Issues

housing and homelessness

Housing

Developing effective solutions to the housing crisis is one of my most important jobs, and I am committed to pushing forward policy that is sensitive to the unique needs – social, economic, environmental – of our community. 

Like so many people in the City, my family rents because we cannot afford to buy a home of our own.  I know all too well that sinking feeling of getting notice that rent is being raised yet again. It is imperative that we press forward on implementing comprehensive protections for tenants, along with building housing in Santa Barbara. I am proud of my work on the Council to create more affordable housing, and to make life easier and more sustainable for our City’s families — but we need to go further to fully address the depth of the housing crisis. I am a strong advocate for smart growth strategies, like allowing mixed use projects downtown that convert underused office space and retail into housing for local residents.  I support increased density where it makes the most sense, and I believe we can allow density in key areas, like downtown, without destroying our community’s charm and the character of our neighborhoods. I also have successfully championed policies that require higher levels of affordability in housing projects. 

Finally, we need to help people who are struggling under the immense financial pressure of the housing crisis today. That is why I support approaches like just cause eviction protections, relocation assistance, and implementing a rent stabilization program.

I feel strongly that we can build sustainable housing in a way that protects the beautiful and unique character of Santa Barbara and that is responsive to our urgent need for more housing stock. This will continue to be a major focus of my work on the City Council in the years ahead.

la arcada entrance in downtown santa barbara

Downtown Revitalization

The importance of downtown revitalization efforts to the residents and businesses of my City Council District cannot be understated. The downtown corridor is the heart of our City and District 6, which I represent.  We are currently in a defining moment: the pandemic has allowed us a window to support small businesses and the health of downtown in the short-term, but downtown was struggling before the pandemic and its challenges are likely to continue when the pandemic is over. I want to harness the transformational power of this moment to create a lively, accessible, and beautiful downtown. I am honored that my colleagues on the City Council voted unanimously to place me on the State Street Advisory Committee, which will provide input and recommendations for the creation of a Downtown State Street Area Master Plan.

The creation of the State Street Promenade is something that I am truly proud of; we moved fast to create something new to support our local businesses and to bring life to downtown, even amidst the pandemic. I am also pleased with progress we have made to improve City government in ways that encourage growth downtown — through streamlined permitting, creative use of space, new events, and more.  I am also very excited by the opportunities to repurpose office and unused retail space for new housing for local residents.

Meagan Harmon with constituents on State Street

COVID-19 Recovery

The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis unlike any we have seen before. In addition to the tragic loss of lives and the public health crisis that is at the core of the pandemic, all of the major challenges we face as a community have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Thousands of people have lost work. Many struggle to pay rent and face possible eviction. Businesses have been impacted in major ways, causing many to struggle to survive and others too close entirely. Our City has also taken big hits financially, which threatens the core services we provide to help people and keep our community safe and healthy.

On Council, I have been proud to support programs that help those who are most in need; like major funding for rental assistance programs, partnering with local nonprofits to deliver services more effectively and at lower cost than government can, and efforts to expand child care for working families. I am so encouraged by our progress so far in revitalizing downtown, with the creation of the pedestrian promenade and more flexibility to allow businesses to serve customers outside. I have advocated to improve the effectiveness of City government in key areas that impact local employers, so bureaucracy and delay does not prevent business people from succeeding.

Santa Barbara Coast

THE ENVIRONMENT AND OUR COAST

Living in Santa Barbara means loving the outdoors. Raising my daughter – with a baby on the way as well – makes me even more conscious of the critical importance of environmental protection, as we face the looming reality of climate change.

I was proud to be part of a unanimous vote by the City Council to create Santa Barbara Clean Energy, and join the California Choice Energy Authority.  The community choice energy approach lets us select clean, renewable energy sources, rather than being at the mercy of whatever dirty fuels the utility company may be using. It is a hugely important change, and will work in partnership with our recently passed REACH code, which will require all new residential construction to be purely electric. Requiring buildings to move away from fossil fuels and toward sustainable, renewable energy is the key to sustainable development for the City.

I am also deeply honored to have been selected by Governor Newsom to serve on the California Coastal Commission, representing the needs and values of the Central Coast. I am committed to environmental protection, while working to ensure that the coastal area continues to be an economic boon.

The coast is essential in the life of every Californian, from its economic centrality (tourism, fisheries), to quality of life (recreation), and environmental concerns (protecting marine and pelagic life). As a Coastal Commissioner, I have the responsibility of voting on a broad range of issues affecting our coastal zone, from pollution to development to recreational use. Sea level rise will continue to be a serious matter for Santa Barbara, and on the Coastal Commission I am in a position to advocate for real solutions to a problem we cannot avoid, and must address.

 

Meagan Harmon waking with residents

Supporting Working Families

There is nothing more important than ensuring that working residents have a fair shake at getting by in this very expensive city. Not only do we need and deserve it, but the overall health of the City depends on a local workforce who are community members, not commuters with no attachment to Santa Barbara, freeways clogged with commuters, and greenhouse gases on the rise from all those cars.

I support the City’s Community Workforce Agreement (CWA) because it is about making sure that when the City makes major infrastructure investment in construction projects, those taxpayer dollars support our local working families. When we have a big project like the police station, and we give taxpayer dollars to a private company to build it, we as a City can ensure that local workers have good, sustainable, well-paid jobs on those projects. 

I also took the lead, earlier this year, in promoting the City’s Hero Pay ordinance. It was clear that we needed to support essential workers by compensating them appropriately for the risks they take to serve our community. Food and drug retail workers have been at greater risk when they go to work, without the pay level that such risk deserves. It is imperative that we recognize the sacrifices our front-line retail workers have made during the COVID-19 pandemic.

HOMELESSNESS

My District is in many ways the epicenter for the ongoing crisis of homelessness in our community; it includes areas of the city that are some of the most affected by the homeless crisis. I see the impacts of people living on the street first-hand every day, in my own neighborhood. I hear about it from those in my district who are growing more and more frustrated, especially when their calls for assistance go unanswered. Businesses in the downtown corridor are overwhelmed. 

It is also important to recognize that homelessness is a profound human tragedy.  It is shameful that our society allows so many people to suffer as they live on the streets. Sadly, the issue of homelessness is also tied in directly with mental illness and substance abuse, both of which come with their own stigma, sometimes allowing people to dismiss the humanitarian side of this crisis. Helping people get off the streets and stable is difficult; however, real solutions do exist. 

I support the City’s efforts to address these challenges. We have significantly increased our investments in street outreach programs, to engage with people who are chronically homeless and who have the most impact on neighborhoods and city services like police and fire. Our Downtown Ambassadors and nonprofit programs funded by the City, such as City Net, work with homeless populations to address troubling situations before they occur, minimize impacts, and serve people more effectively. The City provides rental assistance to homeless housing providers and supports the New Beginnings Safe Parking Program, which manages multiple well-run parking sites for people living in their cars.

I also support long-term, well-run supportive housing projects that have proven to be highly successful at getting people out of homelessness entirely. However, I recognize that such strategies must also minimize impacts on neighborhoods.

DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION

I am deeply committed to advancing diversity, equity and inclusion, to ensure that all community members feel fully protected and fully empowered. We can and must do more to make sure our politics and policies are more equitable, and that more people have a seat at the table. I was proud to lead the effort to establish the Community Formation Commission that is working to establish a civilian review and oversight system for our Police Department. The Community Formation Commission is driven by diverse local stakeholders, and will result in a review system that reflects both the needs of the police to do their jobs, and the concerns of those who have not felt safe. Indeed, Santa Barbara’s approach is already being hailed as a national model for other cities to follow!

Equity is essential to a thriving workplace. I am committed to ensuring that the City’s hiring practices include an equity lens. Although Santa Barbara is such a great place to live, we are challenged here by the high cost of living, which may drive away some qualified applicants. I will continue to work with my colleagues and City staff to develop a process that attracts talented, diverse job candidates, to bring that energy and diversity to our City’s programs.

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