Monday, May 12, 2008

Bearman vows to preserve and protect


Of the five candidates running for supervisor of Santa Barbara County’s Third District, only one lives outside the confines of the Santa Ynez Valley.
That would be Dr. Dave Bearman, a medical doctor and longtime Goleta resident who specializes in pain management and has over the past several decades carved a niche for himself as one of the foremost experts on the medicinal benefits of marijuana.

But at 67, Bearman’s career isn’t easily pigeonholed in the category of “marijuana advocate.” Over the past three decades he’s been elected to three seats. From 1971 to 1973, he served as a representative on the Isla Vista Community Council; from 1989 to 1993, he was director of the Goleta Water District; and since 1995 has been director of the Goleta West Sanitary District.
But he now has his eye on the pivotal position of third district supervisor, an office which some consider a bridge between the often-divisive politics that split North and South County.
This is where Bearman says he fits. He calls it the “middle,” which is an apt description of the geographically diverse district that stretches from Isla Vista to Los Alamos and cuts east toward Santa Ynez. It is also what he believes the county is currently in dire need of.
“I’m the kind of person who can listen to both sides and often come up with a win-win situation,” he said during a recent phone interview. “Those times are not as frequent as one would imagine by taking a look at the recent animosity between North and South County over the past 12 years or so.”
Bearman credited much of this animosity to current Third District Supervisor Brooks Firestone, who he said has aligned himself with the North County supervisors.
When describing which political ideology he most closely identifies with, Bearman answered, a “disgruntled democrat.”
While Bearman believes he could be the sensible, middle voice between north and south, his views on what’s important don’t stray far from what many of his opponents espouse.
He said protecting the Gaviota Coast from development is a priority, as is the preservation of agricultural land.
On protecting the Gaviota Coast, Bearman had high praise for a concept known as Transfer of Development Rights (TDR). Through a TDR, land can remain open if an equitable alternative is presented to developers — usually a site located in an urban setting.
One example is a development project proposed by owners of Santa Barbara Ranch and the adjacent Dos Pueblos Ranch, which cover much of the Naples township. The project proposes the construction of 72 residential units at the site. But if all of the parties agree to the TDR, the scenic spot on the Gaviota Coast could remain open and the development would be funneled into an urban zone.
“We don’t really need anymore McMansions in this county and certainly not on the Gaviota Coast,” he said.
If and when such an agreement is reached, Bearman said he would encourage as many of the urban units to be made affordable as possible, and attempt to locate the housing near jobs and mass transit.
“I feel like I’m fighting for the middle class,” he said. “I want to see more workforce housing.”
On the topic of agricultural lands, Bearman said he doesn’t want to see any of it consumed by development. In order to do that, he said it needs to become more financially lucrative to farm.
Already a $1 billion industry in the county, everything from wine grapes, citrus, avocado, flowers and broccoli grow here. One of the few things that doesn’t, and that Bearman believes could be lucrative, is hemp.
Bearman said hemp, which is widely used in textiles and rope, can now be made into alternative fuels. He said four counties in California are already producing the product, which is a cousin to cannabis, and Santa Barbara should be the fifth.
As an expert on medicinal marijuana, which he said a number of his patients use for pain; Bearman said he would also push for drug reform, as he has for much of his adult life.
In his self-published book, “Demons Discrimination and Dollars: A Brief History of the Origins of American Drug Policy,” Bearman wades through recent history beginning with witches, religion and the pre-colonial years, and concludes with the election of President Bush in 2000.
The last chapter, titled “The Answer is Not Complicated,” sums up Bearman’s thoughts on how to prevent substance abuse minus the drug war, which he said is entirely too costly and unnecessary.
“Strangely enough, we all know the answer to preventing substance abuse, but we give little more than lip service in support of these measures: good parenting, good jobs, knowledge, love, and genuine family values — the best preventives to substance abuse.”
A conversation about drug policy with Bearman transfers smoothly into the county’s current problem with overcrowded jails and the Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services, which is facing drastic budget cuts this fiscal year.
Bearman said 70 percent of those locked in Santa Barbara County Jail on any given day are dually diagnosed, or suffer from addiction or mental illness. He said the money spent on locking people up could better be spent on prevention.
He credited a Blue Ribbon Commission that studied jail overcrowding and concluded that a blended approach, which combines prevention, intervention and rehabilitation, is the most efficient way to deal with the issue.
“I think we need to look at ways of dealing with this,” Bearman said. “We have many tools here but it’s a matter or prioritizing things.”
With the county facing a fiscal crisis that will likely require $26 million in budget cuts for 2008-2009, Bearman said it’s inevitable that cuts will occur, but the board needs to be wise.
For example, he said cutting $8 million from the Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services, the amount currently being discussed, would be, “penny-wise, and pound-foolish.” Some fear such a cut could purge as many as 800 mentally ill people currently receiving county services from the system.
“I think we’ve got to get real here,” he said. “The county can only withstand a certain depth of cuts.”
A more appropriate place to cut, Bearman said, is the administration — starting with the Board of Supervisors.
“The first place you need to cut are the salaries of the supervisors. They need to set an example,” he said. “I certainly would prune the administrative budget. I would cut the salary of the CEO and give more power to the supervisors.”
What Bearman won’t do, he said, is back down when faced with pressure from private interests and the government.
“I think it’s important to stand up for bedrock American principles even when the government is trying to bully you,” he said. “I have the courage to stand up to the bureaucracy and the government.”
Bearman will be on the ticket with the four other third district candidates during the statewide primary on June 3.

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