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Election 2020: Santa Maria mayor's race

Alberto Ugalde (left), Alice Patino (center) and Will Smith (right) are vying to be the next mayor of Santa Maria.

The city of Santa Maria has grown considerably in the last two decades. With more than 100,000 residents, it is the largest city, both in population and geographic area, in Santa Barbara County. This election, Santa Maria voters are currently deciding who will be the city’s mayor for the next four years.

The Santa Maria mayor’s race has three candidates: incumbent Alice Patino and two challengers, Will Smith and Alberto Ugalde.

Patino is a long-time Santa Marian who is seeking her third term as mayor. Prior to being the first woman elected as the city’s mayor in 2012, she served on the city council and multiple boards, including those of Marian Medical Foundation and Santa Maria Joint Union High School. Patino describes herself as pro-business, and she also says her philosophy about spending is straightforward:

“I feel that government needs to only spend the money that we are given, we have to live within our means,” said Patino.

If re-elected, Patino has a list of priorities for the next four years.

“One priority that is very important to me and I think important to our community, is to continue to support our police and fire,” Patino said.

And if Santa Maria wants to attract new businesses, she says, additional housing is essential.

“We need low-income, moderate-income and above moderate income - we need all kinds of housing here, we don’t have enough housing,” said Patino.

Patino credits her willingness to listen to constituents as a big part of her success thus far. The mayor position, she says, is nonpartisan, and she works to represent all community members whether they vote for her or not.

The Santa Barbara County Republican Party supports her re-election, as do the Santa Maria Police Officers Association and Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters.

Will Smith ran against Patino in 2016—he says he’s better prepared this time as a candidate. He knows what to expect and has fine-tuned his message. He talks about beautifying the city, creating soccer fields and other activities for younger generations.

“We want our city to look beautiful. We want it to look nice so people feel safe when they come here,” said Smith.

Smith worked in education in the past, and now describes himself as an author and minister. In 2010, he was elected to the Santa Maria-Bonita School Board.

“I was the first-ever elected African-American in the city of Santa Maria and I’ve got an extensive background doing a variety of other things,” said Smith.

Smith is not shy about expressing his views and cites his past push for bilingual education and school retrofits as evidence of getting the job done. He says past conflicts with elected officials will not get in his way of bringing people together if elected.

“When you’re invoking change a lot of people don’t like it, especially when they have been in institutionalized systems and I believe that is a large part of Santa Maria in a lot of the areas,” said Smith. “Not only has there not been great diversity, it’s just a few people that have been in spots for years.”

Alberto Ugalde is a small business owner and first-time candidate. He’s 30-years-old and has owned a barbershop for five years—often giving free haircuts to students and veterans. He talks to local residents while he works, and sees a need for improved communication between elected officials and the business community.

“We need better communication for small business owners and not just business owners, but with everybody in our community, so they have the reassurance that we are doing everything we possibly can to pull through this pandemic,” said Ugalde.

Ugalde says public safety issues like additional street lights and flashing pedestrian crosswalks are needed in Santa Maria.

“Small things like that our city could do so our residents feel safe,” he said.

Ugalde has spent much of the campaign introducing himself and educating people on the need to vote and make their voices heard. He says it’s important for people to get involved in their communities.

“When it comes to local elections,” said Ugalde,“we’ve got to put our differences aside and come together so we can solve the issues within our community because at the end of the day we are all Santa Marians.”

Beth Thornton is a freelance reporter for KCBX, and a contributor to Issues & Ideas. She was a 2021 Data Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, and has contributed to KQED's statewide radio show The California Report.
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