In a heated race that pits two Democrats against one another — incumbent Das Williams and challenger Laura Capps — here are five key questions that the News-Press offered each candidate:
What will you accomplish in your first 100 days in office?
Capps: Fundamentally, I will shift the priorities back to what our community cares about: housing, emergency preparedness and homelessness – rather than how we’ve been mired in an industry funded issue.
I will set us on a path of a more transparent and responsive County government by beginning the process of enacting long overdue campaign finance reforms – including setting tough limits on donations, limiting contributions from those with business before the board and an ethics commission.
I’ll launch my County Climate Safety Plan, which will bring together the best minds to help us innovate and better plan for fires, wind, drought, and sea level rise.
And I will make sure that the cannabis industry pays taxes. In 2019, most of the cannabis operators didn’t pay a dime in taxes. They need to pay their fair share so that we see more of the revenue that was promised.
I was raised in the 1st District of Santa Barbara County and graduated from our schools here. Then I pursued a career in public service by working in the White House and the United States Senate. I returned home seven years ago to raise my son in the 1st District and become deeply involved in the community through non-profits and by serving on the School Board. I know the 1st District very well and I am committed to getting us on a stronger path for the future. When we do right by our kids, we do right by the whole county.
Williams: Within the first 60 days after the election we will hold our budget workshops where we will set our priorities for the upcoming fiscal year. At the workshops, a new funding formula for libraries that my office created will be presented to the Board. If approved, this funding model will greatly increase our investment in public libraries. Additionally, I will be looking to fully fund our Long Range Planning department, which is responsible for most of the meaningful changes we are working on at the county, including legalizing utility-scale solar in Santa Barbara County – a critical next step in our ongoing proactive actions I have worked on to speed up our transition to renewable energy. I will also continue to champion the development of more workforce housing so that the people who work here are able to live here.
As the county continues to develop and implement Cannabis policy and the industry grows, how will you ensure transparency in regulations and enforcement?
Capps: I am against backroom deals and the kind of transactional politics that got us into such a mess with the most lenient cannabis ordinance in the state. As has been widely reported, the industry got nearly every demand it sought, including being taxed by revenue rather than acreage. With a cash-business and no audit, revenue is a hard thing to prove. So first and foremost, when it comes to regulating, cannabis operators need to pay their fair share of taxes (most paid not a dime in 2019); that revenue will allow us to be smarter on enforcement.
There is a place for cultivation in this county, but not at the expense of the health and wellbeing of our residents, especially our children. If elected, I will not be beholden to any special interest – therefore when it comes to my leadership, transparency will be inherent.
Williams: We have held dozens of public meetings regarding our cannabis policy, including regarding implementation and where we stand with enforcement. In addition to these larger public meetings, I also convene a meeting of three members of Concerned Carpinterians and three Carpinteria growers once a month to discuss the impact of cannabis to Carpinteria and to also give them a space to report potential enforceable actions to senior staff. Since enforcement is potentially a legal situation, these meetings cannot be open to the general public, however, I have set up the make up to include people who are very active in the community and can represent the viewpoints of others.
How will you facilitate the rebuilding of Montecito from the Thomas Fire and Debris Flow damage, and are there ways to expedite the process?
Capps: I will be a strong partner for the resilient people of Montecito, who are still rebuilding and getting their lives back on track. I am so impressed by how so many private citizens took the bull by the horns and forged a vision to prepare for the next emergency. Emergency preparedness will be a top priority for me, and I will be a proactive partner for the community going forward. We know that out of every dollar spent on emergency preparedness saves seven dollars in recovery. Specifically, I will be proactive on the future of the ring nets that were funded and put in place by those citizens in the Partnership for Resilient Communities. I also look forward to supporting the work of Curtis Skene, who is raising private dollars to maintain and clean out the debris basins. And with my County Climate Safety Plan, I will harness innovation for other projects as well to address water security, sea level rise, as well as fires and floods. I will also do my best to tackle the challenging issue of insurance rates and the fact that too many home-owners have seen their home insurance rates skyrocket. We need to face this issue head on and Santa Barbara County can, and should, be leading the charge. This isn’t a time for taking credit in Montecito, as my opponent has based his campaign upon, but showing gratitude to our first responders, ensuring they have the resources they need and most importantly, better preparing for the future.
Williams: I have a staff person in my office dedicated to assist with rebuilding. She works directly with those who lost property to provide more well-rounded support than the County planners who are assigned to their case. I already passed an ordinance to expedite the process by essentially removing the design review for those who are building the same house again. We are also ensuring that constituents have all the information they need out through the rest of the process as quickly as possible. The biggest obstacle folks are facing are with their insurance companies. The County doesn’t oversee insurance providers but we are working with the state insurance commissioner, who I served with in the state legislature, and with our current state legislators to address issues that are able to be resolved.
What will you do to ensure fair elections in the County, and to maintain the ethical integrity of the Board of Supervisors?
Capps: Based on the fact that we have no campaign limits or meaningful rules on entities giving to a Supervisor who have business before the board, I wrote and announced my Make Government Accountable Plan. My plan is built on 5 key points designed to help the Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors better serve the public and to restore public trust in government, including:
- Setting tough, new campaign contribution limits
- Banning contributions from anyone with business before the Board
- Limiting candidate spending
- Establishing an independent Ethics Commission or process
- Requiring more transparency in campaign contribution
Similarly I will provide tough oversight on the way our elections are conducted in Santa Barbara County. I am not afraid to ask the tough questions and push forward on progress.
Williams: I was the author of the most meaningful elections reform ever passed in our County – the independent citizens redistricting committee that will be tasked with redrawing our Supervisor district lines after the upcoming census. I have always believed strongly that our constituents should pick their elected official and not that the elected official gets to pick their constituents. This committee takes away the drawing of district boundaries from us elected officials and puts it into the hands of those we represent. Maintaining ethical integrity is incredibly important to me and the thing I prefer about local government over places like Sacramento and DC is that local elected officials are regular members of the community who are accessible to the folks they represent every day. That helps to keep us grounded about who we are really serving.
What will you do to reduce the rate of homelessness in the county and increase the affordability of housing?
Capps: The challenges are known: Half of all renters are living in homes they can’t afford. Housing costs are soaring and Santa Barbara County has the second-highest poverty rate in the state. I have a background working on effective poverty programs and so my goal is simple: let’s utilize the state and federally funded tools we have to keep people from being homeless and allow them to afford roof over their heads. For years, I’ve been working on one of the most proven tools to combat poverty — the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). It’s a cash-back program that allows eligible workers to claim thousands of dollars per year. Here in Santa Barbara County, tens of thousands of hard-working local families are missing out on state and federal money they have earned — and essential funds that will help them with housing costs. The second new idea I have is called Renter’s Choice and it’s working in other communities. It addresses one of the biggest barriers to housing affordability: the upfront move-in costs for renters by giving renters the choice of paying their security deposit in the form of insurance rather than a large lump sum that may not be returned, similar to how we can pay for car insurance monthly. When it comes to housing and homelessness, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but rather find proven solutions and implement them here.
Williams: The solution for homelessness is housing. We need more housing, particularly permanent supportive housing. We have been working hard on this and currently have nearly 800 units of permanent supportive housing in our County and have the potential for much more. Just in my three years in office, we have funded over 200 units of affordable housing that are either in the pipeline or recently constructed. This represents nearly $12 million in investment of state funds allocated to the County and County “In-Lieu” fees (fees paid by housing developers who don’t meet our requirement for affordable housing).