Lone Elects Political Competition is Dead in SB

By Jeff Giordano   |   April 5, 2022

Public trust in government is at a 50-year low. According to an ambitious Harvard Business School study, the problem in our contentious duopoly is the lack of competition and resulting lack of accountability. Santa Barbara is the poster child for what this study raged against — a system that no longer focuses on the public good but is instead a private enterprise that sets its own rules for its own gain. Allow me to explain:

With respect to competition, let’s start with our five-person Board of Supervisors. Never forget that this Board controls all County departments, our executive suite, our 4,300 employees and our entire $1.35B annual budget. FACT: Very soon, three of our five Supervisors (Capps, Nelson, and Lavagnino) will be serving without ever being part of a contested election. Indeed, this is happening across the County: Harry Hagen, our Treasurer-Tax Collector; Betsy Schaffer, our Auditor-Controller; and John Savrnoch, our newly anointed District Attorney (interesting that Ms. Dudley announced her retirement so close to the “intent-to-run” filing deadline), are all “running” unopposed. This is not about party politics; this is about the battle of local (always local!) issue-solving ideas and accountability. 

So, let’s talk about some of the questions that the unopposed should be asked to answer. Mr. Hagen was kept from the discussions (really!) that led our County to decide that cannabis should be taxed on “Self-Reported” (huh?) revenue rather than on an easily verifiable and guaranteed square-foot-grown basis. This year alone, this decision cost Santa Barbara about $70M in lost revenue! Now, cannabis taxes are a micro-spec (around 1%) of our budget but, that said, 80 acres in Monterey County will generate $20M guaranteed while, under our tax scheme, 300 acres in Santa Barbara might yield $13M. So, will Mr. Hagen continue to leave tens of millions of dollars on the table? Or will he address the note in this year’s budget: “Board members [stated] it would be helpful to hear alternatives to our cannabis revenue [tax scheme].” 

Ms. Capps will bring much needed grace and decorum to the Board, which often times is rudely flippant and downright arrogant (traits that scream “unaccountable”). Her Good Government platform — a platform that, regardless of your politics, this County desperately needs — will serve us well if (big “if”) she can push it forward. You should dig into the details because when it comes to rules of ethics and campaign finance, Santa Barbara County is like no other county in the state.

Finally, we need to begin asking hard financial questions. We spent a mere $300K to support the Office of Arts & Culture, yet increased County salaries by $36M to $700M. We received $130M in COVID relief — a windfall — yet paid down just $10M against our $471M in deferred maintenance (we are crumbling!). We approved $80M to build a new North Branch jail that will ultimately cost $120M with operating costs that were not nearly anticipated. And, oh yeah, we still need to spend $21M to refurbish our Main Jail, as well. Our individual generosity will continue to be called upon far too often unless and until we begin to ask: “WHY?” 

We live in a news desert where no single publication in our 400,000 resident County reaches more than 25,000 readers. This allows unprecedented darkness deeply exacerbated by a lack of competition and investigative journalism (other than the MJ). This means one thing — we all need to do more and, yes, we all need to ask the tough questions!

Jeff Giordano, 
Santa Barbara County Resident  


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