Published on February 5, 2021 by the Santa Barbara News-Press.
By Grayce McCormick
Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo is ready for round two. After serving as a city council member from 2011 to 2017 and serving as mayor since 2017, she cited many accomplishments she’s proud of, and she hopes to continue using her vast experience to serve community members.
“I am really proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish working with so many folks in the city during my first term on a number of important issues,” Mayor Murillo told the News-Press Thursday. “The excitement and early support I’ve received for my re-election are a testament to that.”
Since announcing her run for re-election in September 2020, she’s already raised more than $50,000, giving her a leg up against her opponents, Planning Commissioner Deborah Schwartz and James Joyce III, an entrepreneur and ex-staff member for former state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara.
Throughout her four years as mayor, Ms. Murillo said she has prided herself on always delivering balanced budgets and growing operating reserves. She explained that because the city put money away prior to the pandemic, it was able to dip into those funds when revenue sources flatlined.
Under her leadership, the council provided assistance to renters unable to pay their rents during the pandemic, and it passed the Just Cause Ordinance, which included robust relocation assistance.
Mayor Murillo has also taken steps to fight climate change, including the recent vote by the council requiring all-electric new construction in the city. She founded Santa Barbara’s new Sustainability and Resilience Department as well.
A main focus of hers in her next term is addressing the challenge of homelessness, which includes helping homeless individuals find storage space for their belongings. She said she also wants to continue implementing things such as pop-up day center services she helped create.
And Mayor Murillo helped craft SBACT’s Common Agenda, a strategic plan for addressing homelessness.
“What sets me apart from others is that I spend my personal time working on these challenges in person,” she said. “I do street outreach to the homeless myself, and I did it during the pandemic as well.
“I will keep trying to find real basic solutions to help the homeless for their sake and then to relieve the pressure on the community.”
The mayor said that when the city receives reports on homeless individuals, she’s often the one making first contact with them, bringing food and resources and asking them what they need before letting them know professionals are on the way.
“I’m proud of that kind of personal touch that I bring to this job,” she said.
Mayor Murillo added that she does the same kind of work for at-risk youth in the community, especially during the pandemic and in light of the recent uptick in violence.
Every two weeks, Mayor Murillo said she hops on a call with a group of people from youth-serving organizations, and they inform her of what’s going on in the schools and on the street, including gang activity. She’s also the chair of the South Coast Youth Safety Partnership Policy Team.
“Youth work is challenging because poverty causes a lot of these family problems,” she said. “Our community has very low-income people. They’re the people that work in our service industry. … They’re my neighbors here on the Westside. I never forget them.”
Mayor Murillo led the council’s decision in closing down State Street to vehicular traffic and allowed parklets to be built so restaurants could operate. She added that the city’s economic development director will be coming out with an economic development plan for the city, potentially as soon as next month, as businesses start to reopen.
Regarding housing, she directed city staff to find ways to create more housing downtown, including repurposing old commercial buildings and setting inclusionary requirements so affordable units are available. The mayor hopes to revitalize the downtown core when the pandemic ends with family programming and entertainment.
“Our residents have endured the pandemic with incredible courage,” Mayor Murillo said. “I am pressing public health officials to increase vaccination availability and find ways to reopen various sectors of our economy carefully and steadily. I look forward to reopening our libraries, partnering with school officials to get schools back in service, and making our public spaces safe and accessible for everyone to enjoy.”
Her other accomplishments have included opening up a new children’s library, securing funding and a site for a new police station, updating the city’s Bicycle Master Plan, revitalizing the Westside’s neighborhood association, establishing a Project Labor Agreement policy for city public works projects and taking steps to implement oversight of the Santa Barbara Police Department in light of the George Floyd protests.
“We want the police department to interact with all of our vulnerable populations and to treat them fairly,” Mayor Murillo said. “That includes people with disabilities, people of color, immigrants no matter their status and members of the LGBTQ community.”
She pointed out that she and the city council appointed members of those populations to the Community Formation Commission, which is designed to create the civilian police review system.
As the first Latina ever elected to the Santa Barbara City Council, Mayor Murillo hopes to continue working on the ground with the community, move the projects she began four years ago forward and implement new ones in the next four years.
“I hope it gives the city voters confidence in me that I have vast experience,” she said. “My second term will continue a focus on bringing transparency and responsiveness in law enforcement, getting small businesses back on their feet as quickly as possible this year, supporting and leading in building affordable housing, and staying focused on solutions for homelessness.”