SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - With an election in Santa Barbara just around the corner, we asked Santa Barbara's mayoral candidates to answer a few questions important to our community -- from affordable housing to local economy, and revitalizing the downtown area.
Here are Mr. Martinez's responses. An unanswered question denotes a no-answer response from Mr. Martinez regarding that question.
1) What is going well with Santa Barbara’s current City Council? What policies/programs do you support under outgoing Mayor Helene Schneider?
2) What is not going well under the current city council and mayor? What do you want to change?
There have been so many due to lack of leadership and thus lack of actual decision making. Case in point: sending mixed signals to the public about whether to allow or prevent short-term home rentals. Initially planning staff began a conversation with the community about how to solve the problem, then the council did an abrupt about-face and killed that effort. This whiplash, wishy-washy leadership caused more confusion and anger-from all sides-than was necessary.
Even more egregious is the fact that the current council did nothing for years while the bureaucracy happily collected TOT from what were technically illegal short-term units. Reacting to events is not leading…it’s following.
Another in the worst decision column: doing nothing about State Street for years, and saying absolutely nothing after the Macy’s closure, a cornerstone of the city-driven Paseo Nuevo. But actually, that wasn’t a decision, was it?
3) What should the City do in the areas of jobs/economic development to ensure people can live here and be able to afford the cost of living?
Economic health is the pillar on which any community flourishes. Without it, there can be no robust retail environment, high paying job creation, maintenance of our infrastructure, or sustained commitment to our environment.
Santa Barbara is at a critical moment in its history. Our streets, historic buildings, and police station are already in disrepair. There is insufficient workforce housing, even for those earning high salaries. State Street is collapsing as a retail corridor and entrance to the city.
We are at a moment in time when vision and leadership are essential for us to create the city that, by all rights, should be the best small city in America. It is already the most beautiful. It already benefits from a rich history and culture. It is already blessed with open-hearted people who care about each other and want to see opportunity created for future generations.
Throughout my 40-year business career, I have been instrumental in creating opportunity where only dreams existed. I am uniquely qualified because I have learned that without collaboration around a shared vision, the collective genius inherent in all organizations cannot flourish. This is the kind of leadership that I believe we need and that I will provide to our beautiful city.
4) What do you think needs to be done downtown for economic development?
Addressing this issue is a primary reason why I’m running for mayor. Downtown State Street is in on the verge of collapse as a viable, sustainable retail artery. A successful retail and entertainment environment is no accident. It is carefully planned, inspired by a clear vision. There is coordination and collaboration by property owners, business owners, and the City, with the goal of creating an energetic, welcoming, fun, family-friendly and unique environment.
The current reality is that brick and mortar retail is facing a mortal challenge from E-Commerce, with the worst yet to come. Lowest price and best assortment are a click away. The recent closure of Macy’s is the tip of the iceberg. We must address these issues with a high degree of urgency. Incrementalism does not work when transformational societal change is underway. Solutions require creativity and flexibility. Solutions will require collaboration and communication. Most of all, solutions will require vision and leadership.
As mayor, I will broker a proactive and meaningful collaboration of the stakeholders willing to own the problem and commit to avoiding the imminent collapse of our critical retail artery. Our focus will be informed by the future of retail and by examples of what other cities have created. There will be some near-term pain, but much more long-term gain.
Even though many in our City seem comfortable living in an impenetrable bubble, Santa Barbara is not immune to the problems created by a rapidly changing retail marketplace. And time is not on our side.
5) Should tourism remain a key pillar to Santa Barbara’s economic health? Why or why not?
No. One of the primary reasons we are in this current economic environment is the one-dimensional nature of our local economy. We need to have an economic plan and vision that embraces our destination roots but looks beyond to building an economic model that is sustainable.
To think about this we should begin with context: There were two pivotal turns in the last hundred years for Santa Barbara: beginning in the 1920's with the revival of our Spanish-Mexican heritage under the vision and guidance of Pearl Chase, and the post-’69 oil spill awakening of environmental values. Both movements are still alive and well in Santa Barbara today, and are the main thrusts of why we are special.
This next decade is bringing us to the precipice of another major moment, where the combination of technological advancement and generational change require new thinking about our place in a global economy. Technology is rapidly changing how we live, where we choose to work and how we shop. America’s economy is being redefined as an intellectual economy. This is why Santa Barbara is so uniquely situated to greatly diversify its almost singular, and I believe vulnerable, tourist-based economy.
It is time for Santa Barbara to think of itself as a destination for thought leadership, entrepreneurship, and innovation. This is the place where such people want to live. We should be doing everything we can to attract their skillsets, resources and what they bring to our community to enhance our sustainable economic future. Most cities are hard pressed to attract such fresh thinking and roll out the welcome matt. Our current city leaders don’t have a welcome matt; on the contrary, we push them away.
6) What do you think needs to be done downtown to address social issues such as aggressive panhandling?
As Mayor, I will ban aggressive panhandling to help reduce street harassment and substance abuse. The situation on State Street has gotten out of hand. We must help people who are truly in need but we need to be firm with those who abuse our system and make our city unsafe.
In addition to an aggressive panhandling ban, my plan to address homelessness rests in a program I call Rescue Dollars. In short, Rescue Dollars is designed to give those who want to give cash to panhandlers an alternative that actually benefits the local homeless population and removes the cash incentive from aggressive panhandlers who abuse our system.
Through an ongoing public information campaign, and buy-in from merchants, community leaders, and local law enforcement, Rescue Dollars will be the primary currency that the public will offer to alleviate homelessness. The revenue generated from the program will stay exclusively with our local homeless resource providers. Rescue Dollars will be date-stamped and have an expiration date, so as to not be used as parallel currency.
The aggressive panhandlers who want cash will have that source of revenue dry up and will leave town, since there will be no cash available. The benefit from Rescue Dollars will stay local and help us provide services to our local population in need. We will then get a sense of the true size of this population to assess the scale of the services we should provide as a community.
Santa Barbara can’t keep kicking the can down the road and turning our heads away from aggressive panhandling, which is a serious public safety issue. Together, we can help get the homeless off the street and into a better life. I will work to address this issue compassionately, without tolerating aggressive panhandlers who are making our city unsafe and harming local businesses.
7) What should the City do differently to attract/develop housing that is affordable for middle-class residents?
8) The City’s current water supply comes from the newly re-opened desalination plant and from a 100+-year-old delivery system from Lake Cachuma. What should Santa Barbara do to ensure a safe and sufficient water supply in the future?
We live in a semi-arid environment. There will always be drought cycles. The Desalination Plant should be a permanent part of our water supply, with the water it provides incorporated into the total supply and cost averaged with our traditional Lake Cachuma source. The City should continue to restrict over-watering, encourage drought-tolerant landscaping and educate kids in school about the fragility of our water resource. To encourage conservation, water rates should not be brought back to pre-drought levels, although they should be reduced when the drought is declared over. There should be continued significant penalties for wasting water.
9) A 1% sales tax is on the ballot to improve infrastructure in the City. Do you support it? If so, what should the money be spent on? If opposed, how should the City deal with aging infrastructure?
While I both support and endorse Measure C, I do so because Santa Barbara’s leadership has failed to adequately address our critical infrastructure shortfall, which will balloon to a staggering $400-$500 million-dollar unfunded liability over the next 10 years. Due to a lack of political courage by the City Council over the past decade, our backs are up against the wall: Across town, critically important and historic buildings are deteriorating before our eyes, many of our roads and sidewalks are beyond repair.
The members of the current City Council, including those now running for Mayor, own this problem. The citizens and residents of Santa Barbara deserve better.
My concern with Measure C specifically is that it does not guarantee that revenues will be used exclusively for funding infrastructure. The proposal puts the dollars raised into the general fund, which can be easily raided down the road by the City Council for other purposes. I would have preferred a bond measure that would have specifically detailed what the money would be used for and that would create fiscal accountability and a horizon for success.
Therefore, if elected, I would vehemently oppose ANY use of funds raised from Measure C for any other purpose than infrastructure improvements. This is what is being sold to taxpayers and this must be upheld. Moreover, whether elected or not, I will be the first one to spearhead another ballot measure to RETRACT this sales tax increase if it fails to live up to its promises.
10) Does Santa Barbara need to construct a new main police station? Why or why not?
The police desperately need a new headquarters, and our officers have been patiently operating under substandard conditions. The existing building was built for a different era. The bottom line is the current city council has failed to develop a plan. Sure, a lot of talk, but nothing’s happened.
If Measure C passes, the top priority must be to fund a new police station. I would have proposed a bond measure specifically for this upgrade years ago. I would have insisted upon unanimous council support and unanimous leadership into the community from each and every councilmember.
Leadership succeeds in bringing people together and getting things done. Excuses are not an option.
11) The City of Santa Barbara has a council-manager structure. The mayor is one vote out of seven to approve any new policies. How do you plan to provide leadership and direction with only one vote?
Watch the entire KEYT NewsChannel 3 Santa Barbara Mayoral Forum below.