Hal Conklin answers question for Indivisible, Santa Barbara

Water Usage

ISB: With a federal government which expressly denies Climate Change and sea rise, where do you stand on these issues as it impacts Santa Barbara? What should the mayor, the city council and the community do to assure sufficient water for our needs? What are your thoughts on rainwater capture, grey water, rain barrels, cisterns and other low cost methods?

HAL: There is no question that Climate Change impacts are showing up all over the world.  I was most recently working on reforestation in Africa and it was directly impacted by a changing climate.  I serve on a number of Environmental Boards that deal directly with Climate Change, but beyond legislative intent, the most direct impacts we can make locally are by modeling environmental behavior that other communities can follow.  The largest impact is from vehicle emissions, and we need to rebuild the electrical infrastructure of Santa Barbara to make our community capable of handling a significant increase in electric and hybrid vehicles.  When it comes to water, we need to embrace the new drip irrigation technologies that are being developed in other parts of the world (most particularly, in Israel) which reduce water use by 30%.  Santa Barbara has a well diversified water supply, but its emergency supply comes from the newly reconstituted desalinization plant.  This technology uses an enormous amount of energy, and the degree that we do not have to use it over the next 20 years reduces carbon emissions from fossil fuel power sources.  The community has looked at – and advocated – low cost options such as grey water, rain barrels, cisterns, etc. over the last 50 years, but has most often been stopped by the County Health Dept.  Some grey water is used for irrigation, but it still requires some form of treatment., unless it is direct runoff that is allowed to percolate directly back into the soil.

Oil Development

ISB: President Trump campaigned on expanding oil production. As mayor how would you respond to a proposal to expand off shore oil drilling in the Santa Barbara channel? Where do you stand on the 700 up-county new production wells being considered, the issue of corroded pipelines and other oil transportation. How as mayor would you deal with oil companies in our county?

HAL:  All oil development and support services have been banned within the City of Santa Barbara since the 1970’s.  The County Board of Supervisors has responsibility for land-use planning for energy projects within the unincorporated areas of the county, and they have been strong for most of the last four decades in controlling oil impacts that exist and stopping new projects within their jurisdiction.  The hardest part has been dealing with whatever the Federal Government approves offshore beyond the State Tidelands.  No amount of lobbying the Federal Government has a profound effect, but standing strong at the County level in cooperation with local community groups (i.e. – EDC) is our best line of defense.  The City Council (and to a limited degree, the Mayor) can help rally public support, but it is weak in comparison with the voices of the environmental community and the County Board of Supervisors.  Nevertheless, the Mayor should use the “bully pulpit” of the office to make known the impacts that are pending before us and how it will impact our environment.

Homeless

ISB: Healthcare and the safety net are under attack by the current federal administration, how would you address the homeless and mental health problem in Santa Barbara? Do laws that regulate public camping, sleeping, sitting in front of businesses or aggressive panhandling work to address homelessness, mental health and its related problems? How would you change what we are currently doing with mental health issues and the homeless? What are the other ordinances you would recommend?

HAL:  There are no easy answers here, and I have been the Chair of the Ordinance Committee during many attempts to institute more humane laws – and public safety responses – to this issue.  Some solutions have been helpful (the community rallied and put over ten million dollars into shelters and emergency supplies), and others turned into nightmares (allowing sleeping in public parks).  The biggest challenge is dealing with the mentally ill, and the County (which has responsibility for responding to these kinds of health services) is ill equipped and understaffed to deal with the magnitude of the problem.  This really requires a significant commitment from the State of California to address this crying need, and the City and County need to team up with their peers throughout the state to strongly advocate for funding from the Legislature.  Without a significant increase in health services and housing assistance for the mentally ill, this problem will continue to fester and the general public has little tolerance for what they perceive as bad behavior.  This really requires the Mayor and the staff to build strong coalitions of interests to sustain a significant lobbying effort with the Legislature.  It cannot be delegated to the staff or to community organizations.  It will test the Mayor’s ability to unify support around some tough solutions and to make hard financial choices along the way.  To often in the past, Mayors have made strong statements in support of action, but then delegated the issue to others and nothing ends up being done.

Housing

ISB: The median price for homes in SB is now over $940,000.  The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment ranges between $2500 and $3,000. What role if any should city government have in providing, maintaining or incentivizing more affordable housing for those living here? What is your position on residential development on State Street?

HAL: The City has a good track record of providing a variety of housing programs for people with low incomes, especially among seniors.  14% of the housing stock of the city is owned, controlled, or subsidized by the government.  Nevertheless, the growing need for “worker housing” demands that the City Council do more.  There are a variety of “bonus density” programs underway, but they are not tied to any long-range plan for the economic build-out of the community.  Santa Barbara’s largest employment base (tourism, retail, higher education, health services, and government) needs more worker housing, but the community is quite sensitive to the perceived impacts of traffic and the consumption of more natural resources such as water, for “over development”.  Therefore, I believe the only way to effectively overcome these obstacles is to tie the possibility of additional density directly to a plan for economic development.  In other words, put the new housing next to where the jobs are being planned so people do not need to get in their cars to drive to work.  My first action as Mayor would be to organize the work necessary to adopt a new long-term economic plan for the community (most of which would be downtown) and then tie the potential of new housing to that plan.  As with many other issues, this is not something that can be passed as a policy and then delegated to staff.  It will require the Mayor to actively build coalitions with the business community to get this accomplished.

Jobs

ISB: Considering the collapse of big store retail in Santa Barbara and across the nation, how is our economy doing? What do you consider the most important drivers of our Santa Barbara economy? What are the indicators, including State Street business activity of the direction of our local economy? What ordinances would you suggest to renew the State Street corridor? What more would you do as Mayor to assure a healthy economy for business development and jobs for our workers?

HAL: Santa Barbara’s economic base has five key building blocks: Government, Tourism, Higher Education, Health Services, and Retail.  Out of those three, the areas where the City can make the greatest impact going forward are in the changing world of Retail and the spin-off high tech companies emerging out of Higher Education.  There is no question that downtown is impacted by the transition to Internet shopping, but this change is also an opportunity for a transition of some properties downtown to either high-tech industries, housing, or ancillary businesses that meet the needs of a growing population living downtown.  We have seen the growth downtown of businesses such as Sonos (music techonology) or computer graphics for the film industry.  These kinds of businesses pay much higher wages and can support worker housing downtown that are commercially built.  As for Tourism and Retail, I would break up the downtown into smaller zones of interest and give each one a “sense of place” in its design, signing, and identification.  I would suggest five zones of interest: 1) Waterfront, 2) Nighlife, 3) Retail + Housing mix, 4) History, and 5) Cultural District.  In the Retail zone, I would build up to 500 units of worker housing and transform the zone from a “destination” for shopping to a “24/7 living environment.”

Sanctuary Cities

ISB: Immigration and DACA have been targets of this federal administration. The Trump administration has explicitly targeted California. Where do you stand on these issues? How would you work with the district supervisors to limit ICE in our communities? Would you stand by the undocumented in this city? How would being a Sanctuary City. How would it mpact law enforcement? How do you plan to implement Senate Bill 54 – signed by Governor Brown establishing California as a Sanctuary State – as they apply to Santa Barbara.

HAL: Santa Barbara needs to be a safe community for everyone, regardless of their status.  It is still unclear as to what impact California’s becoming a “Sanctuary State” means at the city level, but I applaud the work done to date by the City of limit the role that the police play in supporting the ICE.  All candidates are against letting criminals go free, but we also need to be sensitive to what is considered criminal behavior.  A big concern is what happens if ICE comes into the community without notification and begins taking some action that sends a ripple of fear through our neighborhoods.  We need to ask that our public safety people – along with our Congressional Office – be notified if ICE intends to take some action in Santa Barbara.

Suitability for Office

ISB: What in your professional history makes you the most suitable candidate for Mayor? Why are you the best candidate?

HAL: I am the only person running that has actually had the experience of having served both on the City Council (16 years) and Mayor (1 year).  At the time of my service as Mayor, the City was involved in a law suit about term limits that ended up being made retroactive, thus requiring me to step out of service for at least a term.  During my service on the City Council, I was elected by the cities of California to be the President of the California League of Cities, and by my peers on the national level to be the incoming President of the National League of Cities representing all locally elected officials in the country before the White House and Congress.  Outside of public service, I spent a decade as the Co-Director of the Community Environmental Council of Santa Barbara, as well as 18 years as the Director of Local Public Affairs for Southern California Edison helping to get renewable energy located in southern California.  In community service, I have been on the Boards of Green Seal (Washington DC), the Eden Reforestation Projects (Ethiopia, Madagascar, Haiti, and Nepal), Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts (Granada Theater), Environmental Media Association (Hollywood), and the Community Action Commission (Santa Barbara).

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