In a rather early announcement on Wednesday, Planning Commissioner Deborah Schwartz shared with reporters that she is running for mayor next year.
Her formal announcement will come later, but she told the News-Press that conversations with community members pushed her to go “all in.”
“It wasn’t my initial intention,” Ms. Schwartz said regarding her mayoral announcement. “But I’m talking with residents and business owners about the increasing concerns they have and it’s really pressed me to consider whether this is something that the economy wants.”
She added that the incumbent Mayor Cathy Murillo announced her reelection campaign in September, which inspired her to “look carefully at my deep care for the community and whether or not I’m going to extend myself further in my public service.”
Ms. Schwartz comes from a family of just that — her father spent 42 years as a professor at UCSB and her mother served 18 years as the chief of staff to former State Sen. Gary Hart and 12 years on the County Board of Supervisors.
She went through Santa Barbara’s public school system and graduated from UCSB. Now, she’s a land use consultant and has served Santa Barbara’s Planning Commission for 11 years.
While lacking a formal announcement or a campaign team at this stage in the game, Ms. Schwartz has two campaign promises: an official economic development plan and a strategic homelessness plan.
“We have so many lives and livelihoods on the line, so an economic development plan that is still not forthcoming from within city staff is critical,” she said. “We still have not seen a short- or long-term economic development plan, so I am going to champion the development and introduction of that, and of course, we need action items associated with it.”
She said it’s not enough to make plans so they can “sit on a shelf and collect dust”; rather, city staff needs to “implement, implement, implement.”
And, the economic development plan should connect with the homelessness plan, which connects with housing, she added.
“Goleta has already launched public feedback to create their first strategic homeless plan. We cannot simply allocate funds here and there to our wonderful nonprofits to attempt to address homelessness — we need a framework and that framework has to come in the form of a plan that allows us to collaborate with regional partners, because homelessness is a regional issue,” Ms. Schwartz said.
With regards to affordable housing, she pointed out that the city’s Housing Authority only provides 6% of rental housing stock, meaning the majority of the rental housing units have been paid for, constructed and are owned and managed by the private sector.
“What does that tell us? We have to build partnerships with the private sector where we forge common ground and reach compromise and consensus to bring them to the table and provide the processes inside the city that will help them want to build sensitively and strategically,” she said.
Ms. Schwartz said that while additional construction must be strategic so as not to overwhelm neighborhoods and maintain scenic views, the city can modernize.
“We can bring the two together,” she said. “Our historic resources are very precious here, but at the same time, we have to allow the city to evolve to remain a vital city.”
She added that she wants to avoid losing authority and allowing the state to control zoning and development standards.
The mayoral candidate supports forming a new Central Coast region comprised of Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties, citing that the counties are different from Los Angeles, but “that does not absolve us.”
“That does not mean we can turn away from local responsibility in protecting public health. Even if the government grants us our own Central Coast region, that doesn’t mean we can carry on as we did before COVID,” she said.
In her talks with small business owners, Ms. Schwartz said the majority of what she’s heard is that they want more access, responsiveness and partnering with City Hall.
“We have to take a fresh look at how we’re regulating businesses,” she said. “Perhaps providing more permitting flexibility while maintaining safety and public health.
“They don’t see themselves as special interest and they shouldn’t be treated as special interest. They’re the lifeblood of our economy.”
Switching gears, Ms. Schwartz said she’s intrigued at discussion of taking some of the functions of the police department and potentially streamlining them to public works, such as parking enforcement and other city ambassador-like duties.
In terms of other social issues such as street renaming, Ms. Schwartz said she believes it’s important to ask neighbors and community members in order to balance their thoughts with historical information and research.
“Having been raised here knowing so many members of our community, I’m deeply passionate about helping our city through this historic pandemic into a bright future,” she said. “Building teams within the community is really critical, because we have some dividedness and I think that I would lead that enthusiastic outreach that’s needed.
“We have many issues in this city, but when I ask community members what’s important, they’ve expressed that in a mayor, we need someone who has experience and commitment to bringing groups together to form plans with inclusion and success. They just don’t see that in our current mayor.”
Ms. Schwartz said she plans to build a diverse campaign team and wants “the whole community to get involved.” She said there will be more to come in 2021.