Local News

Quartet creating buzz over 2nd District seat



Nobody has officially declared intentions

For a political contest with no declared candidates, next year's race for 2nd District Supervisor is generating some serious buzz.

As incumbent Supervisor Susan Rose waits until after the Nov. 8 election to announce her re-election plans, at least four local politicos have quietly hit the campaign trail, schmoozing at parties and meeting neighbors in case Ms. Rose decides to leave the Board of Supervisors.

So far, former Goleta school board Trustee Janet Wolf, former Santa Barbara City Councilman David Landecker, and sitting Councilmen Dan Secord and Das Williams have hinted they may enter the June 2006 contest for the coveted post.

The mostly suburban seat stretches from the harbor to Goleta and offers an $81,000 annual salary -- one of the highest in the county for elected officials.

Serving as a stepping stone to higher office for many local leaders, the five-member board is technically nonpartisan, but it frequently splits along party lines.

Since January, the panel has been dominated by Republicans Brooks Firestone, Joni Gray and Joe Centeno, three property rights advocates from the North County's 3rd, 4th and 5th districts, who have inflamed environmentalists with their positions on land use and natural resources.

For six years prior, Ms. Rose had controlled the board with fellow environmentalists Naomi Schwartz and Gail Marshall, Democrats from the 1st and 3rd districts, who forged a power bloc adversaries denounced as the "twisted sisters."

Now Ms. Rose often finds herself in the minority, voting with Ms. Schwartz's environmentalist successor, Salud Carbajal, on several high-profile splits.

This year, for example, Ms. Rose has opposed weakening the county's oak tree protections and placing early decision-making for building proposals on the Gaviota coast under the watch of a design review board based in Solvang. Both measures passed 3-2.

Regardless of who wins the 2nd District race, South Coast supervisors would still find themselves outnumbered. But as Ms. Rose moves closer to a decision, she insists that the seat remain with a green advocate for social justice causes.

"If I don't run, I certainly care about who follows me and that they share my values," she said.

But finding her replacement could be tricky. The two-term veteran has had trouble balancing the demands of affordable housing advocates -- who want to build subsidized homes in the unincorporated eastern Goleta Valley -- and neighbors who want to stop them.

Groups such as the Coalition for Sensible Planning have accrued significant power, with in-your-face tactics like a short-lived effort to recall Ms. Rose last year. The residents claim one issue will determine next year's vote: controlling growth and density in their area, called "Noleta" by some.

Rather than opposing all growth, the coalition has asked officials to complete a formal growth outline before rezoning any suburban or agricultural properties for high-density development.

"The candidate who will win the election next year will be the one who comes out against the densification of the 2nd District," coalition President Gary Earle wrote in an e-mail.

As the group's slow-growth cries grow louder, potential candidates are listening intently.

Dr. Secord, a longtime physician, former city planning commissioner and councilman, has met with coalition members but has not made any commitment on the race.

"Planning needs to precede decisions," said Dr. Secord, who because of term limits will lose his seats on the council and the state Coastal Commission at the end of the year.

"I understand what the people of the unincorporated area have to deal with, and I believe I could be of use," he said.

While the reigning majority on the board may welcome Dr. Secord's vote, he said he has no intention of budging from what he deems a strong record on the environment. Dr. Secord said he opposes new offshore oil development and wants to protect the Gaviota coast.

Dr. Secord's biggest problem could be his party. He would be the only non-Democrat in the race. Although Republicans like former supervisor and Councilwoman Jeanne Graffy have held the post, Democrats outnumber Republicans 4-to-3 among the district's 48,000 registered voters, according to county election officials.

A similar pitch to "Noletans" came from Mr. Williams, who also sat down with coalition members and has pledged to fight for their interests.

"My heart goes out to the people of Goleta and the unincorporated area who will be the target of this trend toward development," said Mr. Williams, a political newcomer who asserted that he has fought hardest on the council to protect neighborhoods.

As a nonprofit organization, the Coalition for Sensible Planning cannot endorse a candidate. But that doesn't stop members from discussing candidates' positions with others in the large organization that includes many retirees.

Mr. Earle praised Mr. Williams as "intelligent" and "engaging" but suggested his political affiliations may create hurdles in the neighborhood. Although Mr. Williams has fought development during his two years on the Santa Barbara City Council, the populist and activist has close ties with affordable housing proponents.

"There's an impression in the Goleta Valley that he's glued at the hip with the housing advocates," Mr. Earle said.

Mr. Williams defended his support for groups such as the Santa Barbara County Action Network and PUEBLO -- which advocate for low-income residents -- even as he pledged to fight for Noleta neighborhoods.

He said he could bring the often discordant groups together.

"I would consider it my role to have SBCAN, PUEBLO and (the coalition) at the same table," said Mr. Williams, who described Noleta adversaries as North County developers, not housing advocates.

"If we are rent by divisions, then we might as well let North County development interests destroy us and destroy our communities, because that's what is going to happen."

Janet Wolf, who was no stranger to political battles after years as a school board trustee, declined to discuss policy positions until Ms. Rose announces her decision.

But she did say she has strong feelings about the district.

"I've lived in this county for over 20 years and feel very connected to it," she said. "I feel I could make a difference."

All of the potential candidates except Dr. Secord said they would make their decisions following Ms. Rose's announcement, planned for a week or two after the Nov. 8 mayoral and City Council races.

If the winner in the June election fails to capture 51 percent of the vote, the top two contenders will face each other in a November runoff.

Among possible candidates, only Mr. Landecker expressed strong support for building affordable housing in Noleta. While he credited groups like the Coalition for Sensible Planning with working hard to protect their area, he said the community must help the region address its housing needs.

"We've got to talk about housing," Mr. Landecker said.


A closer look at the political gamesmanship between concilmen Das Williams and Dan Secord.