Candidate Patrick O’Connor opposes Measure T, favors thoughtful development
Editor’s note: This is one of the articles on local candidates in advance of Tuesday’s general election.
Patrick O’Connor may be 61, but in the world of Carpinteria politics, he’s the new kid on the block.
And he’s starting off with a bold challenge by taking on two Carpinteria City Council members with 16 years apiece in the race to represent District 5.
Mr. O’Connor is undaunted by the challenge.
In an interview with the News-Press, Mr. O’Connor said he was motivated to toss his hat into the ring by the frustration voiced by small business owners and residents about the city’s development process, and their “fear” of dealing with city staff who he claims have been given way too much authority.
“Thoughtful development of residential, commercial and public properties is critical to preserve the fabric of Carpinteria,” he said. “In my short time as a resident and homeowner in Carpinteria, and while petitioning in our district neighborhoods to be on the ballot, I heard a unanimous frustration with the city’s residential, commercial and public development processes.”
He said the small business owners and resident property owners he’s talked to use the term “afraid” to describe their relationship with city staff.
“Responsible citizens are literally afraid of adverse consequences while engaging in code and zoning matters,” he said. “In parallel, I’ve heard councilmembers describe their relationship with city staff by saying, ‘we operate separately.’ The council delegates far too much authority to the staff, who subjectively interpret and enforce regulations without a sense of urgency for residents’ property owners’ or small business owners’ interests.”
Mr. O’Connor will face both Vice Mayor Al Clark and Councilmember Gregg Carty on Tuesday, Election Day.
He started his New-Press interview with an almost-defiant declaration of who he is.
“My name is Patrick O’Connor. I am running for Carpinteria City Council,” he said. “My wife, Kathleen and I have lived in Carpinteria for nearly nine years. Three years ago, we had the privilege of becoming the owners of one of the older homes in the downtown area of District 5.”
“My interest in serving is motivated by the history of our property, its families and those of our neighbors and community.”
Mr. O’Connor, recently appointed to the Carpinteria Architectural Review Board, said he made “an emotional decision” to run for city council in early 2022 when it appeared the new districting would put his and his wife’s downtown residence in District 1, which has no incumbent.
Later, the final district map put the eastern downtown neighborhoods alongside Concha Loma in District 5.
“I spoke to both incumbents before completing the ballot petition and shared my intent to run on ideas rather than against any one candidate,” he said; “I respect their legacies and service to Carpinteria.”
Mr. O’Connor, who works in the aerospace industry with a background in both civil and mechanical engineering, said he will bring “engineering discipline” to hold the council and staff accountable for customer service “with a priority on transparent and timely solutions that benefit local business owners, citizens and resident property owners.
“I will bring complex problem solving experience to the council to make the city’s decision-making processes fair,” he vowed. “Carpinterians deserve fair decisions, without fear or favor.”
District 5 is composed of a patchwork of non-conforming zoning and building codes that are inconsistently interpreted and enforced, particularly in the downtown and adjacent neighborhoods, he said.
Mr. O’Connor added that the proliferation of short-term rentals has reduced available housing and disproportionately burdened the downtown neighborhoods with overcrowding.
“The city council has not addressed overcrowding but rather reinforced it by allowing staff designations of legal nonconforming zoning density and building codes that are deteriorating the fabric and quality of life in Carpinteria.”
He said that any determination of legal precedence in zoning or planning matters should always and only be the duty of city council members. He added the decisions should be guided only by Carpinteria residents and those appointed to the city’s commissions and boards.
“Carpinterians should govern Carpinteria.”
He said Measure T and the proposed Surfline Hotel project are both flawed.
“The council made a mistake in not allowing an advisory vote to receive public input on the Surfliner Inn project,” he said. “Managing the General Plan’s land use and zoning ordinances by exception through a ballot initiative is a slippery slope. And relying on the dysfunctional relationship between the council and staff as the mechanism to anticipate and resolve unintended consequences is unlikely to succeed.
“The Surfline Hotel design as it stands is flawed also. Moving the community garden to the beach side of the tracks would allow the hotel infrastructure to be further set back to the west of Linden and entirely on the east side of the tracks, including parking. This is a reasonable accommodation to the beach neighborhood and a much safer footprint.”
He described the Measure T debate as a “contentious campaign,” with both sides polarized on either side of the ballot initiative.
Regardless of the election outcome, he said, the successful candidate for District 5 needs to manage the division in the community with thoughtful leadership toward the inevitable revitalization of downtown Carpinteria, including hotel beds, residences and retail space.
Successful cities’ downtown districts invariably have a thriving residential presence that contributes to daily support for small businesses, he said.
“Mixed use development designs with street level commercial space and second-story residential space like those at Linden and 9th Street and Carpinteria Avenue west of Linden should be a priority,” Mr. O’Connor said. “Another alternative is ‘hop-scotch’ development where hotel space can be spread over multiple near-adjacent properties. The council missed these opportunities with the commitment at 700 Linden Ave.”
A number of other Linden Avenue properties are now in various stages of development also, presenting a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” for the council to manage the future of Carpinteria’s character, he said. These and other fallow properties in District 5 need to be repurposed with a collective vision of what Carpinterians want, weighing public opinion over paid consultants’ advice.
“The Downtown Overlay promises to provide objective design criteria to eliminate subjective interpretation by unelected, nonresident staff,” he said. “I will hold the council accountable to fulfill this promise and create a transparent culture to keep the public informed of, and involved in, complex development issues.”
Regardless of the election’s outcome, Mr. O’Connor said he “intends to engage, volunteer and contribute to Carpinteria’s future.”
His seat on the Architectural Review Board coincidentally opened after he registered as a candidate for the District 5 seat.
“I volunteered, expressed my qualifications and was appointed several weeks ago on the basis of my engineering background and demonstrated research and knowledge of community development issues.”
“If I secure a seat on the council, I will work to find a successor to the ARB. Otherwise, I intend to engage in earnest as I committed when appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council.
“I will continue promoting the need for fair decisions in Carpinteria, without fear or favor.”