Civic engagement, public safety, support for local business and responsible housing development are among the key priorities candidates seeking election to the Buellton City Council are pushing for as they bid to represent their respective districts.
Making a run for the soon-to-be vacant mayoral seat — as three-term mayor Holly Sierra terms out — are incumbents Elysia Lewis and Dave King, the latter who currently holds the role of Vice Mayor, a four-year elected term set to expire on Election Day.
Local residents and newcomers Hudson Hornick and Tom Widroe each are vying for the District 1 seat that comes with a four-year term as returning council member Art Mercado looks to make a comeback to the dais against challenger David Silva. Mercado and Silva are out to claim the only open District 4 seat, a four-year term to be secured on Nov. 8.
Lewis is running for a second term on the council — now as mayor — in an effort to maintain the forward momentum built under Sierra's leadership and ensure it is not lost, she said.
"I feel strongly about the direction of some of our more recent projects such as the community garden and the outdoor children’s museum and I would love to have a hand in bringing those projects, and others like them, to fruition," she said. "I want to be involved in improving the quality of life and fostering a stronger sense of community amongst our residents."
Lewis believes residents of Buellton need to be re-energized and involved in city government to ensure that Buellton is providing critical resources and amenities to every resident, from small children to seniors.
"I think the best thing we could do for our city is to foster a stronger sense of community by improving pedestrian and bike access, improving safe routes to school, and supporting and attracting local small businesses," she said.
Lewis, who is a first-generation daughter of an Ecuadorian immigrant, possesses a professional degree in law, and considers herself a life-long educator having worked in public finance and administration in an educational setting for nine years. She is a longtime resident of the Santa Ynez Valley, local small business owner and is raising four children with her husband.
"I think the strengths that will best serve the city and its residents will be my open-mindedness and my ability to compromise and work as part of a team," she said. "I understand that what I personally may think is the best fit may not always be what the residents want. I am willing to hear that, and vote in a way that represents our residents as a whole rather than just voting based on my own opinion."
Lewis said there are more serious issues to tackle with the Urban Growth Boundary and Sphere of Influence initiatives set to expire. The two items found in the city's General Plan, she said, will directly impact the nature in which Buellton develops over the next decade.
"So they will be very important discussions for the council and the community," Lewis said.
Longtime resident, Dave King, has served on the Buellton City Council member on-and- off since 2008, currently as Vice Mayor, and is seeking re-election as mayor.
His immediate priorities are to continue keeping a watchful over the city's budget — ensuring it stays in the black — and ensuring new development is done wisely.
"I think we have to be very careful and mange our development so we don't overwhelm our infrastructure," King said in a campaign video posted to the City's website. "Who wants to go through the intersection of McMurry and the 246 or Avenue of Flags and have to wait three cycles going through there because it's so crowded. That's just not the vibe that we have here in the Valley."
He said it is important that traffic be taken into consideration during expansion and ensure future developments fit in with the community and don't impede the city's small-town feel.
Some projects of note that are still in the works, King said, are the development of a bowling alley, and the eventual installation of a sports park for the youth that he maintains is an important population to provide for. He noted that funds have also been allocated for the pump track at River View Park.
In addition, he currently is on a committee aimed at bringing an Olympic-sized pool to Santa Ynez High School that would be made available for community use.
"I'm looking out for the future of the kids that are coming through this town, so that they have something to do," he said.
King, who is a veteran and retired law enforcement officer of 25 years, said he is well-suited for the role given his extensive experience in government.
"I think I bring a lot. I look at a lot of things with common sense," he said, noting that retirement offers him time to fulfill the role of mayor.
"Spending money on a project, I weigh very carefully because it's the [Buellton residents'] money," King said. "So I want to make sure we spend it wisely or develop wisely; make it a place you want to keep living."
Hornick is running for a "better Buellton" that he believes are the hallmarks to its success, including more walkability, bike friendlier and easier-to-access wild spaces. Features to be installed include protected bike lanes, traffic calming devices, and intelligent development.
"Buellton is at a bit of a crossroads," Hornick said. "I'd like to see it come into its own as a city."
His solution includes coalescing with smart leadership that will work with developers who share in the vision of a better Buellton. He noted, that might mean developers who are willing to take a risk, and council members who are willing to make tough decisions and do what's right for Buellton in the long run.
Hornick, who has worked as an attorney in Santa Barbara County, and previously as an adjunct law professor at the Santa Barbara Colleges of Law, believes his strengths lie in having been trained to assess matters with a critical eye and to be judicious and metered in his responses.
In the way of development, Hornick suggests the town could use a town square — a meeting place, a center to give the city a heart. He also believes home development should be reserved for single-family homes, with mixed use confined to the areas that can support it such as Avenue of the Flags.
"But I am running because I want my children to appreciate growing up here," he said. "I want them to be able to run the riverbank trails and have adventures down there. I want them to feel safe biking the city."
If elected, Hornick said he would immediately assess Buellton's financial strengths and weaknesses, first responder contracts, and work on way the city can promote Avenue of the Flags as its economic corridor.
"I will also be active in trying to steer Buellton in a way that makes this city a place we all want to live," he added.
Widroe, a public affairs consultant, has lived in Buellton with his wife, Maureen, for 13 years, raising four children.
In his campaign statement, Widroe says, "We love this city and as your next council member from District 1, I will support an ongoing commitment to public safety, economic growth and prosperity, public works, and high quality services."
As a public affairs consultant and former staffer for elected officials at the county, state, and federal level, Widroe said he is experienced with public policy and knows how to get things done.
His experience includes working for Santa Barbara County Supervisor Willy Chamberlin, State Assembly member Brooks Firestone, and most recently, for U.S. Congressman Elton Gallegly.
While serving in his role for each elected official, Widroe said he was known for getting things done for those constituents in need, helping to craft sensible policy, and making sure the electorate's voice was heard loud and clear.
Since 2008, Widroe has also served as a radio pundit commenting on local, state, and national affairs.
He also took the helm of a government watchdog organization called Santa Barbara City Watch, for which he advocates on behalf of common sense issues such as Highway 101 widening, cleaning up State Street, and getting the City to focus their spending on basic needs such as infrastructure, public works and public safety.
"In addition to my responsibilities as a husband, father of four, and hardworking professional, I am willing to step up and serve our community," Widroe said in a statement. "If elected, like always, I will be readily accessible and available to discuss the things which matter to us most as proud residents of Buellton."
Mercado, a resident of Buellton for 28 years, is seeking a second term because he believes there is still work to be done.
"My understanding of the past, current engagement in city processes, and the ability to see the impacts of decisions today on the future, make me an asset to the community," Mercado said.
He explained that while Buellton is well situated financially, offering a number of amenities that include walkability, multiple parks, restaurants and hotels, there is always room for more improvement and growth. However, "it must be done in a fiscally responsible manner to preserve the quality of life we currently enjoy," he noted.
If elected, Mercado said he would like to boost civic engagement among members of the community to help guide decisions that directly impact them.
"More input and positive collaboration on the development side instead of negative reactions after the fact would strengthen our city," Mercado said.
Mercado's career in the agriculture industry includes management of large horse farms in multiple states and his current work in irrigation and landscaping. He has also served on the Buellton Planning Commission for 16 years, and one term on the Buellton City Council. He said his lengthy civic experience benefits the community at large, given his understanding of the innerworkings of local, county and state regulations and requirements.
Some of his accomplishments over the years include beginning the process of a long-range development plan for Avenue of the Flags to stimulate economic growth and a location for community activities; stabilization of the Waste Water Fund to meet the needs for state mandated infrastructure improvements and continued operations within budget; and support and working with community members to build the pump bicycle track at Riverview Park.
"I think strong leadership has gotten us to where we are today and will take us into the future," Mercado said. "I am proud of the role I have played in the city of Buellton."
Silva, whose family farmed Drum Canyon starting in the 1940s, said having an appreciation of the Valley was instilled in him early on.
If elected, Silva listed his top priorities as ensuring that a "small town" Buellton remains, which he believes is characterized by a caring, supportive community — which he credits for supporting his family during the COVID-19 pandemic and his partner's cancer diagnosis in 2020.
"I’m running for City Council to be an advocate for all the residents of this town," Silva said.
Silva is also focused on addressing diverse housing needs of residents, increasing support for seniors, youth and families through resources and programming, as well as improving access to and efficiency of local transportation.
Prioritizing public safety, supporting local businesses, and maintaining a sustainable and balanced budget, are also among his priorities.
"I believe that a City Council member has an obligation to engage the community and to make local government as accessible as possible," Silva said. "I truly love Buellton and would be honored to give something back to the community that has given me so much."