Thursday, October 23, 2008

Pappas banks on independence


If there’s one thing Santa Barbara County Third District supervisor candidate Steve Pappas has made crystal clear over the past year, it is his intention to be independent and nonpartisan. In his own words, he’s “beholden to no political machine.”
Six years ago, Pappas registered as an independent. He did so, he said, because he realized the Third District, which encompasses a swath of land dotted with Goleta, Santa Ynez, Isla Vista, Los Alamos and Vandenberg Village, needed a representative who was an independent thinker.

As such, Pappas believes he has the ability to balance the diverse interests of the sprawling district, which in recent history, geographically and philosophically, has become the bridge between North and South County.
“People are just starting to see how important that is for the Third District,” Pappas said in reference to his nonpartisan approach. “To be the most effective candidate, I needed to be nonpartisan so I could really be free in my decision making.”
Pappas, who lives in Los Olivos, said his independence is the marquee difference between him and his opponent, Doreen Farr, a registered Democrat, who also lives in the Santa Ynez Valley.


Pappas’ arrival on the local political scene was spurred by the planned demise of an 18-acre farm in Los Olivos called Montanaro.
Had a developer not wanted to pack the lot with condominiums, Pappas would likely still be minding his own business, hoping local elected leaders make wise decisions on his behalf.
But that’s not how Pappas saw the wheels of government turning.
Pappas recalls the experience like it happened yesterday. He was in his front yard when a neighbor dropped by. She was panicked, he said, and asked him if he knew what was going to happen to the farm.
Apparently the county was hosting a meeting to discuss the project that very night at a church in Los Olivos.
Pappas and the woman went door to door, rallying their neighbors, and as the group made their way to the church, it became clear none of them knew about the project.
When the meeting was over, Pappas said he told the group the project would go through if they didn’t organize and do something about it.
A couple of days later, Pappas said the group Preservation of Los Olivos (POLO) was formed, and ultimately, the farm was saved.
“It was out of fear of the unknown,” Pappas said of his drive to enter politics. “Because we didn’t know what was happening in our neighborhood.”
Since then, Pappas has been involved in several land-use projects connected to the Santa Ynez Valley, and in 2004, ran for Third District supervisor. He lost badly to current supervisor Brooks Firestone, who is not seeking a second term on the board.
But the initial shock of not knowing what was planned for his own neighborhood has stuck with him.
And not surprisingly, Pappas says one of his main goals as supervisor would be to ensure no one in the Third District is ever left in the dark again.
“If they wanted us to know, we would have known,” he said. “It’s clear they didn’t want us to know because no one knew.”

County Budget Crisis

Pappas said the county budget, which absorbed millions in cuts last year to remain balanced, and could require the same this year, is the biggest issue facing the county.
As supervisor, Pappas, who is the president of the board of trustees for the Los Olivos School District, said he would like to see “fat” cut from the budget.
One area he believes could use some trimming is the Planning and Development Department and office of Long Range Planning.
“Both of these departments are full of bureaucracy and red tape,” he said. “They don’t produce any fruit, they just spend our money.”
Pappas said he’s watched the county spend heaps of cash dealing with development projects that eventually dwindle away, or drastically change over and over before eventually being shut down or approved.
Pappas said his role as president of the school board, a position he was elected to in 2004, has given him valuable experience working with budgets, and more importantly balancing the budget.
When he took over as school president, Pappas said he and the board became puzzled when it appeared significant chunks of the district’s $5 million budget was disappearing.
He said a forensic audit, conducted by an outside firm, was ordered and the board shortly discovered the district’s business manager had embezzled roughly $100,000.
Pappas said he would support a forensic audit for the county’s $800 million budget, if for nothing else to get a better understanding of where taxpayer money is being spent.
“When you look at the county budget it might as well be in Chinese,” he said, admitting he doesn’t understand it, despite his familiarity with budgets. “No one should be afraid of a forensic audit.”
Pappas also said he would be willing to consider reducing benefits packages for future county employees. He said any and all promises made to current employees should be honored, but if the county doesn’t do something along these lines to help shore up the deficit, it might have to lay off existing workers.
“It’s time to reevaluate what we can afford to offer new employees,” he said, adding that this is one well-established difference between him and his opponent. “We’ve got to turn the page and adjust and adapt.”
While Pappas believes there are many ways to rein in spending, one place it should not occur is in public safety and health.
Under a Pappas led Third District, these services would be preserved. He said this includes mental health services, which took a hit last year during the budget cycle when community based organizations that contract with the county sustained debilitating cuts.
While Pappas said he’s long believed the health, mental health, and safety of county residents is paramount, a recent tour of the county jail cemented this belief.
He said the county jail has become a “dumping ground for the mentally ill.”
Pappas echoed the concerns of Sheriff Bill Brown, who has said the county’s chronic problem with jail overcrowding is not aided by repeatedly locking up the mentally ill, who often don’t receive the help they need behind bars.
“Clearly the mental health crisis in Santa Barbara County is growing and we are doing nothing to help,” he said.

Gaviota Coast, Farmland and Open Space

Pappas, like Farr, hasn’t been shy in his opposition to development along the Gaviota Coast.
During recent meeting on the Naples residential development, which was ultimately green lighted by the Board of Supervisors Tuesday, Pappas said approval of the project would be a “train wreck.”
While Pappas said the need to balance a developer’s private property rights with the public’s will can be tricky, in the case of the Gaviota Coast, the Board of Supervisors should have found a way to appease the people, not the developer.
“As a supervisor you have to make that happen, period,” he said.
Pappas said the public, from the Fifth District to the First District, has made it perfectly clear they don’t want development along the Gaviota Coast.
And when such an overwhelming majority of the public is intent on saving something, Pappas said that’s the way it has to be.
“You need to make that happen and if you don’t, you aren’t’ fulfilling the obligation of the people who put you in office and maybe you shouldn’t be in office,” he said.
Pappas, like much of the environmental community opposed to the Naples project, which as proposed would erect 71 homes, is most concerned with roughly 10 of those homes slated to rise from the bluff top overlooking the ocean.
Many opposed to the project said they could live with the homes on the north side of Highway 101 if they were placed out of sight as much as possible. But the bluff top homes remain in the plan approved by the supervisors.
Pappas said not finding a new place for these homes was a “failure.”
“I’m not going to stop,” Pappas said. “I’m going to do whatever I can to prevent these lots from being developed.”
Pappas said he would not support rezoning agricultural land to residential or commercial, saying the protection of local agriculture is “vital.”
On the same note, Pappas said he would like to get local farmers together to see what it would take to stop trucking locally grown produce to other states and countries, and sell it here.
“All of this waste has to stop,” he said.

Experience and Leadership

Pappas says his experience as an elected official on the school board, combined with owning his own business for the past 22 years, has endowed him with the tools necessary to take the reins of the Third District.
Pappas said both jobs, as head of his eight-employee business, and president of the 750 student strong school district, gives him far more executive experience than Farr.
Combined with his insistence on being nonpartisan, a quality he said will end the divisive 3-2 splits on controversial votes and create a 2-2-1 atmosphere, is enough reason to vote for him.
And in the final sprint to election day, Pappas believes his message is picking up speed.
“I have no strings attached, period,” he said. “It’s just kind of catching on that I’m the best pick for this race.”
More information about Pappas is available at
A candidate preview on Doreen Farr will appear in tomorrow’s Daily Sound.

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