Four forums are planned over the next month featuring candidates in five Santa Ynez Valley races on the ballot in the Nov. 6 General Election, and WE Watch is hosting all but one.
A joint forum is planned for the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District’s Improvement District No. 1 and the Santa Ynez Community Services District, with individual forums for the Buellton City Council, Solvang City Council and mayor and Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District board of education.
WE Watch is hosting all but the SYVUHSD board race forum.
Nancy Emerson, president of the organization, said hosting so many forums was a major undertaking for the organization, which launched in 1992 as the Women’s Environmental Watch and is dedicated to protecting the Santa Ynez Valley and educating its citizens about the issues that affect it.
“WE Watch went into this because we felt the people who were willing to run for office should have an opportunity to get their information out to the public,” Emerson said. “If people care enough to run, we owe it to them to make sure their story gets heard.”
She noted that, taken collectively, a lot of candidates are running for seats in the Santa Ynez Valley.
“It’s incredible,” she said. “I don’t think we’ve had as many candidates overall as we do now. I’m not sure what brought them all out, but it’s very impressive.”
ID-1, SYCSD combo
The first of the events, co-sponsored by the Santa Ynez Valley News, will be a combined forum for the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District’s ID-1 and the Santa Ynez CSD candidates from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 27, at St. Mark’s-in-the-Valley, 2901 Nojoqui Ave. in Los Olivos.
John Park will be the moderator.
“We reluctantly made the decision to combine them since the districts overlap and we weren’t sure people would come out for two forums,” Emerson explained.
In the SYCSD race, incumbents David K. Higgins and David Michael Seymour will be challenged by David Beard and Robert P. D’Ambra.
Representation on the ID-1 board is by district, so incumbent R. Brad Joos will face challenger Allen Anderson in the first district, incumbent Jeff Clay will be up against Anita Finifrock in the second and incumbent Kevin D. Walsh will face off with Brian Schultz in the third.
Buellton City Council
The next forum, also co-sponsored by the Santa Ynez Valley News, will be for Buellton City Council candidates from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 3, in the Oak Valley Elementary School multipurpose room, 595 Second St. in Buellton.
Bill Cirone will moderate the forum.
No one filed to run against incumbent Holly Sierra for the Buellton mayor’s seat, so she’s a shoo-in for the position, but all four of the remaining City Council seats — two with four-year terms and two with two-year terms — are on the line.
Incumbents Dave King, Ed Andrisek and Art Mercado are running for the two available four-year seats and will be challenged by Judith Dale.
The two candidates who receive the most votes will win the four-year seats, with the third-place candidate taking one of the two-year seats that was shortened from four years for this election to balance out the number of positions available in each election held every two years.
But the other two-year seat, currently vacant, represents the remaining term of former Concilman Foster Reif, who had to resign when he moved out of the city.
Candidates for that seat are Elysia Lewis and Megan DiCecco.
Emerson said the format for the first two forums will follow the League of Women Voters model, in which candidates are given an opportunity to introduce themselves and their platforms, then answer questions that were submitted to them in advance by WE Watch.
During a break, members of the audience can write out questions that will be collated by WE Watch members “so there will be no duplicates,” Emerson said, then posed to the candidates by the moderator.
Candidates then will be given an opportunity to summarize their positions at the conclusion of the forum.
Full-length videos of the first two forums will be posted on the websites for the Santa Ynez Valley News at www.syvnews.com and Santa Maria Times at www.santamariatimes.com, for those who are unable to attend the events.
Solvang City Council
Emerson said the forum for the Solvang City Council and mayor will follow a different format. It's set for Thursday, Oct. 4, in the Bethania Lutheran Church parish hall, 603 Atterdag Road in Solvang, and is co-sponsored by the Solvang Chamber of Commerce and Santa Ynez Valley Star.
Moderated by Dave Bemis, the event will start with a meet-and-greet session from 6 to 7 p.m., followed by the forum from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Candidates will answer only presubmitted questions.
Emerson said there will be no questions from the audience because individuals will have a chance to talk with candidates and ask them questions during the meet-and-greet session.
Longtime Solvang Mayor Jim Richardson is being challenged for his seat by Councilman Ryan Toussaint.
In the City Council race, appointed incumbent Karen M. Waite is being challenged by Edwin H. Skytt, a former council member, for a two-year term.
Two four-year terms are also up for election, but only one incumbent — Joan Laird Jamieson — is seeking re-election, as Neill Zimmerman chose not to run.
She’s being challenged by Robert Clarke, Kim K. Jensen, Kenny “Esko” Lama Newyork, Niels “Chris” Djernaes and Denise El Amin.
High school race
The forum for Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District board candidates is planned from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 10, in the Little Theater on the high school campus at Highway 246 and North Refugio Road.
The field of candidates is large, with 11 people vying for three available seats.
Jan Clevenger is the only incumbent running for re-election. Both Kyle Abello and Jerry L. Swanitz decided not to run.
Challengers on the ballot are Eileen Preston, Lori Parker, Tory Babcock, John L. Baeke, Elizabeth S. Breen, Carl Johnson, Jessica Yacoub, Eric J. Zivic, Tyler Sprague and Kros Andrade.