MJ’s Guide to Montecito’s Local Election Day Candidates
Hard to believe there are only 40-plus days until the November election – which will (God-willing) be decided before 2020 happily rides off into the sunset. Judges like to say that ignorance of the law is not a defense. We believe the same goes for elections. The following is meant to provide you with relevant information on the races on which local residents will be asked to weigh in.
Besides the choice between Donald Trump and Joe Biden (more on the presidential race in a few weeks), Montecito voters will vote on more than a dozen candidates running for local offices, municipal districts, and agencies. While the presidential election has sucked most of the air out of the room, the outcome of our local races, in some ways, will affect our daily lives just as much. Over the next few issues, we’ll introduce you to the candidates in competitive races who have the greatest bearing on residents and the crucial state ballot and school district initiatives whose outcomes will directly impact our town and our lives. We hope this guide helps you navigate the important choices ahead.
California’s 24th U.S. Congressional District
Salud Carbajal vs. Andy Caldwell
The Fighting 24th stretches from Santa Maria to Santa Barbara. In one corner is Salud Carbajal, 55, the reliable Democratic incumbent who was born in Guanajuato, Mexico and immigrated to the U.S. as a child to work in the fields with his farm-worker father before graduating from UC Santa Barbara. After he served for 12 years as a Santa Barbara County Supervisor, Carbajal was elected to the U.S. Congress, where he’s established himself as a hardworking member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the House Committee on Armed Services. Known as a proponent and practitioner of bipartisan governance, Carbajal is a member of the Bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, dedicated to, you guessed it, solving problems.
Challenging him from the Republican Party is Andy Caldwell, 62, who was born on a military base in Arkansas and grew up in Lompoc, where he began as a seasonal laborer and worked his way up to becoming head of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business, which boasts 1,000 members in Santa Barbara County. A small-government conservative, radio talk-show host and noted government watchdog, Caldwell said he hoped to “restore the American dream,” that’s suffering under the heel of radical “socialists” who are pushing their elite agenda on the American public.
While it may lack the bombshell revelations and dirty name-calling, this particular political mashup is as blue-and-red of an ideological contest as the one currently grinding on between our top-of-the-ballot presidential rivals.
California’s State Senate District 19
Monique Limón vs. Gary Michaels
For the past four years, Monique Limón has represented the 37th Assembly District of Santa Barbara, where she was born and raised. Prior she served two terms on the Santa Barbara Unified School Board and was Assistant Director of the McNair Scholars Program at UC Santa Barbara. Her track record of supporting women’s issues and public education funding in Sacramento helps explain why she’s the official nominee of the Democratic Party to replace Hannah Beth-Jackson, who terms out of office in January 2021.
Facing off against Limón is Gary Michaels, the “business oriented” Republican candidate. His rather alarmist campaign video features the hammer and sickle flag as well as hot babes toting assault rifles, and describes Limón as “socialist oriented,” while boldly claiming that she’s used her position in office to push through a legislative agenda plucked straight out of the Communist Manifesto.
California’s 37th Assembly District
Steve Bennett vs. Charles Cole
These two candidates picked up the most votes in this March’s primary election, beating out the likes of Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo and Elsa Granados, the longtime director of the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center.
Steve Bennett, the Democratic party nominee, is a former public school teacher and Ventura County supervisor. He’s made a name for himself fighting suburban sprawl and protecting the environment. In Ventura, he’s also shown non-partisan leadership by standing up to an influential public employee union that tried to push through an expensive pension package. If elected, he promises to bring the same sense of political moderation and work ethic to Sacramento.
The youngest Republican Party candidate on the ballot this November, the 22-year-old Charles Cole has no experience in politics but says that his uncomfortable stint as a student at Santa Barbara High School motivated him to run for office so he could fight against the left-wing social-justice-warrior mores he was exposed to there. His Republican Party-backed candidacy was aided by a crowded Democratic Party field.
Along with the Carbajal-Caldwell and Limón-Michaels battles, this race is yet another classic ideological contest plucked straight out of the Cold War.
Cold Spring Elementary School District Board of Trustees
Gabrielle Haas, Trevor Pattison, and Jordan Quivey
This is a busy year for Cold Spring Elementary School. Along with Measure L, a bond proposal to raise cash for new classrooms (more on that next week) three candidates are applying for two open seats on the one-school district’s board being vacated in January by Leslie Kneafsey and Gregg Peterson.
Not surprisingly, all three candidates are parents of children who attend the school, and all of them are running for office because they want to be as involved as possible in their kids’ education. It almost seems unfair that only two of them will get to do that!
“I’ve been involved in the board since day one and try to stay informed,” says Gabrielle Haas, who counts herself as a supporter of Measure L. “I’ve always believed this is the best school. It provides the most solid foundation our children could ever have in an elementary setting to prepare them for life, and this is the way I can best contribute.”
Trevor Pattison also supports Measure L. “As a board member during these unprecedented times, I will support policies and culture that reinforce the development of well-rounded, healthy, and safe students,” he says. “I will continue the legacy of retiring board members by encouraging transparency and financial responsibility and emphasizing the value of collaboration with school community stakeholders.”
“I’m 100 percent in favor of Measure L,” says the last of our candidates, Jordan Quivey. “What I want to get accomplished is to make sure I do everything I can possibly do as a parent and community member to ensure our school has proper guidance.”
Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Trustees
This five-member body is elected every four years to set policy for the city’s public schools, which are responsible for educating 14,000 students at 21 elementary, junior and senior high schools. While Montecito has its own elementary school district, Santa Barbara Unified is the public district to which our students feed for junior and senior High. So, while we don’t vote for other city races, this race is of direct importance to many of our families.
In 2016, a trio of Democratic Party-backed current incumbents, Laura Capps, Jackie Reid, and Wendy Sims-Moten, were appointed to the board after running unopposed for their seats. (Two other board members, Rose Munoz and Kate Ford, are not up for reelection this year). Unlike that non-election, the stakes are high this year, because those three board members are competing for their seats with four new candidates: Virginia Alvarez and Monie de Wit (both Democrats) as well as conservative challengers Brian Campbell and Elrawd MacLearn.
The past four years have been rife with controversy, with some parents protesting the district’s move to bring anti-bias training to staff and faculty as well as its inclusion of ethnic studies and Teen Talk, a sex education program. Next week, we’ll unveil our endorsements for this important race. What follows are profiles of each candidate, in alphabetical order. In each case, we asked candidates to tell us about their superpower – the special and unique skill they’d bring to the office.
Currently the Montecito Union School’s Chief Business Officer, Virginia Alvarez, 54, has been working in the local public school system for three decades, including a 10-year stretch on staff at SB Unified followed by 20 years at Montecito Union School, where she currently serves as the Chief Financial Officer for the district.
As a child growing up in Santa Barbara who spoke Spanish when she first entered a classroom and who had to enroll one grade behind her peers, Alvarez not only embodies the cultural challenges that continue to face the school district today, but also personifies the potential for success that it offers.
“I was the non-English speaker sitting in the back of the classroom,” Alvarez recalls. “And eventually I went up to the accelerator programs, what they call ‘high achieving’ programs, so I also have that perspective. So, when I hear that 65 percent of English learners are still scoring below grade level, it’s alarming to me. It just breaks my heart.”
Alvarez hopes to bring her unique experience to the board as a bilingual person who has a proven track record of working with school boards on fiscal management, public school finance and public employee contracts, something that would come in handy given that the district has a brand new superintendent. “I believe I will be an asset, that I would add value to the board,” she says. “I’ve been in Santa Barbara for so long, there’s no training needed for me. I can hit the ground running.”
Along with the three incumbents running for re-election, Alvarez also supports Teen Talk. “It’s a compliance issue,” she says. “The board has to comply with that mandate.”
She also believes that parents should have a say. “Luckily, the parents do have the option of reviewing the curriculum and also deciding if this is something that is not in line with what they would want their child to learn, and they can opt out. As a board member, I would want to personally investigate every single option and see if there is an alternative.”
Alvarez does see why certain parents felt left out of the dialogue over programs like Teen Talk and ethnic studies. “My feeling is that it could have been done better,” she says. “We need have a better process. And in the classroom, we need to make sure that teachers aren’t presenting a subject in an emotional way, like it’s their personal opinion.” Her chief goal as a board member would be to help foster a better sense of community. “There needs to be more unity, more of a culture of inclusiveness,” she explains. “There has been such distrust these past few years that I think it’s time for our community to start healing.”
Her superpower is experience. “I pretty much know all the functions of a district. I mean, I’ve done them, I’ve lived them.”
An attorney and realtor by trade, Brian Campbell, 49, comes from a family steeped in public education, with two public school teacher sisters who followed in the footsteps of their father, who taught elementary school for nearly half a century. A father of two, Campbell says, “We’re teaching our children to take over for us and to run the world and solve the world’s problems, climate change, famine, health issues, and everything else.”
Campbell believes the biggest challenge facing SB Unified is English literacy, a deficiency he says he’s noticed when taking sixth-grade kids out to lunch and noticing that they still can’t read the children’s menu at a restaurant. “For whatever reason, children are not understanding the English language,” he said. “And when they don’t understand the English language, if they can’t read and write, they’re also not able to do math problems or learn social studies or ethnic studies or anything else about the world around them.”
Campbell believes that for too long, SB Unified has been passing non-proficient students from grade to grade without addressing this problem. He says he’s raised this issue with three principals so far, without success. “They just kept passing children along to the next grade and making it somebody else’s problem. That’s not the right way to do it; that’s failing our children.”
While he believes in sexual education, Campbell’s not a fan of Teen Talk. “From listening to all parents and from reviewing the materials myself, I feel it crosses over some lines and creates discomfort amongst many families,” he says. “Children need to know about the birds and the bees and how things work and how to be safe, but Teen Talk doesn’t go into the emotional stability of children engaging in adult activity or talk about the consequences of teen pregnancy. The transparency from the district has been very poor.”
Although he identifies as a Christian, Campbell believes religion should not influence public school curriculum in Santa Barbara. “I believe if you cross over that line, that you’re going to violate people’s religious rights,” he argues. As for what role schools should play in combatting systematic racism? “Racism is bullying,” he argues, “and bullying is intolerable. We need to educate our children that it is not acceptable, no matter who it comes from.”
However, Campbell feels that the district’s approach to ethnic studies has muddied the waters. “No children should have any bad experience such as other kids picking on them because of their race or religion. Campbell says he hopes to bring a sense of moderation to SB Unified’s educational board. “I’ve always been a mediator,” he says. “You can’t make 100 percent of the people happy 100 percent of the time. It’s about finding the right common ground that benefits everybody in the end.”
His superpower is mediation: “I’ve been taught to always listen to all sides of an argument or issue, and then turn around and try and bring people together to find a common solution.”
You might remember Laura Capps, 48, from her recent bid to unseat First District Supervisor Das Williams. A scion of a progressive Santa Barbara political dynasty (both her father Walter Capps and her mother Lois Capps represented the 24th District in the U.S. Congress) Capps served as a speechwriter in the Bill Clinton White House and as communications director on John Kerry’s presidential campaign.
Capps was first elected to the School Board in 2016. As a member, she directed the search for SB Unified’s new Superintendent, Hilda Maldonado. Capps is the current board president. In addition to her service with the Santa Barbara Unified Board of Education, Capps manages her own public relations practice collaborating with nonprofit organizations on issues of climate, poverty, immigration, and childhood hunger.
Asked what she has brought to the School Board in the past four years, Capps says she’s strived to provide better accountability by asking tough questions. “That’s what I’ve done,” she says. “I kick the tires, look under the hood, and make sure that everybody else can look under the hood, too.”
Although her former Congressman father was a professor of religious studies at UC Santa Barbara, Capps says her policy decisions are firmly rooted in science, not politics or religion. “As much as I am a progressive and a person of faith, that has to stop when I’m making a decision,” she says. “We have to be really careful that our decisions are not pushed by ideology but are based on science and research.”
Capps voted for the controversial Teen Talk curriculum, as did the rest of the board in what turned out to be a 5-0 vote, She’s also “1,000 percent” in favor of anti-bias training. The same goes for the district’s decision to implement ethnic studies and teach about issues of racial injustice. “We have to do a better job of not playing a role in the systemic racism that pervades not just Santa Barbara, but our entire society,” Capps adds. “The truth is most of our teachers are white and our classes are still taught from a white perspective, by and large. As always the young people are leading the way and those of us who aren’t young anymore need to learn by their example.”
Her superpower: “I ask the tough questions of people in charge.”
Monie de Wit
Monie de Wit, a professional photographer who grew up in a Dutch-speaking household on the East Coast, is another prospective board member who began her education as a non-English speaker. Like her son, she also suffers from dyslexia, a fact that she says inspired her to dedicate her life to advocating for greater awareness of this and other learning disabilities in children.
“I’m in a unique position to help close the achievement gap because of my background,” she says. “I have lived this, and I have something of value that many people might not be ready to hear but I want them to consider carefully.”
As a board member, De Wit says her priority would be focusing on literacy in early education and investing more resources in training teachers about the science of reading. “My son is now a straight A student, but for students who fall behind, it can lead to the school-to-prison pipeline, because kids who get behind feel bad and don’t show up.”
Although she’s a Democrat, De Wit is running independent of the party, and says she hopes to bridge the gap between both ends of the ideological spectrum within the district when it comes to cultural awareness. “We need to come together and the board needs to be unified around a vision,” she argues. “I think we have had the Eurocentric lens on for a long, long time. We can’t be in denial and need to have open discussion.”
As a board member, De Wit says she would advocate for children with learning disabilities and ensure better communication with their parents. “There’s nobody on the board with learning differences,” she points out. “I think our board needs more variety, and they need to be happy with hearing something different.”
Her superpower is optimism: “I bring a unique experience, having raised a son with learning differences, which is the school board’s most vulnerable area, and their blind spot. I think I could bring the board hope.”
By far the youngest of the candidates running for the school board, MacLearn, 27, hopes to end what he sees as the district’s failure to service its most vulnerable students. “I’m running for a refocus on the district’s population,” he says, “because they have some of the worst literacy and mathematics scores. I see an abandonment of the Hispanic community.”
Programs such as Teen Talk do little or nothing to address this core mission, he argues. “We have to get back to the bottom line, which is that children are best represented by their parents on what’s best, and I want to represent them.”
Like Campbell, MacLearn believes the school district hasn’t done a good job of including parents in its policy decisions. “It appears to me that the partisan aspect of politics has really crept into the school board,” he says. “We’ve gone away from truly focusing on academics. Politics have crept into the schools and taken over our discussion of curriculum.”
MacLearn believes SB Unified’s emphasis on ethnic studies, with its themes of social oppression, sends the wrong message to young minority students. “I come from a very low income family,” he says. “My parents were divorced and my dad was gone, which is very typical in low-income families. But I was told that I could achieve and have success if I studied and worked hard enough. I took it to heart and now I’m here in Santa Barbara, living a reasonably comfortable life. So I would say that we have to teach these young students that they have the ability to rise.”
As a UCLA graduate with a degree in biology, MacLearn says he firmly believes in a scientific approach to setting priorities in education. If elected, he hopes to bring that spirit to the School Board. “I truly do care about education and whether or not a child is receiving that education and whether it’s equitable, because if we don’t educate someone properly, we are the ones who are stripping away their opportunity for success.”
MacLearn says his superpower is logic and reason: “I always look and listen and I’m willing to be swayed a certain way if it is shown to be better.”
Jackie Reid, 59, has a long history as an educator and scholar. As a former elementary school teacher with a doctorate in education, and former associate regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, she’s also a firm proponent of anti-bias training and anti-bullying programs in schools. “We need to set realistic timelines and provide necessary resources so that administrators and school staff are likely to develop confidence that they will receive the resources they need,” Reid says. “One of the things I am proud of as a board member is that I’ve devised processes that are implemented in a fair way.”
Like Capps, Reid supports Teen Talk, ethnic studies, and a curriculum that explores issues such as systematic racism in society. “When I was president of the board, we were ahead of the curve in bringing ethnic studies forward,” she adds. “It’s everything I believe in and everything I’ve worked for.”
Given that the district is in the midst of a global pandemic, Reid argues that this is no time for amateur hour. “We have an opportunity here to transform education, and make strides forward in an equitable way.”
She says her superpower is experience: “There are so many systems and layers and processes, and I bring that experience to the board. I don’t have to take years to figure that out and know what to do on day one.”
With 23 years of experience working for the County, Wendy Sims-Moten, also 59, the executive director of First 5 Santa Barbara County, is familiar with the challenges facing our children’s education. Her desire to help overcome those issues is what led to her joining the School Board back in 2016. She is currently the Executive Director for First 5 Santa Barbara.
“I’ve always been really involved in education, probably more so than my son wanted when he was in school,” Sims-Moten says. “I was in the PTA and served on many parent committees, so I know how important it is to have good parental involvement.” Over the past four years, she says she’s strived to make the Board a more inclusive body. “I want to be here bringing up the perspective of students who may not be seen, heard, or respected, and to acknowledge the strong diversity that we have in the school district.”
Given all the turmoil over curriculum in recent years as well as the pandemic-driven dislocation of students, she views this mission as more vital than ever. “In this day and time, I really want to make sure our policies, programs, and teachers make this not be a traumatic experience for our students,” she says. “We need to make sure that students have the best educational experiences, so when they walk out that door, they know they’re ready to contribute and feel visible and take on that next role, whatever it is.”
Like her colleagues on the board, Sims-Moten is a strong advocate for science-based, data-driven curriculum choices and she defends the board’s unanimous support for Teen Talk, ethnic studies, and anti-bias training. Yet she’s not unwilling to consider the opposite point of view. “Everyone has their values that come from their own upbringings,” she allows. “But we’re looking at the whole entire district and the needs of our students. It’s important for parents to know they can opt out based on their values.”
For Sims-Moten, serving on the board has been a privilege that she takes personally. “As a school district, we can be the change we are seeking,” she says. “We have kids who are ready to learn; our schools are ready.”
Her superpower is compassion: “I’m here to make sure I bring that voice of being a change agent, and to bring an expectation that our kids can do well, that when they leave, they’ve got that key to success.”
Montecito Fire Protection District Board of Directors
The job of this five-member board is simple: work with Montecito’s Fire Department by choosing its Fire Chief, help set budget priorities and steer resources so that the agency can provide the best (and swiftest) fire and emergency services possible to all Montecito residents.
Both Judith Ishkanian, the Board’s current secretary, who is running unopposed for a two-year seat, and Peter Van Duinwyk, whose term ends in December 2022, are safe for now. But the remaining trio on the board, Sylvia Easton, Abe Powell, and Mike Lee, must compete for their seats against newcomer Robert Kemp. The following profiles of each candidate are based on recent interviews, with our endorsements to follow in next week’s issue.
The wife of a well-known Montecito architect, Sylvia Easton first joined the board as an appointed director in 2015. The following year, she ran a successful campaign to keep her seat, and so far has served the board as secretary, vice president, and two terms as president. “It’s been incredibly rewarding,” Easton says. “It’s been wonderful that people had confidence in me and I really enjoy serving the community.”
One of Easton’s proudest accomplishments was hiring Fire Chief Kevin Taylor, who last year replaced the retiring Chip Hickman, a 29-year veteran of the fire department. “Everyone knows Kevin has been wonderful and very involved in the community,” she says. “And that goes for everyone on staff, all of whom couldn’t be more professional or kind, and who are just amazingly well-trained.”
Easton considers herself a firm proponent of the agency’s long-term effort to build a third fire station on the eastern edge of town near the border with Summerland, a task that has so far been stymied by threatened lawsuits or prospective neighbors of proposed sites. “I believe in having equal response times for fire and medical to get to people who are having a heart attack or stroke in time,” she explains, “or to stop a fire from spreading from a house into becoming a community event.”
She also believes the Board should continue to help the department provide community outreach so that residents are more aware of potential fire hazards. “They have a new program where you can make an appointment with one of our wildland specialists who will come out and do a home survey for people to help them harden their homes. They give you a full report printed out. It’s great,” she adds. “They gave me one last year.”
Even before she became a director, Easton was sitting in on board meetings, so she’s seen quite a few changes and advancements over the years, not to mention catastrophic challenges like the 2017 Thomas Fire and subsequent debris flow.
She says her superpower is working well with others: “I can’t tell you how well our board works together. We spend a lot of time together and if somebody has a question or isn’t sure about something, we talk about it and there’s no drama.”
Like Powell, Robert Kemp, a realtor with Berkshire Hathaway, is on the board of the Mountain Drive Community Association. He’s also served on the board of the Montecito Association as well as the Council for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. “I like helping where I can,” he says, adding that his sole desire in running for the Fire District board is to be a part of what he considers a fantastic agency.
“To be honest, I can’t say there’s some area the board is not currently addressing,” he admits. “I haven’t really attended too many board meetings in the past 23 years, but since the debris flow, I’ve put both feet on the gas to pay more attention. So the entire reason I want to be on the board is because I love the focus on leadership and what they did for us during the Thomas Fire.”
Aside from advocating for a third fire station, Kemp says his goal on the board would be to make it a more “inclusive” agency. “I’d like to see more women involved at the Montecito Fire Protection District,” he says. If elected, Kemp says he’d use his skills in public outreach to solidify the agency’s involvement in the community.
Kemp says his superpower is listening. “Something I do particularly well is to go out in the community and ask people questions,” he explains. “It’s what I do every day in my business, and I would love to know more about what the community wants from Montecito Fire.”
Michael Lee has lived in the same house for 50 years and has served on Montecito Fire for five years. His son is a firefighter with a different municipality in the county. Lee’s chief concern is the lack of a third fire station in Montecito’s eastern stretches.
“Right now, the Montecito Fire Department, in conjunction with Summerland Carp, is looking at that issue again, which I totally support,” he says. “I think it’s really important for the people that live on that end of Montecito to have the same quality service as somebody in the central part of Montecito has. In a fire or in an emergency, the faster you get there, the better.”
The good news, according to Lee, is that Montecito’s debris risk is currently low. “If you talk to the experts, the risk of debris flow is getting lower and lower,” he says. “The front country has recouped pretty well within the last three years. But that’s just a ticking clock. Eventually those fuels are going to build up to a point where you can have a pretty major fire and also a wind-driven fire, which is even worse.”
Lee envisions better cooperation between Montecito’s fire department and its eastern neighbor. “If there was some leeway there, I think it would be a benefit for everybody, including Santa Barbara City and Summerland Carp.” He says he brings to the board a strong knowledge of fire prevention.
“I’m a builder, so I know about making houses more resilient,” Lee says. “There are a lot of things you can do. The little things, like eliminating roof vents, where the screens get all this lint on them and it just takes an ember.”
Lee says his superpower is staying out of politics: “I’m apolitical. I’m not a politician. The fire department is an important aspect of our community. I kind of look at it in the big picture, I guess.”
The other incumbent hoping to keep his seat, Abe Powell is perhaps best known as co-founder and executive director of the Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade. He first joined the board in 2012, when it had just three people. “At that time, I ran because I felt there was a need to reestablish community-oriented fire department governance,” he recalls.
As a volunteer firefighter and director of relief services for the Mountain Drive Community Association, Powell says he made it his priority to revamp the department’s communication with residents. “The first thing we did was make a new website with updated information on budgets and safety information,” he says. “In addition, we hired a consultant to help us with our mailers and reports that we do for the community.”
Given the fact that Powell is such a high-profile member of Montecito’s volunteer community, he also acts as an ambassador of the board. “Having grown up here and being involved in community resilience for 25 years, people communicate with me directly,” he explains. “I’m talking to people at least a couple of times a week.”
Powell’s chief goal is to build community outreach and ensure neighbors talk to each other about how to prepare for an emergency. “It’s really important that they know each other and discuss the idea of helping each other in a crisis.”
He also hopes to continue to push for a third fire station in east Montecito. “Our call volume there is relatively low, but our risk is high, so we’d like to find a way to work with Carpinteria Summerland Fire to address response times in that area.”
Powell certainly isn’t shy when it comes to making his case for reelection. “There is nobody running for the fire board with more experience and credibility on the issue of community resilience than me,” he argues.
He says his superpower is tirelessness: “Nobody can touch my experience or my body of work for the past 25 years, whether it’s volunteer firefighting or helping people recover from the debris flow. There’s nobody that’s putting anywhere near the level of work and energy and time that I’ve put into this.
Montecito Sanitary District
While the political turmoil surrounding its sister agency, the Montecito Water District, and its recent contract to purchase half-a-century’s worth of desalinated water from Santa Barbara has grabbed headlines over the past year, it’s high time for Montecitans to focus in on what’s happening with our sewage.
The Sanitary District is responsible not only for maintaining the sewage system but for treating our collective waste, which is divided between solids, which are trucked off to become fertilizer, and treated liquid waste, almost all of which (except for a fraction that is recycled to water the lawn of a local cemetery) is dumped into the Pacific Ocean.
So it’s somewhat surprising to learn that the main bone of contention involves not waste recycling and whether or not the agency should work to recycle more water for Montecito’s sprawling golf courses and Spanish revival estates, but rather its costly effort to spruce up its working space.
Last year, the directors voted to approve a $4.6 million “Essential Services Building,” but the project has yet to move forward because of the political fallout. Woody Barrett and Dana Newquist will keep their seats until 2022, leaving three other slots wide open over which four candidates will compete. Don’t forget to pick up next week’s issue for our endorsements.
Although he’d be a newbie on the Montecito Sanitary District, Don Eversoll, who grew up in Los Angeles, knows a thing or two about sewage. “Well, I built a number of sewage treatment plants back East,” he says in response to a question about his background. “I built a million-gallon plant, some 250,000 gallon-plants, another 400,00-gallon plant. I expanded a plant from 1.5 million to 2.3 million gallons…” You get the idea.
Eversoll shares that his primary motivation for joining the Board is to boost transparency. “My concern is we need to have a process and we need to have transparency,” Eversoll says. “And obviously we don’t seem to have transparency.”
Eversoll’s chief complaint is that the district pushed forward on grading for its Essential Service Building without securing a permit, at a cost of nearly $175,000. “As they say in the business, that dog don’t hunt,” he argues. “My feeling is it’s unnecessary. It was sold to the community as an essential services building and unfortunately it just houses four people.”
Meanwhile, Eversoll isn’t happy about the fact that so little of Montecito’s water is being recycled. “My view is that it should be a very significant recycle, not just for the cemetery. We need to serve the Miramar Hotel, the Biltmore, the Valley Club, San Ysidro Ranch, Oprah Winfrey, all the big water users.”
Eversoll say his superpower is enthusiasm for sewers. “I know what a drop manhole is,” he says. “I know what a force main is. When I was in Paris visiting my son when he was in school there, I actually went on a tour of the sewers of Paris at the Musée des Égouts de Paris and they had a Plexiglass floor so you could see through. As I was walking on it, I was very fearful that it would collapse under my weight.
A third generation, lifelong Montecito resident who lives in the home his parents built, Gary Fuller is a bar-certified, non-practicing attorney and plumber who specializes in plugging leaks on people’s properties via his company, Acme Detection. Alone among the folks running for the sanitary district, Fuller has absolutely no opinion about the district’s controversial office project, which he says he hadn’t even heard about until contacted for this story. “I’m pretty much uninformed on that,” he admits, “but I thank you for the information.”
Instead, Fuller says he threw his figurative hat in the ring because, as a homeowner who isn’t connected to the sewer system but rather has to rely on a septic tank, he feels like the Sanitary District needs to be extended to include more residents. “There are far too many people on septic,” he says. “They’ve been promising to put in a sewer connection since my parents built this place. I’m tired of sitting on the sidelines.”
Aside from that very personal and pragmatic motivation to run for office, Fuller says his candidacy is also an attempt to thwart what he sees as an attempt to take over the district by the same folks who currently control Montecito’s water district and who supported the agency’s successful bid to purchase desalinated water from Santa Barbara. “They are trying to have complete control over the system,” argues Fuller, adding that he believes this includes the Birnam Wood Golf Club. “I’ve been watching what’s happening. Part of the deal is to get all the reclaim to water their golf course and have everybody pay for it. That’s why I want to run.”
Fuller says his superpower is determination. “I’m constantly moving forward at a steady pace, and I want to keep the sewer system moving forward and making it available to more people.”
Dorinne Lee Johnson
This isn’t the first time Dorinne Lee Johnson has run for the Montecito Sanitary District Board of Directors. “I applied for this position two years ago and someone else took it,” she says. “Then I was approached to consider being part of the Water Security Team. I decided to do that.” Her beef: “It was brought to my attention the lack of ADA [American With Disabilities] Act requirements on the plans and unpermitted buildings.”
As a member of the Montecito Association, Lee Johnson says she understands the importance of community outreach. “I really like to work with the homeowners and rate payers to understand the process,” she says. “I take the extra time to really work with people.” While Lee hopes to see an expansion of recycling, “that’s something that’s at a later date,” she says. “I think there’s some other things that need to be addressed now.”
To wit: that expensive building the district is trying to build. “The two existing lab and maintenance buildings were never permitted regardless of if they were internally approved… I find that the application of the site is an incomplete application. It does not meet ADA requirements.”
As for recycling water? “I’d like to see recycling be implemented so that it can be used for hotels or for the other users that use a lot of water,” she says. “You have the golf courses and things like that. I mean, we’d love to do the homeowners but I just don’t think that’s going to be as feasible right now.”
Lee Johnson’s superpower? “My secret power is to work with people. The mission is to make sure there is transparency, that we engage in the community with the rate payers, to protect, preserve, and enhance our community.”
A retired trial lawyer who spent his career suing corporations over toxic waste, Edwin Martin had never considered seeking a directorship at the Montecito Sanitary District until a short time ago. “But I was asked several times to get involved in this and started looking into it,” he says, “and I started sensing that things were not as I thought they should be, because you have to be open, transparent.”
When Martin learned about the Sanitary District’s plan to build an expensive new headquarters, he says he soon realized that this was a “vanity” project. “I became convinced that’s exactly what it was,” he says. “There were mutterings of deterioration and asbestos. I’m somewhat of an authority on asbestos as a trial lawyer, but there was never any documentation of such findings.”
According to Martin, the Sanitary District’s current office space, while not palatial, seemed adequate for its purpose. He accuses current directors of purposely allowing the current building to deteriorate. “I noticed right away as I walked up to the building, a big blue plastic tarp like you see at a homeless encampment,” he recalls. “I asked why it was here and they said it was years ago and the Board before just decided to let it go. They didn’t want to have that building, they wanted to tear it down.”
It won’t likely surprise you that Martin sees the wisdom in recycling more water and using it via cooperation with the water district to sprinkle Montecito’s major lawns as opposed to dumping it into the Pacific Ocean. “I walk past the Biltmore and Butterfly Beach all the time,” he says, “and I look at the big pipe and think, ‘Ah, this is where the affluent bathe in the effluent.’ I know they treat the water, but I wouldn’t go swimming in that stuff.”
Pending state guidelines will eventually prohibit the regular dumping of treated wastewater into the ocean. “You can’t say the water’s clean,” Martin insists. “It’s treated, but it’s not clean. You’ve gotta tell the people the truth and explain it in factually correct ways and avoid the use of weasel words. That’s got to change and I’d like to be part of that change.”
Martin says his superpower is honesty. “I think what I would like to bring to the board is a sense of honest transparency, no fooling around. I have spent decades asking questions and I read things, unlike some of our leaders. I would not participate in anybody’s failure to tell the community the truth.”
Uncontested & Non-Montecito-Specific Races
The following trio of races all feature candidates who are either running uncontested or who won’t be directly representing Montecito, so while we didn’t conduct new interviews with anyone running, we’re including the names of the relevant candidates so you can continue to track these public officials in the future.
Santa Barbara Community College Board of Trustees
This community college district is divided into several districts, and Montecito lies within District 1, which has no open seat this year. Our representative, Peter Haslund, is safe for two more years, as are Marsha Croniger (District 5), Jonathan Abboud (District 6), and Kate Parker (District 7). In District 2, incumbent Robert Miller is facing off against newcomer Ronald Liechti, the Fire Business Manager of Santa Barbara. In District 3, incumbent Veronica Gallardo is being challenged by Erin Julia Guerena, a kindergarten and first grade teacher who also owns a barber shop on De La Vina. Finally, in District 4, two newbies, Anna Everett and Celeste Barber are facing off. Everett is a retired Social Sciences and Media professor from UCSB and Barber is a retired adjunct English professor from SBCC.
Montecito Union School District
Board members Chad Chase, Susanna Osley, and Peter Van Duinwyk will remain in office this year, however Kathryn Murphy and Marilyn Bachman are leaving, to be replaced by Jessica Smith and Jacqueline Duran.
Montecito Water District
Tobe Plough and Floyd Wicks
This pair of candidates has the easiest job of anyone on the ballot, since they happen to be running unopposed for reelection. Both men first ran for office four years ago on the platform of bringing “water security” to Montecito by signing a 50-year deal with Santa Barbara to purchase desalinated water. Their successful campaigns reflected widespread consternation with water rationing measures enacted by the board at the height of California’s most recent drought.
While controversial among some environmentalists opposed to restarting the city’s desal plant, which went offline almost as soon as it was built in the late 1980s, the deal was approved unanimously this year. For his part, Wicks traces the lack of competing candidates to the fact that water rates haven’t skyrocketed as a result of the deal. “Guess when rates only went up by an average of 2.8 percent,” he says, “it scared off the competition.”