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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on January 24th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 13, Issue 46 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 46

A to Zuniga

The Sun presents the second half of its interview with Santa Maria City Council freshman Terri Zuniga

BY AMY ASMAN

As of press time, the Santa Maria City Council remained in a stalemate over what to do about mayor Alice Patino’s vacant council seat.

Prior to the Jan. 15 meeting, the Sun sat down with Terri Zuniga, the top vote getter in the November election, to get her perspective on matters most pressing to the city. This is the second and final installment of that interview.

The council is expected to continue mulling over the decision at its next scheduled meeting on Feb. 5. A decision must be made by Feb. 16.

What are some other issues that you’d like to address as a City Council member now that you’re elected? What issues do you think are the most urgent?

Editor’s note: This is the second half of Zuniga’s answer to this question. To read about her views on Measure U, check out last week’s issue.

Certainly the issue of gang and youth violence. In my position [with the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office], I think I know more than the average person about what goes on in the city. I unfortunately know things that people don’t want to know. I talk to the other people who work with me all the time who say, “We shouldn’t have to know these things.” We read police reports every day. I want us to look at some significant, serious ways that we can reduce youth violence, and not just these paper-cutter kinds of solutions. We need to get down to the core, which includes socioeconomic issues. So much more than just, “They’re gang members and they’re bad guys; they’re dealing drugs and they’re hurting people,” but really look at the core causes of that and why it’s rampant in this community. How do we address those issues in a holistic way? I see that as a major issue. Housing, of course, is a major issue. It’s often touted that we have more low-income housing than any community in the county—it’s not enough. I know there are a lot of issues about illegally converted garages and multiple families living together. Well, clearly we don’t have enough affordable housing because [if we did] we wouldn’t have that as an issue. I know some of the discussions are that we need to get code compliance out there to deal with this problem. OK, let’s do that. We need to have people obey the rules and we need to have a process. But if we start kicking people out of converted garages or multi-family homes, where are they going to go? It’s not going to solve the problem; it’s going to create another problem. ... I’m on the board of Good Samaritan [Shelter Services]; we’re at capacity, we’re over capacity most of the time. We have a warming shelter that’s over capacity. So where are these people going to go? They’re going to be sleeping in their cars in parking lots. We can’t solve one problem by creating what I would say is an even bigger problem. So if we’re going to do this, we need to address housing. ...

How would you like to solve that problem? What’s your vision for addressing that problem?

I think one way would be to look at some sort of worker-housing program. We have a large community of agricultural workers, which are a lot of the people we know are living in multi-family housing or converted garages. So we need to try to engage some of the larger agricultural employers here and say, “You know, this is an issue. It impacts your workers’ ability to do a good job and it impacts their families. What is your commitment to helping us look at this issue?” ... Look at developers, grant funding—bringing all of those people—employers, the city, granters, developers—all to the table and saying, “This is a long-standing issue in this community. What can we do to find solutions.” One of the things during my campaign that was just so exciting was being out and engaging people in the community, the voters. They have wonderful ideas, they have great solutions. We need to have more people involved at City Council meetings. When I would talk to people and say, “You know, that’s a great idea. You should be talking about that at City Council meetings.” Over and over again they would say, “Well, they don’t care. Nobody cares. There’s no point in going because they aren’t going to listen to me anyway.” When you look at a city that has over 100,000 people, and there are maybe 25 people at a City Council meeting, and after the volunteer recognition and proclamations, it’s empty—it’s sad. It shouldn’t be that way. And I know a lot of people watch it at home because it’s warm and it’s cozy, and there are some people who have access issues ... but even given those excuses, we should still have 50 people, 100 people at a City Council meeting. ... And I think we don’t because there’s apathy: People who haven’t traditionally had a strong vote of power and haven’t had their voices heard feel ... like [the city] doesn’t care. But they have great ideas. We need to engage them because there’s a wealth of experience and knowledge out there and it’s being wasted.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

You know, I’ll offer this up and you can decide whether you want to use it or not. This process of my winning the election, I think a lot of people are really surprised that I won the election. And I think a lot of people have opinions about who they think I am given my work, given my past interactions with the City Council, and my supporters during the election. One of the things I’m hoping to accomplish in four years—[with] people who may be apprehensive about what I offer or what I bring [to the council], and what my agenda may be—is to help them see that I am exactly who I say I am, somebody who cares about this community and has a vision for our community, who wants to engage everybody in the process ... somebody who is going to make decisions based on the best interests of everybody in this community. I want to bring people together and I want to have conversations with all aspects of the community. I think all ideas, all opinions have validity. I’m serious about what I said at the City Council meeting [on Dec. 18], which is I don’t think it’s a strong City Council if you have five people who agree on everything. That’s not a diversity of ideas, it doesn’t represent the diversity of our community, and we should have disagreements. What I think is core is how we deal with those disagreements. Not in a fashion of, “This is where I stand, I’m not going to change my mind,” but, “Let’s have a conversation.” We shouldn’t agree, and people shouldn’t be comfortable with at City Council where you have five people agree because that doesn’t represent the diversity of your community.

Contact Managing Editor Amy Asman at aasman@santamariasun.com.