Here comes the money.
In what is shaping up to be one of the most expensive campaigns in the history of Santa Barbara elections, City Council candidate Barrett Reed leads all candidates in fundraising with $161,843.
It’s a staggering number for a district election race where only about 6,000 ballots were cast in the previous election, in 2017.
Reed, a real estate investor and co-founder of the Miramar Group, is looking to unseat incumbent Kristen Sneddon, who has raised $45,538, for the District 4 seat.
“Elections aren’t decided by who has the most money, but by who best represents residents,” Sneddon said. “I am proud of the broad base of support I have from local voters. One benefit of district elections is the ability to run a genuinely grassroots campaign supported by individuals in the community.”
Santa Barbara’s Nov. 2 election includes the races for mayor, the District 4 City Council seat, the District 5 City Council seat, and the District 6 City Council seat. The city is the only one in the region that still holds odd-year elections, and it will move to even-year elections in 2024 as part of its transition to district elections.
While money is not a predictor of success in a campaign, it does show how seriously a candidate is taking the election and the depths of support from individuals and groups in the community.
Candidates who raise the most money, have a clear message that resonates with voters, and have the best organizational on-the-ground campaign, typically enjoy success on election day.
Former Deckers CEO Angel Martinez famously raised $343,000 in his bid for the mayor’s seat four years ago, but placed fourth, about nine percentage points behind the winner, current Mayor Cathy Murillo.
Santa Barbara is holding a city election Nov. 2 for mayor, District 4 City Council seat, District 5 City Council seat, and District 6 City Council seat. (City of Santa Barbara photo)
Reed is already spending time in the neighborhoods of District 4, has bought several YouTube ads, and launched his campaign with media fanfare.
According to fundraising documents filed with the Santa Barbara City Clerk’s Office, Reed’s campaign contributions so far include: $4,900 from developer Peter Lewis; $4,900 from Arthur Nelson, chief marketing officer of Sotheby’s, and $4,900 from property owner Richard Berti. He is heavily backed by the real estate and development community that has been unhappy with City Hall’s attitude toward business.
“People have asked me how my campaign has raised so much money,” Reed said. “It’s easy. People really want to see change in our city. Like me, so many are devastated by what has taken place over the past four years, our downtown, the massive resignations of city staff and the council’s lack of leadership on homelessness and infrastructure. People want change and are willing to help me bring it.”
Sneddon has received $4,900 from retired Santa Barbara City College teacher Karl Halbach; $2,500 from Richard Closson and $1,500 from gas station owner and developer John Price.
The other competitive race in terms of fundraising is the battle for the mayor’s.
Mayor Cathy Murillo leads fundraising totals to date, with $50,000 raised last year before other candidates jumped into the race.
For fundraising from January to June 30, former councilman Randy Rowse leads the contest with $131,921, followed by Planning Commission Chair Deborah Schwartz at $105,965. Third is Murillo with $85,096.
The fourth candidate in the contest, James Joyce, raised $31,000 in the first six months of 2021.
The strength in fundraising by Rowse and Schwartz shows the amount of people in the community willing to donate to oust Murillo. Much of their money is from developer and business interests.
City Hall has seen hard times during Murillo’s time as mayor, with an exodus of executive staff, including the community development director, finance director, City Administrator and several planning department positions.
The political turmoil and mounting litigation has sparked questions about Murillo’s leadership skills, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Murillo has received $4,900 from the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association Local 104; $4,900 from the United Food and Commercial Workers; and $4,900 from the Labors Local 220 Political Action Committee.
Rowse received $4,900 from Richard Berti; $4,900 from Ben Howland; $4,500 from financier Earl Minniel and $2,500 from retired geologist David Larson.
Schwartz took in $4,900 from Death Star LLC; $4,900 from Santa Barbara Shellfish Company; and $4,900 from the California Real Estate Political Action Committee.
Joyce, owner of Coffee With a Black Guy, received $4,900 from philanthropist Sara Miller-McCune, $4,500 from Elizabeth Batarse and $2,750 from Marsha Marcoe. He also received $250 contributions from Bill Cirone, retired superintendent of schools, and Laura Capps, Santa Barbara School Board member.
In the District 6 City Council contest, incumbent Meagan Harmon has raised $28,738. Her strongest opponent, Nina Johnson, a senior assistant to the City Administrator, recently pulled papers to run for the seat and has not reported any fundraising dollars yet.
Candidate Jason Carlton has also filed to run in District 6, but has not reported any financial contributions.
In District 5, incumbent council member Eric Friedman has raised $48,601 this year. UCSB Sociology Professor John Foran has pulled papers, but has not reported fundraising dollars.