Answers On Business Issues From The 3rd District Candidates
What are your thoughts on the infrastructure needs of the City of Santa Barbara? How would you ensure the appropriate use of the funds raised in 2017’s Measure C?
Ken Rivas: There are street repairs needed in the city, as well as continued programs for youth and our seniors, housing needs and efforts in which to support business to help the flourish and sustain a successful business, even in times of a declining economy. All that I mention, in which I understand Measure C funds can be used.
Michael Vidal: The city of Santa Barbara has hundreds of millions of dollars in unfunded infrastructure. The Police Department building requires reconstruction to meet earthquake standards, neighborhood fire stations needs modernization and the State Street corridor necessitates ongoing repair and maintenance. I will work with both community members and leaders to address each priority accordingly.
Oscar Gutierrez: The City has many aging buildings, most of them under the Parksand Recreation Department, and we need a new police station as well as better maintenance of our streets. As promised by the City Council last year, I am committed to directing Measure C funds to infrastructure, in particular road maintenance as residents indicated that was a priority when the City conducted a survey. The Council will appoint a new oversight committee to ensure the new sales tax revenues are spent on critical infrastructure, as well as conduct an annual audit of expenditures. I am committed to keeping the City’s promise to the public.
Elizabeth Hunter: Ms. Hunter, after repeated attempts to contact her, failed to respond to the genuine interest of the business community in Santa Barbara
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
Ken Rivas: In the daytime the State Street area doesn’t seem to have as many panhandlers as in the past, however, it does increase in the evening and wit people camping out or sleeping on the property of businesses and the sidewalks. Also in certain areas of State Street you can smell urine, and very unappealing, it makes the consumer not want to go in certain parts of State Street where it is prevalent.
I would like to understand why many businesses have the left the downtown / State Street area, and perhaps the Chamber of Commerce could give me any information on why some businesses are failing and packing up. I would look into any efforts that are currently being made to incentivizing housing downtown and/or in a partnership between the city and businesses. And if it includes helping the overall housing need, or planning of a build timeshares and luxury apartments.
Michael Vidal: E-commerce has and will continue to affect the regional retail landscape. The rental prices for the majority of State Street and downtown Santa Barbara are substantially high, creating a significant financial hurdle for new business development.
The Restorative Policing Program is making great progress in addressing State Street’s needs, while eliminating the necessity for additional police reinforcement in the downtown corridor and connecting the homeless population with proper resources and support.
I believe in thoughtfully increasing the housing supply in the downtown corridor and La Cumbre Plaza area without adding to our city’s parking issues.
Oscar Gutierrez: Retail is changing and we must adjust to those changes. I grew up
here and have spent time downtown, shopping and enjoying State Street with my friends. When I was growing up, there were more mom and pop shops on State Street and there were more artisans and unique shops with unique goods. Many European cities have market places where locals sell their goods and attract both locals and tourists to their Cities. I’d like to see if we can be more creative with our open spaces on State Street, possibly encouraging a “farmer’s market” type space for locally produced
goods, or seeing if we can ease permitting to allow property owners to divide some of the larger empty retail spaces into more unique spaces.
I believe most City residents value their downtown and want to make it better. I think many people would like to live downtown. State Street and the downtown area is also a destination for tourists, so we must continue to make the area clean and welcoming, and at the same time, encourage shops and activities that bring locals to State Street. The City must continue its policing and other programs that control negative behavior from the homeless, as that is a factor that turns people off from coming downtown. Finally, I support more housing downtown. This will bring a new vitality to the city center. The City has to create a way for housing projects to move quickly through the permitting process, and I am open to creative ideas to incentivize housing development downtown. This is a goal of the Chamber and I look forward to working with your organization. We need the housing,and some of our buildings need a different purpose as retail use is not in as high a demand as it once was.
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?
Ken Rivas: I am supportive of the AUD plan, however I have heard from many residents of their concern, which feel in its current state, it is producing units for high moderate-income earners, and little for the middle or lower middle-income earners.
Michael Vidal: I support the idea of average unit-size density (AUD), however, I believe that the city must dedicate 10-20% of development to affordable housing and also must increase parking requirements from one parking spot to two parking spots per unit accordingly. Impact fees must also be considered to provide public services in regards to new development.
Oscar Gutierrez: I support the AUD program. I’m glad the City Council and the Planning Commission are working on ways to improve the AUD program, such as adding parking requirements for larger units, and adding inclusionary units, so that some affordable units are included in a project. Also, putting higher-density housing downtown and on transit corridors makes sense. And, mixed use development gives us everything we need: commercial activity at the street level and apartments on the second floor, possibly third floor in some locations.
What is your position on the state’s new mandates regarding Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), also known as granny flats?
Ken Rivas: I support the change to ADU’S, as in its purpose while help create more living units, that can be available for renters. I am concerned if it creates more parking issue.
Michael Vidal: The city of Santa Barbara must comply with State law. ADU serves as a reminder to address our housing shortage before the state mandates it.
Oscar Gutierrez: On the Westside, many properties already have smaller units in the back or above the garage. It works well. I understand some
people are concerned too much density will change the character of a neighborhood with single family homes. The City Council is likely to make decisions about the ADU program before I am elected, and I encourage them to work within the structure of the state mandates but be careful about new units in the extreme high fire zones and to include an owner-occupancy requirement possibly one that sunsets after a period of time. Second units will go a long way to helping us address our housing shortage.
Increased Housing Stock
Short Term Rentals
Two years ago, 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?
Ken Rivas: I don’t completely oppose short term rentals, although it does nothing to help the current housing issues we face, so in that regard I don’t think we should have them. However, if it is allowed, then there should be a very limited amount of them. Therefore, a limit on short term rentals.
Michael Vidal: Short term rentals must be regulated to ensure we are not taking away from our affordable housing stock. We should revisit this issue and have sensible regulation to protect our community’s valuable stock of housing for our workforce. Whatever we decide as a community we need to enforce the law and make sure whatever we decide that it can be enforced.
Oscar Gutierrez: With our housing shortage, we need every unit for local people and our workforce. About 60 percent of our residents rent their
homes, so we need as many long-term rentals as we can get. I’ve also heard from city residents that they are concerned about vacation rentals being like hotel rooms, with people coming and going, and that prevents a family from living there and becoming part of the neighborhood. I appreciate that opinion. Vacation rentals are allowed in some areas of the City, but I hear it’s
difficult to get a permit. I will review this process and endeavor to make it fair to property owners and to visitors who prefer renting a house rather than a hotel room. I do support home-stays.
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?
Ken Rivas: We need to look over the budget, follow the money trail, and find where there may be unnecessary are over expenditures, that can be scaled back.
Michael Vidal: The City required several balancing measures to address a projected gap in our general fund. In addition, we have hundreds of millions of dollars in unfunded infrastructure. With our retail landscape changing and less sales tax revenue being collected we need to ensure that we are fiscally prudent. Extensions of our police force, with examples of the Restorative Policing Program and SNAP, are remarkable programs that help take care of our city’s needs, while reducing costs. I feel strongly that we should explore expanding programs like these.
Oscar Gutierrez: Our revenues are basically stable, except for sales tax revenues softening in the last few years. The City is balancing its budget by
keeping some positions unfilled, which is not a good long-term solution. As a councilmember, I will work to see where we can save funds, without harming services our residents and visitors need. I will also be careful in salary negotiations and expenditures in general. My goals are to make sure that our enterprise departments (waterfront, airport, for example) remain fiscally
strong, and that our General Fund departments (library, public safety) are fully supported. I believe that departments like community development should be covered by fees. The passage of Measure C will ensure we have a solid revenue stream for road and sidewalk maintenance, and to address critical infrastructure needs. I would also like to explore additional revenue generation from promoting the City, and particularly our parks, to the film
industry as a location. This generates income to the city parks departments and local businesses can benefit.
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?
Ken Rivas: I am unfamiliar with the current pension plan, however can be brought up to speed. The way some employers have dealt with the pensions is the amount of contributions made by the employer and employee. It is something to look at.
Michael Vidal: As a financial planner that helps families prepare for their retirement, I understand how crucial retirement saving is for the wellbeing of families in our community.
The good news is CalPERS has made some very difficult, but positive changes that will help with the solvency of the plan. First, in January of 2013, PEPRA was passed and PEPRA changes the way CalPERS retirement and health benefits are applied, and places compensation limits on members. Second, at the end of 2016, CalPERS lowered their discount rate or expected return, which will help increase the accuracy of performance, which will help with the health of the plan.
Oscar Gutierrez: Governor Brown’s pension reform measures created a two-tier system, with employees hired after 2013 having less generous retirement benefits. However, there are immediate pension liability concerns. The City must address mounting costs to pay for pensions as CalPERS continues to require the City and its employees to pay more into the system. Our public employee unions have always paid into their retirement, and they know they will be asked to pay even more. The City will have to as well. As stated above, City operations will have to run more efficiently without adding new positions, and that means our workers will have to take on more responsibilities to continue providing City services that our residents deserve. We must all plan for this reality.
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?
Ken Rivas: The widening should have come a lot sooner, however if funding has reached a level where it can now be completed, we need to move forward and get it completed. We are far behind and once the Highway is completed, it will end the much of the congestions. The Highway once complete is going to need to be maintained and I am interested if the gas tax will help maintain future repairs.
Michael Vidal: Highway 101 is the lifeline of the central coast and it was felt during the closure due to the devastating mudslides. I support the Cabrillo Bridge widening and the investment into the Olive Mill roundabout.
Oscar Gutierrez: I fully support the widening of Highway 101, and most of the people I talk to want the third lane. The City is currently waiting for a court ruling as to the environmental impact report of the widening project, and my hope is that the various phases of the project will continue forward as quickly as possible. Highway 101 is a regional and even statewide resource for transportation, commerce, and commuting. Our economic vitality depends on the ability to move people and goods along this stretch of the California coast. I support the gas tax revenue paying for Highway 101 improvements, and I support the two projects that will help our area with traffic congestion related to the highway onramps and offramps: a new roundabout at the Olive Mill Road intersection and the widening of the Union Pacific bridge on
Cabrillo Blvd. near the bird refuge.
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?
Ken Rivas: I have not heard enough about the use of our desalination plant, therefore not sure why it hasn’t been effective in helping in a time of drought. I also will look at the usage and any areas where it we can look at ways to eliminate over use or any neglect of not managing its use.
Michael Vidal: As our population has grown, the City of Santa Barbara has led state-efforts in conserving our precious water supplies and getting the entire City to buy in. We need to continue those conservation efforts and continue to provide incentives to residents to install low-water use landscape and to retrofit old appliances. In addition, we must be fiscally conservative in order to properly budget for current and future needs. The Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant is a crucial part of the City’s water supply portfolio, producing approximately 30% of the City’s demand. This is a drought-proof local supply. While the Desalination Plant uses 40% less energy than its predecessor plant, we need to continue to look for innovative ways to make the Desalination Plan more environmentally friendly (determining whether the Desalination Plant can be powered by solar). Next we need to set up partnerships with local municipalities (like Goleta and Montecito) to invest in regional water supply projects, such as increased groundwater storage opportunities to help us endure drought periods. We should also determine whether potable re-use is an option for this community in the future, which would allow us to treat our wastewater to potable standards. Due to climate change, the Central Coast can expect continued periods of drought, with rain falling over even shorter periods of time. Accordingly, we must focus on conservation, regional coordination and increased storage.
Oscar Gutierrez: Our residents should remain concerned about our severe drought status, and the City needs to constantly re-inforce that fact. Cachuma reservoir is only 40 percent full, buying water from other parts of the state is costly, and we must give the groundwater supplies a rest and not over-pump the aquifer. I support continued focus on conservation, especially targeted reduction of residential use for outdoor watering. The desalination plant is up and working and has more capacity if needed, but this is expensive water, so conservation is the best way to go.
Relations between the City of Goleta and the City of Santa Barbara have recently become strained over the impacts of several development projects at the Santa Barbara Airport. How would you propose addressing these issues?
Ken Rivas: I would like to understand the differences the city of Goleta and Santa Barbara are having in regards to the development projects and find a solution that would be amenable to both cities.
Michael Vidal: Relations between the City of Goleta and the City of Santa Barbara have recently become strained over impacts of several development projects at the Santa Barbara Airport. I would propose sitting down with government leaders in Goleta to find common ground and look for win/win situations.
Oscar Gutierrez: We need to discuss things openly and honestly. Our planning departments should work closer together in reviewing projects.
Personally, I would like to work with members of the Goleta City Council to open discussion and establish mutual goals on this subject and others of regional concern, such as housing and transportation. Litigation should be the last form of resolution. The airport is in the middle of their City so I understand their frustration. The Goleta City Council has expressed interest in having representation on our Airport Commission; I would be willing to explore that option.
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?
Ken Rivas: Yes, I would like to take part in a meeting of the Economic Vitality Team of Santa Barbara, as well as visit cities which have an Economic Development Committee in moving forward to establish one, and why one does not exist in our city.
Michael Vidal: The City of Santa Barbara has a number of economic development strategies, but they are not centralized under one department, which creates inconsistencies and lack of traction. Our economy needs to shift its focus and promote innovative industries that will bring higher wage jobs to Santa Barbara, while it maintains its base in tourism. We need a long term economic plan and that requires an independent 3rd party to analyze our city, its resources and our city policies. Next, we need to hire an experienced Economic Development Specialist to help us implement that plan. The City Council and Planning Commission do not have the experience necessary to re-develop/re-envision Santa Barbara’s economy.
Oscar Gutierrez: Yes, the City of Santa Barbara should have more of an active economic development focus. We need to diversify our economy,
and I would work with the Chamber of Commerce and others in the business community to accomplish this goal. With the Thomas Fire and the January debris flows, our City saw a drop in sales tax and tourism revenues. Our beautiful City and its beaches will always be a tourist destination and we must support that; however, having other healthy forms of commerce would
promote financial stability. Another factor is the changing nature of retail and consumer spending. Business incubators, media and technology companies, would love to have space in our downtown, but they require reliable energy. Hopefully the upgrades being performed by Edison, will help. The City must be actively helping to find solutions to empty retail spaces.
Continuing to fast track permitting, and possibly staffing an ombudsman position to assist with permitting should be a priority.
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?
Michael Vidal: Two lessons can be applied when seeing the development of the Funk Zone. The first is how local entrepreneurs had a vision for an underdeveloped area and how they worked with the community to create one of the most popular areas in Santa Barbara. The second is a community district can become very successful by having coordinated efforts to attract businesses and having that district be walkable makes it even more attractive. For Santa Barbara to flourish we need businesses to flourish.
Oscar Gutierrez: The Funk Zone is appealing to people who like the mix of wineries, restaurants, and art galleries, and the general ambience there. I
am glad for those businesses and will make a point to determine if
that area is being treated differently from other commercial areas
of the City. All businesses should be supported, and the City
should be accommodating as to supplying parking and police
It is obvious that State Street needs attention because of the
empty storefronts and challenges from panhandlers and other
negative street behavior. I am also concerned about Coast Village
Road businesses as they have had to evacuate and be closed
because of the Thomas Fire and the Montecito Debris Flow. My
district has a reinvigorated business section along San Andres and
Micheltorna streets, as well as portions of State, Gutierrez West
Montecito and Chapala Streets. There are other business areas
around the city – Mesa, Milpas, and upper State that must also
receive adequate services. As I said, all of our businesses need
Parking for Restaurants
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?
Ken Rivas: If public parking/ parking structures are sufficient, I support this decision, although if the zone is in an area where it may negatively affect the business and consumer, then we should determine where this ordinance might be more applicable.
Michael Vidal: I strongly support flexible considerate planning. We need to ensure there is enough parking for employees and customers, but not create a burden on business owners as they are the engine of our local economy. In general, I am supportive of better coordination between public, private, and transportation to help attract and retain businesses.
Oscar Gutierrez: Yes, I support this decision. It will give more flexibility for
commercial spaces turning into restaurants. It also streamlines the permitting process. And could encourage people to use transportation alternatives, including taxis, Uber, Lyft, carpooling etc. which can also reduce drunk driving.
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?
Ken Rivas: I support CCE in that it would be more affordable to have a choice in energy providers, and in moving toward cleaner energy at competitive rates.
Michael Vidal: I strongly support the City’s Community Choice Energy efforts as it gives customers a choice in energy providers and a choice in how their energy is produced. The City Council committed to a 100% renewable energy goal by 2030, which is a necessary goal, which will require partnership between the public and private sector. The City of Santa Barbara has led the way in environmental issues and our conversion to renewable energy will be another example.
Oscar Gutierrez: The City should help homeowners and commercial/industrial property owners put solar panels on buildings and increase access to renewable energy sources. The City Council has recently
approved the PACE program, which allows a homeowner to borrow money to install solar and pay off the loan through property tax collection. I support the Community Choice Energy proposal and hope our collaboration with the County and other CCE partners is successful in finding a way for us to have a program locally. Additionally, the City itself should use every means possible to get to the 2030 goal of 100 percent renewable energy in City operations and community-wide. It will be challenging, but it’s important to use as much green energy as possible.
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?
Ken Rivas: I feel that home owners who live here, and want to develop or make modifications or additions to their property, should not be burned with regulations that can be lifted, so in their effort to provide an opportunity to invest in their home.
Michael Vidal: We need to have thoughtful and effective City regulations to attract developers, but we need to ensure that the needs of our low to moderate income workforce are being met (which they are not).
Oscar Gutierrez: Development regulations are meant to preserve the character of the City and many people value the “small town” feeling of Santa Barbara. I understand that and support a planning process where
projects fit into our community character. However, the process must be fair and there must be a sufficient number of employees in the community development department to process applications fairly and in a reasonable amount of time. We have a housing shortage and have to find locations that are close to transportation corridors and commercial areas, where the jobs
are. I will work with our city administrators and the planning director to streamline the system as much as possible and limit regulatory burden and be welcoming to people and entities that want to invest here.
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?
Ken Rivas: I am for more access to public transportation. An assessment should be made regularly to see if the current services are meeting the need, and if not we need to find a solution. At this time I have not reviewed or study the current or optional transportation methods used. However would bring any and all ideas that I learn work and can be applied to Santa Barbara. I am interested to see if the new route time Amtrak is including in their service from L.A. to Santa Barbara will be effective.
Michael Vidal: I am glad to see the long awaited commuter service that Amtrak will be providing in April to help connect Ventura County residents to Santa Barbara. In addition, a shared bicycles system would be successful and would promote alternate transportation. We also need to promote our zip car system so we can help encourage other forms of transportation with the shared economy.
Oscar Gutierrez: I am in full support of the new commuter rail system, and the creative ways that MTD and employers are addressing the “last mile.” I would like to see an enhanced use of “zip cars” or other car sharing options – I would like to see this be included as part of a menu of options that may allow for reduced parking requirements on new commercial development.
Public bus service is very important to my Westside neighbors and to the City and region as a whole, I will meet with MTD officials to learn more about their operations and how the City can support their mission. I will encourage MTD to review its services, routes, and ridership statistics to determine if changes need to be made to meet unmet demand. I would ask the MTD board of directors to have meetings with business leaders to find out how bus
service can better serve the community, and I fully support the continuation of the downtown and waterfront shuttles as they serve our business and tourism needs.
How would you approach issues where the interests of your district conflict with the needs of the City of Santa Barbara as a whole?
Ken Rivas: I realize there may be a time where a concession will have to be made, However, I will address whatever conflict there may be in a way a comprise has the least impact on City and District. For example a community project may need to be temporarily delayed in order to handle an immediate need of the cities. Although, unlike the more than 8 years it has taken to see the Cabrillo Park renovated into multi use Park.
Michael Vidal: There is overlap between the needs of my District and the needs of the City. Improvements to the Third District is beneficial to downtown and the City as a whole. My priorities for the Third District are (1) Housing, (2) Parking, (3) Infrastructure, and (4) Livability.
Oscar Gutierrez: I will work to represent the interests of the entire community, but I will take into consideration the specific needs of my district, and make sure they received a fair share of the resources available, and that it is safe and that property values are maintained. But the new district system also means city council members must have integrity and look out for the best interests of the entire City. I am responsible for the well-being of everyone who lives, works or visits our City, and I will take into consideration the needs of schools, churches, and businesses citywide. I bring strong communication and people skills to this job and I will work with my colleagues on the City Council and all stakeholders if there is a contentious issue. It would be an honor to serve on the Santa Barbara City Council, and I’m ready for all the challenges the job presents.