Randy Rowse: Challenger, Mayor, Santa Barbara

By Nick Masuda   |   October 5, 2021

Randy Rowse admits he had left it all behind – the politics, the late nights watching City Council meetings, the rigors of owning a business.

The former Santa Barbara City Council representative was retired, and his wife loved it.

But, over the past 18 months or so, monitoring City Council meetings became commonplace. He questioned direction and leadership.

So, he’s jumping back in, this time chasing Santa Barbara’s mayor seat, running against incumbent Cathy Murillo, as well as fellow challengers James Joyce, Matt Kilrain, Deborah Schwartz, and Mark Whitehurst.

Rowse is well-known around town for owning the Paradise Cafe, a staple for journalists, politicians, and well-to-dos around town. He sold the property in 2019, looking to cast off into the sunset.

“You know what they say about best-laid plans . . .” Rowse quipped.

Rowse says he has tired of the divisiveness that has come with political party in-fighting and is enjoying the mayoral race due to its nonpartisan nature.

“It’s supposed to be about what the people want, not what a political party wants,” Rowse said.

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 montecitojournal.net.

Here are Rowse’s responses:

What is the most important issue facing the city?

The people I meet while canvassing overwhelmingly feel like the lack of leadership the city is currently experiencing has shaken their faith in local government. The issues involving homelessness, public safety, and water are all problems, but not unique to today or to other agencies. These issues all have solutions or impactful management strategies that are within reach. What folks want is the confidence that our leadership is focused on our city and not on politics or ideology.

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?

This is our first fully districted council and our first fully party-endorsed council. We have good people on this council, but these new distinctions have caused confusion and disparate direction. I would meet individually and collectively with all seated council members to review our purpose and focus as outlined in the city charter. While council is now elected by district, every act of governance they perform affects the at-large constituency. Belonging to a political party is an individual choice, but these seats are, by definition, non-partisan. Embrace your beliefs and party, but park them at the door when you come to work at City Hall. The presence of civility is not optional for elected representatives.

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? 

The city currently invests in downtown Santa Barbara, the Chamber of Commerce, and Visit Santa Barbara, all visitor-serving agencies. The city (particularly downtown) needs a deep cleaning, better lighting, and a secure atmosphere. Other industries that pay more than hospitality must be recruited, welcomed, and facilitated through a reformed permit process. Creating a robust live/work atmosphere in our downtown will attract the kind of “clean” industry that will provide a higher income level. In addition, engaging our world-class university to develop assets in the city will help to energize the next generation of creative executives in our community.

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

Our charter spells out our structure clearly. Making our top executive subject to the whims of politics is a bad idea that is played out in numerous larger cities in our country. A professional manager that recruits, hires, and retains talent has served us very well. A “strong mayor” could possibly be influenced by special interests or have their authority compromised by the impression that they are under such outside influences. On the other hand, choosing a capable mayor to serve in our present structure is vital. That person has to answer directly to the electorate. If the mayor’s leadership abilities are in question, the organization becomes muddled in chaos. Leadership qualities cannot be assigned, but they will be revealed through actions.

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

I worked on a small sailboat that sailed from Italy back to Santa Barbara in the mid-‘seventies. During the year-plus that I was gone, I got to experience a multitude of cultures from the Mediterranean, Africa, the Canaries, the Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico. Upon returning home, I worked managing a retail stereo store in Bakersfield. You can be the judge of my life’s trajectory at that point.

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 principle that cost you politically or personally? 

During my former stint on Council, I made a few votes that in retrospect were wrong. However, I never voted for the wrong reasons, and that gives me peace. I’ve taken heat for some of my stances, but no one can accuse me of ulterior or political motives. I defended traffic, circulation, and parking capacity, but championed narrowing northern Milpas after the Sergio Romero tragedy. Likewise, I worked for the relinquishment of Cliff Drive, the expansion of bike lanes, and the addition of a middle turn lane. That hasn’t sit well with many, but I believe it has been a net positive. “Political Capital” is not a currency I choose to trade in. 

Please list your current endorsements.

Organizations: Santa Barbara City Firefighters’ Association; Santa Barbara Police Officers’ Association; Santa Barbara South Coast Chamber of Commerce

Politicians or key community members: Sheila Lodge, former Santa Barbara mayor; Pat McElroy, former Santa Barbara fire chief; Pete Jordano, CEO of Jordano’s Foodservice; Roger Aceves, Goleta City Council; Jerry Shalhoob, retired local business person; Gary Simpson, owner Home Improvement Center; Mary Louise Days, Santa Barbara Urban Historian; Jim Thomas, retired SB County Sheriff, Solvang City Council member; Lori Luhnow, former SB City Police Chief; Angel Martinez, former CEO Deckers Corp; Eric Peterson, former County Fire Chief


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