Two candidates are competing to represent District 4 on the Santa Barbara City Council this November, as a local developer and planning commissioner takes on an incumbent that has battled through a tough first term.
District 4 covers everything from the Foothills to Eucalyptus Hill, as well as the Upper East Side and the Riviera. This area can be considered one of the wealthier areas of the city, with the cost of homes on average ranging from about $1.5 to $6 million. Santa Barbara shifted to district elections in 2015, following a lawsuit against the city that alleged at-large elections often allowed for those in the more affluent areas to run for office, leaving unheard the voices of lower-income and Hispanic residents living in other neighborhoods.
Kristen Sneddon began serving her first term on City Council in 2017 and has lived in Santa Barbara for about 30 years, moving from Los Angeles when she was 16 years old. Raised by a working single mother, she attended public schools, graduated from UCLA, and became a full-time professor of environmental geology at Santa Barbara City College. She and her husband, Chris Sneddon, have three children who also attended public schools.
Sneddon first decided to run for public office when she realized that there were no elected officials with strong science backgrounds serving on the Santa Barbara Council in a time the city was facing complicated environmental issues. When she ran four years ago, she did so without the support of the Democratic Party, despite her deep ties to the District 4 neighborhoods, including her time as president of the Peabody Charter School Board. She won with strong voter support, and this time around, the Democratic Party has endorsed her.
Sneddon’s first term on council has been a hectic four years, with the COVID-19 pandemic, concerns of a slow-moving government, and the homelessness crisis all demanding attention and action from the council these past two years. She has also been an outspoken environmental activist, occasionally putting her at odds with other members of the council.
Sneddon has been criticized by those who oppose her, including Barrett Reed, of contributing to the “do-nothing” culture of City Hall, a culture that creates more barriers to moving policy forward, often through creating excessive delays.
Sneddon admits this culture does exist within City Hall but doesn’t consider herself to be a part of it. Creating committees to review data or to seek community input is often mischaracterized as delaying the bureaucratic process, she said.
“Part of taking decisive action is having data to give us boundaries.”
To understand the roots of this “slow-moving culture,” the council hired a consultant to examine the governmental structure. This resulted in the Novak report, brought to the council last year, that suggested a lack of strong leadership and coordination at City Hall, as well as the ways plans for development were handled within city administration.
Though many on council felt the report had several holes in its data, a committee was created to access the suggestions of the report and gather community input on how to move going forward. “We had the report, and I formed the committee to make sure action happened, and action is happening,” Sneddon said.
Sheila Lodge, a planning commissioner and former mayor of Santa Barbara, has endorsed Sneddon, saying, “Kristen is thoughtful, does her homework, and is an effective member of council.”
Homelessness has been a consistent issue in Santa Barbara, made worse by the COVID pandemic, mass unemployment, and landlords illegally evicting tenants who have suffered lost wages.
The relationship between the city and its homeless population has not always been positive, but Sneddon said she is hopeful that providing some form of housing, such as a recent program at the Rose Garden Inn for those living on the streets and in camps, is the first step in creating a permanent supportive housing community.
Sneddon argued that having a place for homeless people to stay actually allows the city to enforce its ordinances more practically. “The real answer is having shelter and allowing people to get the help they need,” she said.
Loy Beardsmore, a Eucalyptus Hill resident and president of the Eucalyptus Hill Association, said she has been disappointed with Sneddon’s leadership and felt she has not given the district the same attention as the rest of the city. “We need a candidate that will not be distracted by issues that are not in District 4,” Beardsmore said. “She seems more concerned with climate change.”
Sneddon has been endorsed by the Santa Barbara Democratic Party, Democratic Women of Santa Barbara County, Santa Barbara Young Democrats, and the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee, as well as the Santa Barbara City Firefighters Association and officials such as Congressmember Salud Carbajal, State Senator Monique Limón, and Assemblymember Steve Bennett.
As of September 18 of this year, Sneddon has raised about $94,000 in campaign donations.
Barrett Reed is a local “redeveloper,” as he calls it, taking on the incumbent Sneddon, and he said he aims to be a more decisive voice in a difficult time for the city.
Reed grew up in Santa Barbara, attending grade school here, and graduated from USC. He bought a house in Eucalyptus Hill about five years ago and has been living there with his wife, Caitlin Reed, and their child for three years. Reed was appointed to the Planning Commission in 2019. He said that at first, he felt hypersensitive of his connections with many business owners due to his role as a developer, but he no longer feels a need to recuse himself from decisions, unless he has a direct financial connection to a business.
His critics, however, say he still benefits from passing ordinances that affect all businesses throughout the city. Lodge, who serves with Barrett on the planning commission, said, “He seems, as far as his voting, to be more concerned about letting developers do what they want.”
One of those businesses is the Miramar Group, a real estate business he cofounded that has many redeveloped properties across town. Many were redeveloped in long vacant storefronts and have creative layouts that often include several businesses in one spot. Some of these include the Waterline bar in the Funk Zone, and Kim’s Service Department on lower State. Through his connections with development, Reed has many supporters among real estate companies and property owners.
Reed had never intended to get involved with politics, he said, until moving to Eucalyptus Hill and learning about its fire preparedness. “Until then, I hadn’t given much thought to emergency preparedness,” Reed said.
Though the Eucalyptus Hill Association does not endorse candidates, its president, Beardsmore, assisted Reed in his walks through District 4 neighborhoods. “Barrett will create clean, safe, and vibrant neighborhoods,” Beardsmore said. “I feel like he’s motivated and capable of weighing pros and cons.”
One of the issues Reed would address on council is the laborious process of approving proposals and permits for development. Reed said although he felt these issues were plainly clear to the council thanks to the Novak report, recommendations are still slow to be implemented.
“The response was to push back; more study, more review,” Reed said. “If our city hires an expert, we need to defer to them.”
Reed was part of a business advisory task force that brought recommendations to council as part of the Novak report, and he said the issues addressed were being thrown back down the ladder, rather than city leadership truly addressing them and taking action.
Another issue Reed has promised to address more head-on is homelessness, which has become harder to ignore with the prolonged pandemic.
The city should utilize more of its resources within the community, Reed said, and gather funding from many local philanthropic people who would be willing to help. Projects like the Rose Garden Inn, he thinks, are only a Band-Aid solution that will not provide long-term relief.
Reed is supported by Mike Jordan, District 2 representative on the City Council, though Jordan has not confirmed this. Reed is also supported by the Santa Barbara Police Officers Association, the South Coast Chamber of Commerce, and the Santa Barbara Association of Realtors, as well as by fellow planning commissioners Roxana Bonderson and Jay Higgins.
Reed has been more successful than Sneddon in his campaign donations, amassing about $208,000 as of September 18.
411 | Join Santa Barbara Independent reporter Jun Starkey for a Zoom discussion with the District 4 candidates on Monday, October 11, at 5:30 p.m. Register at independent.com/discussions. Not sure which district you’re in? Check out independent.com/district-map.
Join Santa Barbara Independent reporters as they sit down with the Santa Barbara City mayoral, District 6, and District 4 candidates. All discussions will be held live on Zoom. Register at independent.com/discussions-