SB COUNTY FORUM HELD IN SOLVANG Candidates go toe-to-toe in heated debate

Apr 29, 2016
SB COUNTY FORUM HELD IN SOLVANG  Candidates go toe-to-toe in heated debate

A candidate forum hosted by the Santa Barbara Vintners Association on Thursday produced varied responses as the moderators took turns asking Santa Barbara County’s supervisorial hopefuls questions mostly targeted on agriculture, wine and tourism.

The forum, held at Hotel Corque in Solvang, featured a healthy crowd of local politicians and community leaders, and produced answers from the candidates that varied from strawberry-picking robots to the proposed wine ordinance, to which one candidate drew a similarity to the “Hunger Games.”

For 3rd District Candidate Bob Field, the issue he spent most of his time addressing was the importance of preserving the county’s rural character.

“I watched Napa — I was in the Bay Area in the ’70s and ’80s — go from a place everyone wanted to live to a place that might be described as a nice place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there,” Field said.

Field also addressed the county’s reliance on agriculture and tourism.

“We really have, from a balanced economy point of view, too many minimum wage jobs in this county,” Field said. “Agriculture and tourism, which are our No. 1 and No. 2 industries in the county, they’re also the No. 1 and No. 2 lowest paying industries in America and what we’re reliance on them … is a problem.”

Recognizing the importance of agriculture, 3rd District Candidate Joan Hartmann said it was critical to “reconcile some of the differences between neighbors and wineries.”

“I think agriculture is our No. 1 industry in Santa Barbara County,” Hartmann said. “It generates $2.8 billion in direct and indirect benefits and the winery industry is a critical part of that and it very much helps with the Santa Barbara brand.”

When asked what she would do to address deplorable farmworker housing, 3rd District candidate Karen Jones said she would look into it, but that part of the problem might solve itself when strawberry-picking robots are put into service.

“Robots are doing all kinds of work in (agricultural) areas now and that’s just a fact,” Jones said. “Strawberry picking robots are not that far away folks.”

State Assemblyman Das Williams, who is running for 1st District Supervisor, addressed short-term rentals. The more short-term rentals that conflict with our long-term rental market, the more local people are disadvantaged in the marketplace,” Williams said. “There’s a real problem here and how it affects affordability. I do agree that there needs to be restrictions, I wonder whether you need a total ban initially in order to make an adjustment.”

His opponent, Jennifer Christensen, a current county investment officer, took some time to criticize Williams on his supposed track record as a city councilman in Santa Barbara.

“His track record on the city made me run,” Christensen said. “He drained the reserves at the city was not something we could afford to repeat at the county.”

In response, Williams said that claim was untrue.

“I think some people like to talk about balancing budgets and some people have actually done it,” Williams said. “I balanced every one of the budgets that they had on the City Council, there was seven of them, and we balanced five and we’re about to balance a sixth state budget.”

On a proposed wine ordinance, which proposes moving the minimum acreage for wine tasting and for events, 3rd District candidate Bruce Porter said the initiative should be stopped.

“If the ordinance as is goes forward, it’s going to reduce the number of potential wineries by about 54 percent,” Porter said. “We do not want this to be 'The Hunger Games' where this is just district 13 raising grapes to go someplace else to benefit somebody else. All that does, is it shifts revenues out of here and it puts all of our small family-oriented vineyards and wineries out of business.”

Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam, the only incumbent, did not attend the event.

During his closing statement, Adam's opponent, 4th District candidate Eduardo Ozeta, used a passage Adam had written for another forum he missed in regards to gender diversity in the county's workforce. 

“He said, ‘I always choose the most qualified applicant from those who apply regardless of any other defining characteristic. The world is run by people that show up and those people are who we pick,’” Ozeta said. “That’s all I have to say tonight.”

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