From left: Al Clark, Gregg Carty, and Patrick O’Connor | Credit: Ryan P. Cruz; Courtesy
For the first time in its history, Carpinteria voters will cast their ballots for City Council candidates who live within their districts, not for at-large nominees who live anywhere in the city, as they have in previous years.
Sparked by civil lawsuits in cities up and down the California coast, the move to district elections is intended as a move toward equality and representation, the idea being that in many cities, “communities of interest” — or groups whose voting power is unfairly diluted in at-large elections — would be better off if their collective voting power is kept within their respective district(s).
But in towns with smaller populations, such as Carpinteria with its 13,000 residents, splitting into districts brings a new set of problems. In Carpinteria, it was nearly impossible to create more than one majority Latino voting district.
Then there’s another wrinkle. While there are three council seats up on the ballot this year, only one of the races will be contested. Running unopposed in District 1 is Aliso Elementary School PTA president Mónica Solórzano and in District 3, also unopposed, is current councilmember Roy Lee.
In District 5, however, a three-way race pits two longtime councilmembers — Al Clark and Gregg Carty — against the newest contender, Patrick O’Connor, an aerospace engineer and newly appointed member of Carpinteria’s Architectural Review Board.
For the past 16 years, Clark and Carty have served together. In fact, when they first ran and were elected for council in 2006, they were part of the same ticket: the “A-B-C” team of Al Clark, Brad Stein, and Gregg Carty. They have agreed on several initiatives, including the sales-tax bump “Measure X” that yields almost $4 million a year for the city’s general fund.
Over the years, the two have taken different directions, most recently over the much-contested hotel project the Surfliner Inn. Clark has been the only member of City Council to vote against the hotel, while Carty has called the project a step toward “sustainable tourism” for Carpinteria.
The Independent spoke with all three candidates in District 5 to help Carpinterians make their most well-informed choice. To check our endorsements (or non-endorsements), view the endorsements section of our website.
Vice Mayor Al Clark may be best known for his campaign slogan, “Keep Carpinteria, Carpinteria,” but he has also made a reputation for being a force on the Finance Committee and a voice for the opposition on several projects.
Never afraid of being the sole opposing vote, Clark has been a vocal opponent of the Surfliner Inn and worries that the town is on the brink of overdevelopment. The 39 proposed rooms he said were too big for the corner spot — he prefers a 20-room maximum — and the fact that it was to be built on city-owned lots meant that it was a “city development” in his eyes.
Although he has not publicly weighed in on Measure T — the ballot initiative that, if passed, would rezone the two city lots in question, effectively killing the hotel project — he was the only member of the council who did not sign the city’s “Argument Against Measure T,” in which the other four councilmembers urged a vote “no” on the measure, to allow the city review process to decide the Surfliner’s fate.
In council meetings, Clark, who has lived in Carp for 35 years, bases his comments on both staff reports and public input, urging other councilmembers to take a step back and see what the community actually wants.
He is big on affordable housing development and critical of short-term rentals. “People don’t have a place to live,” he said. “About a third of our houses, nobody lives in.”
While he opposed the Surfliner, he likes the idea of The Palms restaurant being restored into a smaller-scale hotel, as long as the city ensures the current rental residents will be given relocation assistance.
“Carpinteria is a wonderful place,” he said. “It’s about the people. They really care about the place they live in.”
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Councilmember Gregg Carty, who was city mayor during his first and second terms, has lived in Carpinteria for more than 60 years; attended Canalino Elementary School; was in the first junior high class of what is now known as Carpinteria Middle; and was a star athlete at Carpinteria High School, where he graduated in 1972.
He served on the city’s Architectural Review Board for a dozen years and has been on the city council since 2006.
This year, he said he was a bit disappointed to see that he was going to have to run against his friend and colleague in the new district elections. “It’s kind of a nightmare,” he said. “I’m running against somebody I used to run with.”
The contest has divided the neighborhood they share, he said, and created a new dynamic where front yards have become a lawn-sign battleground.
Carty hopes to help guide the city as it evolves to include more modern amenities. It’s important to foster growth and a sustainable tourist industry, he said, while keeping the city’s values and identity.
A strong supporter of new developments in the downtown area, such as the 700 Linden Avenue marketplace, the Palms Hotel project, and the Surfliner Inn, Carty believes the city can’t afford to keep saying “no, no, no” to new projects.
Carty has also been a big supporter of the Measure X sales tax initiative, which is more than 70 percent tourism dollars, and says that people coming and spending money is great for the city, especially when local businesses such as The Plow and Lucky Llama are flourishing downtown.
On council, he has immersed himself in the city workings and fostered relationships with city staff and management. In recent years, his voting record has teetered toward supporting business, but with a focus on mom-and-pop businesses.
He hopes to keep working with other councilmembers to achieve a community center, and is partnering with councilmember Roy Lee to push for a dedicated senior center — something he says the community is severely lacking. Most of all, he says, he wants to be given a chance to help shape the future of the city. “Carpinteria is a gem on the California coast,” he said. “It is a precious place.”
Aerospace engineer and the newest member of Carpinteria’s Architectural Review Board Patrick O’Connor may be the newest to the city out of all three candidates, but he is determined to help the city streamline its slow-moving development process.
O’Connor moved to Carpinteria nine years ago after buying a Victorian home on 8th Street, and he became a regular at city review boards, where he found some of the processes too clunky.
“I think there’s a lot of ways to improve community development,” he said. “I think there is a way to improve the way decisions are made.”
During COVID, he spent a lot of time diving deep into the inner workings of project development. Last week, he was selected by the council to take the open position on the Architectural Review Board, where he will serve if not elected to council.
He said that while campaigning, he has heard a “universal frustration with community development processes,” and he hopes to change the way the public and city staff interact.
The new downtown developments are a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to repurpose existing properties, he said, and he hopes to be a part of the city process going forward.