First up there is the two candidates running for Solvang Mayor

Charlie Uhrig

Name: Charlie Uhrig

Occupation: Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Senior Deputy

1. Why are you a candidate? What issues are important to you?

I chose to run because I love Solvang and feel the current City Council is not in touch with the community or their needs. The agenda being pushed with Solvang 2.0 seemed to ignore or disregard what the residents and community want for Solvang.

We should expect a respectful and transparent local government that values our cultural, ethnic and social diversity. As a council, it’s vital to encourage and foster dialog with the community and city staff.

I believe that I am uniquely qualified for the office of mayor because I’m the only candidate that has worked with city staff, schools, residents, business owners and special event organizers to address concerns and find solutions that are in the best interest of the entire community.

There are several issues that I see as a priority and would like to address immediately if elected. The first would be for the new council to address the financial concerns of the residents and businesses as we try to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The second would be the lack of available parking, especially now that there’s discussion about closing a portion of Copenhagen Drive for an extended period or permanently. If the proposed concessions are given to the developer of the housing project on Mission Drive, it will further impact parking issues. We also need to address our wastewater treatment plant upgrades, water, utilities, and compliance with the State Housing mandates. These issues will have a long- term effect on our infrastructure and future plans as a city. 

 2. Should Solvang diversify its economy to make it less dependent on tourism?

Historically, Solvang is known as a tourist town, but we should always be open to new business ideas and/or events for our community. Due to COVID-19, there are many closed storefronts now. Innovative and creative businesses could help fill them.

I feel this pandemic has given us the opportunity to implement and allow less stringent policies to promote local businesses and tourism in Solvang. We have found that some of the changes are not as bad as originally thought. I believe we can promote Solvang as a safe destination to enjoy virtual work or school. 

3. Do you believe that Copenhagen Drive should remain closed indefinitely to vehicle traffic?

In my conversations with businesses and residents, I’ve heard many say they like the new Copenhagen Drive promenade. However, there are some business owners who feel they have not been asked for input, or heard by, the current council. Before making a decision, we need to hear the concerns of everyone who would be affected by this change. I believe a better layout and design would enhance the look and address the overall safety and logistical concerns. I am hopeful the ideas brought from the BDC will address those issues.


Karen Waite

Name: Karen M. Waite

Occupation: Current City Council member; senior compliance analyst and managing compliance auditor for PlanMember Securities Corporation 

  1. Why are you a candidate? What issues are important to you?

The position of mayor should be earned through experience and never left uncontested. The residents of Solvang deserve to have the choice to elect a qualified candidate. I am your qualified candidate.

My mission as mayor of Solvang is to lead the City Council to establish and maintain the long-term goals for the city. My experience has taught me the council should focus on upgrading infrastructure, and providing a great place to live and a positive experience for visitors, while maintaining the character of Solvang. In addition, creating strategic partnerships with our neighboring communities will help streamline city services, isolate opportunities to reduce our financial footprint, and manage our small-town growth.

  1. Should Solvang diversify its economy to make it less dependent on tourism? If so, how? If not, what is the City Council’s role in supporting the tourism economy?

This Danish town grew to be dependent upon tourism and that is what allows it to thrive. Solvang has a rich heritage and a surprisingly diversified revenue stream though businesses that cater to locals and tourists. The City Council’s role is to provide the infrastructure that will support reliable resources for our businesses to generate sustainable income.

  1. Do you believe that Copenhagen Drive should remain closed indefinitely to vehicle traffic? Why or why not? 

A recent survey of businesses and tourists overwhelmingly supported the closure of Copenhagen Drive. If done correctly, it could enhance the charm and add an attractive European feel to downtown Solvang. During this pandemic, the street closure has allowed for the businesses to increase their footprints to an outdoor promenade setting and to stay open. We are hosting several community informational workshops to get a feel for a permanent closure. Until that time, and after a full review by our BDC and public input, I have not committed to a permanent closure of Copenhagen. 


Here are the candidates running for two council seats as well as former Santa Barbara County Sheriff Jim Thomas, who is running as the replacement of Councilman Chris Djernaes in the recall. 

Chris Bowyer

Name: Chris Bowyer

Occupation: Security Professional/Business Owner

PLEASE NOTE: Each answer must be 200 words or less: 

  1. Why are you a candidate? What issues are important to you?

As a Marine Corps veteran, I was mortified when I learned that the current council was allowing a developer to consider tearing down our veterans hall. At that point, I really started to engage and learned a lot more about a number of local issues. COVID-19 recovery in a tourist destination, the loss of expertise in our city government, the mismanagement of city resources, and the ongoing issues with our wastewater treatment plant were all conversations that I heard over and over again. I started to talk about these issues in a variety of forums, and several people reached out asking if I’d be interested in running. At that point, I considered my business experience running a multimillion-dollar security firm and my leadership experience gained in the Marines. Putting those skill-sets to use to serve my community and ensure that the voices of my neighbors were heard by our city government seemed the most worthwhile thing I could do. 

  1. Should Solvang diversify its economy to make it less dependent on tourism? If so, how? If not, what is the City Council’s role in supporting the tourism economy?

There is a balance that can and needs to be found. When we make sure tourism is a focus, we maintain the aesthetic standards and uniqueness in our community that make Solvang so special. However, as we have seen with the COVID-19 pandemic this year, or even just the closure of Highway 101 in 2018, an economy that is singularly driven by tourism will suffer when things outside of our control make tourism difficult or impossible. Making Solvang appealing to tech or administrative-type work is one way to bring in business that could, one, fill many of our empty office spaces and, two, diversify our economy in a manner that does not negatively impact tourism. The council’s role in supporting our economy — whether diversified or largely dependent on tourism — is to listen to input from our citizens, and make informed and timely decisions to protect the businesses and livelihoods of our neighbors.

  1. Do you believe that Copenhagen Drive should remain closed indefinitely to vehicle traffic? Why or why not? 

I’m originally from Germany and have been fortunate to have traveled all over the world; I can tell you that there are few things more European than an open-air market. In the Marines, I learned that a good plan executed now is better than the perfect plan next month. We faced a crisis that could have easily overwhelmed us and a decision had to be made. Although the current closure fails to meet several standards as far as safety and accessibility, aesthetics and more, it did provide much needed relief for many of our local business owners. As the pandemic is far from over, we cannot get complacent when it comes to the very real dangers we face as a community. We made a bold adjustment to account for our new reality; we need to make small corrections now that allow this adjustment to keep our businesses open, as well as protect our workers, visitors and the community at large . All of those adjustments require input from our community, and direction to our city staff to find the effective solutions to maintain this closure until this virus is dealt with.


Mark Infanti

Name: Mark Infanti

Occupation: Retired Project Management Consultant

  1. Why are you a candidate? What issues are important to you?

We need new leadership and a new vision to make beneficial changes to the current city policies. We need policies that will better support the future of Solvang for its residents. 

The most pressing issues are:

  • COVID-19 economic impact
  • Residents’ dissatisfaction with the current City Council
  • Preservation of the character, culture and building design of Solvang 
  • Potential risks to Solvang’s resources and infrastructure. 
  • Local business recovery
  • Solvang’s financial stability

I believe I can be effective because I know and understand Solvang’s municipal ordinances, policies and processes, having spent over four years on Solvang’s Board of Architectural Review, worked with the planning department, and provided public comment to the City Council on multiple issues.

  1. Should Solvang diversify its economy to make it less dependent on tourism? If so, how? If not, what is the City Council’s role in supporting the tourism economy?

Diversification would be great but extremely difficult; the Urban Boundary decision has limited city expansion to accommodate new businesses. 

I would form a new, focused economic development committee comprised of business owners and residents. The goal of this committee would be to work with the Solvang Chamber of Commerce, city staff and City Council to develop a workable economic development plan and implementation schedule, with regular progress reports to City Council.  

In the meantime, I favor continued support for tourism, to ensure that Solvang continues to benefit from the TOT and sales tax it generates, while we work to toward a more diversified economy. However, we must ensure that all funds spent to support tourism are based on a defined plan, budgeted and regularly tracked using appropriate metrics to ensure acceptable return on investment. Economic diversification will take time and we cannot afford to lose the revenue tourism generates. 

  1. Do you believe that Copenhagen Drive should remain closed indefinitely to vehicle traffic? Why or why not? 

I am still undecided about this. Most tourists say they like the closure of Copenhagen Drive. Will that change during the winter when it is too cold or wet to sit outside? It is impossible to tell if the closure has made an impact on the number of tourists but it has cost the city money to benefit a handful of businesses in one small part of town.  

There are over 25 businesses in the closed section of Copenhagen. Of those, there are four restaurants and a couple wine tasting shops whose owners say it helps their business. Many retail business owners say they are losing business because the tourists walk down the middle of the street rather than into their stores. Additionally the closure has reduced the parking by 50 spaces, which tends to keep locals from patronizing Copenhagen businesses.

I think further evaluation and input from the businesses and the residents is required before permanent closure is considered. 


Jim Thomas

Name: Jim Thomas

Occupation: Santa Barbara County sheriff and fire chief, retired

  1. Why are you a candidate? What issues are important to you?

I became a candidate because of the actions of a current City Councilman, Chris Djernaes. He often ridicules his constituents and left the dais during the meeting when one particular constituent spoke, and was laughing and shaking his head as he left. During a vote he opposed, he became belligerent and left the meeting prior to its completion because he “didn’t get his way.” I have been in the political arena in Santa Barbara County since 1986 and I have never seen any elected official act so immaturely. I said to myself, “I can do better than that.” And I can. I promise, no, I guarantee, I will give full attention to every person who comes before the council. I will dress appropriately for meetings as a representative for the community. As sheriff and fire chief, I have been responsible for a $128 million budget and 940 public safety employees. I know how to make decisions. I will treat every person doing business with the city with respect and I will seek opinions from all who offer them because in reality, that is what we will be elected to do. 

  1. Should Solvang diversify its economy to make it less dependent on tourism?  If so, how? If not, what is the City Council’s role in supporting the tourism economy?

In a word on the first question, no. While thinking about running, I spoke with a trusted and respected resident. I asked him “what was important going forward in regard to the city.” He told me that it is critical to “maintain the special essence of Solvang.” So, what is the “essence of Solvang”? Well, I believe it is the obligation of the legislative body, the City Council, to ensure that Solvang adheres to what its founders envisioned: a Danish community that welcomes visitors who feel they are blessed to share a small part of the Danish history and traditions while being able to enjoy the variety of shops and traditional eateries in a safe and welcoming environment. However, it is important to understand that tourism must also serve the community. We must take care of our citizens, our city workers and our infrastructure while guaranteeing fresh clean water and public safety. Tourism is the lifeblood of Solvang and needs to be maintained while at the same time ensuring that we will leave our children with a safe environment and vibrant economy.

  1. Do you believe that Copenhagen Drive should remain closed indefinitely to vehicle traffic? Why or why not?

Before anyone at the city did, I personally contacted the owners or day managers of all the shops on Copenhagen to ask them how they liked the closure. A majority told me they liked parts of it, but if it was to be permanent, then to “do it right.” We will need to address the costs of a full-time closure and the modifications that would be necessary to accomplish that. Perhaps we could consider permanent “bump-outs” in the area of the mid-street crosswalk while preserving some time-limited parking spots west of that to accommodate elderly shoppers. Maybe it would be best to have the closure on weekends and holidays. I am also concerned about the closure west of First Street and its effect on the parking lot and tourist kiosk. The Copenhagen “project” is getting a lot of attention and seems to be on a fast track utilizing an out-of-the-area design company. Truth be told, I don’t have all the answers, but I know how to listen and I know how to make decisions. I suggest we slow down and take our time to do it right, just like the owners and managers suggested.


Claudia Orona

Name: Claudia Orona

Occupation: Business owner

  1. Why are you a candidate? What issues are important to you?
    I love Solvang and the opportunities that it has given me and my family to thrive as both residents and business owners. We are fortunate to live so close to nature. I want to make sure the same opportunities and quality of life are available to all residents and generations to come. I also feel we can do a better job at raising the voice of our community in the decision-making bodies. There is a pressing need for the city of Solvang to communicate more with the business community AND residents before taking decisions that impact all of us, such at the Copenhagen Drive closure, or the funding of public programs like parks and rec. This is more important than ever during the time of COVID-19 where collaboration is essential to help each other get through it. At a personal level, I was outraged by the way my family was asked, without any reason, to prove it had a right to do business in Solvang, and I want to make sure that no member of the public is ever treated that way again by a public official.
  1. Should Solvang diversify its economy to make it less dependent on tourism? If so, how? If not, what is the City Council’s role in supporting the tourism economy?
    We should always be looking at economic opportunities, which are constantly shifting in today’s economy. Possible alternative avenues of revenue, however, should consider not only what they bring in as tax dollars, but also how they impact our quality of life, and whether they provide opportunities for all residents and businesses, or just benefit a particular group or developer. With that in mind, tourism itself can be a very diverse avenue of revenue. There have been talks about attracting visitors that will stay at hotels, and thus provide revenue in the way of bed tax, but we can’t alienate visitors that come for the day, and are only a car ride away. We are an excellent getaway destination for millions of people that live within 200 miles of our city that is unique, beautiful, hospitable and rich with history. We have farms, restaurants, unique shops, family activities, performing spaces, museums and neighboring historical towns. We can play to our strengths and take better advantage of these assets. Before reinventing the wheel, let us see how we can enhance the value of our city, and not overlook the opportunities that we already have.
  1. Do you believe that Copenhagen Drive should remain closed indefinitely to vehicle traffic? Why or why not?
    We have done nowhere near enough research as to why this is or isn’t a good idea in the long term. The street was closed to allow establishments to operate based on the guidelines that the state gave us during the COVID-19 crisis. We need to support our businesses, but we do not know yet what are the long-term effects of the street closure. The street closure makes it hard for delivery trucks to park and drop off merchandise because the back alleys are not big enough, or often occupied by people parking in inappropriate places. The lack of parking pushes visitors to park in residential areas. Many businesses depend on accessibility for their clientele to come in and shop. It is also unclear what the foot traffic will look like as COVID-19 restrictions begin to relax, and there are more places open for customers to visit, such as malls and amusement parks. Eventually, restaurants will be able to operate indoors again, and the winter weather is going to dictate whether there is still a demand for outdoor spaces or not. Local businesses’ and residents’ input is still much needed to take a long-term decision.


Justin Rodriguez

Name: Justin Rodriguez

Occupation: Small business owner

  1. Why are you a candidate? What issues are important to you? 

I am a candidate because I feel the current City Council has made some positive changes and would like to help build upon those for the future. I also run my own local business while raising my family here, so I am willing to work hard for the community’s future and generations to come.

Some of the most important issues to me are keeping water rates affordable (especially with the upcoming costly upgrades), promoting traffic-calming measures (including speed humps, flashing speed warning devices and roundabouts), promoting the Danish heritage and atmosphere of the TRC, and increasing tourist revenue in the post-COVID-19 world.  We need hard working individuals that will put in the time and patience needed as the city best navigates the dynamic changes to the current pandemic regulations. I am willing to do this and want to see our local community best survive these challenging times.

  1. Should Solvang diversify its economy to make it less dependent on tourism? If so, how? If not, what is the City Council’s role in supporting the tourism economy?

During times of recession or the current event of the pandemic, which creates recession, it really shows Solvang’s dependency on the tourism dollar. There is value in diversification, and it should be evaluated and considered. I could even see how some diversification options may even help strengthen Solvang’s tourism economy. However, Solvang has always been a tourist destination and a shift away from that would have many impacts on our local businesses, ambience of the town and benefits the current tourism tax revenue provides to the locals. The City Council should, however, work with the community to creative a positive track for our current and new businesses to allow us to diversify our tourism economy. Too much concentration in types of tourist by location, spending patterns, day trippers, overnight trippers, etc., also poses a risk or unhealthy balance. We need to embrace the Danish heritage of the community and enhance the TRC zone to promote tourism for the present and future. Many businesses have gone out of business during the current events, more probably will, and we will need to create a friendly environment for new businesses to come back in as we recover. The City Council should promote more events to bring tourists for extended stays such as “Viking Days” weekends in addition to “Danish Days.” The city should also streamline the process for renovations and remodels to keep our hotels and shops relevant, fresh and attractive for tourism. We don’t need to bring in higher volumes of tourists that have a greater impact and cost to our community, especially during pandemic, we need to focus on lower volumes that stay for longer periods.

  1. Do you believe that Copenhagen Drive should remain closed indefinitely to vehicle traffic? Why or why not? 

I believe that prejudging something can be ignorant. The current closure was met with a lot of opposition and in watching where it is going now, there has been nearly no opposition. Some of the merchants that were the most against it are now speaking for it, but this is summertime, when it is nice to be outdoors. Things could change during the winter. This could also change with the regulations and make it possible to be open indoors, but right now it is our surviving chance. This is where everyone needs to step back, work together and see how things work out. Ultimately, we need to evaluate merchant, tourist and resident feedback to judge what is best for our community. I’m willing to be everyone’s local representative with the patience to analyze and make the best educated decisions through this process. 

Aside from this process, at this point some hybrid approaches could be evaluated as well. Some businesses rely on local customers while others rely mostly on tourist revenue. I believe closing the street on weekends and long holidays is appropriate while allowing for the restaurants to expand their seating onto the street to allow for more business at those times. Leaving the street open to parking at slower times to allow locals convenient access to shops as a benefit, and maybe this could be done while allowing restaurants to keep and utilize their outdoor space. In any event, I understand the current closure is a reactive change to the current pandemic regulations, but I would like to see that we continue parking analysis to make up for the lost spaces.