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Latest on 37th Assembly and Laura-Das Races -- Plus: Cappello Speaks on Hollister

Oh sure, the House impeached the President of the United States this week, despite a six-page display of full-blown, unhinged Trump Crazy, not to mention moral support extended by bromance BFF Vladimir Putin. Here at Newsmakers, fortunately, (almost) all politics remained local: Five takeaways of the week:

Fast Start for Bennett. We won’t know for sure how the seven wannabes are faring in the money chase for the wide-open 37th Assembly District race until next month, when the first full state campaign finance filings are due, but some hot-off-the-printer documents just submitted to the Secretary of State show Steve Bennett is off to a fast start. The former longtime Ventura County supervisor, who jumped into the contest at the last minute, reported raising $69,600 in contributions of $1,000 or more in just the first week of his campaign. Most of the money is from private individuals, described by his campaign as "mainly Ventura County environmental leaders and activists" who backed his previous campaigns. State law requires candidates to report large contributions within 24 hours of their receipt during the 90 days immediately preceding an election; with the election set for March 3, legislative candidates were required to report such donations starting Dec. 3. The only other contender with a significant big-ticket cash collection list reported this month is SB Mayor Cathy Murillo, who brought in $23,500 mostly from union groups, including $9,300 from the California State Council of Labor PAC, $2,500 from the Labor Institute and $2K from the Plumbers and Steamfitters International.

What Do Women Want? The Democratic Women of Santa Barbara County's endorsements came out this week and the biggest winner amid the favored was Assembly contender Elsa Granados, who added the prize to the campaign seal of approval afforded her the week before by the SB Women’s Political Committee. "Elsa has dedicated her adult life to addressing sexual assault and domestic violence and advocating for civil rights for working-class families and under-represented communities," Dem Women said, via president Christina Pizarro. Elsa's double play validation from SB’s two most influential feminist political groups, in both of which Granados has long been active, in her role as executive director of Standing Together to End Sexual Assault, not only instantly raises her campaign credibility but also provides a psychological jolt for a candidate who's been an afterthought in assessments of the race to date. (Secret memo to aging male political reporters: Don’t sleep on Elsa).

Just Call Me “Madame President." Laura Capps ascended to the presidency of the Santa Barbara school board on Monday night, a move that puts her in a high-profile spot to lead the critical search for a replacement for the lame duck Cary Matsuoka. As a practical matter, it was no big surprise that Capps gained the presidency via a unanimous vote of her colleagues because she’s served as vice president for the past year; as a political matter, it was somewhat surprising that she took on a big batch of more work amid a demanding and strenuous campaign against Supervisor Das Williams. One key factor: the supes' contest will be decided one way or another on March 3; despite much whispering that a Republican deadline entry would scramble the political calculus of the race, it remained a one-on-one with Das, meaning no November run-off. Like Granados, Capps also captured the Dem Women's endorsement, giving her a split decision with liberal feminist activists, as Das's strong Democratic Party connections helped him win the two-thirds vote needed among the WPC board to win their endorsement. (This despite some prominent women leaders speaking against him at the decisive meeting, most notably former Supervisor Janet Wolf, who delivered a blistering public critique of Das). "These inspiring women fight for progress - independent of the establishment - with integrity and persistence," Laura said in a statement boosting her endorsement and underlining the sovereignty of the Dem Women from party apparatchiks. "Receiving this endorsement is meaningful to me personally and gives our campaign a major boost. " This Week’s Power Ratings. A completely subjective ranking of the 37th District Assembly candidates, accounting for up-to-date developments. The margin of error is plus or minus 100 percent.

1-Steve Bennett. Early burst of cash provides table stakes, as arrival of consultant Steve Barkan provides veteran political management.2-Cathy Murillo. Labor runs Sacto, labor wants Mayor Cathy.3-Jonathan Abboud. IV’s Favorite Son tells Santa Maria paper he’s already raised $70K in Bernie-style small donations.4-Elsa Granados. Twin endorsements from feminist groups should help with fundraising.5-Jason Dominguez. Could use a financial angel, but credit him for hanging in on tough city council issues with one foot out the door. 6-Charles Cole. Making life hard for reporters trying to cover you always a bad look for a candidate. 7-Steve Blum. SM Sun says he said he'll raise less than $10K and doesn’t much expect to win.

Barry to Enviros: No Touchdown Dance on Hollister. Local environmentalists are hailing a new ruling in the long-running litigation over public coastal access at Hollister Ranch, but opposition attorney Barry Cappello vows the legal fight has barely begun. “It is just another step, in a large complicated land use lawsuit, that has years yet to play out,” Santa Barbara’s famed smash-mouth lawyer told Newsmakers in an email. "This is an unfortunate waste of everyone’s time and treasure, including the taxpayers." Cappello's comment came in response to a triumphant statement from the office of enviro attorney Marc Chytilo, after Superior Court Judge Colleen Sterne ruled in favor of the Gaviota Trail Alliance’s challenge to a controversial settlement agreement about public beach access at the ranch, previously negotiated between the Hollister Ranch Owners Association and the Coastal Commission. Full background, details and context may be found in our previous Proustian exertion on the matter. In short, the environmental alliance succeeded in intervening in a quiet deal that settled longstanding litigation between the state and the owners, providing for a few, very limited forms of public access; they argued that the agreement met neither the spirit nor the letter of the California Coastal Act. The homeowners group and the commission insisted that the deal was golden and that the greens simply had no legal standing to intervene. Judge Sterne, in an 18-month series of pro-environmentalist rulings which Cappello and his clients insist are utterly wrong-headed, disagreed. Now the whole imbroglio appears headed for the Court of Appeal and beyond and could end up being moot, given Assembly member Monique Limon's just-passed law requiring state agencies to craft a proposed solution to the access issue. "The denial of the settlement means the public will have less access to Hollister Ranch for a minimum of the next three to five years, as it will take that long for this issue to resolve itself through the court system," Cappello said, "Until all the parties agree on a process fair to all, particularly the homeowners of the ranch, this fight will go on." Newsmakers' Department of Legal Affairs and Billing-By-The-Hour, recalling our own six-year legal brawl with Cappello, takes him at his word.


Images: Buzz Lightyear (; Steve Bennett; Elsa Granados; Laura Capps;; Barry Cappello.

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