Not since before June’s primary election have so many candidates for local office been on the stage together at one forum.
For its 2016 Legislative Summit on Thursday, the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce invited nine candidates to talk business and related issues at a panel discussion at the Bacara Resort & Spa: 24th Congressional District candidates Salud Carbajal and Justin Fareed, Third District county supervisor contenders Bruce Porterand Joan Hartmann, and Goleta City Council hopefuls Tony Vallejo, Kyle Richards, Aaron Swaney, Stuart Kasdin and Dave Haws.
The candidates for council, who are running for the two seats currently represented by Vallejo and retiring Mayor Jim Farr, kicked off the afternoon’s discussions by addressing the city’s continued urban development and water needs.
All five expressed the need for carefully managed urban growth, with Haws expressing concern over the effects unchecked development would have on the city’s character, and Richards, a city Parks and Recreation commissioner and UC Santa Barbara policy analyst, over the effects it would have on the city’s ability to continue providing sufficient services.
The city’s General Plan, which lays out its goals for urban growth, is and should be open to interpretation, argued Kasdin, who worked for 11 years in the White House Office of Management and Budget.
“The City Council has to sometimes make judgments about projects — reducing the size of some residential projects, or turning them down, in the name of business,” he said.
Vallejo, a certified public accountant and past Goleta Chamber chair who was appointed to the council in 2014, said projects like the Village at Los Carneros will provide valuable workforce housing, but said the city’s focus should now be more on maintaining existing infrastructure than new development.
“We have an existential threat to the existence of our town, which is a lack of water,” said Swaney, who runs digital printing company SB Printer and sits on the city’s Design Review Board. “The growth needs to be looked at and controlled very tightly.”
The candidates agreed that the city council should facilitate greater collaboration between various water stakeholders and government entities, and develop new incentives — if not outright regulations — for reducing parcels’ and new developments’ water use.
The issue of housing came up first for supervisor candidates Hartmann, a former county planning commissioner with work experience in legal and budget offices for governmental agencies and environmental nonprofits, and Porter, a Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District trustee and former member of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.
Hartmann proposed that the county’s housing needs be met with more rental units, especially for people who work in their communities, and more urban mixed-use housing.
The county should take a leading role on housing and work more collaboratively with its cities and communities to address housing needs, Porter said.
The two painted starkly different pictures of county government’s financial performance, echoing arguments from a debate held last week.
In order to pay for its unfunded pension liability and backlog of infrastructure needs, Porter argued, the county needs more revenue, and should not be denying new development projects that could help provide that.
To the contrary, Hartmann said, the county has been making huge progress in how it handles its responsibilities, reflected in what she said was a transparent accounting process and faithfulness to its financial obligations.
The county can help foster economic growth and job creation by prioritizing what she said many desirable employers increasingly look for, like renewable energy sources and opportunities to reduce their carbon footprints.
As a method for spurring job growth, Porter said he’d endorse bringing the concept of the Goleta Entrepreneurial Magnet — where the city, chamber and UCSB foster budding startup businesses — to other cities.
“If the county would duplicate what the city of Goleta’s done, then we would be a lot further ahead than we are in the county right now,” he said.
Wrapping up the discussions were the congressional hopefulsCarbajal, a Democrat in his third term as First District County Supervisor, and Fareed, a Republican who worked as a legislative aide and helps run his family’s sports medical device business.
When the omnipresent issue of water came up, both agreed that the region needs to develop a long-range plan for managing the increasingly scarce commodity.
“We need to make investments in 21st-century technologies like desalinization, water treatment facilities, and increase in capacity of reservoirs in the long term, so that in the wet years, we have the ability to store water,” Fareed said.
Water purveyors and various government entities need to get together, Carbajal said, and collaborate on a comprehensive long-term water plan.
Congress can help, he said, by funding the necessary infrastructure and addressing climate change, a contributor to California’s five-year drought.
When asked by moderator Keith Woods, the CEO of the North Coast Builders Exchange, what Congress can do to help ease what Woods said is California’s unfriendly business environment, Fareed said the legislative body could rein in business regulations.
“We’re still the Golden State, and we’re the sixth-largest economy in the world,” Carbajal said. “Many people still desire to come to the Central Coast because we are a very special community.”
The federal government, he said, could assist small businesses with tax breaks and investments in renewable energy.
The two ended the forum by offering different approaches for how, as a freshman congressman, he could help break partisan gridlock.
Carbajal said his history of working across the aisle to develop solutions to a variety issues would be a valuable asset in the House, while Fareed proposed systemic changes in how the House conducts its business, which would to cut down on chances for partisan politicking and gridlock.