Our Interview with Supe Candidate Gregg Hart: I'll Quit SBCAG Job "When I'm Sworn In&qu
Beginning his campaign for 2nd District Supervisor, SB council member Gregg Hart says he will resign his lucrative job at the regional Santa Barbara County Association of Governments if – and only if - he wins the race.
“I’m going to resign from SBCAG,” Hart said, in his most complete statement to date about his current position as Deputy Executive Director, and his future plans for employment at the regional agency that is financially intertwined with the county.
“I can’t be an SBCAG employee and a board member at the same time,” he added, referring to his position, which pays approximately $140,000 in salary and benefits*. “As a member of the Board of Supervisors, I’m on the SBCAG board. So I’m going to resign my position from SBCAG. When I’m sworn in to the Board of Supervisors.”
In a half-hour conversation with Newsmakers, the veteran local politician also said he did not decide to run for supervisor until the deadly aftermath of the Thomas Fire, insisting that campaigning for a new job so soon after his re-election to city council is not a cynical political move.
Speaking amid the chatter and clatter of the West Carrillo Starbucks, Hart also addressed a host of issues, from housing to regulation of legal marijuana to the process by which his council seat should be filed, should he be elected supervisor. He also stated that there are few policy differences between himself, and either incumbent Janet Wolf or rival Susan Epstein.
“I’ve supported Janet in every race she’s run,” he told us. “I don’t know that there’s any policy space difference. I think there are probably style differences, but there are style differences between all the elected officials in the area.”
Here is the text of our conversation, edited for clarity.
ON POT REGULATION.
Q: How will the county’s new proposed ordinance on regulating marijuana affect your constituents in the 2nd District?
A: I haven’t looked at the county proposal in enough detail.
I’ve been focused on trying to make sure the system is rational between the city and the county, and it’s been difficult because they’ve been happening at the same time. We may have to relook at some of what the city doing in light of what the county’s doing.
Ultimately what this is about is that folks voted to make marijuana available. They want it to be available. I’m not really focused in on the the revenue that comes from that. I think that is small part of this, ultimately it’s about access for consumers.
Q: Your chief strategist, Mollie Culver, has also been a top consultant to the marijuana industry in Santa Barbara County – doesn’t that give the appearance of a conflict of interest?
A: No. We don’t talk about policy.
Q: You don’t talk about marijuana?
A: Every once in a while we’ll talk about policy, but we’ve got plenty to talk about with the campaign.
ON HIS JOB AT SBCAG.
Q: Speaking of conflicts, on the city council, you’ve recused yourself from matters affecting SBCAG. But wouldn’t there be a direct conflict as a supervisor?
A: I’m going to resign from SBCAG. I can’t be an SBCAG employee and a board member at the same time. As a member of the Board of Supervisors, I’m on the SBCAG board. So I’m going to resign my position from SBCAG. When I’m sworn in to the board of supervisors.
Q: Why not resign now?
A: I’ve been doing this for a long time on the council and as an SBCAG staffer. I have the support of the board members and my boss, the executive director, that I know how to draw a line. They tell me I do it very well, and I’m going to just keep doing it.
ON HOUSING POLICY.
Q: Should there an AUD (Average-size Unit Density program) policy in Goleta and the unincorporated county portion of the 2nd District similar to the one the city has?
A: I think it’s more effective in the city. I think that kind of density is more appropriate in that downtown environment, so I don’t think that AUD is appropriate in the unincorporated part of the 2nd district.
I don’t think (AUD) is going to produce a huge number of units. There are only so many sites, there are only so many developers willing to risk capital on this sort of project, and there’s political uncertainty in the city now.
The projects that have happened so far, like the MARC, are not home runs.
I don’t think there’s this huge driving engine that’s going to produce a huge number of AUD projects. I support them, I think it’s a really vital part of the solution but there are going to be a lot more ADU (Accessory Dwelling Units) by people converting their garages at relatively low cost, making apartments like that, and I think that is going to drive housing development, both in the unincorporated section of the county, the city of Goleta and the city of SB.
I think the biggest driver is going to come from Accessory Dwelling Units. We have over 600 applications. We haven’t figured out how to deal with all of them.
Q: But Sacramento is really pushing local government to build more housing.
A: This is a super-volatile space in terms of the Legislature and what they’re doing and they are intent to do more. I personally would prefer it if we were in the driver’s seat, if we were making all the decisions about it but that isn’t the world anymore, the Legislature is driving it.
The state legislation is changing every day. There’s even new state legislation that’s more aggressive. What’s really happened, I think, is that forever there was a clear line between local control on land use issues and the state legislature. And the Legislature now has no resistance to regulating land use on the local level.
Most legislators in Sacramento represent urban districts in the state and what they see as proper density, if you’re a state Assembly member from San Francisco or L.A. it’s very different than what it is on the south coast. But we’re going to have to react to that.
ON SOLID WASTE MANAGEMENT.
Q: Switching topics: Should the county finance and operate a resource recovery center on the Gaviota Coast?
A: I voted for that. Nothing is without controversy. This is the best available solution given the technology that exists.
I think we do this now but I think the technology is going to evolve and change
Q: What’s the cost?
A: It’s extraordinary, $100 million to start. It has to come from ratepayers. But the alternative is, what are you going to do – ship our trash 100 miles away? With the greenhouse gas emissions that come with that? It might be slightly cheaper but you have to include the environmental impacts to that solution.
ON THE COUNTY’S HANDLING OF THE THOMAS FIRE AND MONTECITO SLIDES.
Q: In terms of disaster planning, what did recent events say about ours - is it lacking?
A: No, no one could have anticipated that event. This is unprecedented…this is a one in 1500 year event. The combination of having a radical five year drought, the worst drought in history, the biggest wildfire in California history and a half an inch of rain in five minutes, having all that come to together, the odds are,you might as well win the lottery.
Q: Did the sheriff handle the evacuation warnings properly? Using the 192 as the dividing line?
A: I don’t know about that.
Facts are still unveiling themselves. The county has a different evacuation strategy now as a result of what happened. I think people learned a ton. This is all evolving. These are unprecedented events and everybody is going to do their best to be careful and cautious.
That was an incredibly dynamic situation where you had people out of their homes for weeks at a time. No one really understood the power and the ferocity of an event like this, now folks do, people are going to take this very seriously now
This is a real difficult communications challenge and this is the space where I think my experience in government is critical. I’ve been working in local government for 30 years. It gives me an advantage
Q: Lawsuits are going to pile up and be a big financial hit to the county.
A: There are going to be lots of serious financial hits to the budget.
Lawsuits, and the fact is you’ve got people whose property has been damaged - they will be seeking reassessment of their property tax. The neighbors to those homes may be seeking reassessments to their property tax.
I think this is going to unfold over the course of time and that’s going to have a significant impact on the county on revenues. In addition to the short-term impact we have had from the actual events, the uncertainty of the future events.
This is a slow moving, significant catastrophe that’s going to take a long time to resolve itself.
Ultimately, the reason that I’m running for the Board of supervisors is to bring my 30 years of public service experience to this job in this moment.
ON WHY HE’S RUNNING.
Q: So that’s why you decided to run?
A: I was not convinced that I should run for the Board of Supervisors until this event. Your article about me doing the Dance of the Seven veils, absolutely fair.
I was trying to figure this out. What’s the best way for me to use my ability, whether it’s on the council or as a supervisor?
I did not make up my mind until this event occurred. And then it became completely clear to me that this is the thing to do. Because of my fiscal experience, my land use experience, this is all fitting together and I realize that the best role is as a member of the Board of Supervisors.
Q: Word was you wanted to make sure you got the Democratic endorsement in order to run.
A: It’s not as simple as that.
I thought about running for the Board of Supervisors. I went to Janet, I said “are you going to run?” She told me she was going to run. I believed it, I think she believed it. That’s how I operated in 2017.
When she changed her mind, I had to relook at it. And in the context of being on the council, with this new council, I had to weigh that.
I thought long and hard about it for months. I got elected in November and until January I really was trying to figure this out. The tipping point was the disaster and after that I said ‘yeah I’m gonna run for this seat.’
I wanted the Democratic Party endorsement, I’ve always had the Democratic Party endorsement, those are my values, and I want to have that as my base of support. Having that cemented everything and now it's full speed ahead.
ON OPPOSING A WOMAN IN THE YEAR OF #MeToo.
Q: After I wrote the piece about some Dem women being pissed off about the endorsement, I got an email from (Chamber of Commerce CEO) Ken Oplinger and he said this:
There is one thing that touches the other side of this scale that you forgot. Gregg has, on two occasions prior to this, stepped aside from races he was lining up to run in when the party asked him to, both times stepping aside for Democratic women, and in the most recent case, a Democratic woman school board member (who had less party experience than him (now Assembly member Monique Limon). The conventional wisdom was that he did as the party asked several times, and that many felt his constant, quiet deferment in other races needed to be paid back this time.
So was it just your turn?
A: It’s nobody’s turn. I think I’m bringing 30 years of public service experience to this moment in time, to this job, to this fiscal and planning experience and I think my experience is a big plus to that equation.
People have been saying I’m running for something forever. Every time there’s a cycle, people have been saying 'Gregg’s gonna run for this' and I haven’t in 20 some odd years. I’ve thought about it but I like serving on the Santa Barbara city council
This was not an easy decIsion for me to do this. I agonized over this but because of the (disaster) event that’s happened. I think this is a unique opportunity.
Q: Looking at your body language and facial expressions at the council, it looks like you can’t wait to get out of there.
A: I think Cathy’s doIng a good job. (Newly elected members) Eric (Friedman) and Kristen (Sneddon) are plusses. Randy (Rowse) and I are trying to let them have some space to figure this out on their own and I don’t want to dominate discussions. I want to figure out how to add something to the conversations without trying to be dominating in those discussions.
I think the actual results of what the council has done, I’m 100% supportive of that.
(On a controversial AUD project that was appealed and won the appeal on a tie vote) the vote was 3-3. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t stylish, but the results are what matter.
On the cannabis regulations, we got a compromise.
ON FILLING COUNCIL VACANCIES.
Q: Do you think your council seat, if you win, should be filled by a special election?
A: The City Attorney has been very clear and the City Attorney’s right. It’s the council‘s perogative (to appoint a successor) to choose someone differently.
The City Attorney has talked to me specifically about my situation. It’s not ambiguous at all, the council appoints.
The language about the mayor (in the debate over filling the final two years of Mayor Cathy Murillo’s District 3 seat) was more ambiguous. So the situation when Randy (originally) got appointed to the council applies to my situation as well.
We’re going to have a charter amendment (on the November ballot) that integrates the district election situation with the charter,that includes even year elections, we’re going to do this in one big electoral reform balliot measure.
Q: Will it include special elections for openings?
A: I think it’s going to call for appointments.
ON OFFICE JOB HOPPING.
Q: As of today, you were just elected to your council seat 95 days ago and now you’re running for something else. Isn’t that the kind of thing that makes people cynical about politics?
A: The events are different now than when I was running for council. We have an unprecedented natural disaster in the county. This is something that’s never happened before and the county is in unique circumstance and that’s why I made the decision to run.
Q: People gave you a lot of money to run for council, and now you’re going to use it to run for supervisor. I hear some contributors are not happy about that,.
A: If somebody is upset about that and doesn’t want that money to go for that, I’ll gladly not transfer it. Nobody’s communicated that to me. Not a single person. Everybody I’ve called is enthusiastic about me running.
ON HOW WILL HE BE DIFFERENT.
Q: What’s the biggest difference between you and the incumbent?
A: I’ve supported Janet in every race that she’s run.
I don’t know that there are any policy space differences. I think there are probably style differences. There are style differences between all the elected officials in the area.
We’re all trying to work together as a team.
Q: Is (council member) Jason Dominguez part of the team?
A: (Long pause) I think you answer that question by asking it.
ON HIS CHIEF RIVAL.
Q: What’s the difference between you and Susan Epstein?
I have 30 years of public experience, I’ve balanced budgets, restored the city’s financial reserves. I work collaboratively with people.
I have a broad array of bipartisan support – the Chamber, the Sierra Club, rental property owners, real estate and (tenant advocates organization) CAUSE. That’s the entire political spectrum of the South Coast. I think that’s a reflection of the way that I’ve done public service for 30 years
Q: And Susan?
A: We have so far not been in the same room, so I don’t really know what she’s talking about. But I think there’s probably not much difference between us on the issues.
A similar interview with Susan Epstein will run in the near future.
*According to the Transparent California data base of public salaries, Hart's total salary and benefits at SBCAG was $134,911.00 for 2016, the most recent year listed.
Images: Gregg Hart (Paul Wellman, SB Independent); Starbucks pot logo montage (Slyng.com); SBCAG logo; AUD program photo montage (KEYT); Tajiguas landfill (Paul Wellman, Independent); Impact of Montecito mudslide (Mike Eliason); Janet Wolf and Gregg Hart (janetwolf14.com); MeToo campaign logo; Hart after being sworn in to city council last month with (r-l) Eric Friedman, Kristen Sneddon, Cathy Murillo (Paul Wellman); Job Hopping cartoon (Visualistan); Hart and Susan Epstein photo illustration (SB Independent).