About Sharon Byrne

About Sharon Byrne Sharon Byrne found herself unwittingly thrust into municipal and political issues when she took a sabbatical from her corporate career, and moved to West Downtown in late 2008, a neighborhood in serious decay. She helped engineer a major turnaround there working with engaged neighborhood women. She served on the Franklin Neighborhood Center Advisory Committee, and the Neighborhood Advisory Council. She is the executive director for the Milpas Community Association, and currently serves on the Advisory Boards for the Salvation Army Hospitality House and Santa Barbara County Alcohol and Drug Problems. She is a former Deputy Director of Common Cause in California, and has worked on several ballot initiatives locally and at the state level. Her education in engineering and psychology gives her an unusual mix of skills for working on quality-of-life, public safety, and public policy issues.

Author Archive | Sharon Byrne

The Milpas-Eastside Community Steps Up to Embrace Better Health

Milpas on the Move by Sharon Byrne

Chance conversations can provide seeds that produce amazing outcomes. I had a chance conversation in January with Luis Diaz of Milpas Chiropractic in the Milpas McDonald’s after a meeting. Diaz teaches at Santa Barbara Business College, and one of his subjects is community health. I wondered how you measure that? And how would we go about improving it?

It turns out that we are embarrassingly rich in resources for healthy living on the Eastside. First, we have great markets: Tri County Produce, Trader Joe’s, Fresh Market, Fresh & Easy – where you can get organic produce, grains, wild-caught fish, supplements, and more.

For fitness, we have Aggressive Soccer, personal trainers, the batting cages, fitness classes, and more.

We also have medical and well being resources: Franklin Clinic, the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinic, and Milpas Medical are all here, as is the Santa Barbara Body Therapy Institute.

Add to that those pushing me to do a Milpas Biggest Loser competition to lose weight… well it all that got rolled into the Milpas Healthy Community Initiative, whose big sponsor is McDonald’s.

Cue the catcalls on McDonald’s, but they do offer healthy items on their menu. When I traveled a lot for business, and despaired over poor airport food choices, my go-to solution was a fruit and yogurt parfait and a bottle of water from McDonald’s. The hardest part of losing weight is dining out – you have to navigate past a sea of temptation to find the healthier items. Make it easier on us, please! McDonald’s separated out their healthy choices on their menu for the Healthy Community Initiative.

They also have a McFit program for their employees. I met Claudia Hernandez, the manager of the Milpas McDonald’s, who lost 20 pounds on that program. She’s gorgeous. And tiny. And she got that way while working at McDonald’s!


Claudia Hernandez of Milpas McDonald’s with giveaways at Milpas Moves! event.

Dave Peterson, the owner, is a fit and healthy guy. He connected us with Choo Choo – a tall, slender nurse from Cottage Hospital that oversees weight loss programs for their employees.

We felt we had the start of something that could be really fun and healthy for this community.

So we kicked it off April 12th with the Milpas 1000 Challenge – we’re losing 1,000 pounds on the Milpas-Eastside. Cottage nurses were on site on that cold, foggy Saturday morning to weigh us, advise us on healthier habits, and give us support materials. Teams from the neighborhood signed up for the Challenge. When you lose 10 pounds, you’re eligible for a drawing for prizes like a brand new bike from Hazard’s, a $100 shopping trip at Tri County Produce, gorgeous gift basket from Fresh Market, massage from the Body Therapy Institute, and more.

After weigh in, it was time for Milpas Moves! We’re bringing a free workout class every month to the neighborhood and moving together as a community. Casa De La Raza brought in a Zumba class that kicked mine and Monique Limon’s butts. People from 6 to 75 were out there moving to Latin dance music, doing Salsa moves on steroids.  It was a total blast!


Esteban Ortiz teaches first Milpas Moves! Zumba

Being a gym rat….well…it’s just not appetizing for some of us. So we want to introduce the community to fun fitness activities with free classes! If you like the class, you can take more of them right here on the Eastside. The Zumba classas at Casa De La Raza are only $5 Mondays and Wednesdays at 7 PM. That’s fitness everyone can afford!

Want to get in on it? Weigh in at the Milpas McDonald’s Tuesdays or Thursdays at 6 PM. The next Milpas Moves! is May 17th 9-11 AM. We weigh in 9-10 AM, and workout 10-11 AM. Follow the Milpas Community Association on Facebook so you can stay abreast of all the offerings. It’s free and fun!

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In Discussing Social Issues, Watch Out For Those Clouds. Find the Elephant Instead. Part II

Column by Sharon Byrne

An interesting phenomenon happens when people start discussing hotbed social issues. I’ve been watching this for a while locally on the subjects of homeless and gangs. It goes like this:

Person A might think of gangs as the Mara gang leader in the film Sin Nombre. Straight from Central Casting: covered in MS13 tattoos, Darth Vader demeanor, muscled, and murderous. This gang leader hesitates not at all when putting a gun in a 12 year-old’s hand, dispatching him as a hit man. If the 12 year-old is caught, he goes down for the murder. If he rats out the gang, he’s green-lit for death. No big loss – he was a newbie. Thus the gang leader is completely insulated, and free to carry on with gang activities.

Person B, on the other hand, might think of her 14 year-old nephew, accosted by the police for hanging out with friends by the creek, just doing what normal boys do. Their hip-hop style clothing is unfortunately also favored by homies. It’s a case of mistaken identity, but the damage is done. These particular kids are not gang-affiliated, but they probably no longer see the police as the good guys after that experience.

gangNow imagine these two people, A & B, in their respective thought clouds, formed from their experiences, discussing the pending gang injunction, and the feelings they’re each likely to have. A is thinking of gang leadership, hard-core felons, and cartels. You need to deal with them firmly and swiftly. B is thinking of her innocent nephew, and how kids like this need protection from the police, not more cracking down.

Are these two likely to have a productive conversation?

Not unless one of them pauses, and says, “What is it, exactly, that you are talking about? What images and experiences are you working from?”

People in their thought clouds are like the old fable about the three blind men, each feeling an object, trying to discern what it is. The first declares it’s a tree. The second says it’s a vast wall. The third laughs, “you idiots! It’s a twig!” They argue heatedly, and nearly come to blows over it.

Turns out they had their hands on an elephant. The first had hold of the elephant’s trunk, the second, its middle swath, while the third was feeling out the tail. In the story, a king explains that they are all correct. The elephant has each part they described. But it is all of these parts, not just one of them. The point of the parable is that truth can be stated in different ways, and people with different belief systems can cling rigidly to their version, blinding themselves to the overall truth.

So let’s stop playing the part of the blind man, trying to prove the other blind men wrong. Let’s instead poke at the thought clouds, and ask what’s in there? Everyone is probably right in some way, but also very likely to be holding only one piece of that elephant.

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In Discussing Social Issues, Watch Out For Those Clouds. Find the Elephant Instead.

Column by Sharon Byrne

An interesting phenomenon happens when people start discussing hotbed social issues. I’ve been watching this for a while locally on the subjects of homeless and gangs. It goes like this:

Person A encounters an elderly woman early one morning, shivering in a doorway, no shoes, only socks with holes in them. She’s very thin, filthy, suffering, and in major distress. A feels compassionate. This could be someone’s mother, or grandmother. Why is she homeless on our streets?

Person B is walking down State St with his family. He is accosted by a group of young people, wearing dreadlocks and unkempt clothing, engaging in drug use, openly. One holds a sign reading “Will Eat Pussy For Weed.”  Person B is deeply offended, nervous for his children, even more so when the youths yell at him for not giving them money. He’s disgusted and resolves never to come back to State St. The homeless are just too scary and aggressive.

Now imagine A and Person B debating the homeless issue in a public forum.

How do you think that is likely to go?

A: We must help the homeless, and end this suffering. It’s shameful that this goes on in a prosperous town. They need housing and supportive services. These are our fellow citizens. They deserve our help.

B: (erupting) HELP THESE PEOPLE? Help them on to the next bus or train out of town! Bunch of scofflaws, lawless anarchists that are actually dangerous. Lock them up! Did you know one of them raped a 15 year-old recently? The LAST thing we should do reward that behavior by handing them a free home, when the rest of us have to work our butts off for it! Are you crazy?!?!?!

Now, are A and B even talking about the same thing? Not even close. But by using the all-encompassing term “homeless”, they think they are discussing the same thing. They’re each living in a cloud of thought that they have constructed based on their particular experiences of homelessness. Neither is aware of what constitutes the other person’s thought cloud. Naturally, when their respective thought clouds collide, it’s a thunderstorm.

Now imagine A’s response to B: “You’re going to lock up starving, helpless people in jail? Brute! You’re criminalizing them for being homeless!”

IMG_3721-1024x764And pretty soon, they are completely polarized and want to beat each other up! This exact conversation is going on right now around the recent crackdown on lower State. Those who have experienced the aggressive youth hanging out there, referred to variously as yoaches, Urban Travelers, Crusty Punk Kids, or the Anarchist Set, are fed up with the lawlessness and hostility. That’s the B Camp. The A’s are clouding (pun intended) the situation with pleas for compassion. The A Camp’s image of homelessness is that of the elderly shivering woman in the doorway. Of course you don’t crack down on them. Show some compassion, people.

This happens on the gang front too… that version in Part II.

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Milpas on the Move: Community Jewels, Part II

Column by Sharon Byrne

One of the most delightful aspects of a great neighborhood is uncovering its many hidden jewels. It’s like an urban treasure hunt. There are so many in the Milpas-Eastside that I can’t possibly write about them all. So perhaps I’ll just do a few at a time, so as not to overwhelm.

The Santa Barbara Body Therapy Institute - I almost hesitate to write this, because I like being able to get last minute appointments there! I found them years ago, sitting discreetly at 516 N Quarantina, unobtrusive, quiet – you could drive right by and never notice them. But just inside the door of this interesting little building is a place of incredible healing. They teach massage, but not just any old massage. Reflexology, acupressure, trigger point, cranio-sacral, Qigong, lymph drainage, and myofascial therapies are all taught here. Best of all, you can receive a one hour treatment from students studying these modalities for the bargain price of $30. As a recipient of many of these sessions, I can attest that this is a valuable component of my Obamacare program. Whenever I am feeling a little off my game, I go there. Melissa at the Body Therapy Institute sends out periodic emails for upcoming clinics, and discounts the price to $25. Call right away, and you can still get in.

At this point, I think I’ve tried all of their therapies, and can tell you that this is one of the best little secrets of the Eastside, hidden away in an industrial area, a little oasis of healing.  I find acupressure, reflexology and cranial-sacral modalities to be particularly effective at clearing aches, toning the system, and increasing one’s sense of wellbeing. Eat fresh fruits and veggies from Tri County Produce, ride the bike to work, walk on the beach, and get regular treatments at the Body Therapy Institute. That’s my healthcare plan.

There is a lot of great healing going on at 516 N Quarantina, for a very affordable price. Check out their website at http://www.sbbti.com.

Last night, I popped into Los Agaves with my family for dinner. We can all practically recite the menu by heart. I saw they’d resurrected their incredible molcajete dishes as a special, so I ordered the seafood one. This is what Lucy delivered to my table:
The big black bowl on legs is a molcajete. They heat it white-hot by flipping it upside down over flames, and then fill it full of spicy broth, lobster, shrimp, halibut, salmon, clams, mussels, nopalitos (cactus) and veggies. It’s a hot, steaming bowl of seafood goodness! Carlos Luna, the owner of Los Agaves, is a cuisine genius, and a really nice guy to boot. Never skimpy on the ingredients, his flavors are fabulous, and the visuals are eye-popping. His specials are his really top-notch creations.

And no, I could not finish the Molcajete Mariscos. Too much! But oh so good!

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Milpas on the Move: Eastside Jewels, Part I

Weekly column by Sharon Byrne


Giffin and Crane employees on site to board up the burned home.

A little story of many sparkling neighborhood jewels: During the rains a few weeks back, a family on the Eastside suffered a house fire in the middle of the night. I was driving down Milpas when John Palminteri broke the story on KJEE about 7:45 AM. I realized I was a couple of blocks away from the fire, so I stopped by. I met the family and the Red Cross, who were already on site to assist. I introduced myself, and asked what they needed. The Red Cross asked me who I was again, and I explained that the Milpas Community Association has members in the construction, restaurant and market industries, hotels, and more, so if the family needed some emergency provisions, we could help. The Red Cross team blinked, and then exclaimed they wanted to live in this neighborhood! So they gave me a short list: plywood and someone to nail it up because the house was now unsecured from the fire. They could use some food provisions, and some bedding.

I sent out the word to the neighborhood. Could we wrap our arms around this family as a community, and help?

A deluge of responses poured in from all over the neighborhood immediately:

  • Jack’s Bistro – Have they had breakfast? We can send it over!
  • The Fess Parker – we’ve got bedding.
  • Santa Barbara Plumbing – we’ve got plywood.
  • Giffin and Crane were on site within the hour to board up the home.
  • John Dixon from Tri County Produce – we’ll donate a shopping trip.
  • The Fresh Market wanted to help.
  • The Shop Café donated a gift card for the family to come eat there.
  • Sal’s Pizza, McDonald’s, The Habit, and El Bajio wanted to feed them, on the house.
  • Residential neighbors called, emailed and facebooked: do they need clothing, bedding, towels, furniture, or cookware? Should we pick up food for them? Here’s a Trader Joe’s gift card, towels, and blankets.

Matthew Lavine from the Fess Parker with bedding for the family burned out of their home.

Inside of one hour, we had everything needed, and a lot more, for this family! They had homeowner’s insurance, and most of their belongings were intact. They will stay with a relative nearby while their home is repaired. But their two tenants were completely burned out, losing everything in the fire. We’ve offered additional assistance as they get back on their feet.

The Red Cross was stunned, and delighted. They asked if we knew these residents, were they members of our organization?

This was our first time meeting them. But we’re a community here on the Eastside. That’s what communities do: pull together to help one another. Cheri Rae, who went with me to deliver donations from the area to the Red Cross, noted that people always have extra stuff, inventory, and / or skills, and want to help, but just need to know how. What was amazing was the lightning-swiftness of the offers to help, and the sheer number of people who stepped up to pitch in.

This is a really generous, caring community!

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The Homeless Action Summit

Column by Sharon Byrne


Glenn Bacheller kicking off Homeless summit

The C3H Homeless Summit was a mixed bag. The parts that were good were very good. And the off bits were unfortunately pretty off-putting, especially to the camp that needs to be wooed to the table: the business community.

The good:
They brought in an all-star cast: Becky Kanis, of the 100k Homes national campaign, Phil Mangano the former Homeless Czar under Bush and Obama (briefly), and reps from Pasadena and Fresno achieving dramatic results in housing chronically homeless individuals. Finally we seem willing to learn from those who are achieving success, a tactic called ‘Legitimate Larceny’ by Kanis. If it works, use it here.

There was the gentlest nudge from both Kanis and Mangano that Santa Barbara could be doing better at housing people. The county has fewer homeless than national averages, but the city, rapidly glossed over, has far more.

Kanis started by cleaning up Times Square in New York. She went to all the providers in homeless services to enlist them, and ended up moving forward with an unlikely team of the Business Improvement District and the police. She got results.

Refreshingly, this was one of the key messages hammered home. Don’t measure success by meals served or nights of shelter provided. Measure it by the number of homeless housed. Tackle the chronically homeless instead of the low-hanging fruit of those easier to house. Use scattered-site housing rather than shelters. Get results.

Mangano should have been a fantastic speaker, but threw out hyperbolic language on the national disgrace of homelessness, co-opting the mantle of Martin Luther King Jr. in declaring that abolishing homelessness was akin to abolishing slavery and racial discrimination. He talked about using the language of business and changing the verbs re homelessness. Don’t manage the problem (thus perpetuating it). End it. He had clearly read every business-lingo-laden, self-help book out there, and tried to weave their memes into his speech. It didn’t come off as a coherent narrative, and affronted some business people to the extent that they left, especially when he took aim at ‘myths’ of homelessness: build it and they will come, homeless choose this lifestyle, and they’re not ‘from here’. He advocated using a customer-oriented approach with homeless. They don’t want programs, protocols, or pills. They want a home. So give them one. Have the community set the standard on housing the homeless, not the service providers. Now, how you sell that to service providers and everyday people busting their humps to pay rent…he didn’t say.

“Protest Bob” Hanson, the perennial homeless advocate, shouted out, “Homelessness is real! Ending it is unreal!” That produced an awkward silence. Sensing he’d struck a nerve, Bob tried that a few more times. He might be onto something. There are some that do quite well off the continued perpetuation of homelessness. Kanis called these ‘status quo mongers’, and gave permission to show them the exit route with ‘collaboration is over-rated.’ Move forward with those who can solve the problem.

The real agenda for the night was to get everyone on board with the Housing First model. Data purportedly supports this model, with housing retention rates at 90% a year later.

But the Big Frickin’ Wall that has to be scaled here went largely unaddressed: where does this housing come from? Which made me wonder: should a national problem be punted to local jurisdictions to solve? California is hosting 20% of the nation’s homeless, way ahead of New York at a distant 11%. So what is California’s responsibility to migrating homeless? And WHERE do we put housing for a housing-first model in Santa Barbara? Clearly, the county is the big player here, but land just isn’t cheap and plentiful in these parts. So while we’re finally learning from other communities about what works, that Big Frickin’ Wall of housing still looms large.

The good news is the approaches to solving the problem to homelessness are getting more realistic, data-driven, and directed to achieving results. The days of just providing humanitarian aid while leaving homeless people largely in place seem to be coming to a close. The bad news is that the solution is, not surprisingly, housing, in a community already carrying more than its fair share of homeless, saddled with a low rental vacancy rate and a high cost-of-living.

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Change In the Wind? District Elections

Column By Sharon Byrne

DistrictElections3District Elections is gaining some momentum since the forum held during the last City Council race, in which nearly every candidate was against it, except those with no chance of winning. I keep trying to see the clear-cut case for district elections. What I see are separate, distinct threads of deep problems, long unsolved, being woven together, not always coherently, into a call for district elections.

I am probably not going to do this topic the justice it deserves. I am just watching the threads for now.

One that has merit is the problem of inner city neighborhoods. Didn’t think we had those here? Well we do, and they get continually shortchanged. When parts of the Eastside lack lighting and sidewalks, in a neighborhood over 100 years old, you have to wonder why. For those dedicated neighbors pushing to get basic infrastructure installed and maintained in these inner neighborhoods, it galls to see a new 1,000 steps staircase installed on the Mesa, or read about the latest improvement slated for State St.

Theoretically, the at-large system is supposed to provide citizens with 7 City Council reps that can address their concerns. But unless the good little citizen’s concerns align nicely with the Democratic Party establishment agenda, or other large agendas, help might be hard to find. It takes a lot to win a citywide election. You need party backing, lots of contributions, big endorsements, and other machinery. To get that backing, you have to attend to the backers’ concerns. I can guarantee you they’re not the concerns of the inner neighborhoods, unless there’s a convenient overlap tied to some social justice agenda currently in vogue.

A concerned resident who decides to run singing a tune of ‘let’s invest in the Westside’ will be met with polite silence in the voting blocks on the Mesa, Upper East and San Roque. The game of at-large elections is all about what you’re going to do for ME.

If they can’t win elections based on trying to fix their community, inner city residents can always call Public Works and beg. But even with that, some neighborhoods never seem to get high enough in the priority queue to get their sidewalks fixed, lights on their street, or other infrastructure needs met. There are rare cases, like the mayor going to bat for West Downtown lighting after a spate of violent crimes, but you need that willing ally on Council. District Elections provide a route to fix that problem.

Also woven into the sales pitch is the notion of Latino representation, and why we haven’t elected more than a token one to council every 10 years or so. And here the Democratic Party surprised folks at the forum. You’d think as the party of diversity, the poor, and the oppressed, they’d engage in a bit of soul-searching on why they haven’t achieved a better track record. Instead, they pushed the notion that this whole District Elections thing is a nefarious plot a la Koch Brothers to elect more Republicans.

I burst out laughing. But their agenda is clear. District elections threaten their power base and ability to keep electing their chosen farm team candidates to City Council via their solid, at-large election machinery.

The counter-argument is that these inner neighborhoods just need to vote. Except that the votes of the inner city areas, even if they register more voters, do not present any significant numerical challenge to the outer neighborhoods.

And that is probably the real reason they get underserved in the present at-large process; there’s no political penalty for ignoring them.

Well, until they riot. That tends to be a game-changer.

Latino PACs at state and federal levels get Latino candidates elected. Someone could start a local PAC, groom some solid candidates and run them. It would probably immediately be co-opted into service to the Democratic Party, the way PUEBLO was.

The final thread is a pervading sense that the activists of the 70’s are unhappy that the next generation didn’t take up their cause. Sigh.

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Sledgehammers and Bridges: Two Decidedly Different Approaches to the Problem of Funding Government Infrastructure, Part II

Part II: Bridges
By Sharon Byrne

In the world of politics and government, infrastructure is both cumbersome and unsexy. Who really wants to delve into the minutiae of the present state of ventilation systems in government buildings? Who salivates over paving? Castillo underpass drivers engage in a daily slalom to avoid hitting multiple potholes. But until things reach this level of serious disrepair, almost impassability, the public does not largely get excited about infrastructure. And the least exciting of all infrastructure is that of local government. Interstate-widening projects through Montecito produce opportunity to advance political careers for those who dare to take on the state. Maintaining some county road produces mostly yawns.

Since the public doesn’t typically eagerly gobble up news stories on how many potholes or ventilation systems get fixed, and given a fixed bucket of money, the greatest political gain is to be found in funding those things that constituents want to see happen, like on social fronts. For infrastructure…well….snore. If it’s not too bad, we can delay doing something about it until a) revenues increase or b) it moves up the priority list, usually by hitting crisis point.

After years of fairly dry warnings from municipal and county executives re rising infrastructure deterioration due to inadequate funding, the county and city of Santa Barbara are each approaching their own infrastructure tipping point. Trying to play catch up with delayed maintenance starts making the previously exorbitant cost of replacement look downright palatable in some cases. But would replacement now be necessary if proper maintenance had been performed all along? These are the questions that get threshed out in public hearings on infrastructure.

The good news is that crises can birth new levels of creativity, sometimes forcing the transcendence of existing political structures that would typically narrow the available paths forward. Two very different approaches are thus emerging from the city and county, both pretty creative. Whether the public will agree there’s enough of a crisis to jump the tracks of existing political limitations is the key question.

Bridging the Gaps
A different political reality on City Council allows for a more collaborative approach on capital needs. The city’s capital maintenance needs are put together mostly by civil engineers. Squeaky wheels effect the prioritization process, provided the public wants to engage on PCI figures, the state of an HVAC system in a government building, and other bricks-and-mortar topics. Those that do engage tend to win capital improvements for their area.

Think of it like dealing with your house: you need $100,000 in repairs. You have $10,000 in your bank account. So you prioritize. What do you absolutely have to do to keep living here? Fix the busted pipes first, because you have to have water. And do it right, because otherwise you just keep repairing the old pipes. The driveway has a sinkhole, which looks bad, and is unsafe, but you can park on the street until you have the money for that repair. A publicity stink on your sinkhole could force a shift in priorities, though. The stove is on the fritz, but the microwave will do until you can afford to replace it. Same exercise for government infrastructure. Which things do we absolutely have to do right now? Shelve the rest for later.

Well, ‘the rest’ has gotten rather large over the years, driving ‘later’ into now. So Randy Rowse and Bendy White have teamed up to talk to community groups to help prioritize that big queue of city infrastructure projects in the pipeline. The Redevelopment Agency’s dissolution yanked a bucket of money that was formerly plowed into infrastructure needs. Federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds are but a small supplement, and Public Works competes with non-profits for those. When you’re looking at a total capital infrastructure need of $600 million, where do you find the funds? How do you decide what moves first into the queue?

Rowse asks, ‘do you invest in those things that help generate revenues? There’s some logic in doing that. But then there are neighborhood needs that should not be ignored.’

White said city roads also get an average PCI grade of D, though they’re a little better off than the county on average. But sidewalks are in continual need of city repairs. There’s never enough money to do them all, so the areas of most urgent need are prioritized.

Buildings are also an issue, like the police station. Parks and Rec took some of the heaviest cutting in the recession years, and they perform landscaping in the medians in addition to parks. Some medians around town need serious replanting. The easy psychological move is to spread limited funds around as much as possible to keep things from falling apart, or ‘splitting the baby’, as Rowse calls it. Councilmembers have also delved into the nuts and bolts of capital projects, questioning whether they really cost this much, could it be done a different way to reduce costs, etc.

Why did Rowse team up with White? White made the approach as bridge-building between both sides of the political aisle. He feels the present state of infrastructure is a very poor legacy to leave. Rowse agrees readily.

Rowse thinks the outreach could take 6 months, and then they need to figure out how to distill the priorities and bring it back to council. Then it’s time to come up with a menu of solutions, including chipping away at the general fund, bond issues, sales tax and more.

Our county and city have thus taken two decidedly different approaches to one big problem of government infrastructure funding. It remains to be seen how each will prevail, but you can be assured you’ll be hearing a lot more about PCI and HVACs in the months ahead.

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Sledgehammers and Bridges: Two Decidedly Different Approaches to the Problem of Funding Government Infrastructure, Part I

Part I: Sledgehammers
By Sharon Byrne

In the world of politics and government, infrastructure is both cumbersome and unsexy. Who really wants to delve into the minutiae of the present state of ventilation systems in government buildings? Who salivates over paving? Castillo underpass drivers engage in a daily slalom to avoid hitting multiple potholes. But until things reach this level of serious disrepair, almost impassability, the public does not largely get excited about infrastructure. And the least exciting of all infrastructure is that of local government. Interstate-widening projects through Montecito produce opportunity to advance political careers for those who dare to take on the state. Maintaining some county road produces mostly yawns.

Since the public doesn’t typically eagerly gobble up news stories on how many potholes or ventilation systems get fixed, and given a fixed bucket of money, the greatest political gain is to be found in funding those things that constituents want to see happen, like on social fronts. For infrastructure…well….snore. If it’s not too bad, we can delay doing something about it until a) revenues increase or b) it moves up the priority list, usually by hitting crisis point.

After years of fairly dry warnings from municipal and county executives re rising infrastructure deterioration due to inadequate funding, the county and city of Santa Barbara are each approaching their own infrastructure tipping point. Trying to play catch up with delayed maintenance starts making the previously exorbitant cost of replacement look downright palatable in some cases. But would replacement now be necessary if proper maintenance had been performed all along? These are the questions that get threshed out in public hearings on infrastructure.

The good news is that crises can birth new levels of creativity, sometimes forcing the transcendence of existing political structures that would typically narrow the available paths forward. Two very different approaches are thus emerging from the city and county, both pretty creative. Whether the public will agree there’s enough of a crisis to jump the tracks of existing political limitations is the key question.

Enter the Sledgehammer
Peter Adam seems to wind up often on the losing end of 3-2 votes on the Board of Supervisors. He wanted to make infrastructure a priority, after learning that Public Works is applying the basest of repairs to problematic roads because the budget doesn’t allow for anything else.

The wonky world of civil engineering typically only enters the public lexicon when accompanied by political heat. Civil engineers use a Pavement Condition Index (PCI) to indicate average conditions of a government body’s collective roads. The PCI is just like school grades. 100 is a road with no defects, perfectly smooth blacktop, 90 = A, 80= B and so on. Adam has a nifty chart showing the county hit a PCI high score of 67-70 during the mid-2000’s. That’s a low C / high D. Most of us would scream if our kid brought home that grade, but in the world of public infrastructure, this is acceptable. In 2013, the PCI is down to 61, and is predicted to hit 48 by 2019.

While Measure D monies were available, the county roads, all 1,670 miles of them, could be maintained with a supplemental $500,000 or so allocated from the county’s General Fund, per Adam. That kept them at a D grade level. But Measure D funds are gone, and Adam has not been able to find support on the Board of Supervisors to ramp up General Fund contributions to prevent further erosion.

Per Adam, San Luis Obispo County spends $11 million on county road maintenance. SLO county is 3,789 square miles, with a population of 270,000. They have 1,310 miles of roads. “If we can’t find $11 million in an $850 million budget to fix our roads, we’re just not managing it right,’ Adam says.

Wolf suggested Adam put the question of paying for infrastructure maintenance to the voters. He wondered why all the other budget items (with which he’d mostly disagreed) weren’t put to them.

But instead of asking the public to pay for infrastructure maintenance in addition to the taxes they already pay, Adam wondered if instead voters could force the Supervisors to provide an acceptable level of infrastructure maintenance as standard operating procedure. Thus his ballot initiative basically asks voters to force the Board of Supervisors to maintain county infrastructure at present conditions, or better, and without issuing debt. Steve Amerikaner labeled this a bit of a sledgehammer approach in the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce’s Government Relations Committee meeting when Adam presented the initiative.

“This is a reprioritization, not a tax,” says Adam.

And this is where the weird machinations and permutations of California politics look crazy to non-Californians. Some retiree reading a story on this in, say, Missouri, will call out to his wife, ‘you’re not going to believe what those nuts in California are doing! The voters are going to force their elected officials to maintain the danged roads in their present condition, and… get this, their roads get a grade of D now!’ Insert obligatory joke about how California will fall off into the ocean someday.

Adam is feeling pretty confident about the ballot initiative. “Who’s going to oppose it?” he laughs. “People-For-Potholes? The Committee-To-Keep-Government-Buildings-Dilapidated?”

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Can A Principal Really Make A Difference? At Franklin, The Answer Is A Resounding YES!

Milpas on the Move column by Sharon Byrne

Casie Kilgore first appeared on my radar when my daughter was in Santa Barbara Junior High. Then-Principal John Becchio related that the kids coming out of Franklin Elementary were better prepared than they’d ever been, and he credited that to their principal, Casie Kilgore.

I ran into her repeatedly when the Milpas Community Association was starting up, this engaged, energetic character leading a crew of children to community events. I was impressed.

When Franklin Elementary dominated the Milpas Holiday Parade, I was really impressed.
I learned that Franklin had a super-engaged PTA, loads of interesting programs for the kids, and a commitment to be a strong part of the community.

Then they made the news for raising their test scores significantly, and Casie had to kiss a pig. That was the promise she made to the students.

Clearly, here’s a rock star principal in action, and I wanted to know more about her.

Challenging The Status Quo
Casie came to the career of Principal via a very circuitous route, but one that prepped her precisely for this role. Call it kismet. She was supposed to be a CPA, and take over her parents’ accounting business. She grew up in Santa Barbara, and learned Spanish studying in Mexico. But instead of heading off to accounting land, she got into migrant education in Watsonville, and had her eyes opened. She realized she wanted to light a spark in the kids. So that put her on the path into a career in education.
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Videos From the Red Carpet

By Sharon Byrne

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Tribute To A Santa Barbara Icon Selma Rubin and the Community of Life

Tribute To A Santa Barbara Icon, by Sharon Byrne
Selma Rubin and the Community of Life – a documentary by Beezhan Tulu.

The film opens with shots of Selma shuffling to her garage, loading up her walker, and getting into a car besotted with slogans like “No Farms, No Food”. She’s 95, per the subtitle.

Of course, you’re thinking, ‘Wait…she’s going to drive???’

And drive she does. She turns that familiar hatted head to you, big eyeglasses full frontal, and then she’s zooming down the highway. “I like driving on the freeway,” she says. Then adds, “of course, I don’t want it to get any bigger…”

packed audience at screening

packed audience at screening

So opens the documentary tribute Selma Rubin and the Community of Life, which screened Tuesday night at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. The film lets her tell most of the story, with serious supplemental praise from the hoi polloi of the environmental movement here. Selma moved here from Los Angeles in 1964 with her husband. They’d been politically active in LA, but wanted to look at a quieter life, leave all that behind. 6 weeks later, a friend called, and came to stay with them. He was black. The next day, all the tires were slashed on both their cars. Selma sighed. “Vacation’s over.”

She played a huge hand in co-founding Santa Barbara stalwart non-profits Environmental Defense Center, Community Environmental Council, PUEBLO, and more.

And her first fight launched her into a lifetime of being the glue and energy behind these non-profits. In 1969, Jules Berman, the man who brought Kahlua to America, decided to develop El Capitan Canyon. He wanted to put 1,535 homes on it.

Selma tells how she sat around with some friends, talking about it, and they decided that wasn’t a very good idea. So they decided to fight it.

And in doing so, pulled a community together around a vision that we need to preserve and protect our coastline, our pristine beauty, ‘for the children of the future, and the people of the future’, according to Rubin.

They pushed for a referendum with the County Supervisors, who’d already approved the project. They lost.

Then they gathered signatures for a petition to put it on the ballot. What unfolded from that is a moving story of a community rising up, organizing, and persevering through a protracted legal battle that went all the way to the California Supreme Court, and resulted in an arrest warrant for Rubin, courtesy of the Santa Barbara County District Attorney. The charge was altering the petitions.

She realized ‘we now had an aroused public.’ National-level coverage on the issue helped propel it into passage, and El Capitan now boasts the Selma Rubin trail, forever preserved.

It’s a great film to see, particularly if you’re a Pearl Chase fan. Both women decided to stand up for their community, and assert some say in the kind of place it would be. Pearl helped create the look of the city of Santa Barbara we love today. She’s the reason there aren’t Hong Kong-height skyscrapers along the waterfront and marching up State St. Selma understood there was something special about the undeveloped Gaviota Coast that needed protecting, and a slew of environmentalists in the film take great pains to explain how the warm and cold currents of the Pacific meet here, creating a unique marine environment where species from British Columbia meet species from the Baja, not found anywhere else. In the world.

Selma’s effort to save Gaviota opened it up to environmental studies for decades after, and spawned a whole new movement of environmental leadership in Santa Barbara County.

Chase and Rubin significantly shifted the prevailing collective consciousness of their respective eras. You realize, watching the film, that the reason Santa Barbara is so special is because it is preserved. The reason people fought so hard to preserve it is because it is so special. I sat next to John Campanella on the Planning Commission during the film, and suddenly some of the development fights that go on around here made complete sense. Some places should not be lost to economic forces that would totally reshape them, altering them forever, and stripping them of the very qualities that made them unique in the first place.

Bheezan Tulu, the director, is originally from Iran, and makes positive, uplifting films about the environment and the people who work on its behalf. Dave Fortson, Eastside resident and owner of Loa Tree, is a good friend of his, and encouraged him to make the film about Rubin. Tulu trusted Fortson’s instincts, moved in with Rubin for 6 months during filming, and created a film that’s very educational about a key era in our history, as well as a stunning tribute to Rubin.


Selma’s hats at reception after the film. Sign up, and take one home!

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Women in the Business

The Saturday afternoon panels are always a highlight of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Below, Sharon Byrne recaps the Women’s Panel. This upcoming Saturday, don’t miss the Writer’s Panel, It Starts with the Script.

By Sharon Byrne
From Saturday. This was really good. Panelists:
Rachel Winter – Dallas Buyers Club
Gaby Tana – Philomena
Sara Woodhatch – Before Midnight
Kristine Belson – The Croods
Dede Gardner – 12 Years a Slave
Lauren MacMullan – Get a Horse!


Where did you get your start? Rachel Winter: I was at UCSB, and I was looking for something to do, so I asked my film department head if I could get course credit for interning with a film company. He said ‘sure’! So I called my mom, and asked, ‘do we know anyone in the film industry?’ She said yes, but he’s in porn. So I did intern work for a soft-porn production, got my credits, and that was my start.

How did you know this was right for you? Lauren MacMullen: Well I knew after I did my first animation film. It was like, ok, I like blackjack and ponies…or animation. Yeah I think animation is the right thing for me to do here…

How do you cope with all the pressure, the travel, the emails? Sara Woodhatch: Stay hydrated!

Key production decision? Dede Gardner: well we wanted to shoot 12 Years a Slave in the heat. It was important, because the heat was such a central character in that film.

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Hope Floats: Pilot Program For Chronically Homeless Gets Underway On Milpas

By Sharon Byrne, Part I, as featured in today’s Santa Barbara Sentinel

Over the past year and a half, a significant transformation has taken place on Milpas. From a neighborhood struggling with crime, suffering from urban decay, and feeling unheard at City Hall, it’s become a community where businesses, residents, non-profits, schools and police are all working together, and discovering that there is something special here. It’s now a place we can be proud of.

homeless1However, we have a few individuals in the area that continue to cause problems and generate significant police calls. They typically aren’t associated with any shelter or facility. They’ve often been banned for repeat poor behavior. They refuse services and offers of assistance. These are long-term, chronically homeless. The dramatic reduction of homeless individuals in the Milpas corridor over the past year had an interesting effect: the chronically homeless moved from background to prominent foreground. They are increasingly visible, and we know them by name, after having to repeatedly deal with the problems they cause.

Early last year, I began meeting with Jeff Shaffer, one of the new leaders of the Central Coast Collaborative on Homelessness, or C3H. I saw C3H’s early formation. The idea was to start coordinating services for the homeless countywide, and the job of coordinator would be tough. You have no direct authority, other than local government support to go this way. My hopes were not high, and it felt like it might be the usual gathering of various service providers and homeless activists, trotted out in new and improved form. Would they suddenly now have solutions? I had also grown weary of the continual unveiling of the latest magic bullet to solve homelessness over the years. First it was build more shelters. Then came the US Homeless Czar, and the 10 year plan to end homelessness for every jurisdiction. Ours read like a plan to have more meetings, with no real goals or real deliverables. Next it was 100k homes and the Common Ground count. Now, C3H was stepping up to solve homelessness for Santa Barbara County.

I was leery, but hoping for the best.

Talk Isn’t Cheap

Meeting with Jeff started as friendly conversations on the kind of initiative we could put together, involving the business community on Milpas, to deal with chronically homeless that were high generators of police and fire calls for medical emergencies. These are the toughest cases, requiring repeated effort, and setbacks are frequent. After checking each other for philosophical alignment, we realized we were results-driven individuals, admittedly from different backgrounds, but with similar aims. Jeff was able to see past the popular perception of me as a homeless-hater. I felt we needed to be effective with services provided, and work to end homelessness. The current direction felt like we were securing ever more rights for the homeless to remain homeless.

Jeff recognized there was a potential opening here to bring a partner to the table on working to end homelessness that had not previously been included: the business community. So he took the shot. I quickly recognized here was someone who knew where the holes were in the present system, and who was dedicated to ending homelessness, rather than perpetuating an industry around it. And Jeff had witnessed something we had not made public: a few of us working on Milpas had actively engaged in outreach, trying to understand the reason some of these people were on our streets, and then worked to help them out of homelessness. We achieved some results, largely by taking on the role of extended family member in encouraging them into services, and then trying to navigate them through that system. We fell into some holes, but found the Restorative Police to be a tremendous resource, as they knew where all the holes were, and were quite adept at maneuvering past them.

Jeff realized there was something to the businessperson’s typical results-oriented stance. Business people solve problems, on a deadline, within a budget. They want to see results. That kind of drive might prove very useful in a targeted outreach effort.

So over time, and a few more meetings, Jeff pulled the philosophy of working with the most chronically homeless out of the stratosphere and down to earth, into a narrowly scoped pilot program for Milpas: work with police and the Milpas businesses to identify the top five repeat offenders who cause the most issues, and move them into a more stable, sustainable living situation. Pull in the service providers, get them to move in one, coordinated direction, secure housing units, and work as a team with the business community to make this happen.

The businesses wanted something even more specific: move these five individuals out of homelessness in six months or less. That’s measurable.

The group was realistic. These are adults, with free will. Today they might agree to a program. Tomorrow they change their mind. They might commit, during a heartfelt outreach session, to getting sober overnight so as to get into a program. Five minutes later, they go into the nearest liquor store. They might get sober, and fall off the wagon a month later. They may tell us to go to hell when we approach. Often. Loudly.

This won’t be easy.

Reaching Out and Beyond
It felt somewhat surreal to be at a table with homeless activists and outreach specialists, listening to typical approaches used in reaching out to the homeless. We understood the need for confidentiality, but found it odd, given we knew the offenders firsthand from repeat interaction with them. Our tactics probably upset the services team. We’d take pictures of offenses, make citizens’ arrests, and state in no uncertain terms that we don’t tolerate drinking in public, using drugs on our corners, defecating and urinating on our community, passing out in our doorways or camping in our area. We take on the role of the annoying, pestering relative: you need to live a better life than this. This is unhealthy for you, and us.

The service providers’ initial reaction was one of shocked surprise, but they then surprised us in moving quickly to cooperation. They have the services and outreach workers, but we provided that business ‘shove’ – don’t just be friendly, caring and compassionate in your outreach. Make a connection you can leverage. Don’t take no for an answer, and hit the deadline. Achieve results.

Jeff would smile mirthfully in these sessions. He knew both groups well, and recognized there would be some inherent friction in mixing them. They’re not used to working together, and sometimes don’t even understand each other because they’re living in different worlds. But Jeff had long recognized that businesspeople and residents ARE affected by homelessness, and should be at the table. Jeff had the wisdom to see that there was opportunity for cross-learning here between the business community and the groups providing services and help for the homeless. He thinks, and I agree, that ultimately this is how homelessness is solved – a cross-sector comes together, as a community, to solve it, even if at the pace of one at a time, or in our case, five at a time.

If we are able to get these five worst offenders off Milpas, we’ll be significantly reducing police, fire and ambulance services to the area. Read Million Dollar Murray by Malcolm Gladwell to understand the impacts these individuals can cause to a community.

Because it’s a pilot, we’re keeping expectations low. The Milpas team wants to see reductions in homelessness in our community that are measurable. This is what C3H wants too, across our county, but by starting small, we’ll learn things. We’ll be able to see if we were successful, and perhaps repeat any successes we may obtain. Ninety percent of the partners in outreach services are willing to be coordinated in this effort, which is already progress.

However it turns out over the next 6 months, it won’t be a magic bullet, but rather a small step forward.

That’s the hope.

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Santa Barbara City Council Gets Inaugurated…and Inundated

By Sharon Byrne

One week ago today saw the trading of a House for a Hart, as Frank Hotchkiss put it. Grant House said farewell and was lauded, and Gregg Hart was sworn in, with Bendy White, Frank Hotchkiss, and the Mayor.
In their remarks, each newly re-elected (Hart has served on City Council before) talked about their intentions and hopes for this term. Bendy gave praise for ‘the rich, open discussions we hold here on council.’ He also brought up green energy projects, and then spent quite a bit of time on capital infrastructure needs, always less sexy than other projects, but the kind that bite governments when they’re ignored too long, like failing bridges and pedestrian safety.

Frank was excited to be ‘back in the saddle’, pun clearly intended. He was grateful that we can pass power cordially after elections here in the US. That is not possible in some parts of the world.

Gregg Hart mused that 8 years ago, Grant House took his place on City Council as a departing councilman, and now, he’s taking Grant’s. He feels they share many of the same ideals, and he promised to work hard, be prepared, and do his best for this community.

Helene noted a great snapshot of the community in the room. That was an interesting comment, given the assembly of gang injunction protesters. She acknowledged Goleta Mayor Roger Aceves and former Santa Barbara Mayor Hal Conklin in the room. She then spoke about a renewed sense of optimism in this city. The harsh challenges of the economy and state issues had receded a bit. She praised the level of civic engagement in this city, calling it ‘unparalleled. It makes us stronger and better.’

After a brief punch-and-cookies reception, it was down to the business of wading through public comment, a considerable task for the normally adept peacekeeping mayor, given the organized protest afoot.
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