Deborah Schwartz discusses her ideas as mayoral election approaches
Santa Barbara mayoral candidate Deborah Schwartz announced a plan Wednesday she believes would help the city address its vulnerabilities.
Ms. Schwartz, who’s also the Santa Barbara Planning Commission chair, sat down with the News-Press to explain her new “Santa Barbara S.A.F.E.” plan.
She describes Santa Barbara as “an island of a city confined to the ocean and the mountains with one major corridor in and out.”
She believes strategic planning (the “S” in S.A.F.E.) is the key to safeguarding the American Riviera.
“Our entire way of planning needs to be integrated. It’s not just housing; it’s not just the environment; it’s not just transportation,” she told the News-Press Wednesday.
“Our mayor and council have not attended to or taken an integrated, holistic approach to planning. It’s been piecemeal.”
Ms. Schwartz has served the Planning Commission for nearly 12 years and held the role of chair for three nonconsecutive years.
She said her experience has given her the skills needed for the role of mayor — a skillset she doesn’t see in her fellow candidates.
She believes anyone who has served on the Santa Barbara City Council in the past 10 years holds responsibility for some shortcomings, alluding to Mayor Cathy Murillo and former councilmember Randy Rowse.
She said Santa Barbara is in a crisis regarding housing, homelessness and economic stability.
“We didn’t just arrive at these crises that I mentioned in the last two years. It’s been building by the way in which the city’s conducted itself administratively from an elected leadership perspective, and so I don’t believe the city can move forward decisively and effectively with either of the two incumbents,” Ms. Schwartz said.
“I would be hard pressed to tell you that I could be supportive of a victory for any of the others, and I know them to varying degrees.”
She recognizes a love for the Santa Barbara community in each candidate, but she’s unsure if everyone is ready to serve the City.
During her time in politics, she’s seen candidates run for election for personal gain, she said.
She plans to continue serving the city even if another candidate is elected mayor.
Ms. Schwartz was excited to share her S.A.F.E. plan, as she believes her competitors and City Council candidates would agree with her ideas.
The “A” represents her desire for accessible infrastructure. She worries Highway 101 puts residents at risk during disasters.
She also hopes to bring more workforce housing to the city. She watches essential workers commute from North and South.
She said public-private partnerships are a “golden opportunity” to create housing for first responders. She would like to see developers and the Housing Authority team up on projects.
Ideally, she said, a company would buy land and build — paying property taxes to the city — and portion out units for the Housing Authority to manage.
The Housing Authority can bring government subsidies to the development as a partner.
“Our city has to step into a leadership role; the market isn’t going to naturally do this on its own. They’re naturally going the nonprofit or for-profit way, but we have to be the convener,” she said. “We have to be proactive, bringing together these two sectors.”
Ms. Schwartz said flexibility, another quarter of her “S.A.F.E.” acronym, is also necessary.
She would like to introduce new approaches to governance, including more community engagement.
“We still only hear from, in essence, a very small number of community members. So I think that it’s our responsibility to figure out how to reach out to be more inviting,” she said.
Finishing “S.A.F.E.,” her plan recognizes the environment’s role in the City.
Environmental factors, after all, are what introduced her family to politics.
Her parents moved her to Santa Barbara a few years prior to the 1969 oil spill. The impact of the spill prompted her mom, Naomi Schwartz, to make the transition from PTA president to campaign volunteer.
Her mom eventually became the 1st District Santa Barbara County supervisor. U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, worked as her chief of staff, and councilmember Eric Friedman was a legislative aide.
Her introduction to Santa Barbara government was early in her life, but she didn’t begin public service until 2005.
Now, in her final year as a planning commissioner, she believes she is ready for more authority.
She has received an endorsement from Democratic Women of Santa Barbara County.
The mayoral and city council election is Nov. 2.