Community Conversations: An Interview with Jason Dominguez, Santa Barbara's First District City Councilmember

Jason Dominguez, Santa Barbara's First District City Councilmember

Jason Dominguez, Santa Barbara's First District City Councilmember

It’s a crisp Wednesday morning. The sun is shining without a cloud in the sky. Quite the contrast to some of the recent brutal winter storms that elected officials like Jason Dominguez, Santa Barbara City Councilmember of district one, had to respond to in years.

Between closures at Santa Barbara Airport, falling historic trees, and emergency flooding throughout the city, Dominguez still found the time to sit down with Santa Barbara Foundation Communications Officer, Jordan Killebrew, to talk about his passion and dedication to the Santa Barbara community.


Q: Tell us about yourself, how did you get to Santa Barbara?

A: Well, I grew up in southeast Los Angeles in a little area called Maywood, California. My mother was an educator and instilled higher education in me. For my undergraduate degree, I went to Stanford University and studied Psychology. During my junior year, I was fortunate enough to travel to East Germany six months before the fall of the Berlin Wall and learned what life was like in a communist state. I saw how heavy-handed a government could be and how it could kill dreams. It was a cautionary tale that has inspired my desire to make the government more responsive to its citizens. Upon graduation, I had various jobs, from working as a high school teacher to working at a nonprofit in Prague, and then I earned my master’s degree in Heidelberg, Germany in environmental law.

The experience that had the biggest impact on me was when I was a high school teacher and saw firsthand the many things that needed to change within education. Then I thought to myself, so how do things change? Well, by making laws. I had always had an interest in law, and was given the opportunity to attend the University Of California Berkeley School Of Law. During my time as a law student, I studied in Mexico for a year researching and learning about the impact of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). After law school, I moved to Los Angeles and practiced law for a short while. I escaped to Santa Barbara for weekends and realized how I preferred the beach lifestyle to the traffic and crime of Los Angeles. I love my life here, my wife and I are quite happy.

Q: As a city councilmember, what is your leadership style? What are your core values?

A: Communication. I value communication. And hope that I am a communicative leader. This means that I strive to understand people, their needs, their wants, and I want to work together with them to find solutions. I want to work towards a communication style that maximizes pluralistic participation. I like to think of Santa Barbara as a community of villages and I want to get all the villages involved civically.

Q: In times of crisis, how do you lead?

A: I believe this past weekend is a good example of how I lead in crisis. This past winter, we saw one of the most disruptive storms to hit Santa Barbara in years. We saw the closure of the Santa Barbara Airport, several large historical trees falling and causing damage to property and cars, and, of course, flooding. It was in every sense an emergency and crisis. In these various situations, I remained focused as I reiterated the goal for each situation, assured safety for our residents and found solutions in a calm manner.

Q: What do you see as one of the biggest challenges facing Santa Barbara?

A: Housing. To be honest, I feel that the City Council needs to “right the ship’s course.” What I mean by that is our housing policy is off-track. We erred with a system, which in turn created more expensive housing. In return, we have not had any affordable housing built within the city. Here is a chance to work together with fellow city councilmembers and resolve to do what is important for the community.

Q: How do you see government and nonprofits working together to address community challenges?

A: As a person who has worked in a nonprofit, I understand that people working within this sector are wearing multiple hats and this means that they are often too busy to see what other nonprofits are working on. This is why I see the Santa Barbara Foundation as an integral part of our community. The Santa Barbara Foundation allows nonprofits to come together and connects them with other nonprofits that share their mission to achieve the common good. Now, more specifically, within nonprofits I would like to see more retention of workers. Often times there is high turnover with positions in the sector and it can be difficult to get projects completed. However, overall, I see the relationship between government and nonprofits as essential - especially in a community such as Santa Barbara that has so many philanthropic efforts.

Q: What would you consider a success in your time as a city councilmember?

A: I am very proud of our community. This community is one where people become engaged and work closely to find solutions. The relationships that I have made have helped me achieve success in projects and find solutions for our community.

Jason Dominguez is currently Mayor Pro Tempore and sits on the City Council Finance Committee and Housing Task Force. For more information about Dominguez and his work for the Santa Barbara community please contact him at