Two Goleta mayoral hopefuls faced off for the first time Friday, discussing issues such as workforce housing, Old Town and the city’s economic vitality during a debate hosted by the Goleta Chamber of Commerce.

The November election will represent the first time that Goleta residents will vote for a directly elected mayor to serve a two-year term.

Incumbent Mayor Paula Perotte and Councilman Michael Bennett shared their perspectives on a wide range of city issues and policies at the forum and luncheon held at Glen Annie Golf Course. The candidates had two minutes to respond to each question.

Perotte began her term as mayor in December 2016. She was first elected to the council in 2010, and she was re-elected without opposition in 2014. She served three years as the mayor appointed by the City Council.

A 35-year Goleta resident, Perotte serves on a number of committees and boards spanning housing, transportation and social services. Her experience includes working as a piemaker and bus driver, serving 15 years with the parent-teacher association, working at her family’s high-tech business and advocating for children through the Community Action Commission.

Bennett was elected to the City Council in 2006 and re-elected in 2010 and 2014. He served as mayor in 2013 and 2008.

For 36 years, Bennett served as a firefighter and battalion chief. He has led efforts for a new fire station, peak-hour train service and a multimodal transit center.

Bennett said he would balance development, protect the environment and strengthen the economy.

City’s Role in Providing Housing for the Next Generation

Businesses in Goleta cite the lack of housing for their workforce in the top three barriers to business, according to Trevor Large, the event’s moderator and Goleta Chamber of Commerce board member, and there isn’t much more housing in the pipeline.

In regard to the city providing housing for the next generation and making progress on providing a variety of levels of workforce housing, Bennett said: “Given the opportunity to provide housing, I would support it — I think it’s critically important.”

He spoke of housing development that would benefit the whole community.

Perotte noted that Goleta has added new housing units in the city, adding, “We need to make sure those 1,000 units are sustainable.”

She said she believes there’s a need for housing that “serves a certain population,” such as the workforce, while maintaining the character of Goleta. She noted the city’s efforts, such as Goleta’s ADU (or average unit density zoning) ordinance.

“Hopefully, that will help some folks that want to live and work here,” Perotte said.

She also suggested encouraging employers “to provide housing for their workers,” as well as the city partnering with private, nonprofit and government agencies to support affordable housing projects.

Vision for Old Town Goleta

Goleta residents cited in a recent survey conducted by the city that Old Town is one of their top priorities, Large said. The city seems divided on whether to improve the area at the direction for residents of Old Town or for all Goleta residents who want to enjoy that area as a downtown, he said.

The mayoral candidates discussed their priorities for moving forward on the Goleta Chamber of Commerce’s vision of “placemaking” in Old Town.

Perotte said some residents tell her that “Old Town is a mess,” and the city isn’t doing enough in a visionary plan for revitalizing the area. Other residents tell her to “leave us alone, it’s just fine.”

Perotte said she’s happy listening to both sides of the discussion, in addition to the opinions of business leaders.

“I think there’s more that the city can do, and I look forward to working with the Chamber (of Commerce),” Perotte said, noting Old Town’s roadway, bicycle and sidewalk projects in the works.

Developing trust in the residents, Perotte said, is important, adding that she thinks “there’s a sense that we are trying to take over and make it into something that it isn’t.”

Bennett said the San Jose Creek project was an “instrumental improvement” to the Old Town community. The project constructed capacity improvements to the creek channel that increased the design from a 25-year to a 100-year storm event.

“I was on the council when it first came before us,” he said, “and pushed very hard to make that happen.”

Bennett said the replacement of the Hollister Avenue Bridge over San Jose Creek reduces flooding and related impacts within Old Town. Construction is expected to begin next year.

“I’ve been supportive of the activities in Old Town,” Bennett said, noting the Old Town Goleta Christmas Parade.

Goleta’s Economic Vitality

Many cities invest in economic development to sustain or improve their revenue from transient occupancy tax, commercial retail sales tax and general business vitality, Large said. Goleta recently signaled the departure from economic development with its contract with the Goleta Chamber of Commerce, and then restored it to previous levels.

Bennett and Perotte described how they see themselves championing to increase the city’s economic vitality and their working relationship with the business community through the Chamber of Commerce.

“Since first elected, I worked with all people within our community,” listening to all residents and trying the best to balance the community needs, Bennett said.

He added, “Hotels are a good thing in our community. I was excited about the hotels. They were part of the original General Plan.”

He spoke proudly of Goleta’s Hilton Garden Inn rooftop deck, calling it “something special” in the city.

He said he supports the 118-suite Residence Inn by Marriott along Hollister Avenue.

“Those new hotels provided the transient occupancy tax, which will ultimately allow us to do the kinds of things that people think are important in our community,” Bennett said.

He said he also supports residents and UC Santa Barbara graduates along the path of entrepreneurship, he said. He mentioned his supportive record of the city’s 965,000-square-foot Cabrillo Business Park office spaces.

Perotte said the city’s role in encouraging economic development includes partnering with the Chamber of Commerce, adding that she recently read the organization’s mission statement and “fully agrees” with it. She said the mission of the chamber is to enhance the vibrant quality of life where businesses, residents and visitors can thrive.

“We are on the same page,” she told the crowd, adding, “It’s important that we respect our environment and natural beauty.”

Regarding hotels in Goleta, Perotte said: “I support some of the hotels.” She didn’t specify the hotel projects that she supports.

“Goleta is a great city, and I want to keep it that way,” she continued.

Goleta Water District Board Candidates

The event also included brief remarks from Councilman Roger Aceves, who automatically will be re-elected as he has run unopposed, and James Kyriaco, a newcomer who will take a council seat in December as a result of running unopposed.

The four candidates in the Nov. 6 race for the two open seats on the Goleta Water District board of directors also participated in Friday’s discussion, including Thomas Evans, a water resources engineer; Matias Eusterbrock, an environmental analyst; Bobbi McGinnis, a real estate agent; and Kathleen Werner, a retired water chemist. All shared their plans of leadership if elected to the board.

Meg West and Jack Cunningham are not running for re-election on the board.

The district, which serves about 87,000 people in the Goleta Valley, has five governing board members who serve four-year terms.