Thursday, October 2, 2008

Third District candidates discuss goals


On issues from protecting the Gaviota Coast to the budget, the two candidates vying for the office of Santa Barbara County Third District Supervisor sounded mostly the same last night during a forum at the Goleta Valley Community Center.
In his two-minute opening statement, Los Olivos resident Steve Pappas, who is currently the president of the Los Olivos School District board of trustees, said he believes one of the most important differences between he and his opponent is his independence.

Because he considers himself neither Republican nor Democrat, Pappas said his independence when considering important issues is what the Third District needs.
“This is a major distinguishing factor between me and my opponent and I think it to be one of my greatest strengths,” he said.
Doreen Farr, a former Second District planning commissioner who lived in the Goleta area for 21 years before moving to the Santa Ynez Valley five years ago, said her priorities remain the same as they always have.
At the top of that list, she said, is ensuring public safety, protecting the environment and encouraging public participation in government.
The first question asked of the candidates was how they would deal with the county’s ongoing budget woes, particularly in the area of social services, which took a hit during this year’s budget deliberations.
Because providing social services is mandated, Farr said she’d look elsewhere and attempt to make cuts to non-essential services.
She said supporting agriculture and other businesses that provide revenue to the county is also important in tough financial times. Another possibility, she suggested, is to sell county-owned properties. Though she didn’t specify what properties she had in mind, while fielding questions from the public, Farr said she knows of a number of properties in the Third District, as well as a few in downtown Santa Barbara that could be looked at.
Pappas said he would deal with the budget difficulties the same way he dealt with a recent fiscal crisis at the school district: a forensic audit.
Pappas said such an audit would top the list of his budgetary priorities primarily because the county’s roughly $800 million budget is so complicated, he doesn’t even understand it.
“I’ve looked at it several times and I have to tell you I can’t follow it,” he said. “It’s your money. We need to know where it’s going.”
Pappas said an audit at the school district revealed the business manager was embezzling funds.
The candidates were also asked to state their positions on offshore oil drilling, a topic that has become increasingly controversial in recent months after the current Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to send a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger informing him the county’s longstanding opposition to drilling has dissolved.
Both candidates said they were opposed to drilling and indicated a better way forward is to increase oil production from existing leases.
Farr pointed out federal documentation that indicates scores of offshore oil leases that are currently not being tapped, and praised an agreement between environmental groups and Plains Exploration to begin drilling for oil in the Tranquillon Ridge, just off the coast of Vandenberg Air Force Base.
The candidates’ feelings when it comes to development on the Gaviota Coast are also similar.
“I want to minimize development on the Gaviota Coast,” Farr said.
“In a nutshell, if I had it my own personal way,” Pappas said. “I would rather not see any development on the Gaviota Coast.”
Both candidates said they supported the county’s current effort to negotiate a complex transfer of development rights with a large residential development proposed for the Naples area, the gateway to the Gaviota Coast.
However, Pappas said he feels the county should be more aggressive in diverting this development and said he doesn’t feel it should be a multi-year process, as it has been.
A member of the public asked the candidates how they would balance the needs of affordable housing while simultaneously protecting agricultural land and open space.
Pappas said a priority for him would be to end the “war” that erupts between cities, the county and the state when affordable housing mandates are handed out.
“We end up focusing on the fight and we don’t get anywhere with affordable housing,” he said, adding that he strongly opposes rezoning any agricultural land as residential.
Farr said the main problem with affordable housing is everyone has a different definition of what they consider it to be. She said clear definitions, specifically with price, need to be established.
Pappas became especially passionate when asked about how he would improve the county’s planning process — a discussion that highlighted one of the only differences between the two candidates.
Calling this area one of his “greatest areas of expertise,” Pappas said he believes there are problems in the county’s department of planning and development, and long-range development.
“In both cases I’ve experienced incredible bureaucracy,” he said. “It’s almost a ship without any direction.”
He said this convoluted planning process unnecessarily costs taxpayers thousands of dollars.
Farr said the county currently has a process that “needs to be respected.”
She said the public needs to be involved in the process as early as possible, and also said she feels recent efforts to “streamline” certain projects through the process should continue.
On the topic of representation for the residents of Isla Vista, Farr said she’d like to reopen a Third District office in the college town. She said she’d like reimplement a housing inspector program as well.
“I intend to be a strong advocate for them as I intend to be to all residents in the Third District,” she said.
Pappas urged Isla Vista residents to get familiar with what’s contained in the Isla Vista master plan. He said he suspects “a lot of people don’t know what’s coming to Isla Vista,” via that plan.
Pappas also said he would like to create a hotline for Isla Vista residents to more quickly receive information about issues in their community.
In her closing statement, Farr, as she did during a debate before the February primary, told voters if they chose her, she would continue to represent residents as she has done on the Planning Commission and as a community organizer. She also said she feels her broad list of endorsements is a testament to her diverse pool of support.
“I’ve been there for you at hundreds of meetings at the County Planning Commission,” she said. “And as a supervisor, I can assure you I will continue to do that. I’ve been there for you in the past, I will continue to be there in the future.”
Pappas made it clear he has owned a home in the Santa Ynez Valley for 18 years and lived there full time for the last 10. He also reiterated his lack of political affiliation, a trait he believes is just what the Third District, which is traditionally a swing vote, needs.
“I’m truly independent and non partisan,” he said. “I will continue to listen independently to your concerns and make the best decisions for all of those in the Third District.”

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