resident also known as “Boat Rat Matt,” also participated in the forum, and will be joining the rest of the candidates at the next mayoral forum hosted by the Montecito Journal and the Santa Barbara Sentinel on September 29. The Santa Barbara Independent will host a discussion with all six mayoral candidates moderated by Nick Welsh live on Zoom on Wednesday, October 6, at 5:30 p.m. Register here.

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