Posted by rflacks on:
Have you voted yet in the Santa Barbara city council race? I hope you’ve used the mail ballot you were sent some time ago.
Don’t forget. And I say this not simply to support good citizenship in general but because there’s a lot at stake.
Right now, the city council has a ‘Republican’ majority. That’s in quotes because city councils here are elected in non-partisan contests.Non-partisanship has always been a bit of a fiction, since historically the parties have often mobilized their base to support particular candidates in local elections. I think this was typically true of the local GOP. And in a town which in recent decades has voted pretty overwhelmingly for Democrats in national elections, Republican discipline has helped the conservative side overcome their natural deficit. In the last few years, such discipline has paid off a lot—even as the ‘Democratic’ majority has grown. Candidates supported by various liberal groups and constituencies have tended to split their base. Meanwhile, the Republican side has quite brilliantly exploited some wedge issues.
This year, as you hopefully are well aware, there’s a slate endorsed by the county Democratic central committee and related organizations. It’s a strong trio of women, including former councilmember Iya Falcone, planning commissioner Deborah Schwartz and popular local journalist Cathy Murillo. This election offers a very good chance to shift the council in a more progressive direction—that is, in the direction of rational planning for the future, concern for sustainable values, and for some degree of concern for the needs of all social classes in the community.
I’m moved to write this just now because I’m struck by the fact that
the Republican slate (incumbents Francisco, Self and Rowse) have based their
campaign on a surprising degree of myth and delusion—just as the national GOP
presidential candidates have been doing. I find this surprising because Francisco
and Rowse seem like sensible people with some ability to grasp reality.
(Michael Self, not so much).
Here’s what I mean:
They are campaigning on the claim that we need more police on the street, suggesting that crime is an increasing problem downtown. This is despite the fact that crime rates in the city have sharply dropped inrecent years. I heard Randy Rowse say, at a public forum, that many people won’t go downtown anymore because they ‘perceive’ that it’s threatening or dangerous. I’d hoped that Randy would have tried to disabuse people who say this of their perception, but he seems to want to pander to their subjectivity rather than challenge it. And one consequence of all this pandering is to distort the budget priorities of the city to pretend to be fighting the crime ‘problem’.
The second big issue of the GOP team is the threat of ‘density’. Proponents
of what is called ‘smart growth’ (which include my wife and me and the organizations we support) have been pushing for downtown rezoning In the long debated general plan update—rezoning that would provide for downtown housing that would be affordable to the city’s workforce. Since there is very little subsidy in our society for middle class housing, one way to encourage such housing is to allow for small size apartments to be developed. Putting these within easy walking and biking to workplaces would help overcome the huge commuter problem Santa Barbara is confronting. These proposals are strongly resisted by those who claim to want to preserve the ‘small town feel’ of Santa Barbara—and this argument is largely rooted in the fact that a couple of large apartment buildings appeared a few years ago on Chapala which seemed out of scale. But a recent creative charette led by local architects with much community participation, demonstrated how affordable downtown housing that was esthetically and humanly appropriate can be designed.
Mickey and I live in the heart of the old downtown residential west side. If this is the part of town that represents the ‘small town feel’, I recommend folks walk around the area west of Alice Keck park and surroundings. You will see a level of density that is higher than what has been proposed by the ‘smart growth’ coalition, with duplexes and multiple structures as well as apartment buildings of many styles. I just can’t take seriously the ‘density’ issue in the face of what Santa Barbara has actually looked like for many decades. Not to mention the troubling references to ‘small town feel’ in a town that abuts a major university, has a $55 million dollar performing arts center, and a wide variety of other amenities and institutions that are not ‘small town’. The real nature of the place I think is that it’s a city but one that has rather successfully maintained size and a design that is at a human scale. Without downtown affordable housing, we will drift inexorably toward being a place for the elderly rich and their servants. And then the ‘feel’ of the community will have been lost forever.
The oddest issue of the Francisco-Self-Rowse campaign has to do with
the automobile. They (especially Ms. Self) are champions of the idea that ‘cars
are basic’ and that efforts to discourage auto use in favor of alternatives should
be resisted—presumably because they are futile and annoying to boot. The big
focus has been on ‘bulb-outs’ which people are said to despise. Maybe many do.
But again—personal experience makes us wonder. We live on the corner of an
intersection that is a prime example of ‘bulb outing’. For 15 years or so we were
able from our living room window to observe at least monthly collisions and
near-collisions, and hear the squealing of brakes on a regular basis. Since the
bulb outs were developed, such incidents have become very rare. Presumably the
new configuration allows drivers to see oncoming traffic at stop signs, while providing a shorter distance for pedestrian crossings. I’m not saying that investment in traffic quieting and reconfiguring of streets is a high priority in a time of budget stringency. But one hopes that the future of the city isn’t to be
determined by anti-bulb outism.
The trio has voted pretty consistently against environmental concerns (but they campaign as if they are environmentalists). The delusory aspect of this is their repeated questioning of climate change as a reality and their opposition to sustainability as a key principle in planning. So crime in the city is real, but global warming is not.
There is a strategy behind the mythologizing. The strategy is to appeal to that part of the electorate that is opposed to change, that wants to keep things as they are.
We are and have been for decades a town with a large, vocal, affluent and politically conscious senior citizenry. The Flackses are examples. But one problem with the senior ‘class’ is this resistance to change…WE don’t want to have to figure out new traffic patterns and the bulb outs are damned annoying. We’re pretty happy with the demographics of the town right now. We don’t like going downtown and seeing one or another sort of ‘those people’ (panhandlers? Teenage ruffians? People talking foreign tongues?) We like our property values and our prop13 era property taxes..
So age intersects with class and race and that intersection is a big factor in the electoral scene.
But some of us elderly do want a town that can be home to younger folk
with families—the people who teach, and do the healthcare, and the public
safety and all the other work that makes life so comfortable for the ‘retirees’.
Don’t forget to vote.