Questionnaire Answers for 2018 2nd District Supervisor Candidates
Due mostly to pension liabilities, the County’s budget shortfall for the next several years is expected to be substantial – necessitating cuts across the Board to ensure we can maintain essential services. How would you address the issue, and do you support the direction the current group of Supervisors has set?
Gregg Hart: The loss of property tax revenue resulting from the Thomas Fire and Montecito debris flow coupled with the regional economic impact of the on-going risk of future natural disasters present a serious, evolving fiscal challenge for the County of Santa Barbara. I believe my experience in local government finance and strong record of fiscal responsibility will make me a valuable asset on the Board of Supervisors at this critical time.
The County needs additional revenue to meet ongoing financial obligations and to provide needed services to county residents. As a member of the Board of Supervisors I will carefully evaluate policy decisions in relation to the impact those decisions will have on County revenue. I pledge to consider all potential new revenue opportunities to generate the funding necessary to provide services to the public.
What are your thoughts on the infrastructure needs of Santa Barbara County? How does the County pay for these needs?
Gregg Hart: The County has critical infrastructure needs that require new revenues.
I have been working to increase investment in public infrastructure my entire public service career. I recently led the City of Santa Barbara’s successful effort to increase infrastructure investment through the passage of Measure C by City voters last November. This new permanent funding source will provide $22 million in annual revenue to address critical unfunded infrastructure needs like street, sidewalk, storm water repairs and maintenance, construction of a new Police Headquarters and improvements to neighborhood fire stations.
The state’s gas tax increase last year will provide the County nearly $11 million per year in new permanent revenue and reduce the County’s unfunded road maintenance backlog by nearly 50%. The opportunity for new federal transportation funding has increased recently with the President’s introduction of a new infrastructure proposal.
County Urban Areas
In general, land use and planning theory teaches us that urbanization (the process of putting urbanized development on rural land) should occur in incorporated areas and Counties should provide services in more rural areas. 32% of Santa Barbara County’s population is in unincorporated areas, compared to less than 12% of Ventura County’s population. Is this good for the long term health of the County? Why or why not?
Gregg Hart: The evolution of development in the two counties is a fact of history and the ratio of incorporated and unincorporated population is not likely to change much in the near term. The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors must manage the fiscal health of the County and provide services to all residents while expanding economic opportunity and preserving the local quality of life.
What steps are you willing to take to help ensure workforce housing can be provided in the 2nd District?
Gregg Hart: Well-planned affordable residential infill projects help reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. We must continue to support the middle class and low-income families that face tremendous difficulty both living and working in our community by supporting the development of affordable housing opportunities of all types but especially affordable rental housing. As a Planning Commissioner and City Councilmember, I have consistently supported development of affordable rental housing and have been recognized for my leadership role as an advocate for affordable and workforce housing.
Short Term Rentals
After asking voters to approve a 2% increase in the TOT tax, Supervisors severely restricted Short Term Rentals in the County, costing the County’s budget an amount similar to that which was raised from the TOT increase. What are your thoughts on STRs, and is there room for a compromise?
Gregg Hart: The south coast and the State of California face a housing crisis. Critically needed housing must be available for local residents and not be converted to hotels for visitors. The Santa Barbara City Council voted unanimously, with my strong support, to stop the out of control conversion of local housing to vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods. The Council heard compelling public testimony that tenants were being evicted by out of town investors who wanted to convert apartment buildings and homes to hotels.
I have participated in national conferences and worked with other elected officials and community leaders across the country to try to find a way to work collaboratively with the vacation rental industry but the major industry leaders refuse to accept responsibility for the impacts their business cause and refuse to work with local communities to address legitimate concerns. I will continue to be open to working with responsible operators to create enforceable regulation of the short-term rental industry that will not negatively affect the availability of housing for local residents.
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, and what steps will you take through your seat on the SBCAG Board to ensure its completion?
Gregg Hart: I strongly support the Highway 101 HOV project because traffic congestion is hurting our local economy and degrading our quality of life. Local businesses need the 15,000 employees who commute daily from Ventura County to fill local jobs and keep businesses open on the south coast. Every year 1,400 seniors retire from local jobs and most stay in their homes and are replaced by younger workers who are forced into long distance commutes because they cannot afford high housing costs. We need a suite of multimodal transportation options to reduce congestion in the 101 corridor including completion of the new HOV lane between Carpinteria and Santa Barbara, increased regional transit and rail service and new pedestrian and bicycle improvements. The County of Santa Barbara should expedite the permit process for the 101 HOV project to accelerate construction of the remaining segments of the 101 widening project.
The County has a unique role to play when it comes to water. While not being a purveyor of water, it does have some control over how water is used in the County. Given our on-going drought issues, what are your thoughts on County water policy and what changes would you like to see made?
Gregg Hart: Climate change and the resulting increasing drought cycles require new County water policies. Reducing water consumption is critical but not sufficient. All new housing development should include mandatory water conservation strategies including high efficiency appliances and low water use outdoor landscaping. We must also diversify our regional water supplies through recharging aquifers with storm water run-off, moving toward potable reuse of wastewater, expanding the City of Santa Barbara’s desalination plant for regional use and renewing our existing water contracts to ensure long-term sources of water. The County of Santa Barbara should work collaboratively with cities and water districts to encourage diversification of our regional water supplies. The City of Santa Barbara has one of the most diverse water portfolios in the state of California and should be used as a model by the County and other water agencies.
Santa Barbara County no longer participates in Countywide economic development efforts, having cut support last year in its efforts to meet the Fiscal Year’s budget shortfalls. Do you believe a program is necessary? If so, how would you propose supporting it? If not, why not?
Gregg Hart: Economic development is critical to the County’s long-term fiscal health. I strongly support development of a countywide economic vision and strong partnerships with the private sector to develop strategies to achieve that vision.
What do you see as the County’s role in helping residents and businesses access renewable energy, either on the grid, or installed directly on homes and commercial or industrial buildings, especially in light of the disappointing results from the recent Community Choice Energy study commissioned by the Board of Supervisors, which showed no financial benefit to creating a Community Choice Energy program in our area?
Gregg Hart: As a member of the Santa Barbara City Council, I have been a strong champion for increasing renewable energy supplies in our community. I am proud of the City Council’s decision last year to be one of the first cities in the nation to set an ambitious goal of using 100% renewable energy by the year 2030. The large capacity electrical transmission lines that supply South Coast are very vulnerable to catastrophic power disruptions caused by natural disasters. We need to develop resilient distributed, local renewable energy sources on the South Coast to protect our community and economy from risk of large-scale power loss.
Communities around the country have used the Community Choice Energy model to contract and develop new renewable energy sources that are often less expensive than traditional fossil fuel based supplies and also provide reliable, resilient and diversified energy supplies to local communities. The City of Lompoc has a municipal energy utility that provides its residents with clean hydroelectric power at reduced consumer prices.
As a member of the Board of Supervisors, I will work to expedite permitting for green energy projects, develop a renewable energy strategic plan for the County that includes elements of Community Choice Energy and work collaboratively with stakeholders and community organizations to set ambitious renewable energy goals for the County of Santa Barbara.
Oil production, both on shore and off shore, has been a major part of the County’s manufacturing and industrial sector almost since the County’s creation. What role does this sector have over the next several years in the County, and what steps will you take to implement your vision of that role?
Gregg Hart: I strongly oppose offshore oil production. Our local visitor serving economy cannot risk the impact from a catastrophic oil spill. I support transitioning energy production from fossil fuel to renewable sources.
Many of the larger employers in the 2nd District have substantial portions of their workforce commuting from Ventura County. Even with the 101 widening project, more needs to be done to ensure that commute remains viable. What are your thoughts on commuter rail from Ventura County to Santa Barbara and Goleta, and what steps need to be taken to implement and expand such a service?
Gregg Hart: I am very proud of my successful work at SBCAG to deliver new peak hour rail service to the south coast beginning in April of this year. Employees in Carpinteria, Santa Barbara and Goleta will now be able to ride the train to work from Ventura County. This new train service was envisioned in the 101 in Motion’s ‘lane and train’ consensus solution and is a critical element of the long-term strategy to provide multimodal transportation options to reduce congestion in the 101 corridor. Regional transportation improvements are critical to maintaining the Santa Barbara County economy by assisting employers in recruiting and retaining employees to local jobs, attracting visitors to support the hospitality industry and getting manufacturing goods and agricultural products to markets.
How would you approach issues where the interests of your district conflict with the needs of the Santa Barbara County as a whole, especially when those differences seem to exacerbate the “north-south” divisions that are prevalent in the County?
Gregg Hart: I will continue to make decisions as an elected official by gathering information, listening to all points of view and collaborating to meet the needs of the community. I do not see the interests of the residents of the Second District diverging from the interests of the County and will always strive to work collaboratively with all my colleagues on the Board of Supervisors.
What are the greatest impacts from the Thomas Fire and the January 9th Debris Flow on the County Government, and how will you address these impacts?
Gregg Hart: County government is fully engaged in responding to this ongoing event. I am inspired by the commitment of county staff at every level to work tirelessly through this unprecedented natural disaster. First responders in the Santa Barbara County Fire Department and Sherriff’s Office are on duty protecting County residents from future disasters and are working with local, state and the federal government to prepare for additional storm events, County Flood Control employees and contractors are working around the clock to clean debris basins, creeks and culverts. The County Office of Emergency Management is operating the Emergency Operations Center and the coordinated multiagency planning, and support services. County Public works staff are repairing damaged street, roads & bridges. The County Executive Officer has managed this crisis with extraordinary professionalism and responsiveness and is planning strategies to address the resulting fiscal challenges that will inevitably follow. I will continue to do everything I can as a Santa Barbara City Councilmember to help the County or other local agencies that need assistance in this difficult time.
Santa Barbara County has failed to meet the needs of community members with mental health issues for many years – most notably through the lack of beds available at the County’s Psychiatric Health Facility known as “the Puff”. How will you address this issue, and the ramifications of this lack of action, including number of homeless individuals in the County with mental health issues?
Gregg Hart: I support additional dedicated funding for Alcohol Drug and Mental Health Services through new cannabis tax revenue and will support new collaborative programs with community based service providers to improve the effectiveness of mental health services. I will use my strong working relationships with other local elected officials and staff to promote new collaborative partnerships to improve coordinated services to homeless individuals who suffer from mental illness.
Do you support the recent decision by the Board of Supervisors which set policy and a local taxation mechanism for the sale of cannabis for recreational use? Why or why not?
Gregg Hart: In 2016, 61% of Santa Barbara County voters supported State Proposition 64, “The Adult Use Marijuana Act”. Nearly 70% of City of Santa Barbara voters approved the taxation of marijuana products in 2016. Local residents want safe and legal access to cannabis products. I recently voted in favor of new regulations that will allow cannabis manufacturing and retail businesses to operate in the City of Santa Barbara. I also support the regulations and tax structure proposed by the Board of Supervisors for the County of Santa Barbara.
Tourism and Hospitality Promotion
County Government now collects bed tax at the same rate as most other local jurisdictions in the County, yet remains one of the lowest contributors to marketing and promotion efforts for the Hospitality industry. What do you think of this situation, and would you push for any change to this funding discrepancy?
Gregg Hart: The hospitality industry is a critical part of the Santa Barbara County economy. The City of Santa Barbara contributes nearly $7 million a year to attract visitors to our community who spend money and support local businesses. I serve as the City Council liaison to Visit Santa Barbara and understand the critical role transient occupancy tax revenue plays in reinvesting in the local hospitality industry. The County should collaborate with other local governments to increase resources to regional efforts to attract visitors to Santa Barbara County. Increased investment in tourism promotion supports the local economy and increases revenue to County government.
Future of Agriculture in District 2
What do you envision for the future of urban agriculture in District 2, specifically South Paterson and the San Marcos Area ag blocks?
Gregg Hart: Urban agriculture must continue its vital role connecting local residents to our food supply and to the land. As our economy and world become more interconnected and global, locally sourced, organic food products are a critical element in regional environmental sustainability. Enormous greenhouse gas emissions are created by transporting food products to global markets. We are fortunate to have an incredible variety of locally grown food and fiber products in our backyard. County government policies should support urban agriculture and encourage the preservation and economic prosperity of this critical part of our economy.
Regulation of Small Ag/Wineries
Many wineries in Santa Barbara County have complained about a lack of support from the County, including limitations on activities at the wineries and difficulty in citing and approving industries and operations associated with wineries. How would you address these concerns, and what should the County do going forward to accommodate a major part of the County’s economy.
Gregg Hart: Resolving the tension between winery operations and rural neighborhoods requires a persistent commitment to public engagement, dialogue and compromise. Stakeholders must be encouraged to learn more about the interests and needs of others and to consider collaborative solutions to complex problems. Working together, we can refine strategies that have worked in other communities and adjust these models to our unique Santa Barbara County economy and environment.
Disaster Assistance to Undocumented Community
While many look at the Montecito Area as being made up with well-healed citizens who can self-fund their recovery from our recent disasters, we now know there are many hourly employees impacted through job curtailment or loss – a great deal of whom appear to be undocumented. How would you propose to provide help to this undereserved population?
Gregg Hart: Despite the myriad of daunting challenges resulting from the Thomas Fire and debris flow I am encouraged by our community’s creative response to this disaster. Women’s Economic Ventures is working with the United Way and Parker Foundation to assist local businesses with resources and assistance to help keep their doors open so employees can continue to work and support their families. The 805UndocuFund has served 200 families with an average grant of $1,700 to assist undocumented workers who have lost their jobs. Private philanthropic efforts are also quietly assisting local residents who need help and the many non-profit organizations that serve low-income residents regardless of their citizenship status are stepping up efforts to assist our neighbors in this time of need. County government should partner with community organizations to leverage public and private assistance to those in need.
Business Recovery and Local Economy
What ideas do you have about using County Government to help local business and our local economy recover from the Thomas Fire and the January 9th Debris Flow?
Gregg Hart: The first responsibility of County government is to protect lives. Our first responders are working tirelessly, putting themselves in harm’s way, in service of our community. County staff and the public employees of other local agencies continue to work long hours to restore damaged infrastructure and prepare against future events. We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude for their commitment to our community.
Local businesses have suffered significant losses and continue to feel serious economic strain from the events of the past few months. We must all support our local businesses by shopping locally and inviting friends and family to visit Santa Barbara County and spend discretionary income here at home.
As we continue to collectively face these challenges, we must support each other and remain patient and generous. County government is working beyond full capacity to meet the continuing challenge presented by this unprecedented natural disaster. Recovery will require our combined efforts and determination and will take time.