Wednesday, January 16, 2019     Volume: 19, Issue: 45

Santa Maria Sun / Cover Story

The following article was posted on March 7th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 1 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 19, Issue 1

Business as usual: Santa Barbara County supervisor candidates face 
little opposition for 2018 election


Change is coming to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors. However, as the days until the June 5 primary slowly melt away, the painting emerging from below the surface is one richly layered in the region's historical status quo.

Indeed, as of March 6, neither 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino nor 2nd District hopeful and Santa Barbara City Councilmember Gregg Hart face any challengers.


Until Feb. 27, the expectation for the South County supervisorial district was that the race would be a two-person contest. Then Susan Epstein, a Goleta Union School District board member, abruptly announced her withdrawal from the race. The move caught political allies and opponents equally off guard.

"I didn't see that coming," Hart told the Sun, two days after the announcement was made official.

Retiring 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf one of Epstein's most prominent backers, along with State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), admitted "total surprise" when asked about the candidate's withdrawal. Wolf said not to count out an opponent for Hart emerging from the woodwork until the county's filing period concluded on March 9.

"All my terms [12 years] as supervisor had a contested election," Wolf explained. "This is a pretty engaged district, that's not to say Steve [Lavagnino]'s isn't, but we'll see what happens."

After the March 9 deadline, only write-in candidates can participate in the election. The window to register is as a write-in from April 9 to May 22.

In the meantime, the Sun asked a series of questions to both current candidates from the two districts to clarify where they stood on key issues, as well as what they see as the some of the county's biggest roadblocks that must be cleared over the next decade. 

Sun: What are the five biggest issues Santa Barbara County will face the next 10 years?

Lavagnino: 1) Pension stability and reform—although employee salaries have been relatively flat over the last eight years—the county's contribution to the employee pension fund has gone from $86 million in 2010 to $138 million this year and is projected to reach $164 million in 2021. Obviously, something has to change. Both management and our employees want a fiscally viable pension fund, and I am confident that through the collective bargaining process, we can reach an agreement that strengthens our future financial outlook.

2) The completion of the new North County Jail is set for the spring of next year. This investment in the safety of all North County residents is long overdue, and I am looking forward to opening the doors on a facility that will improve the lives of our deputy sheriffs, our citizens, and our own Santa Maria Police officers who will no longer be required to make round trips to Santa Barbara in order to book inmates.

3) Improving our roads and continuing the progress of widening the [Highway] 101. We have a tremendous maintenance backlog, and I am working with our state and federal lobbyists and elected officials to secure as much funding as we can get to address this issue. The Trump administration's "Transportation Plan" was encouraging until we realized that the federal government is proposing an 80/20 financing plan with locals being asked to shoulder the heavy load. We simply don't have the resources to participate at that level and are working with our federal delegation to ease those requirements.

Gregg Hart, 58, a Santa Barbara City Council member with more than 30 years’ experience in public service, is currently running unopposed for Janet Wolf’s 2nd District supervisorial seat.

4) Disaster funding: Santa Barbara County has a history of devastating fires, but 2017-18 has proven to be even worse than the norm. Our county cannot be asked to pick up the costs associated with not only the largest fire in the history of California, but also the horrific mudslides that occurred on Jan. 9. We just transferred more than  $6 million of our $30 million rainy day fund, the strategic reserve, to help cover these costs, but we cannot continue to deplete our savings at that rate.

5) The proper implementation of the new cannabis land-use ordinance.

Hart: 1) The fiscal challenge is the No. 1 issue the county needs to tackle. We need additional revenue in the county, and figuring out how to do that and maintain the environment and preserve neighborhoods is a real challenge.

2) We need additional housing, that is another huge factor in the local economy. Employers are having a real difficult time maintaining employees because of the high cost of housing.

3) Public safety issues are also really important, and that's related to revenue and housing at the county level. We need to attract public safety personnel and keep them on the job because they are needed during natural disasters, and all the time really.

4) Transportation infrastructure is a huge issue and how it relates to the economy. We can't provide enough housing for all of our workforce, and we need to have a transportation system that effectively moves people around to get them to jobs. That means we need to widen Highway 101 and [is] why I support the rail service connecting Ventura to Santa Barbara and Goleta and Carpinteria; other alternative transportation investments are critical to maintaining the viability of the county.

5) Finally, there's environmental protection, which really is what gives every resident the the quality of life that we enjoy and treasure here, and maintaining that very high environmental quality is really important to both quality of life and the economy as well. It's why tourists come and visit us, and it's why we live here.

Sun: How do you think the county is moving, or should move, forward in with commercial and recreational cannabis?

Lavagnino: I came to the realization that recreational cannabis was approved by the voters of Santa Barbara County by 62 percent, and my job is to implement rules and regulations, including taxation, that limits the negative impacts and maximizes the financial windfall for the county. Many opponents of cannabis have encouraged me to simply ban it. Personally, I don't believe bans work—we've had a ban in place before and it basically created a vacuum for the black market to explode and flourish. If we implement this ordinance correctly, I am confident that our Sheriff's [Office] will be given the tools to effectively enforce this new law.

Hart: The voters of the state of California voted to legalize cannabis as a product, and there are large numbers of Santa Barbara County residents who want legal, safe, controlled access to that product, and I think that's what the county has been trying to do: craft a series of ordinances that provides for that access but also protects neighborhoods and makes sure that there is adequate resources and revenue that comes from that new industry to provide the revenue and resources necessary to police it. For instance, the city of Santa Barbara recently enacted a series of new ordinances to do just that, and I think the general direction the county is going makes sense to me.

Sun: What is your opinion on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operations in Santa Barbara County and the Sheriff's Office cooperating with the agency as part of broader immigration enforcement?

Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino is currently running unopposed for re-election and looks to have the seat locked up for another term.

Lavagnino: I think ICE should be spending their time tracking down and deporting violent felons who are hiding in our community and putting our most disadvantaged neighborhoods at greater risk. I think it's important to take convicted felons off our streets, whether they are citizens or not. I don't understand why anyone would be opposed to making sure our neighborhoods are safe and secure. Having said that, I am opposed to "round-up" style arrests and deportations. Too often they have unintended consequences: breaking up families and creating more distrust of law enforcement. Our federal representatives have completely failed us when it comes to enacting comprehensive immigration reform. How difficult is it to deport the criminals, secure the border, and provide a pathway for the families who are here to become citizens? Santa Maria was built by immigrants, and my love for this city lies in its diversity of cultures.

Hart: I think that every resident of the county deserves to feel safe in our communities, and having fearful residents who are law-abiding citizens that are worried about engaging with law enforcement creates a public safety challenge for everybody. You don't want a situation where folks in specific communities don't feel safe calling and engaging the police and reporting crime. That is dangerous to everybody. So that is the risk of having engagement with immigration authorities at the local level. You errode that trust and respect that is critical to effective local law enforcement. So I am very wary and concerned about anything that would create fear in the immigrant community about engaging with law enforcement. I am really proud of the city of Santa Barbara's police chief, [Lori] Luhnow, who has said very clearly that she is not going to cooperate with ICE at the detriment of the relationship with our police department to any group in our cities. I would hope that the county has the same goals.

Sun: Where do you stand on offshore and onshore oil projects?

Lavagnino: Regardless of how much people talk about wanting to use alternative energies, the bottom line is our society is still heavily dependent upon petroleum and will be for the next few decades. So since we are using the product, why wouldn't we extract it from the place with the highest environmental standards—our own backyard—instead of enriching governments who are hostile to the United States? I don't understand how it is environmentally superior to drill in the Middle East in areas with little or no environmental oversight, then ship it via tanker over our oceans, burning pollution-causing diesel bunker fuel the entire way. The reality is, as long as we are using petroleum-based products, the cleanest, most efficient place to do that is right here in California.

Hart: I'm opposed to offshore oil development. I think it's a threat to our environment and as such it's a threat to our economy. The tourism industry far exceeds the revenue generated by offshore exploration and drilling and, as we saw on the spill of the Gaviota Coast a couple years ago, the impact to the economy is real. We need to be extraordinarily cautious with that, and offshore oil drilling really doesn't make sense in that respect. I'd love our economy to shift to renewable energy sources. I think it makes sense both environmentally and economically, but we need to provide incentives and try and steer the course of energy production in that direction. However, I can't comment on the specific projects that are facing the county because I hope to be a decision maker in that process and don't want to prejudice that process and specific local projects. If you speak about those while the campaign is going on, you can jeopardize your ability to participate in those decisions in the future, and I need to stay clear of the details for now. But, I am always open to listening to everybody involved. I want to hear from a diverse array of stakeholders, and I want to understand the issues deeply and really judge each individual project on its own merit. 

Contact Staff Writer Spencer Cole at

Weekly Poll
Should Congress fund President Trump's border wall?

Yes. Our southern border is in crisis!
No. It's a waste of tax money!
We don't need an actual wall. Just beef up border security.
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