Answers on Business Issues from the Mayoral Candidates
What are your thoughts on the infrastructure needs of the City of Santa Barbara? Are you supportive of efforts to raise funds through a sales tax increase to address these needs?
Hal Conklin: Santa Barbara’s infrastructure is old and greatly underfunded. With a water and sewer system that is over 100 years old and many streets that still have old streetcar tracks underneath them, there is a need for a multi-faceted long-term funding strategy to repair what we have. Meanwhile, we need to also plan for the next 50 years. The Desal Plant was a good start, and I was on the planning committee to build the first plant 25 years ago. We also need new transportation alternatives for the needs of our future workers and students, including the possibility of creative new forms of mobility such as a “light rail system” between downtown and UCSB through the State Street/Hollister corridor. I am open to the idea of using the sales tax as a means of funding part of this, but I think we are going to need a much broader funding approach to meet all of the needs before us.
Frank Hotchkiss: We should improve the condition of our streets. That’s going to require new sources of revenue, but none should be levied without taxpayer approval at the ballot box, with careful controls so the money raised will go for the purpose intended and not some errant project that favors political favorites.
And there should be no tax at any level without a sunset clause. A full one percent for 20 years would cover the projected costs, but place a very heavy burden on citizens, who already carry a heavy tax load. Particularly onerous is the recent state gasoline tax.
We should upgrade our police station. It’s about 60 years old, and not earthquake safe, nor outfitted with the 21st Century technological advances that enhance policing.
Angel Martinez: Santa Barbara is a special city, agriculturally, historically and culturally. Its landmark buildings must be preserved, the police station must be upgraded/replaced and streets are in dire need of maintenance. Clearly, with over $300mm in unallocated infrastructure expenses projected over the next ten years, and no identifiable revenue streams earmarked to address this need, the city is backed into a corner. My concern with the proposed sales tax increase is that there is no guarantee that these funds will be used for the purpose stated, the building of a new police facility for example. In fact, there’s no guarantee that the funds will be used for infrastructure projects in general, or the highest priority projects in particular. Moreover, sales tax increases will not solve the problem that a collapsing retail sector creates, since if there is no foot traffic there are no sales, and no revenue generated from any sales tax increase.
I would prefer a bond, one that expressly outlines where the money is going. No doubt this creates a higher bar for approval but in the end it is more responsible, and the accountability to city taxpayers creates trust.
Cathy Murillo: I am supportive of the City placing a sales tax increase measure on the November ballot to get approval from the residents of Santa Barbara who will benefit from road maintenance, enhanced law enforcement services via a new police headquarters, and other infrastructure improvements such as well-maintained parks and recreation facilities. The elimination of the state Redevelopment program has left the City with a gap in funding for projects that improved the quality of life in Santa Barbara. I am committed to creating a special fund (or other mechanism) ensuring the sales tax proceeds are dedicated to infrastructure projects. This revenue source will be in addition to other funds set aside for infrastructure: half of the Utility Users Tax goes to streets repair and half of any end-of-year budget surplus goes to capital projects and infrastructure.
What are your thoughts on the status of Downtown Santa Barbara and State Street? What factors, if any, are affecting business success in the downtown area? What would you do to address these issues? What is your position on incentivizing more housing downtown?
Hal Conklin: The nature of retail in America is changing, and we need a new Downtown Revitalization Plan for the next 25 years that reflects these changes. This kind of planning has been crucial in the past, and requires a broad representation of interests to participate in, and own the outcome. Without this kind of approach, Paseo Nuevo would never have been built, nor would the Waterfront Hotel and Palm Park Expansion, or the lower State Street revitalization. In the last few years, the City seems to have forgotten how to do this!
Today, I would suggest that we consider a mix of four elements that would create a synergistic revitalization of State Street: 1) A much higher mix of housing downtown of all kinds that would mimic the kind of design in the Americana Center in Glendale, 2) A Public-Private Downtown Partnership between landlords and the City implement a long-term revitalization plan for businesses on State Street that would include fast-tracking approvals tied to lowering rents, 3) An incentive program to cause landlords to not leave their properties vacant and become a home for vagrancy, 3) A flexible increase in arts activities, youth events, festivals, and farmers marketplaces on State Street that would reflect a positive pedestrian instead of automobile environment.
Frank Hotchkiss: Despite recent media attention, State Street is not withering on the vine. For every store that has closed recently, many more remain open and successful. Prospective tenants and landlords will reach accord and storefronts will be occupied once again. In other words, let the free market prevail.
Some housing could be created downtown – the upper stories of Macy’s, for example. Slight adjustments in parking requirements would be needed. We could put out the word to developers that their proposals would get quick attention.
Transients will continue to be a problem on State Street, a problem that is sometimes overstated. Strict police enforcement will help but not cure it. Encouraging citizens to not pay transients to beg on our streets will help.
Good behavior displaces bad behavior, so our frequent parades and art events on State are helpful. In the past I have suggested upgrading the look of the street by returning the fire hydrants to their original polished brass, an idea I still believe holds merit.
Angel Martinez: Addressing this issue is a primary reason why I’m running for mayor. Downtown State Street is in on the verge of collapse as a viable, sustainable retail artery. Looking at the street as a ten block long shopping mall, from Gutierrez to Sola, every block has vacant storefronts (48 in total), rundown and unkempt facades, a generally poor mix of retail products and services, aggressive panhandling and transient vagrancy.
A successful retail and entertainment environment is no accident. It is carefully planned, inspired by a clear vision. There is coordination and collaboration by property owners, business owners, and the City, with the goal of creating an energetic, welcoming, fun, family-friendly and unique environment. There is a mix of retail that includes a few nationally known brands as anchors surrounded by home grown local boutiques, restaurants, services and housing. In past times, the City has done a great job achieving the right mix. But times are now different.
The current reality is that brick and mortar retail is facing a mortal challenge from E-Commerce, with the worst yet to come. Lowest price and best assortment are a click away. The recent closure of Macy’s, one of the original Paseo Nuevo mall anchors, is the tip of the iceberg. Borders, Barnes & Noble, Saks 5th Avenue have all fallen in the past decade, and our Nordstrom is the worst performing store in the entire Nordstrom fleet of stores.
The decline of foot traffic and the vacancies didn’t happen overnight. Lease rates based on an assumption of “A” mall traffic patterns, combined with onerous over-regulation in the permitting process make establishing and operating a locally owned retail business nearly impossible. There is a lack of refreshing vision, planning, collaboration and management between the city and the business community.
We must address these issues with a high degree of urgency. Incrementalism does not work when transformational societal change is underway. (Word of mouth travels faster than ever thanks to Yelp. The thirty-one boatloads of tourists will be Yelping about their State St. experience as soon as they are back on the ship.) Solutions require creativity and flexibility. Solutions will require collaboration and communication. Most of all, solutions will require vision and leadership.
Our problems are no different than those of many cities our size. Boulder, CO is a good example. Pearl Street in Boulder is a wonderful destination and a vibrant retail artery. It is experiential in nature. There are restaurants, unique boutiques, apartments, offices, artists and musicians. It’s clean, safe, and they have dealt effectively with the problem of transient vagrants assaulting the locals and tourists.
Sales tax and TOT revenue are off by $1.7mm through the first quarter of FY 17. This trend will continue as it will everywhere where aggressive action is not taken. As mayor, I will broker a proactive and meaningful collaboration of the stakeholders willing to own the problem and commit to avoiding the imminent collapse of our critical retail artery. Our focus will be informed by the future of retail and by examples of what other cities have created. Our approach will be action oriented and urgent. There will be some near-term pain, but much more long-term gain. Even though many in our City seem comfortable living in an impenetrable bubble, Santa Barbara is not immune to the problems created by a rapidly changing retail marketplace. And time is not on our side.
Cathy Murillo: State Street is already zoned for mixed-use development, which includes residential units. We need a working group to create a plan for bringing housing downtown. The City's Living Wage Ordinance Committee is organizing a public forum "The High Cost of Living in Santa Barbara," and we are inviting all stakeholders to attend as it will focus on jobs and housing, with a pointed discussion about housing on State Street. I congratulate the Chamber's Ken Oplinger for providing leadership regarding this important upcoming forum. Additionally, I am meeting with downtown property owners, architects, and leaders with Hospitality Santa Barbara and the Housing Authority to move this idea forward. Overall on Downtown: I support our esteemed Downtown Santa Barbara organization, as well as programs addressing homelessness in the city's core -- Restorative Policing by the Police Department and the Central Coast Collaborative on Homelessness (C3H) Outreach Services.
Are you supportive of the current Average Unit-size Density (AUD) ordinance in the City of Santa Barbara? If so, explain your reasons. If not, what changes would you make to improve it?
Hal Conklin: I am supportive of the AUD concept, but I believe that City needs to have a more hands-on strategic approach to getting public approval. Waiting until 250 units are in place leaves the citizens wondering if anyone is “minding the store.” This process needs an ongoing public/private partnership review to continually fine-tune the approach and to give incentives to some projects that meet the public demand and interest in housing for workers. If the public doesn’t believe that the community’s long-term quality of life is being protected, they could very easily, as the old saying goes, “throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Frank Hotchkiss: This term will always be an oxymoron in Santa Barbara because of the value of land. As for the AUD program, parking requirements for multi-bedroom units should be increased in order to affect on-street parking minimally.
Angel Martinez: It is clear that our City faces a housing crisis. Workforce housing is unavailable and unaffordable, even for residents earning close to $100k/yr. In my experience at Deckers Brands, our number one recruiting problem was the cost and availability of housing. We never had to convince anyone about the beauty of our City, the environment, or the lifestyle. The deal breaker was always housing, especially when it meant leaving a 5000 square foot home on two acres in Michigan in exchange for 1500 square feet and a tiny yard in San Roque or on the Mesa.
This lack quality workforce housing is the biggest risk our local economy faces. We need better focus: the future drivers of the economic health and sustainability of Santa Barbara are Millennials. They are well-educated, motivated, entrepreneurial, and hard working. They deserve the opportunity to build a life in our city. Many are our children. Unfortunately, many end up moving away just as the time of life approaches when they want to raise a family. And with them goes Santa Barbara’s economic future.
It is important to understand that Millennials don’t aspire to the same type of lifestyle and housing requirements that their Baby Boomer parents did. Across the country, their priorities lie in community. They prefer being downtown to being in the suburbs. They are comfortable in smaller homes or apartments, as long as they are within walking distance to shops, restaurants, entertainment and friends. They expect high quality living spaces, curated appliances, furnishings and fixtures, and killer WIFI. They prefer to walk, ride a bike, or take mass transit. Ideally, cars are for escaping on weekends or vacation, so Uber will do just fine.
My point here is that increased density is unavoidable in a City as desirable as Santa Barbara. And given our need to insure a healthy economic future, the only way we can accommodate the workforce housing we will need is to embrace higher density. The critical question is “How do we embrace higher density without destroying everything we love about Santa Barbara?”
My problem with the AUD Ordinance is not that we don’t need it or that it is a bad idea. My problem is that it was supposed to be a 250-unit TEST, with adjustments made based on the learnings from building those initial units. Instead, before we have learned anything, there have been over 1000 permits issued. We don’t yet know if the units being built will appeal to our target consumer, or what the impacts to local neighborhoods will be. How much parking do we really need? Will the units actually be “affordable”? And will the units actually solve, in part, our work force housing crisis?
Cathy Murillo: Yes, I am supportive of the AUD program, which is giving us rental housing after 40 years of virtually no apartment houses being built. I serve on the City's Housing Task Force (made up of three city council members, three planning commissioners, and one housing authority commissioner) that is making changes to the program to ensure conditions such as local preference in tenancy or income-restricted units are part of the projects. Also, the Task Force has voted to require two parking spots for a 3-bedroom unit to address concerns about parking congestion. Our design review process analyzes projects for size, bulk, and scale concerns. I recognize that market-rate rental housing is valued by employers who have stated the need for more housing as part of fundamental economic development goals in our region.
Increased Housing Stock
What is your position on the state’s new mandates regarding Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), also known as granny flats?
Hal Conklin: This is a state mandate, and the local government doesn’t have a lot of control over it. It is also not the first time the State has tried to mandate these kinds of inclusionary zoning laws. The City needs to map out the potential impacts of this State Law and have community input on the results. Following that review, there needs to be a monitored review of the progressive impacts given to the Planning Commission, City Council, and community groups every six months.
Frank Hotchkiss: Again, parking will be a big issue here. City staff is now examining how we will comply with the state mandate. I would await further comments until their report comes in.
Angel Martinez: “One-size-fits-all” mandates from the state or federal government on cities are, in my view, often well intentioned but get complicated fast at the local level. But the bottom line is they are very difficult to resist in a state as large as California, and it’s often better to figure out how to make them work. Sometimes the League of Cities can help improve legislation and I always support keeping lines of communication open.
In this case, the state has mandated that municipalities not restrict the building of granny flats, or Accessory Dwelling Units, on single family lots. The city should work hard to figure this out, and channel energies into positive zoning policies to meet the intent. For example, ADU’s create an opportunity for young home buyers to enter the housing market, as a property with a rental unit makes the mortgage payment more affordable. In addition, it may allow the parents to live in the unit if they want to be closer to their grandchildren, affording them the opportunity to help in the purchase of the home. There may be additional pressure on on-street parking in various neighborhoods, which may require the City to expand the size of permit parking zones. All this said, the City should also not be afraid to challenge the state in places it finds incompatible with common sense and neighborhood harmony.
Cathy Murillo: City planning staff are developing guidelines for Accessory Dwelling Units – adding what they can to the State-mandated program to ensure these new units are compatible with our neighborhoods. At the last meeting of the City Council and Planning Commission, we were in strong agreement that planning staff should prioritize this task as there is already a lot of interest in second units. The best projects will include off-street parking, so that the neighborhood will not see an increase in parking congestion. Seconds units may be a response to AUD concerns -- these much-needed housing units will be spread throughout the City and not concentrated, as some people fear, in dense overly-tall complexes.
Last year, the City Council unanimously voted to uphold existing zoning rules which severely limit short term or vacation rentals in the City? What is your opinion of that decision, and what steps would you take to change it, if any?
Hal Conklin: This is a complicated problem and requires a multi-faceted set of answers. Based on the larger-than-expected number of units that are impacted, I do believe that the sanctity of the City’s Zoning laws needs to be given the highest priority. Even so, there may be a place for certain exceptions such as owner-occupied room rentals and rentals of personal homes for less than a majority of the year. Given the chronic housing shortage in Santa Barbara, I do believe the city needs to be extremely careful in diminishing the existing housing stock.
Frank Hotchkiss: The council unanimously made the right decision regarding short-term rentals. One of the persuasive arguments was mine, when I pointed out that Realtors selling any home must by law disclose if a short-term rental is nearby, since that has a material affect on the value of the home.
Angel Martinez: I agree that short term rentals should require some form of permitting. In the approved zones, a business license and collection of the bed tax is appropriate, since units in those areas are in direct competition with hotels. But short term rentals are not hotels and should not be subject to the permit requirements of “one parking space per bedroom” (which is the hotel requirement), especially since guests typically arrive in one vehicle.
Outside the hotel zones, I feel the new ordinance is needlessly onerous: It penalizes a homeowner who occasionally rents out a bedroom, or a home, in order to afford a vacation. Elderly homeowners often use the rental option as a source of additional income. Occasional short term rentals by homeowners who are occupying their homes at least 80% of the time should not be restricted. Such rentals would require a PERMIT. Let’s draft sound, enforceable policies to ensure that neighborhood rights are also protected.
I draw the line on whether the home being rented is a business, and available for rent every day of the year. If that is the case, then restrictions should apply.
Cathy Murillo: Vacation rentals take long-term rentals off the market, and our local workforce is in dire need of housing opportunities. Additionally, residents complained that short-term rentals negatively impacted the residential character of their neighborhoods, bringing a "commercial" activity when homes or parts of homes were being used as hotel rooms. Because the City had been collecting business license fees and bed tax for so many years, I was the Council Member who suggested we give the vacation rental industry plenty of time to transition and divest, to be fair to those who had created businesses related to this activity. Now, we are working to make short-term rentals work in the R4 zone. I remind people that our politically diverse Council was unanimous on a 7-0 vote to restrict short term rentals.
Short Term Rentals
How would you describe the fiscal status of the City of Santa Barbara? What proposals will you bring in the next budget cycle to improve the City’s financial position?
Hal Conklin: By comparison to other cities in the region, I do believe the City’s fiscal status is good. The two key components of the Budget that have to always be monitored and adjusted are in the areas of public safety and transportation. Given the global outreach that the people of Santa Barbara have, I would continue to partner with the Chamber of Commerce and our universities to maintain a five-year rolling financial forecasting process in place so that the best minds in the region can reasonably predict what is going to happen to the local economy. What are the trends that are happening in California, or nationwide, or globally?
Frank Hotchkiss: The city is in good shape financially, although revenues are down slightly this year (1%), and the budget has been adjusted accordingly.
In the long term, roads, waterworks, sewers etc. will require a new funding source.
Angel Martinez: Because I have not been involved in the City’s budget cycle and based on my limited understanding of the City’s budget and budgeting process, I can only raise questions at this point.
Generally, my approach to budgeting always starts with “Why?” Why are we doing this? Why are we spending this much? Is there a way to get better value for our money? Are there legacy programs that make no sense? Are we over-paying for outside services? Are we better served using an outside resource?
I also try to anticipate all scenarios, from worst to best case and risk leverage the budget accordingly. My great concern is that we have a one-dimensional economy, based on retail and tourism. This lack of a diversified economy puts us at great risk. Signs are pointing to a recession in the near term, led by the bursting of the retail bubble nationwide and the ensuing pressure on retail commercial real estate values. This could make the residential housing bubble of 2008 look like a warmup (Year-to-date store closings are already outpacing those of 2008). What would happen to our city should that occur? There may be almost 10,000 store closures in 2017, a record, with over 30,000 layoffs in March alone. More than 10% of US retail space, or nearly 1 billion square feet, may need to be closed, converted to other uses, or renegotiated for lower rent in coming years, according to Bloomberg. Again, Santa Barbara is not immune.
I always approach budgeting as if it were my personal checking account. I hate surprises and as a result, I am fiscally conservative.
Cathy Murillo: The City of Santa Barbara has a balanced operating budget for fiscal year 2018, asking every department to reduce expenditures because our sales tax revenues have flattened out. We made up for a revenue shortfall of $1.9 million for 2018 and are looking at a $2.8 million for 2019. Conservative spending and planning have ensured our General Fund budget will be balanced for the next two cycles. I support restrained hiring practices in the near future as unfilled positions reduce expenditures without laying off any employees. Departments that depend on the General Fund -- such as our Libraries -- have relied on private donations to support services and special projects like the new Children's Library.
One of the biggest financial issues facing the City is the pension liability for past and current employees. How would you propose addressing this problem in a way that meets the City’s obligation while not straining the provision of City services?
Hal Conklin: I am not an expert in the area of Pension reform, but I do believe we have some of the best and the brightest minds in the world of finance in our community. I would look to a “Blue Ribbon Committee” of experts that the community could assemble to make recommendations to the City. This will require the cooperation of all participants in a win-win solution.
Frank Hotchkiss: In the mid term, we are dealing with unfunded pension liabilities by increasing the percentage employees pay for their own retirement.
Angel Martinez: I am committed to meeting the City’s pension obligations. That said, I would work toward reducing the number of new hires in non-essential roles who would join the City’s pension rolls. I would look to utilizing outside providers whenever feasible, without compromising the quality of services.
Our future ability to meet our pension obligations requires that we commit to sustainable economic growth. The guarantee of meeting our future pension obligations lies in our long term economic health and a diversified economy.
Cathy Murillo: CalPERS is already making adjustments and municipalities will be paying more into the system, with employees paying a larger share as well. As part of a cost-sharing agreement related to increased benefits in 2005, non-safety employees pay an annual increase in their PERS contribution. The City's employer rate also increases every year, as part of the agreement. In consideration of unfunded liabilities, we make careful decisions about increasing salaries, always factoring in the ripple effect on PERS costs. State pension reform has created a two-tier system -- the City has one class of employees who will retire with a more generous package, another class of newer hires who will retire with less. Over time, that will help this challenge, but the City must continue to carefully budget to address pension liability.
It appears that the statewide gas tax increase will provide much of the remaining money needed to complete the widening of Highway 101 from Carpinteria to Santa Barbara. What is your position on this project? Are there additional mitigation steps that need to be taken for the project?
Hal Conklin: The rebuilding of US101 is pretty much a done deal. Whatever it is going to take to get it completed should be done with the least environmental impact and the shortest time. The bigger question now becomes, what are we going to do to solve local traffic impacts since we have spent most of our money on the freeway? Businesses and local residents will become increasingly agitated if local traffic patterns continue to deteriorate and the City pleads poverty and doesn’t have a plan for improving the ease of mobility throughout the community. We need a neighborhood-by-neighborhood transportation plan adopted by each neighborhood for the next 20 years. Each part of the community needs to “own the solution” to the pending internal circulation outcome that is going to have to emerge.
Frank Hotchkiss: Widening 101 in Montecito could bring more cars to city streets. We are negotiating with CalTrans now to have them mitigate the expected additional traffic. Parenthetically, the addition of sound walls along the 101 corridor in Montecito will have a noticeable affect on property values near the freeway.
Angel Martinez: This has been a contentious project for decades, and no outcome has everyone happy. But the decision has been made at a regional level, and Santa Barbara areas along this corridor must get prepared with leadership from City Hall. Coast Village Road merchants and residents, especially, and our unincorporated neighbors in Montecito should be treated with fairness and respect.
The City should work with the Chamber and other organizations to mitigate the potential negative impacts to our economy and quality of life during construction. People need to understand the impacts of lane closures during construction and the congestion that will ensue on our City’s streets. Are we prepared for the impact to local businesses from the significant increases in commute times from Ventura to Santa Barbara? What will be the impact on tourism? Can we mitigate the impacts of construction by encouraging alternative transportation, increasing bus service, and van services? These are issues I look forward to collaborating with the Chamber if elected.
Cathy Murillo: We need a third lane on Highway 101 in the stretch with only two lanes. The City of Santa Barbara must cooperate with neighboring jurisdictions to support a transportation system that benefits commuting and commerce, and the delivery of goods and services. We must continue to work for commuter rail and enhanced bus and vanpool programs as well. I am hoping the Highway 101 EIR process will conclude in a reasonable time and that the City will work with SBCAG to promote the improvement projects at the Olive Mill/Coast Village Road intersection and at Cabrillo Boulevard and the Union Pacific railroad bridge.
Recent rains have pushed back immediate concerns about the City’s water supply, but the City remains in a drought. What are your thoughts on how the City should proceed in addressing our ongoing water concerns?
Hal Conklin: We will never return to the days of plentiful water, if for no other reason we have an ever-increasing demand due to population growth. Our current statewide system was built for a population half our size in the 1960’s and 70’s. Santa Barbara has been a leader in water reclamation projects throughout the waterfront and through the Los Positas Valley. The Desalinization Plant is state-of-the-art. Zeroscape landscaping has become a hit worthy of a Sunset Magazine cover. And, new advances in drip irrigation can dramatically reduce outdoor use. Positive incentives have proven to be much more cost-effective in reducing water consumption than heavy penalties, although a tiered water rate does catch your attention when it comes to the increased cost of water when you waste it. For the future, I would increase the distribution system for reclaimed water to all public facilities throughout the city.
Frank Hotchkiss: We live in an historically arid region that has seen disastrous droughts. State water, the new desalination plant, and citizen conservation have saved the day, as did Mother Nature recently by filling Lake Cachuma to the 50% level.
While the mayor has no direct ability to affect federal fish water releases, I would lobby in every way possible to reduce over-ambitious water releases in hopes of saving a few fish and ensure delivery of Cachuma water to Santa Barbara.
Angel Martinez: We live in a semi-arid environment. There will always be drought cycles. The Desalination Plant should be a permanent part of our water supply, with the water it provides incorporated into the total supply and cost averaged with our traditional reservoirs, groundwater and State Water sources. The City should continue to restrict over-watering, encourage drought tolerant landscaping and educate kids in school about the fragility of our water resource. To encourage conservation, water rates should not be brought back to pre-drought levels, although they should be reduced when the drought is declared over. There should be continued significant penalties for wasting water.
Cathy Murillo: Our residents have done a great job cutting back on water use; we must continue to conserve water until the Cachuma Reservoir has more water supply available. Even after that, we must be careful about water use as climate change will make rainfall unpredictable. The City has proven itself successful in finding diverse water sources: buying from outside the area, groundwater, conservation, and the newly operating desalination plant.
The City of Goleta has recently asked the City to delay moving forward with the development of leasable tech space on ground adjacent to the Santa Barbara Airport. What is your position on this project?
Hal Conklin: The Airport is under the stewardship of the City of Santa Barbara, but it is a regional resource. The funding of this resource is dependent on land-use development in order to keep the costs of running the airport as low as possible. This process has been in place much, much longer than the City of Goleta has been in existence. There may be legitimate reasons for delaying and coordinating development, but in the long term, the Airport will need to build out its economic base in order to meet the growing needs of the travelling public.
Frank Hotchkiss: Goleta wants a bigger share of the pie as we develop our airport properties, in order to compensate for street and other wear and tear. They hope for $2 M. That’s overstated by about $1.5 M.
Angel Martinez: I applaud the need to work regionally on issues of mutually economic benefit, however, I find it absurd that Goleta can invoke restrictions on the development of Santa Barbara’s Hollister corridor airport properties.
Our failure to engage in discussions with Goleta about the mutual benefits to both of our cities is at the root of the problem. Our problems are Goleta’s problems, and vice versa. We should engage in long range planning about the economic development of the corridor to our mutual benefit. That said, I consider it an urgent priority, if we are to diversify our economic base and create workforce housing, that we move forward with a plan to develop this property as an Environmental Innovation Hub for the Central Coast. I’d like to create a Regional Economic Advisory Council to include the leadership of the cities of Lompoc, Goleta, Santa Barbara, and Carpinteria. I’d be happy to speak to this in more detail in another forum.
Cathy Murillo: Goleta city staff and Santa Barbara city staff are working on a solution to this challenge. Of course Santa Barbara should pay traffic mitigation fees -- the question is how much. I fully appreciate that our airport land is in the middle of the Goleta city limits and our airport and adjacent commercial uses impact Goleta residents and businesses. As mayor, I will get ahead of these kinds of situations, building positive relationships with neighboring jurisdictions and agencies. My candidacy for Mayor is endorsed by the Mayors of Goleta and Carpinteria and together we will forge a new era of regional cooperation.
The City of Santa Barbara does not have an active economic development program. Do you believe one is necessary? If so, how would you create it? If not, why not?
Hal Conklin: The City needs a high-profile Economic Development Management Plan as strongly as it needs a General Land-Use Plan, an Infrastructure Plan, or a Public Safety Plan. If there hadn’t been a Development Plan for the Airport, or the Harbor, or the Redevelopment Agency downtown, most of these efforts would have limped along in a piecemeal fashion. If you do not have an “economic roadmap’ that tells you where you are going, then you will have no way to measure whether or not you can achieve your community goals. Yes, the City needs one!
Frank Hotchkiss: “The city … does not have an active economic development program,” you wrote. Yes and no. We underwrite Visit Santa Barbara to the tune of $1.4 M, and they in turn market us as a tourist destination.
We are in the act of rezoning to preserve our commercial areas.
The so-called La Entrada project at State Street and Cabrillo Boulevard is about to come on line, and the Funk Zone is thriving, albeit with very limited parking. So no, I don’t think we need an added layer of government to boost business activity.
For companies considering Santa Barbara as their new home, the cost of housing for their employees is the biggest obstacle for them to overcome.
The greatest problem retail and other small businesses face today is the increased minimum wage that will make everything more costly to buy (from the consumer’s point of view) and to sell (from the businesses’ point of view). We should vote new representation in Sacramento to overturn that.
Angel Martinez: This is the heart of why I am running for Mayor. I fundamentally believe that the City urgently needs an active economic development program. It must start with a vision for the future economic opportunities we can create. Particularly as the home of Environmental Innovation and Entrepreneurship. I have discussed this in my prior role as a member of the UCSB Bren School Board. We have everything we need to do this, except vision and leadership. Again, I’m prepared to discuss in detail in a different forum.
We also need a modern, visionary urban plan. Santa Barbara has never developed a comprehensive plan that addresses our future in a way that brings in all aspects of our quality of life – economic development, housing, cultural resources, etc. (Well, perhaps with the exception of Pearl Chase’s original El Pueblo Viejo plan.) So I believe we are overdue if we are to meet the challenges of the future. We need to combine the insights of both an economic development program with a visionary urban plan if we are to fulfill our destiny as the Best Small City in America.
Cathy Murillo: Yes, absolutely the City needs an economic development function. We are responsible for the creation of job and housing opportunities for our residents. Housing production is a huge part of economic development. Construction stimulates the economy in and of itself, but also provides housing (for all income levels) that employers are asking for. Moreover, I look forward to being active with the Chamber's Economic Vitality Team of Santa Barbara County. Elected officials should take the lead meeting with other electeds, large employers, financial institutions, and getting acquainted with programs such as UCSB's Technology Management Program. This is exactly the kind of work I will do as Mayor, building relationships in business and higher education, making connections to bring prosperity to the City and the region.
One of the fastest growing areas of Santa Barbara is the Funk Zone. What are your thoughts on this area, and how would you respond to some in the community that feel the area is getting more attention and benefits than other more established business zones?
Hal Conklin: Ironically, it is called the “funk zone” because the businesses at the time wanted the City to “keep their hands off the area” and leave it funky and untouched by City Hall. That way rents would stay low. Today, this has morphed into another successful revitalization zone. I think it is appropriate to promote the Funk Zone as a distinct destination in the same way that we promote the downtown retail district, the Old Town nightlife district, and the Cultural District above Carrillo Street. In terms of “giving attention” to an area, I think at this point in time the City needs to focus on revitalizing the retail core of State Street in light of the move towards online shopping.
Frank Hotchkiss: Yes, the Funk Zone is doing well thanks to creative entrepreneurs and a younger clientele that finds it particularly appealing. Since parking remains a challenge, I would encourage the public to make better use of the city lot adjacent to the zone at the corner of Cabrillo and Garden. It’s never full, and is just a short walk to everywhere in the zone.
Angel Martinez: The Funk Zone is an example of what can happen when the City is not heavy handed in over-regulating economic development. Frankly, the Funk Zone exists in spite of and not because of, the City. It evolved rapidly as a hub of opportunity which was “under the radar”.
It has demonstrated that diversity of architecture outside of the historic corridor is appropriate. It is getting attention because it has what consumers want, in a contemporary environment. We should emulate what we have learned from the Funk Zone in other parts of the City’s economic development zones. The look and feel of the Funk Zone, with its ethic of reusing and repurposing the buildings, is in my opinion a refreshing new look for our City, the home of the environmental movement.
Cathy Murillo: The City should be fair in providing attention and resources to all the business zones, and to all the residential neighborhoods for that matter. I would like to hear more from the people and business owners that are concerned about inequities. I know that Funk Zone leaders are asking for parking accommodation in that area, and that State Street property owners are asking the City to stay vigilant on issues of homelessness and the changing nature of retail. All stakeholders must come together and work cooperatively.
As part of the New Zoning Ordinance (NZO), the Planning Commission has agreed to change parking requirements on restaurants to 1 space per 250 square feet of space in the restaurant. Do you support this decision? Why or why not?
Hal Conklin: This change in zoning will help in certain locations of the city, and in most of those areas I would support the change. It is a simpler way to measure traffic impacts rather than projecting traffic based on a seat count. It will not help in the downtown area, and there is where we probably need to think about other ways of stimulating restaurant development.
Frank Hotchkiss: Reduced off-street parking requirements for restaurants will probably push cars onto the streets while their drivers dine for an hour or so. That’s the downside.
The upside is that this reduction will make it easier for new restaurants to emerge.
Angel Martinez: I believe the NZO is a terrible idea and an extreme burden to small restaurant owners, whose restaurants add character and flavor to local neighborhoods. The new ordinance would require a restaurant of 1500 square feet, with seating for perhaps 30 people, to have 6 parking spaces. This is an impossibility in Santa Barbara as it would destroy the culinary landscape of the City. Imagine if a bistro in Paris or Florence were required to do the same? This ordinance favors only chain operated restaurants. So if we want to have Appleby’s be the new culinary standard for our City, then I suppose this might be a good idea. Otherwise, it’s a disaster.
Cathy Murillo: The 1 space for 250 square feet proposal gives property owners and entrepreneurs more flexibility in changing the use of a location. We need that kind of adaptability in the downtown core right now as business and commerce finds the best way to meet the needs of locals and visitors. I served on the ad-hoc committee reviewing the NZO changes over a two-year period, and the Ordinance Committee (I am a member) recently moved this proposal forward for full Council approval.
Parking for Restaurants
What do you see as the city’s role in helping residents and businesses access renewable energy, either on the grid, or installed directly on homes and commercial or industrial buildings? What is your position on the City’s Community Choice Energy effort?
Hal Conklin: The City and the State of California are already moving towards between a 50% and a 100% goal for the use of renewable energy. Having worked for Southern California Edison coordinating the work with cities on Community Choice Aggregation or Energy projects, this is not as simple as it sounds, and in fact, only the State of California Independent System Operator in Sacramento really gets to decide what kind of energy you get on an hour-by-hour basis. Nevertheless, it is a worthy goal and one that has the potential for creating a lot of jobs in Santa Barbara County. The key to making it work will be to build more renewable capacity on the south coast. This can actually be done at a LOWER cost than new natural gas generation systems if it is tied to reuse projects such as the next generation of bio-gas capture to fuel a baseload energy plant at the landfill.
Frank Hotchkiss: Supplying energy to our residents is as important as supplying water, and the criteria are comparable: as much product as is needed, for as little cost as possible. Any energy source should be viewed in this light. For those who want to pay extra for personal preferences, they may do so.
Angel Martinez: I am in support of helping residents and businesses access as much renewable energy as possible. As the home of the environmental movement, Santa Barbara should be a leader in energy efficiency and the use of alternative, renewal energy, inevitably because it makes economic sense vs. being mandated. (No one mandated electric vehicles, but the state did encourage electric and hybrid cars. The result is another example of environmental leadership by our state, with a greater penetration of hybrid and electric vehicles than any other market in the world.)
This said, the details of the City’s Community Choice Energy Effort, however well intended, require more discussion of how they integrate with the traditional energy grid (Edison for example) and state and federal policies. So much can be done by innovation and less policy. This is an ongoing balancing act.
Cathy Murillo: I am the Chair of the City Council's Community Choice Energy subcommittee and am a strong advocate for this effort. I am a member of the Council’s Sustainability Committee, which recommended 2030 as a deadline for transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy use in city operations and community-wide. The City Council approved this proposal this week, and we can now focus on CCE -- along with our partners in the energy-buying collective -- to provide renewable energy to residents and businesses. Part of CCE is local energy generation – solar, wind, wave, hydro – all of which can result in new green jobs for our residents.
What are your thoughts on the level of City regulations affecting individuals attempting to develop property in our community? Are there steps you would take to limit the regulatory burden faced by those who wish to invest here?
Hal Conklin: This is an age-old problem that has continually been answered at the ballot box by the citizens of Santa Barbara. People have continually confirmed that they believe that preserving the history and quality of life of the south coast is fundamental to its attraction and economic success on a worldwide basis. Is it possible to both preserve Santa Barbara AND make the bureaucracy less burdensome? The answer is YES, but it requires a continuous partnership between the City and the business community to make it happen. It also requires active participation by the elected officials to assure than the system achieves results in a timely manner. The City Charter calls for review boards that are somewhat arbitrary, but effective benchmarking of work can require that applicants get a timely review and helpful guidance to complete the process. Many of our City Boards and Commissions would function smoother if they had an ”Ombudsman Officer” assigned to help people get through the system as quickly as possible.
Frank Hotchkiss: Government regulations – city or state – can be onerous. Some are good, some are not. But remember that we have a special city that has been kept special because of the rules and regulations put in place over time.
Any time you have to alter a project because of an unexpected regulation, you naturally are upset. What can delay projects is mid-stream alterations.
With public projects subject to the ADA, it is wise to hire a specialist well versed in ADA requirements to shepherd your project. That brings an added cost, but that cost will be far less than costs associated with either legal action or altered plans in the permit process.
Angel Martinez: The levels of City regulations affecting individuals trying to add on a bedroom, start a business, or develop property, are oppressive. They are limiting and often repelling investment in our community. Service levels are unacceptable, as City employees often appear indifferent to the economic reality of time and money. There are constant delays and surprises, with the goal posts moved in the middle of the game. I could go on and on, but would only succeed in scratching the surface of the litany of complaints and frustrations experienced by too many who simply want to invest in Santa Barbara and create jobs for our people.
I would propose to do the following:
- Commit to a Customer Service based operating model. Understand who we are here to serve.
- Implement a third party review and analysis of customer service levels in all public facing city services. Institute performance metrics against service objectives as well as customer report cards.
- If we insist on running the City as a business, then the City should accept the same accountability to its customers that any business must also accept, particularly since our citizens and business owners have other options to recieve these services.
- Eliminate unnecessary over-regulation, overlapping and conflicting requirements by different departments, and needless delays and surprises. It’s not the time that a project takes, it’s the time you did not plan on it taking that is the killer. Tell the customer up front and as accurately as possible how long something will take and commit to delivering the service in that timeline.
- Avoid overburdening City employees with undeliverable number of projects and timelines. Review the resources allocated to realistically deliver against a committed timeline. Outsource additional resources as necessary.
- Lead from behind, recognizing and promoting high service standards and performance.
- Identify customer focused employees to put in leadership roles.
- Compare ourselves to other cities that offer exemplary service levels. Identify where to go for expertise and insight.
Cathy Murillo: As stated above, my voting record demonstrates strong support for housing development. I acknowledge the City puts applicants through a rigorous process and our design review boards are critical and thorough when reviewing projects. City staff should always be responsive to members of the public, and the City Council can facilitate that by setting policy and creating a culture by which regulation protects our quality of life but does not become overly burdensome for entrepreneurs and businesses. As Mayor I will hold monthly meetings with business leaders to get feedback on City relationships in the community.
The City of Santa Barbara is served by MTD buses, but as with many smaller, suburban communities, the service does not meet all of the need. What proposals would you have, if any, to increase public transportation options? Would your options include other forms of mass transportation?
Hal Conklin: For localized transportation needs, we ought to consider something like an “Uber Van Service” that would function in each neighborhood. For more regional service, we ought to consider a light rail system from downtown Santa Barbara through the State Street/Hollister corridor out to UCSB using hydrogen powered vehicles instead of overhead electric systems.
Angel Martinez: The City and MTD have done an amazing job creating a public transportation system, arguably the best one in the nation for an area this small.
But the City Council can publicly encourage more ideas, and foster community dialogue:
- I would develop a public awareness campaign to promote ridership, particularly among young people.
- I would explore the use of smaller, private sector vans, similar to those used by the wine tour operators, to operate between Las Positas and Cabrillo Blvd. on the primary North South arteries. They would operate on a 15 minute interval, with an app, similar to Uber’s, that lets you know where the next van is.
- I would implement a city bicycle rental program, similar to London, Boston, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, etc. Bikes are available from racks around the City for pick up and return. Payment by pass via credit card billing.
Cathy Murillo: As the City Council's liaison to the MTD board of directors, I know first-hand the difficult challenge of providing bus service, especially as ridership is falling. However, some areas have seen expansion -- the trip frequencies between UCSB and SBCC are being increased, and the University is supporting increased service in the growing areas near the campus. In terms of other forms of transportation, the City is in the middle of implementing its updated Bicycle Master Plan, which aims to make bicycling more safe and thus encouraging people to ride their bikes for work, school, or errands. And as stated, I support commuter rail and other commuting options to help people travel efficiently from home to work.
How would you approach issues where the interests of your district conflict with the needs of the City of Santa Barbara as a whole?
Hal Conklin: In reality, very few issues ever face this dilemma. If an issues becomes large enough to cause a division of interests, then the Council always has the option of putting the issue before the voters on a citywide vote. What is a test of leadership, though, is whether the members of the City Council can facilitate a conversation between the competing neighborhood interests and work out a compromise. The “art of compromise” is the very heart of political debate.
Angel Martinez: As Mayor, my priorities would always be with serving the City as a whole. The City Council member in my district work to meet the needs of my district.
Cathy Murillo: My voting record demonstrates my ability to put the interests of the greater good above parochial interests. For instance, a Westside homeowner applied to put a second floor on his home and many of his neighbors opposed it and filed an appeal to overturn project approval. The applicant had followed all the rules, and even scaled back the footprint. Moreover, the added unit was providing housing -- on a very small scale, but still one more available unit. I denied the appeal brought by people I consider my neighbors. I did the right thing. As Mayor, I will be careful not to "play favorites" with my Westside neighborhood.