Politics

Santa Barbara 2017 mayoral candidate: Hal Conklin

In his own words...

Hal Conklin extended interview

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. Hal Conklin'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? 

I believe the current City Council is earnestly trying to tackle fundamental issues of resources for the community, including water, road improvements, a new police station, and worker housing.  Often they try to resolve these issues in isolation to one another which I think gets them in a bind, but they at least see the need to address them. I do not think any of these are strictly under the purview of the current Mayor, but they have to be tackled collectively as a City Council team.  

I do believe Mayor Schneider is good at building consensus on the Council to get to agreements on solutions, and her skills at facilitating a meeting have been sharply honed. Being trusted to listen and build a consensus are fundamental requirements for being a Mayor.

2) What is not going well under the current city council and mayor? What do you want to change? 

The Council has drifted back into the mode of trying to figure out solutions for the community at the staff and council level. They seem to have forgotten that the biggest and most complex decisions that have effectively have been made in Santa Barbara (e.g. – rebuilding the waterfront or downtown) involved literally thousands of people being involved in collaborative decision-making.  

It is an exhausting but effective process, but it requires getting out of City Hall, rolling up your sleeves, and working with dozens of community groups to build a solution that is owned by the whole community. I want to take the power of decision-making about our future back to the people!

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? 

We need to build out the economy based on models from the 21st century, not the 20th century.  We need to immediately develop a 20-Year Economic Development Roadmap for Santa Barbara that incorporates strong environmental standards, historic preservation standards, and a love of the arts that blends together five areas of economic focus: 1) Higher Education, 2) Tourism, 3) High-Tech development, 4) Health, and 5) Retail.  

We also need to integrate housing of all kinds into this blueprint for economic development in a way that doesn't overwhelm our natural resources, our traffic, or our quality of life. We would be fooling people to suggest that this will lead to lower cost housing, but we can incentivize developers in partnership with the City to include workforce housing adjacent to, or included in, our economic development planning.  To get more housing, we need to reduce parking requirements, but that means the housing needs to be next to where the jobs are.

4) What do you think needs to be done downtown for economic development? 

Given the reality that retail is changing worldwide, we need to look at the models from other cities that are successfully making this transition.  

Here are four components that work:  1) Have a 20-Year Plan for Economic Development for the Downtown that everyone can see and use as the roadmap for proposing development, 2) break up the downtown into unique zones rather than a long retail street, including a “Cultural Zone”, a “Retail Zone”, a “Nightlife Zone”, and a “History Zone”, 3) have the City become a partner in bringing the bulk of new future housing density into the downtown so it transforms the area from a “destination for shopping” to a “24/7 living experience”, and 4) increase the ability to use alternative modes of transportation to get to work, including much safer bicycle corridors and possibly even a “light rail corridor” from downtown out through Goleta to UCSB.

5) Should tourism remain a key pillar to Santa Barbara’s economic health? Why or why not? 

Tourism has been one of the central components of Santa Barbara’s economy since the arrival of the railroad in 1887.  Given our unique and world-renown architecture, sense of place, and natural environment, we would be crazy to suggest that people will stop coming here. This is a top economic generator for Santa Barbara. Tourism, though, must be part of a multi-pronged plan for economic stability, and so it’s planning and implementation cannot overwhelm any of the other components of a well-crafted economic development strategy. 

Just like a good financial management plan, we have to manage a diversified portfolio of economic generating and sustaining interests. The City Council’s role in partnership with the business community is to make sure we are working in tandem to achieve this goal. There will always be a lot of other competing interests who will want to City Council’s attention, and it will be tempting to try to be “all things to all people”, but this balance of fundamental economics must be carefully managed.

6) What do you think needs to be done downtown to address social issues such as aggressive panhandling? 

Ask anyone who runs a recovery program for drug and alcohol addiction and they will all tell you to STOP feeding peoples’ addictions by giving them money on the street!  You might as well be handing them drugs or a gun because you are participating in killing them. 

We need to dry up money for addictions on the street the same way cities like Santa Monica do, but making it easy to give money on every downtown block for homeless services and shelters.  Put up signage and hand out flyers in stores encouraging people to be compassionate by donating to the “official compassion fund” on each block.  As other cities have found, when you dry up the source of easy money, aggressive panhandling fades away.

7) What should the City do differently to attract/develop housing that is affordable for middle-class residents? 

Given the almost built-out nature of Santa Barbara, there is no cheap land left.  Therefore, what little “affordable housing” that is left to build will be in-fill that is facilitated by the City. Given the few places where this can happen, the City will need to become a partner in projects to make it happen.

Three ways the City can help would be: 1) bonus density in the downtown area tied to workforce housing next to jobs, 2) working with the housing authority to finance projects that meet the needs of seniors, and 3) providing a revamped approval process that accelerates the ability to get through the planning department without lowering standards. We need an “Ombudsman” staff person assigned to everyone who goes through the planning process to help them get through as quickly as possible.

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? 

The City has a well-diversified water supply system, but it needs to do two things: 1) replace its ancient delivery system (Measure C will certainly help do that), and 2) implement a stronger outdoor water reduction incentive program that focuses on the new drip irrigation technologies that could reduce our water use by 25%.

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? 

Time is of the essence to rebuild our infrastructure and a new Police Station. Since Measure C is the only way to get there in the near future, I am supportive of it. If a major earthquake happens in the next five years and the Police Station rebuild is not completed, we will be in a world of hurt and have no one to blame but ourselves.  

To assure that the money is spent correctly and the public trusts that it will, we need to immediately pass an “Accountability Ordinance” that requires the City Council and Staff to report out to the citizens in a very public way how the money is being spent and whether or not the City is on track to achieve what we agreed to do.  We should then put this Ordinance on next year’s Primary Ballot and ask the voters to make it permanent so no future City Council can dip into this money for their favorite pet project.

10) Does Santa Barbara need to construct a new main police station? Why or why not? 

I worked for last 25 years with the utilities of California in partnership with Cal Tech in Pasadena to plan out emergency response in the advent that southern California was hit with a major disaster such as an earthquake on the San Andreas Fault. Needless to say, I was impressed by much of what our City has done to get ready, but it also made me realize how unprepared most citizens are if we were faced with a disaster.

Public safety is a critical component of the kind of response that is needed, including keeping up public confidence in the face of major losses. This is no question that the current Police Station could most likely be rendered unusable if an earthquake hit today. Therefore, we must make the replacement of this Station a TOP PRIORITY!

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? 

I am the only person running for Mayor that has ever sat in the Mayor’s seat, so I know how difficult this job can be and how different it is from being a City Council Member.

The job requires a variety of skills, including 1) the ability to mold a consensus with people of views that are often quite different, 2) the ability to be trusted by ALL of the community to assure that their interests are heard, and 3) the ability to think quickly on your feet and to respond to the media and the public in the light of major events that might come on a moment’s notice.  

This is partially a skill that you can learn over time, but mostly you need to enter the job with a good track record of having achieved this before. I think my track record of having done this in a variety of sectors – as Mayor, as a leader in many non-profit organizations, and in the business world, gives me a deep understanding of how to do the job and what it will take in this Council environment to achieve success.  I don’t see anyone else running who has this background or institutional memory.

Watch the entire KEYT NewsChannel 3 Santa Barbara Mayoral Forum below.


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