District 6 Council Candidate Debrief

Where Do Gregg Hart, Jack Ucciferri, and Aaron Solis Land on Important Election Topics?

Gregg Hart (left), Jack Ucciferri (center), and Aaron Solis (right)

Paul Wellman

Gregg Hart (left), Jack Ucciferri (center), and Aaron Solis (right)

In the Santa Barbara City Council election to represent District 6, which encompasses the mid-downtown corridor and Laguna areas, incumbent Gregg Hart is facing off against political newcomers Jack Ucciferri, a Realtor and entrepreneur, and Aaron Solis, a San Marcos High School teacher and coach. It’s Hart’s race to lose, but Ucciferri and Solis are mustering an impressive amount of heel-nipping energy and support among their constituents.

Here, they answer the Santa Barbara Independent’s questions on important election issues. Some of their answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Hart, Ucciferri, and Solis will also speak on their city government views and ideas during the District 6 Discussion hosted by the Independent on Wednesday, October 11, from 6-7 p.m. at the Cielito Banquet Room at Viva! restaurant (1114 State St.). The event is free and open to the public. Reserve tickets at sbindytickets.com.

Ballots will be mailed to voters October 9.

What are District 6’s top three issues?

Gregg Hart: Good jobs and affordable housing; downtown economic vitality and neighborhood quality of life; traffic, parking, and transportation

Jack Ucciferri: Unsafe streets; expensive and unstable cable internet; high cost of renting relative to earnings

Aaron Solis: State Street ― homelessness and bringing people downtown; AUD density housing

What are Santa Barbara’s top three issues?

GH: Good jobs and affordable housing; infrastructure investment and public safety; environmental protection and transportation investment

JU: High cost of renting relative to earnings; climate change/climate justice; expensive and unstable cable internet; good governance

AS: (Same as District 6)

How would you balance the interests of District 6 with the interests of the whole city?

GH: My District 6 neighbors face many of the same issues as residents of the city as a whole, and my deep experience working with competing interests in decisions at many levels of government will benefit the city’s transition to full district representation.

JU: I raise my family in the center of District 6 and my number-one priority is protecting/improving the quality of life in Santa Barbara’s downtown area. I have no potential conflicts of interest in that regard. The interests of District 6 are essentially compatible with those of the city as a whole. If the situation should arise that I perceive that those interests conflict in the short term, clearly what is best for the city is ultimately also best for the district in the long run.

AS: District 6 is a microcosm of the city as a whole. Million-dollar houses, expensive condos, more affordable condos, apartments, lower-income areas, and the downtown area are all part of District 6.

How would you engage with your constituents, and how would you collaborate with your council colleagues?

GH: I will actively participate in and attend community events, make myself available seven days a week to meet and help constituents, and serve as council liaison to city boards and commissions. I will also work collaboratively with community organizations to address issues and solve problems and search for areas of common ground with my colleagues to accomplish community goals.

JU: I will continue to engage my constituents just like I do now, through writing down my thoughts and then shopping them around as I knock on their doors.

AS: I would love to have open office hours at various locations (places like Daily Grind, Public Market, China Pavilion, Sportsman) throughout the district. These would be in the evening so those working would be able to meet and have open dialogues with me about issues they feel are important. The idea would be to have community members feel they have a forum to come discuss issues with their council person in a respectful manner.

What new projects or initiatives would you like to spearhead?

GH: Investment in infrastructure; partnering in the development of renewable, reliable, sustainable energy; new affordable rental housing

JU: Santa Barbara deserves to have world-class internet. The reason we don’t have better internet is simple ― lack of competition. The good news is that there is something we can do about it. We can follow the leads of Santa Monica and Boulder and invest as a community in our own digital future.

I am very hopeful of the benefits that our community could realize by initiating a bike-sharing system. Having been the lead author of the South Coast Bike Share feasibility study, I can say that there is substantial interest in this model among many leading local institutions and that Santa Barbara risks being left behind if we don’t take action on this idea.

Parking is a major issue in my district. Twice a week everyone needs to move their cars off one side of the road so that a street cleaning vehicle can pass by. Why? Clean streets are important to protect our water quality but why do we need to close off parking for six hours a week so that a vehicle can pass by twice? Why not place a tracking device on the street-sweeping vehicles that uploads where they have passed onto a map that is accessible through a phone app? Once a street-sweeping vehicle has passed, that parking should be opened back up again.

AS: State Street revitalization and festivals. A grandiose idea that will never happen (unless it is funded by private donors) ― a baseball stadium at Pershing Park.

How would you work to ease the housing shortage?

GH: New rental housing has not been built in Santa Barbara for 40 years, and supply and demand are far out of balance. New, carefully designed, infill rental housing would allow tenants to move from older units and have choices in properties to rent. Building housing near jobs also reduces the long-distance commuting that is increasing traffic congestion and lowering our quality of life.

JU: We need to consider every potential tool to address this problem, including rent stabilization (a form of rent control). We need to build more apartments in the center of our downtown core, as the Housing Task Force appears to be moving toward approving. Also, if a rental housing unit is put up for sale, the tenant(s) should have first right of refusal to purchase it. If the tenant(s) is/are financially qualified, I would like to create a fund that specializes in providing affordable financing of such transactions.

AS: The AUD program is a good idea, but it definitely needs to be reorganized in a different way. I think everyone is overestimating people wanting to ditch their cars. Cottage Hospital, Westmont, and UCSB have all found the need to create their own housing for employees. What other large employers need to do the same? But where is all the water going to come from? The desal plant can provide up to a third of the city’s need. But if we are going to build all this housing for more people, there must be a system for developers to pay into to expand the desal output.

What steps would you take to preserve Santa Barbara’s history and character?

GH: I will work to preserve our historic landmarks and neighborhoods. I will also support arts and cultural programming, as well as projects that enhance Santa Barbara’s downtown. Protecting our coastline and environment from offshore oil development is imperative.

JU: I studied local history while at UCSB, and I know that we are blessed with an incredible cultural heritage and that we have developed robust systems to preserve Santa Barbara’s history and character. What concerns me is the ossification of those systems. I want to ensure that our city is able to adapt to changing times, climate, and circumstances. What doesn’t bend eventually breaks.

AS: - - -

What would you do to revitalize State Street?

GH: I will encourage downtown property owners to lower commercial rents to support small local businesses; invest in maintaining public infrastructure and lead by example to encourage downtown property owners to clean and better maintain their buildings; work with local businesses and property owners to diversify the downtown tenant mix and focus more on serving Santa Barbara locals, while still attracting tourists from around the world; promote new arts and cultural programming to bring locals back downtown to shop and have fun; and increase public safety presence to maintain proper public behavior.

JU: Today’s consumers prioritize unique experiences over predictability. Let’s give them that by allowing street performers, micro-producers, and civic events to reclaim lower State Street from constant automobile gridlock. Also, the city should consider levying a vacancy fee upon owners of buildings that sit vacant over a given period of time. Many of the buildings have extremely low cost bases relative to current value based upon historic rents. Well-resourced owners can be thusly rational to continue writing off massive paper losses against their very real income from other portions of their real property portfolios. Adding a financial disincentive to letting storefronts sit idle would likely compel owners to acknowledge the true demand curve.

AS: I love the idea of closing off State Street to cars for a walking promenade. Also, could more street festivals be put in place? Next month, Pianos on State, sponsored by the Education Foundation, takes place. Perhaps it could be expanded where the Music Academy of the West has small group performances, local schools have street performances, etc. Maybe expand the Farmer’s Market to have restaurant food/BBQ options similar to S.L.O.?

How would you address homelessness?

GH: By collaborating with the County of Santa Barbara and nonprofit organizations to improve delivery of mental-health services, finding permanent housing for our homeless residents through public/private partnerships, and connecting homeless residents to services through outreach initiatives such as our Restorative Police Program. I will also expand Police Chief Luhnow’s successful community-oriented policing strategy that seeks to find permanent solutions to ongoing problems.

JU: I believe that the city should redouble efforts to match those in crisis to the appropriate service providers. If the appropriate service provider does not exist in our community at the level needed, then we need to remedy that. I am hopeful that we can continue to pursue a Housing First strategy to give these people the foundation they need to rebuild their lives. Finally, economic inequality and the ever-increasing cost of renting a living space need to be acknowledged as core drivers. Our current economic system serves capital at the cost of human welfare. We need to question a system like that.

AS: A greater partnership is needed between the city and some of our amazing nonprofits (Rescue Mission, Unity Shoppe, PATH, Transition House) to improve services to those who need them. Aggressive panhandlers are a different story. They need to be dealt with. It would be interesting to see what happens if the benches were removed from State Street, as aggressive panhandlers use them as gathering points.

Where would you increase, decrease city spending?

GH: I would like to increase investment in maintaining the city’s aging infrastructure, in affordable housing projects, and in renewable energy projects to lower utility bills and save money. I’d like to decrease spending on inefficient, unnecessary programs.

JU: - - -

AS: It is often said Santa Barbara has one of the highest staffing levels in the state for cities of the same size. Why? What can be trimmed without losing items that are necessary for the city, like police, fire, parks, youth programs, etc.? The huge problem is pension funding. Our first responders are so valued and important to the community, but some sort of agreement needs to be made before paying for pensions gets out of control.

What are your ideas to promote economic development?

GH: Create more workforce housing so local companies can retain and attract employees to grow and prosper; invest in transportation infrastructure to reduce congestion and improve the movement of people and goods; support downtown business collaboration that builds popular business communities, such as the collaboration we’ve seen in the Funk Zone; continue to invest in tourism and programs that support the vibrancy of State Street and our downtown; and improve and streamline the City’s permitting process to get businesses open quicker.

JU: For too long, our city has tied our economic fate to tourism, which is subject to extreme fluctuations tied to the economic cycle. While the City of Santa Barbara has a number of economic development–type programs/entities, they are not coordinated under one roof, which leads to inefficiencies and disjointed priorities. We can do better. We should recruit someone like Marsha Bailey, the pragmatic, visionary executive director of Women’s Economic Ventures (WEV), to become economic development czar and empower her to lead a multi-sector economic planning process with the objective of creating a plan to spur the development of sustainable, locally owned businesses which offer career-track jobs.

AS: - - -

Do you support the proposed sales-tax increase? Why or why not?

GH: Yes, Measure C is critically needed to replace the state infrastructure funding that was cut by the state government. The City of Santa Barbara has now lost $100 million in infrastructure revenue to the State of California over the past five years. Measure C will generate $22 million per year in new revenue that cannot be taken away by state or federal governments. The funds will be audited annually and a citizens oversight committee will ensure the money is spent properly and transparently.

JU: Not only do I share the views of the majority of those surveyed who support the idea of raising funds through a modest sales-tax increase, but I question why this tax wasn’t approved several years ago when the street maintenance deficit was foreseeable and avoidable. If Mr. Hart had not opposed the half-cent sales tax that was voted on in 2015, taxpayers would likely not even be asked to consider this year’s full one-cent tax proposal, especially considering the $2-3 million gas tax influx we are anticipating from Sacramento. Why did Mr. Hart join Mr. Hotchkiss in voting against a half-cent tax a few years ago, but supports a one-cent tax now?

AS: I don’t like the idea of the sales-tax increase. We do need to raise funds for infrastructure, but because the increase in sales tax cannot be guaranteed to go towards infrastructure, it is the wrong way to approach the financing.

How should we prepare for the next drought?

GH: The City of Santa Barbara is prepared for the next drought with one of the most diverse water-supply portfolios in the nation, and our residents have successfully embraced voluntary water conservation at record levels. The city must continue to be a leader in water conservation and increase investment in storm-water capture and reclaimed water infrastructure to provide even greater resiliency to our water supply.

JU: We need smart metering that allows property owners to better understand their water usage. We need to reward landlords and property managers who promptly fix leaks and install efficient toilets and faucets. Conversely, we should impose meaningful penalties for failing to do so. We need to pursue potable reuse and to massively scale up storm-water harvesting.

AS: Any new development should pay a fee to expand the desal plant, and there needs to be more enforcement of water use in times of drought. Also, increasing use of recycled water and helping businesses gain access to supplies of recycled water for irrigation is important.

What is your position on the Highway 101 widening project? Do you feel it is ready to move forward?

GH: I support the Highway 101 HOV project because traffic congestion is hurting our local economy and degrading our quality of life. Local businesses need the 15,000 commuters who commute from Ventura County to fill jobs and keep businesses open on the South Coast. One thousand four hundred seniors retire from local jobs each year and most stay in their homes and are replaced by younger workers who are forced into long distance commutes because they can’t afford high housing costs. The City of Santa Barbara should join the City of Carpinteria in actively supporting the 101 widening to relieve regional traffic congestion as soon as possible. I will continue to also support expansion of regional transit service like the Clean Air and Coastal Express and start new peak-hour passenger rail service connecting Santa Barbara and Ventura counties to better utilize the new carpool lane and provide new commute options.

JU: From a traffic-engineering perspective, the freeway widening project will not be completed until a fourth lane is added from Las Positas to Storke roads. While the possibility of doing that was floated during the 101 in Motion study phase, it was (correctly) determined to be politically infeasible. So the project that CalTrans and the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG) approved is an incomplete project, even if it is “completed.” It will also mostly likely be obsolete upon arrival (2031 under best-case scenario) due to advances in technology and shifts in lifestyle and transportation mode share.

The 101 widening project will simply move the current gridlock from the less-populated area south of Santa Barbara into the middle of Santa Barbara. Air quality will plummet in my district and on the Westside. Commuters trying to circumvent freeway traffic will spill over onto our surface streets (again, largely in my district) and become speeding hazards for kids riding their bikes to school and pedestrians walking to work. Finally, the project will crush our road maintenance budget because the increase in surface-street traffic is not matched by any new source of revenue for street maintenance.

Unfortunately for District 6, the incumbent councilman running to represent the district also happens to be the deputy director for the lead implementing agency (SBCAG), so he is literally paid to support the project. Despite his promises to the contrary during the 2014 election, he has been advised by the city attorney that he has a conflict of interest and therefore recuses himself from this hugely important debate.

AS: That should be a county issue. The county has 101 traffic problems in Montecito and Goleta. But that does indirectly impact the City of Santa Barbara. The city does need to have input, but I feel it is a county issue.

How would you continue Santa Barbara’s legacy of environmentalism?

GH: By ensuring that the City of Santa Barbara is on track to reach its 100 percent renewable energy goal by 2030, investing and expanding transportation programs and infrastructure that provide options for commuting without cars, increasing the city’s efforts to combat and adapt to climate change and sea-level rise, and protecting and preserving our city’s open spaces, parks, creeks, and beaches.

JU: I believe that we need to get our own environmental house in order before proclaiming that we are an environmental leader on the global stage. I will stop the Tajiguas Landfill Resource Recovery Project, stop the 101 widening, and prioritize bike sharing and full implementation of the Bike Master Plan.

AS: - - -

How would you connect with the city’s Spanish-speaking community, and how would you address gentrification concerns?

GH: I would ensure that city information, programs, and services are inclusive for our Spanish-speaking community, including translated televised meetings, and I would conduct public meetings in neighborhood community centers to bring government closer to neighborhoods. On the subject of gentrification, new residential and commercial development must provide housing and jobs for our local workforce and be compatible with our neighborhoods and the character of Santa Barbara.

JU: Pues, viví en América Central por varios años, mi primera esposa — cuya familia todavía estoy cerca — es nicaragüense, y yo hablo español, así que disfruto mucho de cualquier oportunidad de conectar con la gente que prefiera hablar español.

The current version of the Average Unit Density (AUD) program does raise concerns about gentrification. Balancing economic development and public safety with the need to maintain the most economically challenged neighborhoods is a challenge that can only be managed by very open lines of communication between City Hall and the at-risk communities.

AS: The Santa Barbara Unified School District has done a great job improving its connection with the Spanish-speaking community. Many of the same ideas can be used in the city.

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