To address issues like crime, homelessness and economic development that mayoral candidate Will Smith thinks are important ones for the city to tackle, he will work to bolster the city’s foundation, if elected.
Smith said his campaign to be Santa Maria’s next top politician has been focused on the need to reinvest in the city’s infrastructure.
“In order to create your future, you have to invest in your future,” Smith said. “We have to find a way to invest in infrastructure.”
On Election Day, Nov. 8, Smith will face off against incumbent Mayor Alice Patino for the leadership job.
Smith said he decided to run after looking closely at what he saw were growing crime and homelessness rates in the city, along with what he described as deteriorating sections of Santa Maria.
“I was like, 'Wait a minute, I have experience in dealing with some of these areas, I am going to throw my hat into the ring to try and help the community,'” Smith said.
He said portions of the north and west sections of Santa Maria are crumbling and unattractive. He believes the conditions of these areas are contributing to crime, homelessness and a lack of economic development.
“If your environment looks bad, you are going to invite criminals. Criminals figure if you don’t care about the area, we’ll help you out and take over,” Smith said.
“If you are trying to attract business to a city, you have to have an environment that is conducive to inviting people in,” he added.
If elected, Smith wants to create crews dedicated to cleaning the city’s main thoroughfares and other sections.
“This is a pet peeve of mine, and I will make it a priority,” he said.
Prior to running for mayor, Smith was a teacher and former member of the Santa Maria-Bonita School District. He also served in the United States Air Force and, for a time, was a prison guard at the Federal Correctional Institution in Lompoc.
He believes his experience would help him govern Santa Maria.
“I was a federal correctional officer at Lompoc. I have dealt with gangs, national and international. I have the experience in law enforcement. Not as much as the (police) chief that is currently here. I do respect Chief (Ralph) Martin quite a bit,” Smith said.
To combat crime and gang violence, Smith said he supports increasing the police’s presence in troubled areas, and supports stiff prosecution.
“Gangs go to areas that they feel are neglected. That is why you have to clean up.” Smith said. “As a corrections officer, I noticed if the area is patrolled they aren’t going to be there. I also believe in hardcore prosecution. We have to send a clear message.”
He said, if elected, he wants to send a clear message to immigrants that may be here illegally, “If you are illegal and are in Santa Maria, I think it is a privilege to be in Santa Maria; it is not a right.”
“As long as you obey the rules and do what you are supposed to, you are fine. If you are a criminal and hurt people and you are deportable, you are gone. If you (commit a crime but) are not deportable, you are in jail,” Smith said.
To combat homelessness, Smith wants to employ a housing-first model and “invest in barracks-type facilities for homeless.”
With time spent serving the Santa Maria-Bonita School District, his current bid for mayor isn’t the first time Smith has been in the spotlight.
Smith’s time on the school board was embattled; some may describe it as controversial, though Smith objects to that description.
“They called me a controversial candidate. I wasn’t controversial; I was just fighting for the rights of the people that elected me to represent them,” he said.
Smith and the Santa Maria-Bonita School District still are locked in a legal battle stemming from his time on the board.
“The record I want to set straight is there was a lot anger about me being on the board because it was really a political fight,” he said.
While on the school board, Smith said he pushed to have the school district’s buildings retrofitted to be stronger in the event of an earthquake. After some consternation and after Smith left the board, the buildings eventually were renovated.
“I had intended to run again to get on the Santa Maria-Bonita School District. I am one of these people that say if you have made success somewhere but didn’t finish the job, go back and finish it,” Smith said.
He counts the earthquake retrofitting as one of his successes. Since it has been completed, he decided to enter the mayoral race instead.
Before his public service on the school board, he was a teacher in the Santa Maria-Bonita School District.
According to reports, he resigned his teaching post in 2010 after several complaints led to a settlement with the district. He then ran for a seat on the school board and was elected that same year. The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing revoked his teaching credentials in March 2014.
Part of his current legal battle involves his time as a teacher, but he said he isn’t fighting to be reinstated as a teacher.
“At the end of the day, if I win I will go in and do the job from Day One. I will, hopefully, get the council to work with me. If I lose, I won’t challenge them. My message to the people is this: If you like what you’ve got, keep it. If you see it is not doing you any good, it’s time for a change,” Smith said.
Logan B. Anderson covers city government in Santa Maria for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter: @LoganBAnderson.
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