NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITER
With the March 3 primary election fast approaching and town halls taking place across the county for several races, voters got to hear from three candidates for the 3rd District County Board of Supervisor seat Thursday evening.
Locals gathered at the Goleta Valley Community Center for a Town Hall featuring incumbent Joan Hartmann, as well as challengers Karen Jones and Bruce Porter. The 3rd District race is one of the more crowded contests in Santa Barbara County with four candidates, although Isla Vista resident Jessica Alvarez Parfrey was not in attendance.
Mr. Porter, a financial adviser and former Santa Ynez Joint Union High School District board member, and Ms. Jones, a Santa Ynez Community Services District board member, ran against Ms. Hartmann for the same seat in 2016.
The event was hosted by the League of Women Voters of Santa Barbara, with each candidate having 90 seconds to answer questions from the League and the audience. Topics included disaster preparedness, county systems, and, of course, cannabis.
As the 3rd District Supervisor since 2016, Ms. Hartmann defended her record and explained county initiatives during the event, and concurred with Mr. Porter that the county should facilitate more community organizations as a way to better represent the district’s residents.
“When you are dealing with people who are disorganized, who do you listen to? Who represents that community? So, when you have organizations, you can talk to them, partner with them, and that’s really the best way, and most satisfying thing about being a supervisor,” said Ms. Hartmann.
Quickly, Ms. Jones established the divide between her candidacy and her opponents’ with the opposite message for county government: get out of the way.
“No matter who’s the president, half the country is upset about it. Oh that tyrant, whether it’s Clinton, or Bush, or Obama. At some point in my life I realized I should be more worried about 3,000 tyrants one mile away than one tyrant 3,000 miles away, so I started getting involved in local government” said Ms. Jones.
The difference was immediately apparent with the first question addressing climate change.
Mr. Porter said it was a major responsibility of the county to facilitate a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
“How about we do this as a county? Why don’t we prezone every existing energy facility for future renewable use?” said Mr. Porter.
Ms. Hartmann said that the county was already in the process of rezoning for renewable energy, and spoke to various climate action initiatives the county is involved in, like the Community Choice Energy program.
“This is my number one priority: transition to a low carbon green economy,” said Ms. Hartmann.
“I have a little different take,” said Ms. Jones.
While she does think that climate change is real, and that we should be aware and model responsible sustainability in our own lives, she sees the benefit of oil having grown up around it.
“I think it’s brought us a wonderful standard of living, and I don’t think oil should be outlawed. I think that, we can call it fossil fuels, are part of the solution,” said Ms. Jones.
Among the several local issues discussed at the town hall was the debate over the role of zoning in the county, especially as it relates to short-term rentals.
Ms. Hartmann stressed the importance of zoning as a way to ensure quality of life and protect property values over time.
“The issue of short-term rentals is basically a defacto re-zoning of land to say that bed and breakfast and hostels and that kind of use can go into residential areas. On the planning commission and the board, this was one of the most controversial issues that I faced,” said Ms. Hartmann.
Citing the lax zoning laws in cities like Houston, Ms. Jones argued that while zoning is important in certain situations, excessive zoning and planning can end up making homes less affordable. Regarding short-term rentals, Ms. Jones sympathizes with any residential neighborhood upset that they are turning into a business district, but questioned if that was really the case in the county.
“People are coming in and sleeping there and they are obeying property laws. It’s no different having a drunk crazy party at somebody who’s lived there 30 years if it’s somebody that’s just one night there. There are laws that apply to people in neighborhoods regardless if they are a short term rental or they’re a person’s home,” said Ms. Jones.
Agriculture and business zoning needs to be more flexible in the county, said Mr. Porter.
“Tourism is a big deal, and now we have opportunities for ag-tourism as well, but that doesn’t exactly fit a lot of the current land-use codes and kind of things we have going on. I think we need to be prepared to be very flexible and think about the future and be considerate of new ideas and new information that are coming up in those agricultural and industrial zones,” said Mr. Porter.
No town hall in Santa Barbara County would be complete without the Cannabis Question, and the candidates sounded off Thursday on reducing the cap on cannabis cultivation in the district.
“Our county botched the role out of cannabis cultivation,” said Mr. Porter.
In Mr. Porter’s view, the county had made too many decisions too fast without having the proper data.
“We just plunged headlong into it and we’ve been zig zagging all over the place,” said Mr. Porter.
While she’s not opposed to cannabis, Ms. Jones is of course against the government’s involvement and believes the county is motivated by revenue on the issue, leading to things like improper zoning for cannabis farms.
“The first thing I recognized about marijuana is that it’s not a traditional crop, and it is grown as agriculture but it’s vice. It’s like comparing a strip club to a place where people are dancing, a dance recital,” said Ms. Jones.
Ms. Hartmann acknowledged the complexity of the cannabis issue, and said the board has “discovered conflicts between traditional agriculture and cannabis.”
“Part of the effort to deal with this was to establish a cap, and I was the one who established the cap countywide, like the 186 acre cap that we have in Carpinteria, and that cap may have to be reduced some more. We have been having those discussions,” said Ms. Hartmann.
A full video of the town hall can be found at www.facebook.com/LWVSB/videos/496440481296888/.