Cathy Murillo: Incumbent, Mayor, Santa Barbara

By Nick Masuda   |   October 5, 2021

With numerous issues facing the city, the race for Santa Barbara’s mayor seat features a plethora of different backgrounds, with five challengers taking on incumbent Cathy Murillo.

Murillo will take on James Joyce, Matt Kilrain, Randy Rowse, Deborah Schwartz, and Mark Whitehurst in an election that begins in early October as mail-in ballots arrive.

For Murillo, she has been a City Hall mainstay for the better part of a decade, with her most recent term as mayor in the shadows of a pandemic that brought local businesses, medical outlets, the school system, and tourism to a screeching halt.

Over the past 18 months, Murillo has been lauded for her efforts to reopen State Street, pushing for outdoor seating in an attempt to aid restaurants and other businesses survive the economic impacts of COVID-19.

She’s also seen a number of key members of the city leave their posts, including the city manager, with Murillo’s critics calling into question the city’s current state of leadership.

Each of the six candidates were asked six key questions facing the city, with the Montecito Journal and Sonos partnering to expand upon this with a debate on September 29 that is available on demand at

Here are Murillo’s responses:

What is the most important issue facing the city?

Homelessness and affordable housing are the top interrelated challenges. Santa Barbara and its regional partners are implementing strategies to address homelessness and its impacts, and the city is working collaboratively with the County to help people get off the streets and into shelter, bridge housing, or permanent housing. Everything is in focus: clearing encampments, addressing mental health, increasing case management, preventing homelessness, and finding locations for housing for the homeless. During my 10 years of public service, new housing of all income levels has been built, through the dense housing program [Average Unit-Size Density Program – AUD], second units, and most importantly, capital-A affordable housing programs.

This city acts like a seven-headed hydra… how will you cut through this dysfunction and bring the council together in order to build some consensus?

While consensus building is important, I believe residents are more interested in the council delivering policy results, providing municipal services, and balancing our budgets – we accomplished all of this under duress of pandemic and the flat-lining of revenue sources. Because we had operating reserves to draw from, our city continued to serve our residents, businesses, and institutions. The mythical Hydra is at its core venomous; this is not true of my colleagues on the council, nor of city staff. We all work hard at our jobs, and as mayor, I set the example of keeping accessible and open, no matter our disagreements.

The Santa Barbara area is heavily reliant upon tourism; what is your plan to supplement that in case of other natural disasters or lack of travel? What are you going to do about bringing in good businesses that pay good wages?

Santa Barbara must be a city that provides good jobs with livable wages for all residents. We must support our tourism industry, but also diversify our economy. Downtown vacancies now provide an opportunity for office space for companies that bring in higher paying jobs. The State Street Promenade is drawing foot traffic, excitement, and possibilities that our Economic Development Manager, State Street Advisory Committee, and business organizations can build upon. I will work to keep that section car-free while other candidates have been historically pro-car, and a primary second-term goal is to make our City more business friendly. 

“While consensus building is important, I believe residents are more interested in the council delivering policy results, providing municipal services, and balancing our budgets – we accomplished all of this under duress of pandemic and the flat-lining of revenue sources.”
– Cathy Murillo

Do you think Santa Barbara would be better served as a city manager-run city or a mayor-run city?

A city of our size should be a City Administrator-strong municipal government. Our full-service city with its water, wastewater, fire, police, library, harbor, and airport functions requires a professional to oversee operations. As demonstrated by our City Council, elected officials set policy and aim for values such as government transparency, environmental protection and climate resiliency, a healthy and well-trained public employee workforce, a vibrant economy, and services supporting families and children. Our Charter, General Plan, and public participation are strong guiding forces in policy-setting and decision-making.

Tell us one thing about you that most people don’t know.

I have a strong creative side, in particular I am a writer, which came from spending afternoons in the public library as a child. I tell the teens I mentor that reading and writing go together. My major at UCSB was Dramatic Art; I am a classically trained stage actor and taught theater arts to children through the Children’s Creative Project after graduation. On a personal note, I adopted two kittens last year when our 21-year-old cat died, the pandemic making the grief more difficult and the joy of kittens sweeter. My secret addictions are BritBox television and Dodgers baseball.

We believe that one must be willing to lose in order to win. Can you give us an example of a brave position you have taken on the principle that cost you politically or personally?

Developing and adopting the Bicycle Master Plan took courage, as it included removal of on-street parking to make way for dedicated bicycle lanes. We mitigated that loss as much as possible, still moving forward to encourage transportation of a lighter carbon footprint. Likewise, I exhibited political bravery reigning in the vacation rental industry, after hours of heated testimony from people wanting to use rental stock as “hotel rooms” rather than housing for local hardworking residents. I will take this courage into my second term, focusing on bringing housing downtown and especially finding suitable locations for housing for the unsheltered.

Please list all endorsements to date.

Organizations: Santa Barbara County Democratic Party; Planned Parenthood Central Coast Action Fund; Sierra Club – Los Padres Chapter; Latinas Lead California; CAUSE Action Fund; Santa Barbara Young Democrats; Central Coast Labor Council; Tri-Counties Building and Construction Trades Council; SEIU 620; UFCW 770; United Domestic Workers; Teamsters Joint Council 42; Sunrise Movement Santa Barbara

Politicians and key community figures: Gregg Hart, Santa Barbara County Supervisor; Joan Hartmann, Santa Barbara County Supervisor; Das Williams, Santa Barbara County Supervisor; Paula Perotte, Goleta Mayor; Wade Nomura, Carpinteria Mayor; Oscar Gutierrez, Santa Barbara Mayor Pro-Tem; Mike Jordan, Santa Barbara City Council Member/ Ordinance Committee Chair; Meagan Harmon, Santa Barbara City Council Member / California Coastal Commissioner; Rose Munoz, Santa Barbara School Board Trustee; Gloria Soto, Santa Maria City Council Member; Marcus Lopez, Barbareno Chumash Tribal Council Chair; James Kyriaco, Goleta Mayor Pro-Tem; Kyle Richards, Goleta City Council Member; Spencer Brandt, Isla Vista Community Services District President; Ethan Bertrand, Isla Vista Community Services District Board Member; Jonathan Abboud, Santa Barbara City College Trustee; Al Clark, Carpinteria Vice Mayor; Lauren Hanson, Goleta Water District Director; Bill Rosen, Goleta Water District Director; Pegeen Soutar, Isla Vista Recreation and Park District Board Chair; David Bearman, Goleta West Sanitary District Director; Margaret Connell, (Ret.) Goleta Mayor & Santa Barbara School Board; Janet Wolf,  (Ret.) Santa Barbara County Supervisor; Marty Blum, (Ret.) Santa Barbara Mayor; Grant House, (Ret.) Santa Barbara City Council Member; Roger Horton, (Ret.) Santa Barbara City Council Member; Jackie Reid, (Ret.) Santa Barbara School Board Trustee


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