Late in August, Santa Barbara School Board member Laura Capps announced her candidacy for First District Supervisor, which represents 84,000 constituents from the Carpinteria Valley and Santa Barbara’s Eastside and Downtown neighborhoods. The seat is currently held by Carpinteria resident Das Williams, who began his first term in 2017 after serving on the California State Assembly and Santa Barbara City Council. As of press time, Capps and Williams were the only two candidates in the race, with a filing deadline of Dec. 6, for the March 3, 2020 ballot.  

With a hometown incumbent to beat, Capps has hit the streets in Carpinteria canvassing the constituency. While some residents, in particular members of the neighborhood group Concerned Carpinterians, helped to bolster her candidacy early on, praising her hard lines on cannabis cultivation, many are still struggling to understand what sets her apart from the incumbent, who is also a registered-Democrat, an environmentalist and has long been actively engaged in public schools and social programs.     

Capps told CVN that her candidacy is about “listening” and “making sure government works.” Her two main issues are campaign finance reform and tightening cannabis regulations. Capps, who voted for Prop 64, legalizing recreational cannabis in California, promises to push for campaign donation caps, to ban contributions from anyone with business before the Board of Supervisors, to limit cannabis cultivation permits and increase buffer zones and to lead further study on health and environmental impacts of cannabis cultivation. In ongoing hearings, these concerns have been addressed by the board, including Supervisor Williams, but according to Capps and her supporters, they haven’t gone far enough.

Indeed, there’s a sense that Capps’ campaign has risen from the cannabis debates, where Williams has been criticized by the group Concerned Carpinterians for not writing tougher regulations to control odor, limit permits and widen the buffer zone, and for taking campaign contributions from cannabis cultivators. “But it’s bigger than that,” said Capps. “It’s about quality of life and the way in which many people feel that the pervasiveness of cannabis has impacted it. But even people who don’t care about that are behind my campaign because they don’t like the money that has gone into it… The truth is that the political donations that were accepted around the time of the drafting of ordinances are a real problem.”

Capps’ “Make Government Accountable Plan” proposes establishing an ethics committee and limiting campaign contributions. “On the state and federal level there are already limits. Why can’t we here? It’s about time,” said Capps. But it’s not just how much that Capps wants to curb, it’s also when. She intends to ban contributions from all entities that have a decision in front of the board and points to major contributions from the oil and cannabis industry as particularly problematic.

However, Capps’ plan disenfranchises other groups that also contribute to candidates, such as the Santa Barbara County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, that represents 480 Sheriff’s Office employees, including deputies, dispatchers and district attorney investigators, throughout the county, including Carpinteria. The union, which has endorsed Das Williams, told CVN that they are not opposed to capping contributions, but they don’t agree with excluding groups from the political process if they have an issue before the board.

“Contract negotiations, they can take a long time,” said Rob Kirsch, vice president of the Santa Barbara County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, “It’s just not feasible and I think it infringes on our First Amendment rights if you aren’t allowed to participate in the political process due to having something before the board.”   

“I want to enact real campaign reform,” Williams told CVN, “a combination of contribution limits and public financing. But Capps’ proposal advantages the interests of her donors against our firefighters and public safety officers. That’s not right.”

Women in leadership

Capps has garnered endorsements from several prominent women, including publisher and philanthropist Sarah Miller McCune, tech entrepreneur Lynda Weinman, and former county supervisors Susan Rose and Janet Wolf. In addition to knocking on doors, Capps has been holding house parties, largely attended by women. Capps believes this support from women stems from her track-record in promoting gender equity in positions of leadership.

In 2015, Capps chaired the Commission for Women Members, whose report found that among 103 county boards and commissions, women make up 33 percent of appointments and men make up 51 percent (with 16 percent vacant). In Carpinteria, women hold 45 percent of appointments. Across the county, the study found that women have higher representation in the areas of Arts & Humanities (73 percent). In Land Use & Planning women represent 37 percent.

“We need more women in office,” said Capps. “We only have one woman on the Board of Supervisors. We need more women on every level in office. We need more women in power.”

The next election for First District Supervisor will be held on March 3, 2020. To register to vote or to find your polling location, visit countyofsb.org/care/elections/registration.sbc.

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