Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Challenger set for action


Finding a balance.
That is the campaign theme of Michelle Giddens as she gears up to challenge for a Santa Barbara City Council seat this fall. As she sat down to chat in her dining room as her 3-year-old son Cody played nearby, Giddens said finding a middle ground is crucial to the issues concerning housing in Santa Barbara.

“My primary focus is to find a balance between maintaining the charm of Santa Barbara and protecting personal property rights,” Giddens said.
She described how she became involved with city issues for the first time when the Council began drafting the Neighborhood Protection Ordinance a few years ago, around the time she purchased her home. Housing issues continued to grab her interest as she joined the Citywide Homeowners Association and eventually served as its president.
Viewing the housing crunch as a whole, Giddens said the community needs to understand that there will have to be a tradeoff between limiting height and density and providing affordable and workforce housing.
“We’re going to have to make sacrifices in some areas,” she said.
More specifically however, Giddens said she took issue with a recent Council decision to lower inclusionary requirements to include any projects with two or more units, calling it “too much.” That issue and others, such as a lowering of the height restriction for new buildings, should be discussed in the General Plan update, she said.
“[Plan Santa Barbara] is going to drive our city into the future,” Giddens said.
Bringing all the intricate issues facing the city together in one forum so residents can view the big picture and add their own voices to the mix is great, she said. Allowing for individual voices is something she sees as lacking at City Hall and is a key part of her campaign for balance in city government as well.
“I think we need some more integrity on the Council,” Giddens said.
While she doesn’t believe it is intentional or malicious, Giddens said current city leaders often don’t present both sides of an issue, making the community as a whole unaware of any debate that may exist.
“Even if someone is trying to educate themselves and get involved, they can’t,” she said.
Simply making sure the pro and con arguments in staff reports are balanced will help that issue, Giddens said. She also called for more outreach to neighborhood groups to get them involved at City Hall.
Although housing issues and providing for fair debate stand as key areas of her campaign, Giddens also brought forward public safety as a concern she plans to address over the coming months. She said she will push for a comprehensive program aimed at young children that involves the faith community, police department, county officials and city government.
“The people here really do care,” Giddens said.
The problem, she said, is that efforts to curb violence are too scattered and unorganized. She described how she went to the police department and asked what she could do as a civilian to help prevent gang violence.
“Nobody could give me an answer,” she said.
With widespread collaboration, she said a goal of cutting the gang population in half is attainable within five years.
Environmental issues also rank high on her list of priorities. As the owner of an environmentally focused business — indoor air, water and laundry purification — Giddens said the environment has always been a big concern for her.
While Santa Barbara has good programs in place, she said there is plenty of room for improvement. She envisions the city as a leader in protecting the environment.
“I’d like to see more required use of renewable energy,” Giddens said when asked for specifics.
More awareness and outreach to the community about simple solutions such as composting and recycling is key as well, she said. Although the city does a good job of educating children about those issues in school, Giddens suggested sending people out to neighborhoods to discuss conservation techniques with adults.
Born in California, Giddens grew up in Texas and earned a degree in business administration from the University of Texas in Austin. The 41-year-old has 20 years of professional business experience, including owning her business for 12 years.
“I’ve been in leadership positions all my life,” she said.
Signs proclaiming support for Giddens in the Council election already dot many of the yards in the Mesa neighborhood where she lives. She has a campaign mailer in the works and a slew of fundraisers set up, including a private one today.
Giddens said she will be walking precincts soon and has the dates of three key candidate forums already jotted down on her calendar. She has her campaign slogans — “For a Positive Change” and “I Will Listen — firm in her mind. It’s safe to say her campaign is in full swing.

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