SB Mayor Eyes Tax Hike for Homeless, Says Union Donations Not Pay to Play, Calls City Well Run
By Jerry Roberts of Newsmakers
As she seeks a five-year second term, Mayor Cathy Murillo said in an interview that her decade of City Council experience merits her re-election, declaring that "everyday people are happy" in Santa Barbara and describing the city as "well run."
Despite the growing problem of homelessness in Santa Barbara, the city's top elected official added, however, that conditions here compare favorably to other Southern California cities.
"I don't know how it sounds if I say it, but if you look at other cities, we're not so bad," Murillo said, noting the proliferation of homeless camps in Venice, near Dodger Stadium and in other areas in of Los Angeles County.
"We have a really great outreach team and we do get some people into housing," she said. "It's hard, it's management -- we have to manage the problem. Until there's another shelter or until there's little apartments to put them in, we're going to have a challenge."
The mayor, who recently celebrated her 60th birthday, was first elected to council in 2011 and now faces at least two major challengers in a bid for a second, and final, term in the only City Hall office still elected citywide. Longtime Planning Commissioner Deborah Schwartz and anti-racism activist and entrepreneur James Joyce both have announced candidacies; whoever wins will get a five-year term, as part of Santa Barbara's shift of its municipal election schedule, from odd to even years.
Last week Murillo agreed to a one-on-one conversation: originally scheduled for 30 minutes, the interview lasted nearly an hour, as Cathy generously agreed to hang in and answer further questions.
Among the highlights:
On policy: The mayor associated herself closely with current city and county efforts to combat homelessness, calling the issue "one of my assignments on the council" and highlighting her position as chair of SB ACT, the organization seeking to coordinate some $40 million in annual services provided by local governments and non-profits -- adding that she also favors a special parcel tax, or increased bed or sales levies, to finance a new homeless "navigation center." She also strongly defended the new, union-friendly Project Labor Agreement policy she championed on council; described the State Street Promenade as "a work in progress" and said that her biggest priority in a new term would be to "make policy decisions that create housing opportunities, (which) would solve a lot of our issues."
On politics: Murillo spoke proudly of having raised nearly $80,000 to date for her re-elect campaign. Asked to identify specific accomplishments that warrant her re-election, she pointed to the Project Labor Agreement, the city's enactment of demands by Healing Justice/Black Lives Matter, and a citywide Women's Summit which she convened. She also asserted that a far-flung network of personal working relationships she has forged with what she called "my residents and my businesses," as well as with city staff, homeless people and "gang risk youth" represents a major contrast with her rivals.
On high-profile controversies: She provided her fullest explanation to date of the incident in which she publicly clashed with leaders of last spring's Black Lives Matter demonstration outside the Santa Barbara Police Department; offered her perspective on a widely-publicized dispute she had with council member Kristen Sneddon at a recent council meeting; and spoke candidly about her confidence of ultimately winning endorsements for her re-election of more than the two council colleagues -- Meagan Harmon and Oscar Gutierrez - who have backed her to date:
"I'm working on (Mike) Jordan and (Eric) Friedman," Cathy said. "Alejandra (Gutierrez), I haven't even broached her about it -- it's like if you're asking your wife for a favor...you kind of have to wait for the right moment and, you know, wait until she's in a good mood."
Below is a transcript of key excerpts of Newsmakers' wide-ranging interview with Mayor Cathy Murillo on March 5. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length.