Answers on Business Issues from the 5th District 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?
Eric Friedman: There are no easy answers to addressing the over $500 million dollar backlog. The potential passage of a sales tax may address part of the issue, but we still need to make infrastructure investment a priority to address the entire backlog. This includes looking at public private partnerships like the one that built the children’s library, which I worked on in my capacity as Chair of the City Library Advisory Board and as a Chair of the Santa Public Library Foundation; allocating a percentage of annual growth to infrastructure similar to the policy implemented by the County of Santa Barbara; prioritizing projects that can generate revenue like the newly renovated Carrillo Rec Center, and other creative ideas. The more we put towards rebuilding and maintaining infrastructure now, the less expensive it will be in the long run. Furthermore, a sound infrastructure creates good paying middle class jobs and improves neighborhood character and pride. I support exploring a potential sales tax and letting the voters have the final determination and look forward to reviewing the final proposal once it is made public.
Warner McGrew: I support the need to raise sales tax one percent. With State and Federal money fading away it is important to secure a sustainable funding source to maintain critical infrastructure needs such as roads, the long awaited repair and upgrade of the current police facility, fire facilities, parks and meet some social services needs. We cannot defer maintenance and expect to meet future demands of the community. This being said, some type of sunset clause may be needed to sell the concept.
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?
Eric Friedman: The next city council has a tremendous responsibility and opportunity to shape downtown for years and decades to come. The extraordinary number of vacancies is rooted in a perfect storm of causes, in particular the technological shift to online retail shopping, high-rents and vagrancy/public safety issues. If we want to have a vibrant downtown our City must evaluate all of these issues as a whole. This includes looking at what other communities have done, both within and outside of California, opportunities to provide rental housing in the downtown corridor, analyzing how the cultural arts and our world class assets such as the Granada, Arlington, Lobero and Museum of Art can be more of a focal point in the years to come, and other ideas from the public at large.
Warner McGrew: The June 2, 2017 Santa Barbara News Press published an article that indicates 25% of all U.S. malls would be closed within the next five years. This trend is already impacting our community, as is the case of Macy’s closed store in the Paseo Nuevo Mall and who knows how many other businesses will follow. There are some conversations in the business community, which I support, to provide a mixed use (residential/ business) proposal for the vacant Macy’s facility. I support the need for affordable housing in the downtown area. I support the need to restore the Police Officer staffing to 151 which was the number before unnecessary cuts were made that have contributed to inadequate policing of the homeless issue that is not in anyone’s best interest, especially the homeless. A tried and true approach of restorative policing providing help and assistance to those in true need can be accomplished. However, the appropriate police staffing must be a priority and maintained.
The Community Development Department must become more user friendly in order to meet future needs of a sustainable economic growth effort.
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?
Eric Friedman: Due to geographic constraints and high land prices, we will not be able to build enough new homes to satisfy demand on the South Coast. The Fifth District has and will have a number of AUD projects that will be test cases for the efficacy of the AUD program. These new projects are centered on service areas, specifically LaCumbre Plaza and 5 Points, as well as transit corridors. I have met with management of LaCumbre Plaza to better understand their plans for meeting the changing demographic of this area and how the Plaza and local businesses can make the AUD projects work as intended. The surrounding amenities are just as important as the actual housing because if the housing is located appropriately we are able to create walkable and vibrant neighborhoods that also support local businesses. However, the AUD program needs to be modified to address concerns. Examples worth considering include having rents included as part of the application process, long-term covenants to maintain units as rentals, car sharing and bike sharing.
Lastly, it is important to consider that this year there were approximately 130 Bills introduced in Sacramento in regards to affordable housing. While our own AUD program is not perfect and needs to be modified, it is still preferable to a mandated statewide approach that takes away local control.
Warner McGrew: Yes, I am in favor of the AUD ordinance for 250 units. Right sized housing is needed to meet the future and current needs of the community. There is conversation out there that Indicates more local affordable housing would have a positive impact on traffic within the Santa Barbara area, as the current situation is being fed by people living in the Ventura and Lompoc areas who commute. There also, seems to be a notion that just the reverse is true. It is clear that a gray area is hanging over both thoughts and a need to articulate the real picture through a comprehensive public education program should take place sooner than later.
Increased Housing Stock
What is your position on the state’s new mandates regarding Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), also known as granny flats?
Eric Friedman: This question gets to the heart of my answer to the previous question. Due to the lack of housing being built statewide, the state enacted the ADU (Granny Flat) policy that, for the most part, took away local control. With ADU now the law, we need to make the most of this opportunity which may legalize some existing units, enable families to live together and allow middle class homeowners a chance to stay in their homes. As these units are built, the City needs to track and monitor impacts and unintended consequences. As data becomes available, there will be opportunities to work with our state legislature to address priority issues.
Warner McGrew: I would support the ADU’s for some of the same reasons as above. I am also hearing that families are struggling to stay together and there is a great need for for the ADU concept.
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?
Eric Friedman: I view short term rentals in two distinct categories – within the Coastal Zone and outside the Coastal Zone. For areas outside the Coastal Zone, I support the decision to maintain residential neighborhoods for the people who live here. Inside the Coastal Zone the City should work with the Coastal Commission to receive direction and provide our own feedback to our local needs, as this is an issue the Commission is looking at statewide. Coastal Access for the public is an important issue and it’s critical that we have these discussions with the Coastal Commission upfront. The City of Carpinteria is a model to look at in terms of allowing STR’s in the coastal zone.
Warner McGrew: I support the current Council’s decision on 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?
Eric Friedman: As a father with two sons in elementary school and both of my parents and in-laws in their 60’s, I am worried about the financial stability of government at all levels. In just 10 years my sons will be college age and our parents will be approaching 80. Families in my age group are struggling to plan for this financial reality just a decade down the road. I raise this issue because government has to live within its means or middle class families will not be able to care for our parents and children. In particular, local government can set an example on how to improve financial accountability and stability. For example, while studying for a Masters in Public Administration, I analyzed different models of budgeting and learned how there are very few incentives for City Departments to not spend money. Since in most cases the next year’s budget is based on the previous year, a Department that implements sound long-term financial planning is at potential risk of being penalized. Our City needs to look more closely at a needs based approach so that departments which reduce expenses one year are not penalized the next year. This is especially critical in terms of funding infrastructure since capital projects and needs for potential matching funds can fluctuate from year to year.
Warner McGrew: I feel the direction of business in Santa Barbara is on the downturn and won’t support sustainable economic growth. The current state of affairs regarding our malls must be addressed as soon as possible. I would encourage the Community Development Department to work with interested parties to resolve the impending negative impact on sales tax revenue. Further, I would support the Restorative Police program as a top priority to help resolve the ongoing homeless issue.
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?
Eric Friedman: The California Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act (PEPRA) of 2013 made significant changes that have helped slow the cost of pensions. Over the long-term, as new employees enter under PEPRA the City will benefit. However, with CALPERS determining that actuarial rate of assumption for pensions there are costs the City does not control. With this being the case, the City needs to continue to work with our Public Employee Unions via the collective bargaining process to ensure we are able to maintain City services.
Warner McGrew: I believe in fair pension plans. The PERS system that is currently in place is under repair in response to current economic conditions and will prove to be solvent in the future. The PERS system is an incentive program that is offered to public employee’s. Government has gone to great lengths to assure that the opportunity to become a public employee is open to every qualified applicant.
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?
Eric Friedman: The voters of Santa Barbara County voted for a lane and a train with the expectation that our leaders would move this project forward in a reasonable manner to avoid added costs. I am committed to supporting this project. We need to ensure that the parallel projects on Olive Mill and San Ysidro as well as the Cabrillo railroad crossing are also moved forward as a condition of the 101 permitting process.
Warner McGrew: I support the Highway 101 project and would encourage the completion of a three lane highway from Ventura to the City Santa Barbara. I would like to think that we are preserving as much of the vegetation along the corridor as possible, and would encourage that effort.
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?
Eric Friedman: Diversifying our water portfolio, in particular groundwater recharge through waste water recycling, is essential. I support the City’s recent decision to move forward on this issue. In addition, while desalination is a part of our diversification, I have serious concerns about the high cost overruns and long-term costs to run it. The City of Santa Barbara also needs to take leadership on the negotiations for the new Cachuma management contract that are underway. The previous contract, which expires in 2020, assumed a 7 year capacity for lake Cachuma, but as we found out, it went dry in just 4 years. The new contract needs to account for this new reality and be strengthened in regards to conservation measures during droughts. The 2015-16 Grand Jury report on Cachuma noted that even in our severe drought, member water agencies continued prioritize their own interests rather than looking at the lake as a whole. Our entire region is dependent on Lake Cachuma, a single member agency should not be able to override common sense water conservation measures. The new contract is an opportunity to address this issue.
Warner McGrew: We should continue the current water conservation efforts and look for ways to increase storage for future needs, as Santa Barbara is in a very dynamic weather environment. I have been involved with the development of the Desal Plant from the beginning and feel the end result will serve us well, although expensive.
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?
Eric Friedman: It is always in the best interest to pursue collaboration when possible and understand concerns when they arise. While developing tech space in this area is a good goal, however we need to ensure that both Cities have a forum to raise concerns.
Warner McGrew: The City should move forward with current plans and work with the City of Goleta in a collaborative way to provide a positive end result. Working with all the stake holders and cooperators on the south coast is imperative in order to meet future needs of the community, our customers.
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?
Eric Friedman: The City of Santa Barbara should have an economic development program. Ideally it would be housed under the City Administrator rather than a specific Department as economic development is broad based and larger than any single department. Having an economic development department and/or administrator reporting to the City Administrator would allow more flexibility and a degree of autonomy to look at all aspects of how to enhance economic vitality.
Warner McGrew: There are Economic Development Programs that can be used as a model, such as the City of Palm Springs for example. The City should look into the concept, at present not much effort has been utilized to do so. There is some thought that The Chamber should take over the responsibility, I ask the question do we really want government in charge of economic development? I feel the concept is valid and needs to be followed up on, in light of our current economic situation.
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?
Eric Friedman: The Funk Zone is a unique aspect of Santa Barbara’s cultural heritage. When considering its very recent shift to a hub of social and economic vitality, it is important to understand that this area is at the forefront of embracing the cultural shift to making communities and neighborhoods areas of social interaction and vibrancy. People value social connections and businesses that promote opportunities for interaction. The Funk Zone, rather than being seen as competition for downtown or LaCumbre Plaza, should viewed as a potential marketplace for ideas as other areas of town re-envision their own plans. I have been meeting with the property management of LaCumbre and they have expressed to me that they are looking at the successes of the Funk Zone and combining them with other ideas to consider as they build a unique vision for LaCumbre.
Warner McGrew: I completely support the Funk Zone concept as it does and will serve the need for visitors to the area. I believe the City should make every effort to serve the entire area within its scope of responsibility in a fair and equitable manner.
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?
Eric Friedman: I support this decision. Businesses need clarity on rules and regulations when developing their business plans. Some of our Zoning language was outdated and/or unclear and open to interpretation. In addition, this is another instance where technology is quickly changing what has been a normal business model for decades. In this case, fewer people are driving and instead taking ride-share services. Very soon, autonomous cars will bring further changes to the issue of parking.
Warner McGrew: At this point I am in favor of the actions taken and support the decision
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?
Eric Friedman: I support the City decision to join other communities in California by setting 100% renewable as our goal. Personally, my focus on the environment included serving as staff lead to Congressman Carbajal, when he was a County Supervisor, on the effort to conduct a feasibility study for Community Choice Energy in collaboration with the Counties of San Luis Obispo and Ventura. CCE provides individual customers the ability to increase the amount of renewable energy they individually purchase for their homes or businesses at a comparable price. With the feasibility study nearing completion, it is important we have City leaders who understand this program and continue to allocate the resources to bring it to fruition. The next phase, developing an implementation plan, will be the most critical and most resource intensive. Based on the experiences of other communities with CCE, such as Marin Clean Power, there may be opportunities to reinvest money locally to provide homeowners or businesses with energy retrofits or renewable energy projects such as rooftop solar.
Warner McGrew: I support the City’s Community Choice Energy effort and would encourage the entire area to move to a more efficient and advanced source of energy. The City through its Community Development Department should make every effort to move in this direction.
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?
Eric Friedman: Santa Barbara didn’t become the place we all love by accident. Community leaders throughout our history have fought to protect our heritage and prevent urban sprawl. However, there must be balance to regulation when considering the rights of homeowners and businesses to improve their property or start a business. Project applicants should have all the steps presented to them upfront including which City Departments they must work with and what permits are required. It is important for the City to review its policies to ensure this takes place. Also, if a project requires multiple Board/Commissions for approval, can time be saved by streamlining submission? This means that rather than waiting to get approval from one body before being allowed to submit for another, projects can schedule dates early on. As the City reviews its regulations it should consider the following: is the process clear cut and working as intended? Are the costs to the applicants and the taxpayers who pay for city services reasonable for the services rendered? Finally, what are the outcomes/data metrics on projects that have been approved, have been denied, or withdrawn by applicants? These are critical to understand so that any changes in the regulatory process have a solid basis.
Warner McGrew: I feel that current levels of regulations are burdensome to those wanting to develop property in the City of Santa Barbara and are in need of review, in order to change the current process it will take very specific direction from the City Council and follow through by the City Administrator for change to occur. We must look at staffing levels compared to other similar sized cities, utilize outsourcing concepts for projects and plan checking needs. Further, I am sure there are models that can be used as examples and would provide for a more efficient customer service oriented process than is currently in place.
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?
Eric Friedman: MTD is an essential partner in meeting our public transportation needs. In addition to MTD, the City can support public transportation through developing sustainable neighborhoods by locating new housing near transportation corridors, investing in our bicycle infrastructure via the bicycle master plan, cutting red tape for entrepreneurs who want to invest in ride-share/bike-share programs or other green industry businesses and investing in Transportation Demand Management strategies such as staggered work hours or telecommuting.
Warner McGrew: I support public transportation, the use of bicycles, Amtrak when possible, Uber, Lyft, Cab service, MTD and walking. I utilize the many bike pathways in the area for running errands and exercise. I would encourage use of all of these to help mitigate many of the issues we have discussed in this response.
How would you approach issues where the interests of your district conflict with the needs of the City of Santa Barbara as a whole?
Eric Friedman: As a staff member for over 14 years at the Board of Supervisors, I have experience with this very issue. Through my experience, I have learned that it will be incumbent for each council member to be accessible to the residents of their District and understand the priority issues and concerns. At the same, each council member must take the broad approach to governing the City. When conflicts arise, having an open and accessible council and city administration is the first step to addressing issues. This is critical for the public to have a voice and understand the thought process of their elected representative and it provides the ability for new information and ideas to be presented to the public official. In addition, through my experience at the County I have learned that a majority of issues are not “all or nothing”. Finding the balance that serves District 5 and the City as a whole will be different on each issue, but possible.
Warner McGrew: I would use my collaborative talents and experiences to work with other Councilmembers to achieve successful outcomes for the betterment of the District 5 and the City of Santa Barbara at large.
Eric Friedman: A transparent, accessible and responsive City Council and Administration; addressing infrastructure needs; the future of LaCumbre Plaza and how it will impact the surrounding neighborhood.
Top 3 Issues in District 5
What is your opinion of the traffic improvements made at Las Positas and Cliff Drive?
Eric Friedman: The round-a-about has improved traffic in this area considerably, especially during rush hour. The primary question I have is; could this project have been done more cost effectively? The final project incorporated a large amount of rock which comes with a price.
Warner McGrew: I am a believer in roundabouts and support the improvements made at the intersection of Las Positas and Cliff Drive. However, I am not in favor of all the roundabouts and traffic calming devices that have been installed throughout the City. There is a time and place for everything and some of these installations are lacking a common sense approach.
Do you support the increase in housing density along upper State Street and in the area of La Cumbre Plaza? What is your vision for the future of this area of the community?
Eric Friedman: The incorporation of housing adjacent to LaCumbre Plaza is a prime location to test the efficacy of the AUD program. Due to its proximity to grocery stores, transportation, restaurants and other local businesses, new projects will be good test cases. In addition, these projects were not in single family residential neighborhoods which addressed a compatibility concern. I do have concerns with traffic, especially in the area of the former Sandman property since this intersection is the feeder for accessing the YMCA, Wholefoods and the Hitchcock medical services center.
I have met with the property manager of LaCumbre Plaza on their plans for the future and am encouraged by their vision. Their plans are to make LaCumbre plaza a destination location for individuals and families to come and enjoy, which will range from supporting local businesses to playing ping-pong at their outdoor table. They are also working to maximize opportunities for residents who will be living in the new units adjacent to the plaza. I have encouraged them to make sure that LaCumbre Plaza is bike friendly by providing bike racks in visible areas and suggested they upgrade the number of electric car charging spaces. With the plan to encourage more local service based businesses and increase community events such as outdoor movies and music, the future of LaCumbre Plaza is promising.
Warner McGrew: I feel the La Cumbre and upper State St. area are as built out as much as they need to be. I would support the concept of a TARGET Store In the area if the SEARS Store should leave. Traffic and Homelessness are an issue and need to be addressed on an ongoing basis. The La Lumbre Plaza Mall would benefit from the effects of a TARGET Store and would serve the upper State St. area well.