Three serious, experienced candidates are in the running to represent the neighborhoods of District 4 ― the Riviera and East San Roque ― in the upcoming Santa Barbara City Council election. Kristen Sneddon is an SBCC environmental geology instructor with a former career as a research geophysicist. Jim Scafide is a business attorney who was elected at 18 years old to the city council ― and then at 26 to mayor ― in his hometown of East Liverpool, Ohio. And Jay Higgins is a land-use planner and a current member of the Santa Barbara City Planning Commission.
The Santa Barbara Independent conducted email interviews with each candidate. We covered housing, State Street, the drought, and more. Their full responses are featured here.
What are District 4’s top three issues?
Kristen Sneddon: (1) Water ― this is an issue that relates to development, public safety, and our ability to sustain ourselves. (2) Public safety in our neighborhoods ― District 4 is in the high fire zone. I have met with many in our district who have personally lost homes to fire or who have been evacuated many times over the years. Fire risk is increasing over time and continues to be a major source of concern. (3) Housing ― residents are concerned with availability and affordability of housing for their next generation, for families, for retirement years, and for our workforce. At the same time, District 4 residents are concerned with density and would like the rapid pace of development to slow down and to be more compatible with our neighborhoods.
Jim Scafide: (1) Infrastructure ― because of the uniquely rugged terrain of most of the district, our roads, sidewalks, and other infrastructure are more subject to effects of the environmental elements, such as rain and heat. (2) Fire safety ― our narrow roads are lined with hedges and trees that raise issues of fire safety, including evacuation awareness. (3) Neighborhood preservation ― our unique neighborhoods must be protected, including our open spaces, parks, and playgrounds.
Jay Higgins: There’s some overlap, so I’ll start by saying that our city’s vision and our fundamentals are blurred, if not disconnected. Part of that is because we’ve lost touch at City Hall, and that is illustrated by failures on State Street, our retail tax base, and on our roads. District 4 issues that routinely come up when I walk and talk to the voters are as follows: (1) Housing cost and affordability. (2) Water supply and high rates. (3) Fire preparedness ― nearly all of District 4 is a high fire zone, so people are justly concerned with fire response times, brush clearing, evacuation planning, and citizen (ham) radio.
What are Santa Barbara’s top three issues?
KS: (1) Protecting the environment. (2) Providing housing for working families and preserving our neighborhoods along with safeguarding our parks and open spaces. (3) Economic diversity ― the need for more clean, high-tech head-of-household jobs.
JS: (1) Economic vitality ― this includes not only economic development and addressing vacant stores on State Street, but promoting all our local businesses and addressing our housing crisis and issues relating to our homeless population and mental health, not just on State Street. (2) Environmental resilience ― our city needs a clear plan in place to resist damage and recover quickly from disturbances related to an unpredictable climate. We need to plan and prepare for drought as well as flooding [and] fire risk; [we need to have] a sustainable water supply, energy efficiency and development, [and] earthquake safety; and [we need] to mitigate land-use practices that jeopardize our health and safety. (3) Infrastructure: Improve police facilities, fire, 9-1-1 response, street repairs and bridges, parks and libraries, addressing homelessness, services for disabled veterans, youth and senior services, sensible, environmentally sustainable transportation with a strong focus on cyclists and pedestrians.
JH: We need to be a more family- and business-friendly city. As a city planning commissioner, I have a unique view on our citywide and regional issues: (1) Housing cost and affordability. (2) Revitalizing State Street and protecting and enhancing our sales and TOT tax base. (3) Making a reliable long-term water supply plan so we don’t get caught off guard every six to eight years (and one that includes reduced rates for residential ratepayers). Those are the hard-and-fast issues. A more challenging and nuanced issue is the culture at City Hall and our ability to be transparent and service oriented. For example, one should not have to have a PhD in municipal finance to digest our city’s budget. So step one of addressing our fiscal health is to make it easier to participate in our city’s budget process.
How would you balance the interests of District 4 with the interests of the whole city?
KS: When the city thrives, the districts benefit. I will be accessible to all city residents, listen, research, and build consensus with all members of the City Council to work toward our common goals of economic vitality, environmental resilience, a fortified infrastructure, energy and water management, addressing the housing crisis, planning for parking and public transportation, promoting a bikeable and walkable city, and providing resources for our considerable homeless population, including college students. For my district, I will work to ensure a fair distribution of resources for infrastructure, maintenance, and public safety to come to District 4.
JS: As a former ward member of council, I found that there were very few, if any, times when the interests of my district diverted from the interests of the city, overall. And I believe the dichotomy as presented in the questions, therefore, is a false one. Certainly, the interests of District 4 are important, but those interests are not necessarily dissimilar to the issues facing the city as a whole. To ensure that the interests of the district are reflected in my decision making, I will hold regular meetings throughout the district to meet in various neighborhoods to seek input as I make decisions. The benefit of having district representatives is to provide a direct contact of someone that my constituents can call if there is an issue or they need assistance from the city. And my philosophy of public service is a constituent-service approach.
The future of Santa Barbara relies on our ability to work across districts to create housing for working families and opportunities for economic diversity. We should foster the creation of clean, high-tech jobs and create housing for working families in the central business district to ensure a vibrant future for Santa Barbara. These are issues that can unify, rather than divide, our community.
JH: Well, we are just getting into the real district involvement … and consequences. So the priority is to educate people about district boundaries and how council votes are representations for citywide issues or projects. But the issues in the 4th are overlapping with the citywide issues, so I don’t expect a lot of conflict over issues. We may have a very different process for capital improvement planning, however, where we see arguments over how to prioritize district infrastructure projects. This will first be a “process” with staff to better understand how the dollars are distributed over the districts. Then we’ll see how well the councilmembers are going to be unified.
How would you engage with your constituents, and how would you collaborate with your council colleagues?
KS: I have six years’ experience as an executive officer on the Peabody Charter School Governing Board (current chair) and three years’ experience as executive officer and chair of Starr King Parent-Child Workshop (501(c)(3)). In these capacities, I have always enjoyed an engaged relationship with constituents and a collaborative relationship with board colleagues, while maintaining a balanced budget. I actively seek meetings and conversations with a broad range of constituents with varied and diverse concerns. I am accessible and responsive and enjoy learning from different viewpoints and experiences. During my time at Starr King, we initiated an inclusion committee specifically to strengthen relationships with all members of our community. I am in favor of seeking out dialogue with constituents and council colleagues, and am responsive when others seek me out. I believe in an open-door policy, but also in stepping outside the door to actively build engagement. In working with colleagues, I enjoy in-depth conversations moving toward understanding and consensus on all sides. This is a hallmark of my leadership.
JS: With regard to engaging my constituents, I would be honored to be a public servant and would make myself as available as possible to my constituents. As mentioned above, I will hold regular neighborhood meetings throughout the district so that I can meet with my constituents to discuss issues that are important to them and to get their input on issues that I am considering before City Council. I will have an open-door policy, my cell phone number will be publicly available, and I will have regular office hours at City Hall.
As to collaborating with my colleagues, I am one to build consensus, and this will be particularly helpful on City Council. Because I’m not a product of the political machinery of Santa Barbara, I don’t have histories that can cause divisions. As a new voice on council, I can reach across what have been long-standing divides and work with each member on council. As a pragmatist, I can find solutions and common ground, and get past the petty bickering that has paralyzed City Council for years.
JH: We may want to schedule council and Planning Commission hearings for the evening so more of our middle- and working-class residents can participate. People should know that my day job for 25 years has been to help people solve various local government issues and problems. I love what I do because it’s like putting together a new puzzle every day. So, in this regard I am really looking forward to helping District 4 residents or other, citywide constituents with tough problems. Collaboration starts with listening, and it is buttressed by teaming up with people on some of their specific challenges.
What new projects or initiatives would you like to spearhead?
KS: I would like to see the city spearhead environmental innovations: increased energy efficiency and development of new alternative energy sources, expanding use of recycled and reclaimed water, active recharge of our groundwater basins, development of dedicated and protected bike lanes, development of choices in alternative transportation. In economic initiatives, I would like to see the city spearhead measures to address gentrification and preserving neighborhoods while managing the available units of housing. On social projects, I would like to see the city pilot a program in designating a crisis social worker to be available at our downtown public library.
JS: First, I would like Santa Barbara to be on the vanguard of environmentalism. We must protect our air, water, beaches, and open spaces from the recent threats coming from Washington. As an environmentalist, it saddens me that even the modest gains in the seminal areas of clean air and water that were initiated as early as the Kennedy administration are apparently now on the table. We cannot take the integrity of our environment for granted and must remember to be diligent in our protection of our natural resources.
Second, I believe that the city should take a more active role in shaping the transition of our local economy to create clean, high-tech jobs that pay sufficient wages to allow working families to live in Santa Barbara. Similarly, I believe that the city should take a more active role in shaping the future of State Street, including adoption of many of the recommendations of the study conducted by the Downtown Organization, which called for such a coordinated effort.
Third, I would conduct a review of the city’s regulations to make them more understandable so that citizens can more readily comply with them. We ought not need an ombudsman to guide us through the unnecessarily complex and confusing regulations. Our regulations should be written in plain language so that everyone can understand them. The use of jargon and legalese, abbreviations and the overly excessive use of defined terms should be avoided. A citizen should not be required to hire an attorney or land use planner to learn whether they can paint their house a particular color.
By Paul Wellman
District 4 City Council candidate Jay Higgins
JH: (1) Long-term water supply and collaboration is the top environmental AND socioeconomic issue facing us. (2) Sea-level rise adaptation (regardless of what or who you think is responsible, it’s okay to prepare). (3) Multimodal use of our right of ways for the health of our children and our seniors and for preparation for driverless cars is going to be exciting and challenging. (4) Very thoughtful and careful study of Community Choice Aggregation (for alternative fuels) has to be on this list too, if it’s reasonably priced. As for other socioeconomic programs, I think we have our hands full with State Street, homelessness, and housing for now.
How would you work to ease the housing shortage?
KS: Now that Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) are mandated by the state, there is an opportunity for Santa Barbara to pause and inventory existing units before moving forward on new construction. I would like to see existing units permitted as individual units decoupled from upgrades or permits required for the main house. I would like to bring existing units up to fire code so that renters can live in safe and dignified units with more than hotplates passing for kitchens.
It is important that these units are available as full-time residences to increase our housing stock without high-rises and congestion to provide at least one avenue to affordability. I also support some new housing, especially rental housing and housing that is affordable to workers at or below median income level and believe that the expected rental rate should be taken into consideration when evaluating new construction. Concerns over neighborhood compatibility can be addressed through design review. We want to preserve neighborhood character and keep streets free of parking congestion, especially in high fire-prone areas. It will be important for the council to consider locations, parking, and design of ADUs as we move forward in implementing the mandate from the State.
JS: Housing is the single most important issue that we face as a community. Because Santa Barbara is stronger through diversity of all types, including economic diversity, we should look at refocusing the Average Unit-Size Density Program (AUD) to create housing in repurposed vacant buildings in the downtown corridor. That high-priority area should also seek to achieve economic diversity, and priority should be given to people who work in Santa Barbara, such as our first responders, nurses, teachers, etc. Further, residents in these AUD projects should not own property in California or have other addresses.
JH: We must establish and maintain a clear set of rules for when and where and what kind of housing we want. Changing the rules mid-game by annually competing for or metering building permits or by using rent control is not the answer. We can absorb some tastefully designed housing in the central business district ― as we really have seen virtually zero AUD projects there. I’d like to see “for sale” housing where our residents get to share in the equity. I know this is a big financial hurdle, having made it myself about 20 years ago. As for the Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) state mandate and how well our city can absorb those kinds of projects, we have done a lousy job at vetting this issue
publicly. And that’s saying something as a planning commissioner. One thing nobody is talking about is how well the ADU program can accommodate seniors that may want to stay in their homes. ADU is going to be a solution for many in that way ― multigenerational housing is very popular in other communities. Hopefully someday my kids will let my wife and me live with them!
What steps would you take to preserve Santa Barbara’s history and character?
KS: I will take pride in the city’s status as a pioneer in establishing and promoting history-related architectural character. I will work to enforce the Historic Resources Element of the General Plan by supporting designations of worthy Structures of Merit and Landmarks. Inherent in this element is requiring new projects to protect and have no adverse impact on existing historic structures and districts. I will uphold the duty of the City Charter and Municipal Code to recognize and protect the charm and beauty of Santa Barbara in maintaining traditional architectural character. I will support the policies of the Historic Landmarks Commission and assist the efforts of local historic preservation organizations and museums. I will encourage education programs relating to the city’s architecture, history, and culture, including working in partnership with Chumash elders and leaders to promote the perspective of Chumash history and culture as narrated through their own voices.
JS: The quaintness of Santa Barbara is what we love about our community, and it should be preserved. There are several components that define the characteristics of our community, including our Spanish-style architecture and [the] human scale of [our] buildings, as well as our parks and open spaces. First, I will fight to preserve the character of neighborhoods. Recently, plans have been approved for single-family housing that is massive in scale and of an architectural character that is inconsistent with the neighborhoods within which these houses would be built. The bulk and scale of these projects fundamentally change the character of neighborhoods and often destroy the character of the neighborhoods.
Second, I would preserve and protect our open spaces and parks and, when available, expand them. These spaces provide opportunities for a connection with nature and our fellow Santa Barbarians and are essentially to the character of our community. Our transportation infrastructure should take into consideration alternate transportation options for accessing these treasured assets, including and especially safe bicycle access.
JH: Studies show that approximately 85 percent of tourism here is related to “heritage tourism.” So people really like to come to Santa Barbara to visit our historic landmarks and experience our architectural gems. And if our tourism industry is still around $1.4 billion … then we have a huge incentive to keep protecting and celebrating our landmarks ― especially those in the El Pueblo Viejo historic district. So … (1) Keep working on our Historic District programs and potential regulations (e.g., Bungalow Haven). (2) Keep celebrating Santa Barbara Beautiful and other architectural awards. (3) Look toward the East Beach Bathhouse restoration project for a good example of how to do things right (and a long time coming). (4) Keep refining our design review process for better results, and finally, let’s not ever let problems like Franceschi House fester.
What would you do to revitalize State Street?
KS: The city can encourage new business development and create incentives for local small businesses and entrepreneurs. Santa Barbara would also benefit from diversifying the types of industries we support beyond traditional retail and tourism. Shared work spaces; local art galleries; services in education, health, and well-being; and customized experiences, such as painting classes with wine, are examples of local industries that can increase our economic development and enhance our capabilities for distributing the financial gains from these endeavors locally. The city could also consider fees to real estate owners who leave State Street properties vacant for more than a year.
This is also an opportune time for Santa Barbara to consider mixed-use development downtown to create a vibrant core to support residential and commercial use. While I have no desire to transform Santa Barbara into a big-city urban area, a task force could investigate innovative ways to encourage a mix of development that includes non-vacation residential units. I am open to some housing on State Street in the model of mixed-use similar to what has been done in the Funk Zone, where a business has housing for employees on the top level. We can do more to proactively vision for our future while maintaining the character of Santa Barbara we cherish. Revitalizing State Street will also require our humanitarian efforts to address our considerable homeless population in terms of placement and consideration of mental-health needs.
JS: I am a State Street business owner, and I see every day the problems faced by shop owners and customers in our downtown.
The State Street commercial corridor has for a long time been the envy of many communities, and the city has done a great job in controlling the design, look, and feel of the buildings and streetscape. Unfortunately, the city has, to a large degree, taken a “hands-off” approach to coordinating the occupants of those very buildings. We are seeing the result of that approach as national trends in retail combin[e] with increasing property values to create a situation that now demands attention.
State Street is the heart and soul of Santa Barbara, but over time, the stores and shops have changed so that there are fewer locally owned businesses (meaning more national chains), more and more businesses geared toward tourists, and fewer and fewer businesses serving the people who live in Santa Barbara.
As we have done in the past, it’s time for a new plan for State Street, one that includes repurposing buildings to include mixed-use commercial and housing for working families, along with a modern approach to retail, including event-based activities. I think that we should be flexible in our approach, but it certainly demands the attention of the city, and the city’s past “hands-off” approach is no longer a successful strategy. Success of State Street will require a coordinated effort by the building owners, the businesses, and the city.
JH:: (1) Listen to the business and arts community. Ask them what they think will work. Then implement change accordingly. (2) More police, CSOs [community service officers], and ambassadors “walking the beat” to direct those in need to existing services and to enforce existing panhandling, smoking, and public intoxication laws. (3) Residential projects in the central business district will put more “eyes on the street,” but I’m not yet convinced that we need residential uses directly on State Street because we need to be realistic and cautious with our tax base. Housing at Macy’s? Not until I see actual construction numbers associated with retrofitting this building. Anyone advocating for this now likely does not have a good handle on real estate finance and economics. But a few well-designed and discrete mixed use (residential above existing retail) is something to study. (4) Permit process. Commercial businesses need to have their permits expedited in the central business district, and we need to devote more resources to actually help people unwind our very complicated codes that apply to these historic buildings. We need to send the right message to the business community that City Hall is “open for business,” and we have not done that. Of all of the candidates running, I have more know-how and passion for this than anyone else.
How would you address homelessness?
KS: I propose addressing homelessness with compassion and with action. There is a general need for more facilities and beds for those with mental health issues and those who need medical respite. The city can build stronger collaboration with the county for housing and services while strengthening programs provided by the city. I support the Restorative Policing Program provided by the city, with outreach to reunite homeless individuals with their families. I am encouraged by a program recently spotlighted in the Independent on Sanctuary Centers of Santa Barbara and on Santa Barbara’s first street clinic providing medical and dental care for those with serious mental illnesses or issues with substance abuse. The clinic is handling case referrals of veterans and those referred by the city’s Restorative Policing Program.
I would also support piloting a program similar to a model in Portland where a crisis social worker is designated on-site at the public library, where she can provide free social services to patrons experiencing homelessness or mental health issues and connect people in need to resources. This is not a long-term case worker, but someone who can refer to service providers or shelters or into the care of a long-term caseworker. The city can consider more proactive options like these rather than waiting for incidents requiring first responders.
JS: While I applaud the efforts of our first responders in dealing with the situation, our current approach is simply not working. I support a compassionate approach to addressing the issue, recognizing that we cannot paint with a broad brush. Homeless advocates indicate that a large number of our homeless population suffer from either or both mental illness and/or substance abuse. Currently, our first responders must function as social workers, and our county jail is our primary treatment facility. This is not only unfair to both our first responders and the suffering individuals; it is unacceptable.
First, we must scope the problem. I applaud the work of the many homeless advocates, including C3H [Central Coast Collaborative on Homelessness], and encourage their primary efforts to identify the full picture of gaps in housing, services and funding ― information desperately needed to formulate an approach, which was discussed at their May 2017 meeting. According to the most recent survey, homelessness in Santa Barbara has decreased to fewer than 1,000 individuals. This number presents an opportunity for a person-by-person approach to developing a plan for each individual, which should include treatment, shelter, reunification, and similar programs.
While I do acknowledge that safety concerns of citizens in the downtown and playground/parks are legitimate and should be considered as part of developing an overall solution to the problem, I do not favor programs that encourage criminal intervention for minor infractions, as that only condemns these individuals into a perpetual cycle of jail/street/jail/street. That being said, a larger police presence may serve as a deterrent and offer a degree of comfort to store patrons and playground/park users, who have a right to feel safe within our community.
JH: This is a regional and national issue, where we can play a part. But first let’s separate homelessness from our youth that have fallen into substance addiction because we should not apply a one-size-fits-all solution to all of those that are living on our streets and in our parks. We need to keep funding mental-health services and we need to be more cooperative with the county on this because it’s really their expertise and a lot of their budget. The City Housing Authority does a really great job with transition housing. Habitat for Humanity (I was on their board of directors) and Peoples’ Self-Help Housing are incredibly successful models that fill a void in this spectrum. State Street needs some more attention, and our parks need to be more actively and carefully programmed. And we need to better enforce existing panhandling, public sleeping, public intoxication, and smoking laws. Lastly, we need to keep paying very close attention to the oversized-vehicle ordinance and issue ― this will return.
By Paul Wellman
District 4 City Council candidate Kristen Sneddon
Now that the city has adopted the commendable resolution of 100 percent renewable energy, it will be important to integrate this goal into any plans for active economic development. The goal of 100 percent renewable will be met through intentional planning and consideration that will need to be built into the economic development program, and has the potential to stimulate a green jobs economy. I would like to see incentives for local residents to start small businesses, and for these businesses to have incentives for energy efficiency, including solar panels, organic waste management, and alternative transportation. This is an opportunity for our city to be a leader in developing breakthrough projects that stimulate our economy and support our renewable goals.
I am the fiscal conservative vote here, and if I [had been] on the council last year I would have supported putting the sales-tax measure on the ballot ― but as a 0.5 percent sales-tax increase, dedicated solely to the police station HQ project, or ask[ing] that the one-percent sales tax rate at least have a sunset. A new retail tax is untimely to State Street retailers when they are fighting with the internet economy.
Managing water is clearly a major issue in Santa Barbara. It would be prudent for Santa Barbara to continue to monitor water consumption to keep Cachuma as full as possible and to limit our use of groundwater resources. We could also be innovative in water efficiency by encouraging greywater (“showers to flowers”) training and implementation, which works particularly well on the steep hillsides of Santa Barbara where water flow can be gravity driven. The city could encourage training peer groups from our area colleges and high schools to implement these systems throughout the city.
We could also do more in wastewater capture and permaculture to funnel more of this water toward recharging our groundwater basins. The city could work toward extending our “purple lines” to move more reclaimed water throughout the city. We are already using reclaimed water for irrigation, but future water innovation can move toward using reclaimed water toward potable reuse or in our toilets at the least. Water scarcity will continue to be an issue in Santa Barbara. The recent rains gave us a chance to regroup and assess our efforts. We should use this reprieve to diversify our water portfolio wisely to plan for our future.
I do not support the City Council’s decision earlier this year to lift the drought restrictions, and I would vote to re-establish them. The people of Santa Barbara did a great job conserving water, and they understand the precious nature of water. I applaud the coordinated efforts of the various local water agencies in examining the common problems and opportunities.
We must make sure that our distribution system is sound and reliable. To that end, I support a more coordinated effort among regional agencies, including a regional approach to pursuing project funding needs. I support City Council’s decision to reactivate the desalinization plan and the other efforts that the Water Commission and staff are pursuing to ensure that we have continued access to safe and reliable drinking water.
We must also consider the effect(s) that new projects (whether housing or commercial) will have on our overall water usage, and water impacts should be considered as part of the planning process. Priority should be given to projects that will achieve pre-established, objective water-usage goals.