Friday, May 2, 2008

Hopefuls talk of county issues


Candidates for the 3rd District County Supervisor position remained relatively cool during a debate at the Goleta Valley Community Center, even after a few heated questions.
All five candidates pushed their platforms to a full crowd in a forum moderated by Jean Reiche.After they delivered opening statements, the candidates answered prewritten questions, and then responded to written inquiries from audience members.

There was little heated debate amongst the candidates, even when hopeful Dr. Dave Bearman tried to prod fellow candidates Dave Smyser and Doreen Farr about their stances on several issues.
When asked about the future of the environmentally fragile Gaviota coastline, Smyser advocated that the county must protect the agriculture that takes place on that property. Bearman shot back during his turn and said he was “disturbed by Mr. Smyser’s tap-dancing around the issue.”
Candidates frequently returned to the question of how to preserve the Gaviota coastline, which is both a significant location for potential agricultural development, and a unique area for wildlife.
“The challenge is trying to balance the claims of property owners with the need the preserve [the coastline],” candidate Steve Pappas said. Pappas did his best to characterize himself as a “true independent” with “no political machine” behind him.
“Anyone who has every worked with me will attest to the fact that I am a pragmatic problem-solver,” he said.
When asked with which of current Supervisor Brooks Firestone’s policies he agreed or disagreed, Smyser commented that there were some actions he favored and some he did not, while Bearman and Pappas joked that their own lists of disagreements were too long to cover in the time given. Smyser said in his opening statement that one of his primary goals is “to continue the good work Firestone has started.”
Farr commented that “[Firestone] was neither a moderate or a bridge-maker, as he promised to be when he was campaigning.”
Another important topic of discussion was the current county budget strains.
Victoria Pointer asserted that the current budgetary challenge is “not a surprise,” and argued that the bureaucratic system of county government is one of the issues’ major causes.
“Due to our style of government, we are seeing many problems, and we need to cut at the top and reward people on the ground … We need to trim from the top,” she said.
Smyser assured the audience that the budgetary problems are not as dire as they seem, despite the statements of the other candidates at the table. He said that the county should look to tourism as a major revenue stream because it creates “revenue without new residents.” He claimed his experience as the Mayor of Solvang gave him the credentials to put this plan into action.
Bearman cited drug laws as a major drain on the county revenue. He said that since the Nixon administration enacted the War on Drugs, the arrests and imprisonments have been “sucking away tax dollars from other services.” Bearman has been a long-time advocate for drug policy reform.
Farr said that not all budget cuts are cost effective. For example, she said, the county must not cut funds from mental health care because, in the long run, it costs less to care for a mental health patient than it does to imprison a criminal.
The state-imposed housing mandate received the most fire from the candidates. All five forum participants voiced strong criticism of the controversial policy that was intended to alleviate housing deficiencies. Farr said that the state government was partly to blame for Santa Barbara County’s housing problem.
“We are building less housing that is affordable,” she said. “And I think the state mandate is part of the problem.”
Smyser said that he had opposed the mandate from the beginning, and Pappas called the mandate “legally challengeable” and added that he could not rule out suing the state.
“It is so flawed that all is needed is the will to do it,” he said.
“We need a Supervisor’s office that is open and accessible … We need to match housing prices to the income level,” Farr said.
When asked what is the most important issue facing the county today, Pointer spoke at length about the current economic situation.
“The most important thing is that we create a healthy, sustainable, and effective economic base … We must be creative in the way we use our money,” she said.
Bearman took pains to establish himself as a representative of the middle of the political spectrum. He claimed that he would take a “family values” approach to crime by dealing with children’s poor behavior early on, before they become criminals. He said on more than one occasion that voters should choose either himself, Pointer or Pappas because, he claimed, they represent neither the far right nor the far left.
One audience member asked the candidates whether or not they supported the construction of a commuter train service to run between Oxnard to Santa Barbara.
Bearman affirmed the call for a bulked-up public transportation system, and cited environmental factors and rising gas prices in his argument.
“We should have not only a commuter rail, but also commuter buses … To not support mass transit would be foolish and widening the freeway is a waste of money,” Bearman said.
Candidates Farr, Pappas, and Pointer also voiced their support for more extensive public transportation, but Smyser countered that adding more lanes to the freeway would not be a waste of money, because the extra lanes would reduce traffic congestion and thus bring down the levels of air pollution.
“The cost of adding another rail line is enormous,” he said. “I think we would have to be insane to say that we wouldn’t like to see another rail line. Whether we’re willing to pay for that is another question.”
Everyone at the table also took time to catalogue their experience and talk about their families. Each candidate made efforts to appeal to the crowd of Goleta voters by not only elaborating on platforms and issues relevant to the community, but also drawing personal connection between themselves and the voters.
The election for the 3rd District Supervisor position will take place June 3rd.

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