Issues varying from lower State Street to affordable housing were addressed this week by Santa Barbara mayoral candidates.
The candidates voiced continued support for the downtown pedestrian promenade on State Street, but differed on some details during a virtual League of Women Voters forum.
“I envisioned State Street to be bustling with commerce, good-paying jobs, good revenue sources for the city, entertainment, concerts when the pandemic allows,” Mayor Cathy Murillo said, answering a question from moderator Claire VanBlaricum during Thursday evening’s forum.
“I do envision State Street remaining car free,” Ms. Murillo said, noting she could imagine the Santa Barbara Public Library presenting storytimes.
If elected, Randy Rowse said he would like to work with merchants and the Santa Barbara chapter of the American Institute of Architects to create a consistent design template for parklets, which could be provided over the counter at a nominal fee.
Mr. Rowse also said flower pots, which are currently being used to block motorized traffic, need to be replaced by barriers that could be easily retracted to allow for morning deliveries, parades and resolutions for safety problems.
“I would have enough space for an electric shuttle,” he said.
“That way, we could remain closed as a large promenade, but have people walking on the sidewalks and bikes on the street where they belong,” Mr. Rowse said. He noted that under that scenario, there would be no noise and no pollution.
Solutions for State Street are needed immediately, candidate Deborah Schwartz stressed. She said the city needs to work on matters such as revitalizing vacant business spaces.
“There’s been a lot of talk but not enough action in streamlining and working with business owners,” she said.
Candidate Mark Whitehurst suggested adding substations on State Street, where case workers, ambassadors and police first responders would be visible. He said that would be a step toward vibrancy and could be implemented on other streets.
He also noted State Street and side streets need to become more pristine.
“A thousand tree wells are empty and don’t have landscaping or gravel or anything.”
Candidate Matt Kilrain suggested horse and buggies be brought back to State Street. “Let’s bring back some traditions.”
Citing his concerns about health issues, Mr. Kilrain noted he would oppose the installation of LED lights and 5G on State Street.
On the issue of affordable housing, candidates expressed little enthusiasm for Senate Bills 9 and 10, both of which Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed into law.
“Senate Bills 9 and 10 are going to affect lower and middle class neighborhoods and would gentrify them,” Mr. Rowse cautioned. “I would move to resist those at every turn.”
Mr. Rowse pointed to the Housing Authority of Santa Barbara and praised its “amazing work.”
But he said reforms are needed in the city’s planning and building processes.
“We tap the brakes and say, ‘Here’s the new restrictions,” Mr. Rowse said. “Pretty soon, the private sector moves away from creating housing.”
Mr. Rowse said the city should help facilitate developments at various sites and “find out what they need us to do: Either get out of the way or help.”
Ms. Schwartz said the city hasn’t encouraged or assisted in producing new housing for more than 40 years. She explained the city needs to do more to encourage investors and build partnerships.
“Those who have the financial means to acquire properties could partner with the housing authority, which is able to secure government subsidies” to enable affordable rents, she said.
“As a renter myself, I know what it’s like to pay more than the average percentage of income for housing in our beautiful city,” Ms. Schwartz said.
Mr. Kilrain noted Santa Barbara residents have found creative places to live, such as on boats.
Mr. Whitehouse said addressing the housing problem involves answering important questions. “We need, I believe, a dedicated number of homes for housing for our workforce. We need to decide how large our city is going to be and how we will regulate the market forces in building new homes or apartments.”
He noted 19 or so agencies address housing and offer workers protection. “As we grow with the building of more homes, it will be important to protect those individuals who cannot afford the market rate.”
Ms. Murillo said housing is needed downtown. “Our city is working on a pathway toward that with a set of policies.”
She said the solution will take creativity and noted as an example that microunits could work for renters who don’t have children.
“As for Senate Bills 9 and 10, I think our city attorney would be able to limit some of the S.B. 9 impact in the high-fire zones and near historic resources,” she said. “I do understand why these bills are coming forward and why the governor is signing them.”
She noted the City Council this week passed an ordinance to help mobile home park residents.
“Housing is a human right, and that has always been a motto of my public service,” the mayor said.
Candidate James Joyce III was out of town and couldn’t participate in the forum. But he said in a statement, which the moderator read, that his goals include creating solutions for housing and the economy, as well as building a better future for the city’s youth and a more diverse and inclusive community. “We need a leader who can hit the ground running on day one and find progressive solutions.”