First District Supervisor Debate

By Kelly Mahan Herrick   |   January 30, 2020
Jonathan Bastian, Gwyn Lurie, Floyd Wicks, Sharon Byrne, Bob Ludwick, Silvia Easton, Tom Bollay, Cori Hayman, Ashlee Mayfield, Kate Murphy, Jennifer Miller, and Tim Buckley at the First District Supervisor Debate (photo by Jim Fabio)

It was standing room only on Monday, January 27, at Music Academy of the West’s Hahn Hall for the Montecito Journal Media Group’s inaugural event: the First District Supervisor Debate. Incumbent Das Williams and challenger Laura Capps faced off to answer several questions formulated by MJ CEO Gwyn Lurie and KCRW host and reporter Jonathan Bastian, followed by questions from nine leaders from various community organizations.

Supervisor Williams took office in January 2017, after serving in the California State Assembly for the previous six years. He also served for seven years on the Santa Barbara City Council, as well as served as a trustee for Peabody Charter School. Capps is a current member of the Santa Barbara School Board, and also serves on the board of the Community Environmental Council and Planned Parenthood Action Fund. She was a senior aide to democratic presidential candidate John Kerry from 2003-2004, and has been involved with the democratic party for decades. Her parents, Lois Capps and Walter Capps, both served in the House of Representatives.

Capps said she decided to run against Williams in the upcoming March election because she feels that the County Board of Supervisors is not moving in the right direction, citing issues with cannabis regulation, homelessness, poverty, campaign finance, and lack of action on climate change. “I’m doing this because I believe so strongly that we need a change in leadership,” she said.

A packed Hahn Hall at Montecito Journal Media Group’s inaugural event (photo by Wendy Read

Capps accused Williams of underregulating the cannabis industry in Carpinteria, and of taking campaign contributions from cannabis farm operators. “It’s an ethics line,” she said. “You don’t take money as an elected official when you’re entrusted by the people, to do what’s right, from the very interest that stands to gain millions,” she said, stating that Williams accepted $62,000 from the cannabis industry while working on the cannabis ordinance in 2017. Williams denied the accusations, saying that 58 cannabis operators in Carpinteria have been raided in the last year, and that his $500K campaign this year included $2,500 from a cannabis farmer, who also grows flowers and avocados.

“We want to permit the best, and shut down those that can’t live by the rules, and that is precisely what we are doing. We have possessed more marijuana than the CHP has done in four years. That’s not going soft on the marijuana industry,” Williams said, adding that Capps’ accusation that 62% of cannabis operators have not paid taxes is incorrect. “Those numbers are totally false,” he said. “I find it painfully ironic that I, as someone who vocally thought we should not pass Prop 64, that we were not ready for it as a State, would have the job of cleaning up the mess for people who have voted for it,” Williams said, adding that Capps was in favor of legalizing marijuana.

Climate change was another significant topic of conversation, which Capps said would be at the forefront of her mission on the Board of Supervisors. “The Board is not spending enough time on climate change. We are not moving in the right direction,” she said. Williams disagreed, citing several initiatives from the Board that are in response to the Thomas Fire and debris flow, which are directly linked to climate change. Williams said the County is now the guarantor of the clean-up bond for the debris basin nets, which is allowing the Partnership for Resilient Communities to install two more ring nets in our local canyons. “It’s a significant financial participation,” he said. He also noted the building of two new debris basins, one on Randall Road and one on Buena Vista Basin, as well as the enlargement of Cold Springs Basin. “This is the largest amount of flood control infrastructure that has been done in two generations,” he said. “We need the county to be a proactive partner. We know that this is the new normal and that climate change is now,” Capps said.

Challenger Laura Capps and incumbent Das Williams (photo by Jim Fabio)

On the homelessness issue, Capps says being proactive is key. “We have the second highest rate of poverty in the state,” she said. “Let’s keep people from being homeless in the first place. There are state and federal funding that we are currently leaving on the table. Let’s devote more time to it,” she said. “One out of eight kids in our local schools are homeless. Let’s see some sense of urgency.” Williams, who was homeless at age 16, said the way to make progress is through extensive street outreach and to build permanent supportive housing, which he says the County is currently doing.

The second portion of the debate featured questions formulated and asked by nine local leaders. Coast Village Association board president Bob Ludwick asked the candidates about their creative ideas to bring traffic management and relieve congestion on Coast Village Road. Williams said that local projects, including the roundabouts at Olive Mill and San Ysidro Road, need to be moved ahead as quickly as possible, in anticipation of the increased traffic during the construction of the third lane on Highway 101. Capps said the traffic along Coast Village and surrounding streets is unacceptable, adding that Montecito needs a strong voice on SBCAG (Santa Barbara County Association of Governments).

Both board presidents from Montecito Union School (Kate Murphy) and Cold Spring School (Jennifer Miller) asked the candidates about school safety; Capps said local schools should be safe havens with their own microgrids, and both candidates said it was important to them to build new safe routes to school.

Other questions dealt with keeping Montecito’s unique character, with Montecito Association executive director Sharon Byrne asking how each candidate plans on keeping Montecito semi-rural but technologically up-to-date. Both candidates said keeping traffic off local streets is important to them, with Capps saying she would be a proponent for undergrounding power lines on main arteries. Montecito Fire Protection District board president Silvia Easton asked if the candidates would be a proponent of combing our three special districts into a Special Service District; Capps said no, while Williams, who serves on LAFCO, said he would be happy to serve as a facilitator if the community wanted to further discuss becoming a special district. Regardless, he said, the County is continuing with an $8M investment to move forward on borderless dispatch, which will consolidate and enhance emergency dispatch.

President of the Groundwater Sustainability Agency Board President Cori Hayman, Montecito Sanitary District Board President Tom Bollay, and Montecito Water District Board President Floyd Wicks brought up the topic of sustainable and recycled water; both candidates agreed that recycled water, conservation, drought tolerant landscaping, and management of the groundwater basin are imperative for the community’s resilience. Montecito Trails Foundation Board President Ashlee Mayfield brought up improvement of walking paths and the trail system in Montecito; Williams noted his involvement with the SB Bucket Brigade to build the new path along North Jameson, while Capps stated that she is committed to keeping the trails system a priority.

Both candidates said they recognize what a unique and special community Montecito is, making mention of the diversity of talents and creativity from Montecito residents, in addition to the community’s resilience and dedication. “The role of the supervisor is simple: to protect and enhance the quality of life for the people,” Capps said during her closing statement. Williams closed by saying that he has been more than dedicated to the Montecito community. “Over many years I’ve consistently proven to you that I am faithful to this community. We have staff that give it their all, I give it my all. I have been here for this community, and I will continue to be here for this community.”

The election is March 3, with mail-in ballots beginning February 3.


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