Originally published May 10, 2018 at 12:00a.m., updated May 24, 2018 at 12:00a.m.
This year’s June midterm elections are a case of feast and famine. Statewide, we have no fewer than 32 candidates running for U.S. Senate — one is inveighing against “the social sickness of transgenderism” and another against microwave poisoning — and 27 are running for governor. Yet here in Santa Barbara County, we have two supervisorial district races with uncontested candidates. The last time Santa Barbara saw two uncontested supervisorial races was precisely never.
In one of those contests — for the 2nd Supervisorial District — candidate Susan Epstein abruptly withdrew from the race at the last minute, citing personal reasons, effectively precluding anyone else from challenging the only other candidate, Gregg Hart. Three other county races are uncontested: for district attorney, superintendent of schools, and treasurer-tax collector.
For those who like horse races, there’s the race to elect the councilmember to represent the City of Santa Barbara’s District 3, on the city’s Westside. Four first-time-ever candidates are running there, where voter turnout has been historically low. A candidate who can muster 450 votes might well win. Given that this councilmember will tip the council’s precarious balance of power, that constitutes a significant impact for only a few votes.
The Santa Barbara Independent does not always endorse in every race. In some cases, we don’t feel strongly enough to suggest a vote; in others, we are not confident we know enough about the candidate or issue. This year we will be publishing our endorsements over a four-week period.
Vote Yes on Proposition 68
Parks and Water Protection Bond
If passed, Prop. 68 would set aside $4.1 billion to fund programs designed to enhance neglected urban parks and various water conservation and underground aquifer cleanup efforts. Of this, $2.83 million would go to parks and the remainder to water projects. The need for both is immense, and the State Legislature already approved this measure by more than a two-thirds supermajority. The bulk of the parks funding would go to “parks-poor,” highly urbanized areas — for example, Isla Vista. The water projects would fund water-recycling efforts, buttress the Sacramento and San Joaquin delta levees, and clean up contaminated aquifers. Divergent groups such as the Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters support Prop. 68 because it offers small-scale solutions that can help make a real difference.
Vote Yes on Proposition 69
Locks Gas-Tax Increases into Transportation Projects
Last year, the State Legislature voted to increase gas taxes by 12 cents a gallon and diesel taxes by 20 cents a gallon, thus generating roughly $5.2 billion in revenues earmarked for desperately needed road repairs. Prop. 69 closes those loopholes that could allow the Legislature to siphon these revenues into the state’s general fund. Again, this bill enjoys across-the-aisle support. To be clear, Prop. 69 is not a tax increase. It simply mandates that funds generated from last year’s gas-tax increase be spent the way the legislature promised.
Vote No on Proposition 70
Cap-and-Trade Spending Restrictions
The oil industry helped design Prop. 70 in an effort to hobble California’s successful and historic cap-and-trade program. Enacted to reduce greenhouse gases over time, “cap-and-trade” describes an auction where California “sells off” pollution credits to major polluters. The money raised has been used to invest in new emission-reducing technologies. Prop. 70 would restrict this. Even though Governor Jerry Brown, a recognized environmentalist, is listed as a supporter, do not be confused. Brown agreed to add his name as the only way to get the needed Republican votes to continue the state’s cap-and-trade program, which otherwise would have expired. Conspicuously lacking are the names of any other environmental advocates. If passed, Prop. 70 would require the legislature to secure a two-thirds supermajority before the next cap-and-trade plan is enacted in 2024 — which would bog the program down in gridlock. This is what happened when such two-thirds majorities were required to pass a budget some years ago. California became fiscally dysfunctional. Since abolishing this requirement, California’s budget process has improved dramatically. Let’s keep the cap-and-trade program working. Vote No on Prop. 70.
Vote Yes on Proposition 71
Extends Date New Ballot Initiatives Take Effect by Six Weeks
Prop. 71 reflects the relatively recent reality that about 60 percent of state voters cast their ballots by mail. Ballots cast by mail often straggle in several days after the election date and often take many more days — often weeks — to count. Under existing law, statewide ballot and bond measures take effect the day after the election date. That may have made sense in 1970, when around 200,000 voters cast their ballots by mail, but it doesn’t today, when the number is closer to eight million. Under Prop. 71, county elections officials would be given more time to count ballots and victorious measures would go into effect no later than six weeks after the election dates.
Vote Yes on Proposition 72
Exempts Rainwater-Capture Systems from Property Taxes
Every little bit helps, and if Prop. 72 is approved, it will exempt new rainwater-capture systems installed on residential and commercial properties from being taxed as a property improvement by county assessors and tax czars. We don’t pretend Prop. 72 will spark a stampede for new such installations — though it would be nice if it did — but it will take out some of the sting. Currently, such exemptions are allowed for solar panels, fire sprinkler systems, and earthquake safety upgrades. This would expand the list, but for that to happen, state voters must approve changes to California’s Constitution. Not a single legislator voted against this measure, and more impressive, no one bothered even writing an argument against it. Enough said. Vote Yes on 72.
Santa Barbara Sheriff-Coroner: No Endorsement
This one pains us. Of the three candidates running, all can credibly boast of long and impressive careers in law enforcement. And all three are personally likable, if not outright compelling. But given the historical moment and the challenges that law enforcement currently faces, we cannot, with confidence, endorse any candidate.
Sheriff Bill Brown, it must be acknowledged off the bat, has achieved the impossible. During his 12 years and three terms in office, he managed to get the funding and the approvals to build a new, desperately needed North County jail. Four sheriffs preceding Brown all vowed to do this; all failed.
Brown, a moderate, pragmatic Republican, has operated at the highest level of state politics. He has been endorsed by such prominent Democrats as Governor Jerry Brown and senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, but these endorsements also highlight the complaints of Brown’s critics: You can’t run a Santa Barbara department of 700 employees from Sacramento — or at an altitude of 30,000 feet. All this flying to and fro has not impressed the deputies slogging below in the trenches.
Serious morale issues are plaguing the department. For the past 10 years, jail deputies have been forced to work mandatory overtime shifts because of chronic recruitment and retention problems. Exhausted custody officers in the county jail? That’s a disaster waiting to happen. This past month, Brown finally unveiled a response plan. But it barely passed the better-late-than-never test, especially since it came just two weeks before the Grand Jury released a critical report on the same subject.
When Brown first ran for office, he castigated his opponent for volunteering to cooperate with immigration officials (ICE) on enforcement actions. Brown correctly argued then that this compromised public safety because it made immigrants more fearful of law enforcement than they already were. This was a problem not just for immigrants but for the entire community. We agreed with Brown then. In the time of Trump — when the president routinely refers to immigrants as “animals” — it is imperative that we reassure our immigrant community that the functions of ICE and the Sheriff’s Office are separate. This is not happening.
We agree that genuinely violent predators should be turned over to ICE. But we remain deeply troubled by reports that petty offenders are turned over as well — and by the fact that it is so difficult to get accurate information from the Sheriff’s Office about how many prisoners released from County Jail are turned over to ICE and for what offenses.
Given that Bill Brown served for seven years on a statewide commission on mental health — appointed by Governor Brown — we would have expected to see Sheriff Brown display far more initiative and creativity than he has in mobilizing a community-wide response to Santa Barbara’s obvious mental-health crisis.
Despite Bill Brown’s formidable political skills, he is not trusted by any of the county supervisors — especially over his financial projections. That lack of trust was responsible for scuttling a satellite facility Brown had proposed for the new county jail that would have provided a pragmatic program for inmates reentering society.
Houston, we have a problem.
As for the two challengers, we are frustrated that neither has waged what could remotely be described as a viable campaign.
Of the two, Lieutenant Eddie Hsueh, a 32-year veteran of the department, speaks most directly to many ideals the Independent values. He created a much-needed program to train law enforcement officers in how best to de-escalate confrontations involving mental-health issues — something police and deputies must deal with daily. But despite Hsueh’s heroic efforts to run his program on a shoestring, he has lacked the administrative experience, bureaucratic skills, and political connections necessary to establish a practical, long-term policy.
Lieutenant Brian Olmstead, with 28 years on the force — 11 in leadership positions — has the experience to do the job. And he has done a good job articulating the shortcomings of Brown’s distant and disconnected leadership approach. But on other key issues of concern to us — immigration and mental health, to name two — we don’t see much daylight between Olmstead and Brown. Like Hsueh, Olmstead launched his campaign too late to be taken as seriously as it might have been. No wonder this one pains us.
Auditor-Controller: Betsy Schaffer
This is the only open seat genuinely up for grabs on the June ballot. Neither of the two candidates vying for the spot is an incumbent. Of the two, we’re confident Betsy Schaffer has the technical qualifications, experience, and temperament needed to run and lead this vitally important — if politically obscure and decidedly unsexy — office of county government. For starters, Schaffer is the only candidate in the race who is a certified public accountant, having worked as one the past 26 years. Given that the office is all about keeping track of how county funds are actually spent, this seems a minimal, if critical, qualification. For the past two years, Schaffer has functioned as second in command in the Auditor-Controller’s office. She’s worked her way up through the office, taken jobs with the City of Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara City College, and then come back. Schaffer is quiet and self-effacing, so we initially worried she might be too soft-spoken to handle so public a position, especially one where the buck so famously stops. We’ve since been persuaded she embodies the right mix of steel and mohair to become an effective leader and community collaborator.
State Assembly 37th District: Monique Limón
Only nominally can this be called a race. With two years in the statehouse under her belt, incumbent Monique Limón is facing off against two little-known fellow Democrats from Ventura County. No Republican is running. One can understand why. In her first Assembly term, Limón has distinguished herself as an exceptionally hard worker who has already been fast-tracked for leadership positions. When it comes to both rhetoric and legislation, Limón adheres to the “measure twice, cut once” approach. Not a flag waver by inclination, Limón typically waits for every last-minute change before committing herself to most bills. She’s been independent, breaking with the governor on notable occasion, and not averse to taking stands unpopular with the activist wing of the party. She refused to support a single-payer health-care plan — citing its unsupportable, huge price tag — disappointing those Democrats who saw single-payer politics as the strategic response to Trump’s effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. While in Sacramento, Limón has been especially attentive to the needs of local elected officials. With the monumental rebuilding challenges in the aftermath of this year’s natural disasters, the district desperately needs someone with Limón’s clout, connections, and know-how in the State Capitol. Likewise, her firsthand familiarity with education policy and funding issues — she served two terms on the Santa Barbara school board — ground her in some of the key issues that matter most.
Attorney General: Xavier Becerra
Both candidates vying for this position are more than qualified; both have distinguished themselves throughout their careers. But during his one year on the job — appointed by Governor Jerry Brown to the fill the vacancy created when Kamala Harris was elected to the U.S. Senate — Xavier Becerra has impressed us greatly. Whether it’s on immigration rights, the environment, or access to health care, Becerra has used his office to wage legal warfare against the dangerously retrograde policies pushed by the White House. To date, Becerra has filed more than 30 lawsuits against the Trump administration, prevailing in more than a dozen. The child of Mexican immigrants, Becerra was the first in his family to graduate from college and certainly the first to be elected to public office. Prior to his appointment last year, Becerra had served in Congress since 1993. Should Becerra win, we’re confident he can continue to lead the resistance and to address more of the traditional duties of the post. His opponent, Dave Jones, has been exemplary as state insurance commissioner, showing up in person many times in the South Coast’s extended hour of need. We regret Jones will no longer be insurance commissioner. But we urge a vote for Xavier Becerra for attorney general.
24th Congressional District: Salud Carbajal
This one’s a certified no-brainer. Even if Salud Carbajal merely showed up for the TV cameras and waved his rhetorical flag in support of Obamacare, immigrant rights, and the region’s sacrosanct ban on new offshore oil development, that would have been reason enough to send this first-term Democrat back to Washington, D.C. On such matters, Carbajal’s values are in lockstep with those of his district, which encompasses Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties with a small part of Ventura. But there’s more here than giving voice to California’s ongoing revolt against all things Trump. As of January 9, the deck chairs of our regional Titanic have been fundamentally rearranged. How we dig out and rebuild in the wake of the Thomas Fire and its subsequent debris flow are profound questions we will be asking ourselves for years to come. Federal assistance will play a critical role, as will new federal flood maps. That Carbajal spent 12 years as a county supervisor makes him the ideal member of Congress to both access and direct federal assistance. For Carbajal, county government is not a flow chart he needs to learn and master. He already knows it. He’s lived it. He’s breathed it. He knows the key players in every department by name. He knows their second and third in command. Such knowledge at this time in Santa Barbara’s history is priceless.
Carbajal is facing two Republican opponents. According to federal election rules, that automatically means there will be a November runoff. In all likelihood, Carbajal will face Republican Justin Fareed, now waging his third bid for office. Fareed is no longer bombarding the airwaves with clips of his athletic prowess, running the football or riding a horse — as he has in campaigns past — but he is doing nothing to explain what qualifies him for office. It’s a mystery. We urge you to vote for Salud Carbajal.
U.S. Senate: Dianne Feinstein
By any reckoning Dianne Feinstein qualifies as the political equivalent of an 8,000-pound gorilla. Given the relationship between California and the administration of Donald Trump — war without the bullets — California desperately needs an 8,000-pound gorilla in Washington, D.C. True, her rhetoric is as measured and careful as her votes. But Feinstein has been in the Senate since 1992, whereupon she beat out Santa Barbara’s then-resident carpetbagger-in-chief Michael Huffington for the seat in 1994. The issue then — as it is now — was immigration. She was on the right side then; she still is today. On gun control, Feinstein has the distinction of writing the only automatic-weapons ban this nation has ever passed. Absurdly, it has since been allowed to expire. Who knows how many mass shooting murder victims would still be alive if that were not the case. In her 26 years in D.C., Feinstein has achieved very senior leadership positions on several key committees — appropriations and judiciary, to name just two. More than that, there are the personal relationships she has cultivated in that time. Her reach, influence, and impact cannot be overstated. Yes, we’ve disagreed with some of her votes, some — like her support of the war waged on Iraq — very strongly. Feinstein’s chief Democratic rival, Kevin de León, has amassed an impressive record in the State Legislature on such critical issues as immigrant rights, the minimum wage, and climate change. But to walk away from Feinstein now, at this historical moment, would constitute an act of political self-mutilation.
California Governor: Gavin Newsom
Let’s start by lamenting the obvious. After eight years of relative sanity and success, California won’t have Jerry Brown in the statehouse anymore. Brown managed to exert a degree of control, restraint, and discipline on the Legislature that none of his immediate predecessors had ever approximated. He got day-to-day things done while pursuing expansive, big-picture solutions to such global existential threats as climate change. We didn’t agree with him on everything. But when it comes to vision and pragmatism, Brown will be sorely missed. In this context, none of the contenders running to fill his shoes comes close. That being said, we’re throwing our lot behind Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, acknowledging up-front his less-than-seemly personal history. Newsom may be slick and ambitious, but on big-deal historical issues, he’s moved the needle. It was Newsom, as mayor of San Francisco, who first recognized and allowed gay marriage. That took courage and vision. Newsom also was part of the vanguard pushing a package of gun control bills as a state initiative two years ago. On cannabis legalization, Newsom was there, again fighting for it long before it, too, became sanitized and inevitable.
City of Santa Barbara District 3: Oscar Gutierrez
The four candidates running to represent District 3 on the Santa Barbara City Council embody all that’s good about district elections and all that’s not so good, too. Let’s start with the most obvious: diversity. Of the four candidates running, three are Latinos. The fourth is a 22-year-old woman. That’s good. But all are exceptionally green. None of the candidates has run for any kind of office. Only one has ever served on a governmental board or commission. That’s not so good. All, however, are hyper-focused on serving the neighborhood. That’s good. But all have a lot to learn.
We’ve been impressed and troubled in different ways by each of the four. On balance, the candidate we think can and will represent District 3 best is Oscar Gutierrez. Gutierrez has lived on the Westside his entire life. At age 34, that gives him an edge. The son of Mexican immigrants, Gutierrez attended Harding, La Cumbre Junior High, San Marcos High School, City College, and UCSB. While attending City College, Gutierrez began covering local news as a videographer, and after graduation he put his community news chops to work at Santa Barbara’s public access television station, where he helped produce countless public affairs shows. Gutierrez developed a keen understanding of how the city operates and who makes up the human infrastructure.
Physically large, soft-spoken, and quietly shrewd, Gutierrez exudes an easygoing decency combined with an innate common sense that we’re confident will serve him and the council well. We know he gets his neighborhood. We know he gets this town. But the learning curve required to become a councilmember will be steep.
Gutierrez has been endorsed and strongly backed by the Democratic Central Committee and Mayor Cathy Murillo, who donated $5,000 to his campaign. Gutierrez will have to tread carefully not to fall into the personality dysfunction that now plagues a council already too cliquish for its own good.
The other three candidates are to be commended for their thought and energy. Michael Vidal, clearly smart and thoughtful, proved to be an exceptionally quick study. But he’s never voted in any city election since moving here, not once. That gives us pause. Ken Rivas has a prodigious record of in-the-weeds community involvement, though much of it has been on the Eastside. Given that, we’re struck by his lack of endorsements. Elizabeth Hunter, 22, has demonstrated an impressive intelligence and poise at community forums, but the difficulty reporters experienced making contact — coupled with her already-busy school schedule — makes us doubt she has the time the job requires. We hope all three will maintain their involvement in district issues.
Measure T, Cannabis Tax: YES
There’s simply no good reason not to vote yes on this. Even people who oppose the legalization of cannabis should vote for this. We don’t know exactly how much the taxation of cannabis sale, cultivation, manufacture, testing, and distribution authorized by Measure T will generate, but it will be considerable. Official estimates range in size from $6.7 million to $29.6 million. However much it is, the new regulatory regime — one of the most stringent and all-encompassing imposed on any industry — will require growers to track and trace every plant grown from seeds to smoke. For users, this means they will now know — for the first time — the quantified potency of the pot as well as the extent to which pesticides have infused the product they’re consuming. Given the growing popularity of cannabis oils — in which pesticide residues concentrate — this is a significant public-health improvement.
For the past 90 years, the U.S. government and all 50 states have waged an intractably stupid and destructive war against marijuana. The toll in needless human suffering has been incalculable, as has the strain pot laws have imposed on the nation’s criminal justice system. While we think pot tends to make people more boring than they otherwise would be, the same could be said for any number of mood-altering substances currently allowed, not the least of which is alcohol. California voters were right to legalize recreational weed a year ago; the Santa Barbara County supervisors were right to pass an ordinance customized to the specific needs of county growers, retailers, and communities affected by the burgeoning, not-so-new industry. Central to all this is the ability to tax. The revenues generated are key to enforcing common-sense guidelines designed to protect communities, like Carpinteria, from the pungent intrusions caused by large-scale grow operations. Measure T may not be the panacea some of its supporters claim, but it constitutes one small step toward sanity.
Measure R, Isla Vista Community Services District Tax: YES
Two years ago, Isla Vista voters approved the creation of a new community services district to provide that community — reputedly the most densely populated this side of the Mississippi River — a desperately needed glimmer of a hope of a dream of self-government. If passed, Measure R would create a steady, reliable revenue stream without which that dream will soon be dead. The latest estimates suggest Measure R — which imposes a surcharge on utility fees — will generate slightly more than $700,000 year. By governmental standards, that barely qualifies as chump change. But for Isla Vista, it’s a solid start. Those funds will be used to augment public-safety services especially needed during periods of weekend rowdiness. In addition, it will underwrite landlord-tenant mediation services. And it creates a reliable funding base for the new service district, created to give Isla Vista — long the bastard stepchild of UCSB — some institutional expression of self-determination. Measure R advocates say the new utility user fees will cost the average Isla Vista resident $2-$4 a month. That’s about what it costs, they say, to buy a single yerba maté. According to the opponents, it will be much more, about the price of two yerba matés. Even at the price of three yerba matés, it will be well worth it. The history of Isla Vista demonstrates there’s little benign about benign neglect.
Clarification: Susan Epstein's withdrawal from the 2nd District race was not so much mysterious as it was abrupt and for personal reasons. This piece was changed on May 18 to reflect that.