Six candidates running for the Santa Barbara City Council squared off in a forum Wednesday night, presenting fresh ideas on how to solve some of the city’s most pressing issues.
With just under six weeks left until the Nov. 2 election, six candidates are vying for two council seats. Incumbent Kristen Sneddon and Barrett Reed are battling for District 4, and incumbent Meagan Harmon is up against Jason Carlton, Nina Johnson and Zachary Pike for the District 6 seat.
The candidates participated in a virtual forum, which was moderated by the League of Women Voters of Santa Barbara. It was live-streamed on the league’s Facebook page and can be viewed by visiting facebook.com/LWVSB.
The candidates fielded an array of questions on Wednesday night, tackling topics such as housing, State Street revitalization and public safety.
In his opening remarks, Mr. Reed, who is running to replace Ms. Sneddon in District 4, said a key part of his campaign is getting Santa Barbara back on track by addressing the housing crisis in the city and enticing residents and businesses to return to downtown. A local resident, Mr. Reed said he grew up in Santa Barbara and has lived here for the last 37 years.
“This isn’t the Santa Barbara I grew up in,” Mr. Reed said. “I’m sure it’s not the Santa Barbara most of us remember, and it’s not what Santa Barbara should be. We’ve become a city without vision and action where it matters the most, so I’m running to take action to turn this city around.”
Numerous candidates spoke at length Wednesday about the pivotal role State Street plays in the city’s economic development as a whole, regardless of district lines.
Mr. Carlton, who is running for the District 6 seat, said the State Street promenade is one of “the best things that’s ever happened in Santa Barbara.” If elected, he said he would work to make the promenade look more “professional” and address the homeless crisis that he says is negatively affecting small businesses.
“I think we need to start looking at creating a more permanent promenade, maybe making it a more European feel — bringing restaurants back on the sidewalks, maybe allowing retail to come out a little bit,” Mr. Carlton said.
Ms. Harmon, the District 6 incumbent, also said State Street revitalization is a priority for her moving forward, saying the city is currently in a moment with “so much transformative potential.” She said she plans to leverage the momentum and work with the city council members to make the promenade permanent.
“The future of State Street cannot be understated in terms of the importance to District 6 and truly to the city as a whole,” Ms. Harmon said.
Candidates also discussed potential solutions for the ongoing housing crisis on Wednesday, largely agreeing that additional housing — including units to house the homeless — is a prominent need in Santa Barbara.
Ms. Johnson, who is the current senior assistant to the interim city administrator, said a key part of solving the housing crisis is increasing the supply for a wide range of housing units. If elected, she said she would provide incentives to property owners to “help them see it as attractive to build all kinds of housing.” She also said she would work to streamline the Accessory Dwelling Unit permitting process, which she said has the “most potential” for more units.
Leveraging his experience as a soil technician in Goleta, Mr. Pike said that while additional housing is certainly needed, he has concerns about overbuilding in Santa Barbara and “taking away the beauty” from downtown.
He proposed looking at vacant downtown buildings that once belonged to businesses and turning them into housing units.
Other candidates pitched similar ideas for housing, with numerous candidates noting the evacuated spaces at the former Nordstrom, Macy’s and Sears stores as potential areas to create new, affordable housing for local residents.
“We need housing that meets the needs of all income levels,” Ms. Sneddon, the incumbent from District 4, said. “We need affordable housing for our workers, or first responders, our healthcare workers, and we have tried multiple incentives and it keeps producing luxury housing.”
“I believe before we add any incentives for developers, we should and must fill those evacuated spaces of Nordstrom, Macy’s and Sears. We need to negotiate hard to have those be housing and to be used for other purposes.”
Ms. Sneddon added that she believes the key to addressing housing for the homeless is to work with the local Housing Authority to develop additional bridge housing, transitional housing and affordable housing.
Candidates also presented their ideas for improving public safety during Wednesday’s forum. Both Ms. Sneddon and Mr. Reed agreed District 4 is in need of increased patrolling units, particularly in the hillsides and remote areas, while Ms. Harmon highlighted the city’s use of mental health workers to address crises.
The candidates were also asked during Wednesday’s forum to address the most important thing that should be addressed in their particular districts. Each of the District 6 candidates pointed to the State Street promenade as the most important project at this time, while the candidates from District 4 differed on what takes priority in their area.
Mr. Reed, who is running in District 4, said he believes neighborhood preservation is the most important thing in his district right now, saying that if elected, he plans to address the affordability and availability of housing downtown.
He voiced opposition against Senate Bills 9 and 10, two housing bills that were recently signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom, which he said are “threatening single-family neighborhoods.” If elected, he said he would work with other local governments to overturn this law.
Ms. Sneddon outlined different priorities for District 4 during her remarks, noting that she sees fire safety, water infrastructure and improvements to Coast Village Road as paramount.
The City Council election will take place Nov. 2. For more information, visit santabarbaraca.gov/gov/vote/default.asp.