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 Ms. Cathy Murillo's responses.
1) What is going well with Santa Barbara’s current City Council? What policies/programs do you
support under outgoing Mayor Helene Schneider?
Through conservative budgeting, our Council has built back our fiscal reserves after the 2008 Recession and restored important municipal services, such Parks and Recreation programs, which had been cut about one-third.
We have opened a new children's library. We hired a new police chief, who is focused on community policing and bringing her force to full staff. Our crime rate is low. Our City responded prudently to the drought and is securing an independent water source through our desalination plant.
As members of the City Council's Sustainability Committee, Mayor Schneider and I have successfully brought forward important environmental protection policies: targeting 2030 for city operations to be using 100 percent renewable energy, proposing to reduce or eliminate polystyrene products that harm the marine environment, designating Santa Barbara a Bee City USA, and creating new public parkland such as the Arroyo Burro Open Space.
2) What is not going well under the current city council and mayor? What do you want to change?
As Mayor, I will take the lead in economic development, working closely with our partners in the business community. The City has not had an office of business/economic development nor dedicated staff to help new businesses get started and attract new ones to the City. This was because Santa Barbara for many years has had more jobs than can be supported by available housing -- we have a jobs-to-housing imbalance, and by ordinance, we are constrained in expanding commercial space. However, we must respond to the changing nature of retail and an over-dependence on revenue from tourism.
The recession taught us that our economy must be diversified with the addition of more high-paying and green jobs. I will work to create a business-friendly environment and help attract new businesses to Santa Barbara and the region by collaborating with our Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Santa Barbara, Hospitality Santa Barbara, Visit Santa Barbara, the construction and trade unions, organized labor in general, and entrepreneurial programs at UCSB and City College.
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?
Please see my response to Question #2. I will add that employers tell us they need more housing options to attract and retain employees. Housing for all income levels is needed and the primary challenge is the high real estate values in Santa Barbara. Our City Housing Authority has been successful in leveraging subsidies to build housing affordable for low-income residents and vulnerable populations -- seniors, the homeless. and people with mental health issues.
The elimination of the Redevelopment program has hurt those efforts. Overall, the City is continually refining our housing policies so that housing developers give us the kind of housing we need. In itself, housing development is a significant part of the economy, but we must be careful to avoid over-development and produce well-designed, well-located projects that fit in with our small-town charm.
4) What do you think needs to be done downtown for economic development?
I strongly support the work of Downtown Santa Barbara to respond to empty storefronts caused by consumer trends favoring online shopping. Downtown SB commissioned a retail study, which resulted in several recommendations that various stakeholders -- the City and commercial property owners included -- are pursuing to revitalize our downtown.
Our City Council approved the ACCELERATE program that aims to make it easier to open a new business on State Street between Cabrillo Blvd. and Sola Street. City staff will provide pre-lease consultations related to ADA requirements and need for restrooms, for instance, and put these leases in 'front of the line' for review by the Sign Committee and the Historic Landmarks Commission.
Finally, as Mayor, I will focus on bringing housing to State Street and the downtown in general, which is already zoned for mixed-use development.
5) Should tourism remain a key pillar to Santa Barbara’s economic health? Why or why not?
Santa Barbara's natural beauty, open shoreline, and mild climate will always attract visitors. Adding to that attractiveness: climate change will make the inland areas of California much warmer, so people will 'get away' more than ever to the coast, seeking relief from the heat. So yes, we must continue to be inviting to tourists.
Overall, we do need to diversify our economy, as the tourism industry creates many low-paying jobs. As Mayor, I will continue to support and work with business incubators and small business development organizations.
I serve on the Women's Economic Ventures (WEV) Community Advisory Council, as well as support grow-your-business workshops sponsored by SCORE and the Eastside Merchants Association. I am a member of the Roundtable of the Economic Vitality Team of Santa Barbara County, a countywide economic development collaborative of chambers of commerce, government leaders, financial institutions, and large employers.
6) What do you think needs to be done downtown to address social issues such as aggressive panhandling?
Under my leadership, State Street is patrolled by uniformed police officers who specialize in restorative policing -- a combination of law enforcement and social work that has been successful in reducing homelessness and negative street behavior. Also patrolling and making contact with the homeless: police department volunteers, community service officers, homelessness intervention workers from Americorps, and "ambassadors" from our Public Works Department.
The City is partnering with Downtown Santa Barbara and other business partners to ensure public health and safety on State Street. Downtown Santa Barbara, Hospitality Santa Barbara, and Visit Santa Barbara are developing a panhandling prevention program, and as Mayor I will do my part to make that program successful, as well as support our police officers in enforcing our aggressive panhandling ordinance.
7) What should the City do differently to attract/develop housing that is affordable for middle-class residents?
Developing and providing affordable housing for our residents and workforce is a paramount need in our community. I serve on the City's Housing Task Force that is refining our housing policies to encourage production of housing options for people of all income levels.
The Average Unit-Sized Density Incentive Program has spurred applications for new rental units, and we are making adjustments so that affordable units are included along with market-rate or workforce (moderate income) units.
Of import, the state has recently implemented housing mandates that encourage the development of additional units including “granny flats.” Our planning staff is working to respond to the new state rules, and finding ways to ensure that we protect the character of our neighborhoods while providing much-needed housing.
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 must continue to conserve water as we are still in a serious drought -- the rains in February are giving us only temporary relief, and rainfall will remain unpredictable because of global climate disruption. So we need a diversified water portfolio: Cachuma supplies, desalination water, groundwater, State Water, purchases of water from other parts of the state, and conservation.
Our residents and businesses have achieved water conservation rates as high as 45% and we must continue that diligence. I serve as the City's alternate representative to the local water agencies: the Cachuma Operation and Maintenance Board, Cachuma Conservation Release Board, and the Central Coast Water Authority (state water).
As Mayor, I will build collaborative relationships with all the jurisdictions sharing water supplies in our region.
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
If the voters approve Measure C, the City will have a new revenue source of $22 million to fund road improvements and to finance a new police headquarters. A citizens' oversight committee and annual audit will ensure the revenues will go to infrastructure projects, and our sales tax rate will be comparable to other cities in our area.
The City conducted extensive community outreach, through public workshops and a professional poll, and discovered public support for well-maintained roads and sidewalks and for enhanced public safety operations housed in a modern police station. The City has been diligent in setting aside funds for infrastructure: half of our utility users tax goes to street repair and half of any end-of-year budget surplus goes to infrastructure.
Yes, I support Measure C because aging cities like ours have deferred maintenance and infrastructure needs. It was my fiduciary responsibility to put Measure C on the ballot this November so voters would have a choice as to support these vital community needs.
10) Does Santa Barbara need to construct a new main police station? Why or why not?
Yes, we need a new police headquarters so that our first-responders are in a seismically safe facility with the ability to perform their work duties. If Measure C passes, we will be able to finance the project.
Our police headquarters operates out of three buildings currently, with dispatch services moved to the Granada Garage complex. The main headquarters is cramped and makes the best of limited space to store evidence and equipment, and conduct training and everyday operations. Our employees deserve a more supportive workspace, and our residents deserve high-quality public safety services. I am proud of our new police chief, who has raised the morale of her officers, implemented new training programs, and is actively hiring new officers to keep our crime rate low and our City safe.
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?
The Mayor is the only elected position that represents the whole city and I am committed to providing strong and inclusive leadership that will bring all sides to the table. We must find collaborative solutions to our challenges. I was elected to City Council wanting to make budget and policy decisions that benefit our City and residents, that build a financially strong municipal government, and that protect our natural environment.
When I interact with my council colleagues, staff, and city administrators I am respectful and sincere in wanting to collaborate and solve problems, being considerate of all opinions and needs, and finding common ground. The positive relationships I have built during my public service will be the foundation of finding agreement on critical issues. Integrity, diplomacy, and commitment to the public good will define my leadership as Mayor of Santa Barbara.
Watch the entire KEYT NewsChannel 3 Santa Barbara Mayoral Forum below.