Thursday, October 2, 2008

Four vie for seats on Carpinteria City Council


While the community’s attention has remained largely glued to the presidential race and the economic crisis, three men and one woman have been quietly campaigning in the neighborhoods of Carpinteria in their own race for one of two open seats on the City Council.

Joe Armendariz and Chuck McQuary are familiar faces on the local political scene — as a Carpinteria councilmember and a Metropolitan Transit District board member, respectively — but the two remaining candidates are perhaps lesser-known entities.
Kathleen Reddington, a teacher, journalist and self-described “soccer mom,” has logged a few years with the Carpinteria Planning Commission and knows city government through her community activism.
Steve McWhirter, a lifelong Carpinteria resident and local welding contractor, is considered the newcomer to the political scene, but he stressed his small business experience and willingness to learn as strong points.
At a candidate forum held by the Carpinteria Valley Chamber of Commerce yesterday evening at City Hall, all four candidates gave a quick glimpse into their perspectives on the serious issues they would face with a seat on the council dais.
Perhaps the most visible topic they discussed — what Armendariz dubbed the “issue de jour” of the campaign — is the Paredon project, Venoco’s proposal to slant drill wells into offshore oil leases from an onshore site in the town.
While not taking an outright stance on the project, Armendariz said it warrants a long, careful look to develop a much better understanding of the economic and environmental impacts.
McWhirter, whose welding business serves as a vendor for Venoco, would have to recuse himself from any discussion of the project. Nonetheless, he agreed that the proposal should be examined under a microscope.
“You definitely can’t put money over the environment and the community,” he added.
Describing the issue as a matter of potential revenue versus the environment and safety, McQuary said he has major concerns about the 11 significant impacts outlined in the current Environmental Impact Report on the project, but withheld outright judgment.
Reddington offered the most outspoken answer of the bunch, emphatically stating that as proposed, with its projected impacts, she could not support the project.
“I just don’t feel you can buy Carpinteria for oil,” she said, adding that she would prefer to maintain the town’s high quality of life.
Parking is another major issue for the residents of Carpinteria — a statement all four candidates acknowledged as undeniable. Framing the problem as the result of overdevelopment, Reddington said she would support a more pedestrian- and bicyclist-friendly downtown with enhanced transit before dishing out cash for a parking structure.
McWhirter tempered his support for a parking structure, explaining that it’s a possibility down the road as long as it is aesthetically appropriate and placed properly. But he stressed that other solutions, such as metered parking or diagonal spaces, should be explored first.
Describing parking structures as expensive, unattractive and urban, McQuary said he is unlikely to support such a move.
“I’m really not for a parking structure unless it’s an absolute last resort,” he said.
Another topic circulating through the community is a ban on Styrofoam products. Reddington, Armendariz and McQuary all offered their support of the idea, while McWhirter said he would not support a ban if it became a hardship to small businesses.
McQuary injected a bit of humor into the proceedings with his response, saying that if he’s holding a Styrofoam product in his hand, it means two things are going wrong.
“One, that I just bought fast food and that goes straight to my waist,” he said. “And two, it’s going to end up in the landfill.”
Armendariz, while agreeing that a ban is the right decision, said the city would have to be prepared for litigation. He also stressed fomenting dialogue between the city, community members and business leaders to find the best path forward on outlawing Styrofoam.
Although he acknowledged that the product has a serious impact on the environment and must be eliminated, McWhirter said local businesses shouldn’t have to shoulder an unnecessary burden.
“We have small businesses that could not afford to make the switch just like that,” he said, advocating a phased-in approach as a possible solution.
On the issue of state housing mandates, the candidates all seemed in agreement that officials in Sacramento should have little say over how many houses are built in Carpinteria.
In outlining the most fervent opposition, Armendariz described state bureaucrats as “unelected and unaccountable,” and called the concept of state mandates on housing “offensive and outrageous.”
“Those decisions ought to be made at the local level,” he said.
Reddington called the mandates “artificial” and said she isn’t sure the town could meet the requirements, particularly with its geographically boundaries.
McWhirter agreed, saying he believes Carpinteria is close to being built out. He also railed against state bureaucrats making any decisions with such a local impact.
“I think Carpinteria knows what’s best for Carpinteria,” he said.
The welding contractor was born and raised in the small town, graduated from Carpinteria High School and served in the Air Force. He launched his business in 1986 and said he has plenty of experience dealing with governmental agencies through his job.
“I’m an open-minded person and I have common sense,” he said. When asked what prompted him to run for a council seat, he responded, “I’ve always wanted to give back to the community I live in.”
Armendariz, the only incumbent in the race, serves as Carpinteria’s representative with the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, among other positions. He is also the executive director of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association.
“I’ve been around and I’ve been doing this for quite a long time,” he said. “…Carpinteria is the jewel of Santa Barbara County, and it’s important that we elect men and women who understand that.”
With seven years on the Carpinteria Planning Commission and 20 years as a senior financial manager with Lockheed, McQuary knows his way around government.
“I think I’ve got the hands-on experience to deal at the local level,” he said.
Reddington, an Illinois native who moved to Carpinteria in 1998, worked as a freelance journalist for 25 years and taught at a host of local schools, including Goleta Valley Junior High School.

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