I’ve been hearing a lot about how bad it is for renters out there right now. People keep asking me to keep my eyes open – they need to find a place to live, and there’s nothing. Curious, I checked out Craigslist. Found this:
$850, 1 BR, 165 Sq Ft. Montecito
Charming, quiet, secluded, studio cottage.
Microwave, small refrigerator, and toaster oven. Utilities and internet included for reasonable usage.
OK, so it’s not really a 1 BR. It’s a studio, but hey, $850 is a good rate. Can’t be that bad out there, right?
Here’s the catch: Monday-Friday (you arrive Mon. and leave by Friday morning.) This is for a commuter. You would have private use of the studio and wouldn’t have to take your stuff with you each weekend. You would be the only one using the studio (in fact, it is not suitable for a guest).
Finding good rentals here has been a problem for at least the past 15 years. I can attest to that because I have navigated the local rental market a few times over that time period, and each time, my heart sinks into my stomach as I get ready to survey properties that are over-priced, under-maintained, next to the freeway / railroad tracks, etc. With no yard, parking wars on the street, and hey, we don’t really like kids (as they eye mine).
Santa Barbara is perhaps one of the most wonderful places to live. Ever. The climate is awesome. The scenery is breathtaking. There is so much to do outdoors here, and if you have little ones, the place is loaded with parks, playgrounds, beaches, trails, and events to take them to.
It’s a wonderful outdoor life.
It’s not so good indoors, however, if you’ve got to rent.
Small spaces are very in vogue right now, for a number of reasons. People want to reduce their carbon footprint, shed stuff, downsize, and live simpler lives. TinyHouseBlog.com has a huge following, as does Simple. In crowded coastal cities like ours, where space is at a serious premium, people get quite innovative, even if they don’t have the finances to buy property with stellar views. Savvy entrepreneurs find creative ways to answer their needs, carving out specialty niches for themselves in the process.
Enter Hofmann Architects. They take the old and decrepit, and make it into something you salivate over. They take small spaces and transform them into welcoming interiors you can breathe easy in. They reclaim the cast-off flotsam of an earlier era of family travel, and transform it into high-end custom homes that go where you want to go.
Bet you never thought you’d crave an Airstream.
You will when you see what Hofmann can craft out of them. Like this:
A child of the 70’s, I thought Airstreams were a bit of a hokey way for families to travel on the cheap. But those stainless steel shells with their distinctive mid-century lines have endured far beyond the nuclear age.
How did Hofmann get into business refurbishing Airstreams? Matthew Hofmann realized that living in a vintage trailer would be a great way to reduce overhead and simplify life. “So, naturally, I went to the place everyone finds their dream – CraigsList. “
He bought a 1970s Airstream Trade Wind 25’ and parked it on a piece of property in Santa Barbara overlooking the Pacific Ocean. For the next year, he designed and renovated it with his father, Wally. “Next thing you know, the Airstream was my home,” said Matthew. “That singular experience has changed my life forever.”
Hofmann employs 15 specialized craftsmen and designers in the heart of the building trades sector flourishing here in the Eastside, on Quarantina at Bond. Wally happily took me on a tour.
Hofmann acquires old Airstreams, or a client can bring their own. You sit down with the architect and create plans for what you want. The Airstream is then gutted, though some clients want to keep original fixtures in good condition, juxtaposing old with new. I looked at two taken down to the shell, and one going into demolition and renovation. The original fixtures seem so 70’s, designed to provide the basic necessities for these ships-on-wheels.
Hoffman renovates these vintage trailers to client specs, turning out stunning and unique architectural achievements. Wiring, plumbing, fixtures, flooring, windows, bathroom remodels – totally retrofitted and customized. Hofmann will strip out the old 9 gallon hot water tank, for example, and put in a radiant system to heat the water as it passes through, a Swiss technique. You can get gorgeously tiled bathrooms, modern kitchen appliances, clever built-ins for storage, and more.
The bathroom in the “Elizabeth”. I want it!
Hofmann Airstreams are all given classic female names: Jenny, Susan, etc. They’re lovingly sculpted into something that fuses past with present, old with new, mid-century American dreams of inexpensive family travel with new American dreams of living simple and seeking adventure. Clients arrive with a budget of $35,000 – 350,000, and Hofmann will happily explore options that fit your particular needs and budget.
If you’re in, say, Minnesota, where the climate’s not very friendly, your home and possessions are your focus, as life there is conducted mainly in an indoor, climate-controlled setting. But there are other places, like here, where the view and surroundings matter more than having the big house with a lot of stuff. One of Hofmann’s ingeniously refurbished Airstreams offers a very nice living space, and clients seek them out for this very reason.
For someone like me, always trying to simplify my life and shed possessions, life in one of their specialty Airstreams looks very palatable indeed.
I was at the City Council Finance Committee meeting Tuesday. You might be tempted to think it would be a total snore, but it was fascinating, actually. Council member Dale Francisco chairs it ably, and Bendy White and Gregg Hart round out the committee. We’re in the city’s budget cycle at present, so this is the time when everyone comes round with hand extended, seeking to be a line item in the budget. It’s also the time when staff proposes fee increases or other measures to close budget gaps for various departments and enterprise funds.
The three-member committee listens to the proposals, and brings these back to City Council for full report. You can see a couple of interesting things here. One, certain beloved organizations will approach the city seeking supplemental funding for their operations, and in the right political conditions, obtain it, without much public scrutiny. Casa Esperanza requested $125,000 as an ongoing city budget allocation. They had been given $125,000 in the last budget cycle as a one-time aid. Now they seek to make that permanent. In previous years, when they were a sacred cow in these parts, the permanent allocation every year would have been a slam dunk. With the current council make-up, that’s not so certain.
The second interesting thing that happened Tuesday was that the three-member committee had asked to see a presentation on budget reserves, and wanted to explore options on what can be done to restore them. This was the most important graph out of that session:
At the committee’s request, staff looked back over 20 years to see how reserves have been managed. City reserves are important. Just as a household or business needs to keep some funds in reserve in case of emergencies, so do cities. Recessions can cause a city’s revenue receipts to drop dramatically. Emergencies may necessitate the use of reserve funds. A healthy balance here ensures a city can navigate troubled times. Moody’s likes to see a minimum of 5% of a city’s annual revenues. Standard & Poor will give a city the highest credit rating of AAA if their reserve balance is 25% of revenues. When it comes to financing needed capital projects, that credit rating is key. So you can see why a strong reserve balance is in a city’s best interest.
Looking at the graph, during the boom years of the mid-2000’s, when dot coms were launching by the minute, and you could get a job paying $100,000 per year if you could spell ‘internet’, the City Council spent down the reserves from a high of about 30% of the city’s annual budget, to a low of about 15%.
Then the crash of 2008 hit.
Since 2010, due to strong fiscal management efforts, the reserve balance has ticked steadily upwards, though still falls short of the city’s required reserves by $4.3 million.
Why is this important? The three ordinance committee members are the last of their kind – elected at large, with the city’s best interests in mind. Starting this November, we will elect council members by district, and that will introduce a new dynamic. Council members in district systems are typically more interested in ensuring their district receives the maximum benefits from the city as possible, while shifting the burdens to the city at-large. This will be good for districts, but could lead to poor outcomes for the city overall. In a world where the Finance Committee is made up of competing district councilmembers, who will look out for the overall fiscal health of the city? That burden will likely fall to staff. Electeds come and go, remember, but staff stays. But given that staff has to respond to the direction of the City Council, it’s going to be difficult for them to stand up to their bosses, so to speak, and try to get them to keep the larger city’s health in mind as part of good governance
Finance Committee might not be the most exciting thing on your radar of things to pay attention to, but it’s key. Citizens need to pay attention to the overall condition of the city and its finances so as to ensure we’ve got back-up for the bad times, if and when they occur.
A powerful, polarized argument is emerging in our collective consciousness:
The police are over-armed, paranoid, and trigger-happy. They shoot innocents, whose sole mistake was to be the wrong color, or in the wrong place at the wrong time. And they’re never held accountable for it.
Net: Police are Bad.
Police put their lives on the line for the public. They’re often outmanned and outgunned by dangerous criminals. They follow police protocols and procedures. In defending themselves and the public from harm, they face scorn from those they are sworn to protect.
Net: Police Are Justified.
It feels like we’ve lost respect for our officers, as defenders of the law, and started seeing them as oppressors, who use the law against us, a meme that is on fire in national media. Why? Because there are places where the police do not have good relationships with the citizenry, where there are elements of oppression instead of protection. And now that this notion has crystallized in our national consciousness, there’s no un-ringing that bell. Cops that do great work in their communities are tarred with this same brush.
If police tactics have escalated, perhaps it’s because police face increasing hostility. This was scrawled at Gutierrez and State:
Cops are hoisted up as de-facto villains in whatever play is currently being acted out by those with long-simmering frustrations. Cops are taunted and provoked, as though antagonists want police to lose control so they can point and scream, “Police brutality!”
There’s a time for diplomacy, and then there’s a time for threat assessment. Will there be more cop funerals if we insist they try diplomacy first in every situation?
Just Don’t Do Anything That Makes Us Uncomfortable.
In Santa Barbara, that tends to be the prevailing sentiment. Please, officers, keep us from having to encounter someone peeing in public, or shouting the odds in a severe mental illness crisis when we’re going past them on the street.
Our mental health system cannot cope with these individuals. The county just declined to adopt Laura’s Law, so we’ll keep turning the severely mentally ill back out onto our streets. There, the public encounters them, and it’s uncomfortable, to say the least.
Who will they call?
Responding officers will then face unpalatable choices: Is a crime being committed? If no, leave them where they are. If yes, then take the individual to the jail, the county’s de-facto mental institution. Hopefully they won’t resist arrest, because police tactics for dealing with the uncooperative and hostile look ugly to us.
Pressure to reduce crime, in full view of a more scrutinizing, yet simultaneously squeamish, public have wedged police into a rapidly narrowing pincer of conflicting public sentiment. Police should deal with crime and criminals, but be incredibly humanitarian about it so we can all feel good.
Is this realistic?
One way out is to implement more community-based policing. Cops that know the community, and are welcomed within it, are far less likely to mistake community members as a threat. It’s hard for taunters to gain traction in attacking cops that we see at the grocery store, at the gas station, and whose kids go to school with our kids. We know them. They know us. There’s a relationship.
Body cams and other new technologies can also help with increased accountability and transparency. Australia’s had them for years. The LA Police Commission just approved them.
We must restore a sense of trust between the police and the community they serve, and everyone needs to be part of that effort. The cop on the street is not responsible for every single injustice ever inflicted on any community. And cops need to know that answers of ‘procedure’ can be deeply unsatisfying to community members who feel wronged. Embracing transparency might be a police force’s fast-track route to casting off community suspicions and hostility.
Media stories have turned a harsh lens on police, running a very dangerous risk of distortion, tapping into long-simmering frustrations built up over perhaps decades.
The prevailing media narrative, from Baltimore to Ferguson to here, is that cops have gone too far over the line.
A New Scrutiny
Police now face an instant citizens’ oversight commission in a public armed with smartphones. News media then ominously narrate these cell phone videos and social media sends them viral. The media’s job is to highlight controversy, and they have found a goldmine. Everyone’s rioting in response to allegations of police heavy-handedness.
Last week, a story broke about a local sergeant that allegedly blocked a video recording of an arrest. The department issued a statement. Comments are raging online. The verdict has been issued in the court of public opinion.
I saw a video story on the LA Times website about a homeless man in Venice Beach beaten during an arrest. The website then cycled through 10 more videos with the same narrative: the Police are Bad.
Derision accompanied the SBPD purchase in 2010 of the Bear Cat, an armored vehicle, paid for by a Homeland Security grant. “It’s just so military.”
One can easily see the allure in military equipment. If you’re putting your life on the line every day (in some jurisdictions, a coldly sobering reality), wouldn’t you want the best possible stuff for protection?
Like the military?
My daughter pointed out that the difference is that the military protects us from other countries that want to hurt us. The police protect us… from us.
What does it say about ‘us’ that our police feel the need to increasingly arm themselves against ‘us’?
Hyper-Tense Situations and The Split-Second Response
Police in intense, rapidly escalating situations have to respond instantly. No cop shooting or use of force is ever played out lazily over hours, with everyone getting a chance to weigh in on how to do it right.
This stuff goes down in seconds. Lives could be lost if the cop fails to act properly. The heat of the moment is visceral. It only takes a second to stab someone. It takes less than a second to shoot someone.
Time is the luxury of afterwards, where we feel entitled to judge the cop, though we have never faced anything similar. And the airwaves have reams of time for hype. They can replay it for weeks. Months. Fan some more flames. Get those ratings up, people!
Even with video shot on-scene, do we ever really know all the events and interactions that led to the use of force, deadly or otherwise, in a given situation? Chances are we’ve got a snippet in time, and that’s all. And absent context, we make lots of assumptions.
People ask things like, ‘why didn’t they just shoot the weapon out of his hand?’
Saturday, about 25 neighbors took to the streets of West Downtown: Haley, Chapala, Bath, Gutierrez and De La Vina. The team was led by Mark Gisler of the Salvation Army (‘the Sally) and myself. We picked up 40 bags of trash and weeds, cleared overgrown brush, and wiped off graffiti. We also weed-whacked a bunch of foliage, that was acting as cover for drug use and public inebriation in the area. We bagged 30+ bags of trash (!) and dragged furniture, shopping carts, and tree limbs to the curb. Afterwards, we ate a lunch at the Sally donated by Happy’s Autobody, International Autohaus, and the Sally.
The equipment was provided by the City of Santa Barbara’s Looking Good program. Councilman Frank Hotchkiss was part of the graffiti crew at 8 AM. Councilman Gregg Hart came by to view the results and thank everyone at lunch after the clean-up.
Photo credits, Sharon Byrne and the Salvation Army’s Sharon Kerr.
It’s spring, and the city’s District Elections lawsuit only just settled. People are starting to look at newly carved-up city maps, and wondering if their district is up this year, who will run, etc.
And out of nowhere, the long-awaited shift in the Congressional District 24 seat hurtled into prime time, completely eclipsing city electoral processes. Lois Capps announced she is retiring. She’s served nine full terms in Congress, since 1998.
Suddenly, a seat many have longed for is wide open.
This seat has always leaned Democratic, and still does. But the redistricting exercise of 2011 and the ‘jungle’ primary of 2012 shifted make-up of the district, as you can see below:
Politico recently noted: “The 24th District has been competitive for multiple cycles and instantly becomes a more likely pick-up opportunity for Republicans in 2016 with Lois Capps’ retirement,” said Zach Hunter, regional spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Now that it’s an open seat, expect a free-for-all, with everyone getting in.
Politico is already speculating the seat could go to Laura Capps, the daughter of Lois Capps, though her tweet on her mom’s retirement was fairly coy on whether she’d run.
The locals, however, lost zero time jumping in. Within hours of Capps’ announcement of her retirement, Mayor Helene Schneider announced she would run for the Congressional seat. This may have surprised some, including the second candidate to announce, Supervisor Salud Carbajal. Helene clearly believes in the bold move. Some chafed online that “the body wasn’t even cold yet” before Helene announced her run, which itself is a bit of a chilling commentary. But politics is about the here-and-now, and Helene is not one to sit on the sidelines and wait to be wooed into the race. She’s showing her campaign style on the big stage, so take note.
Supervisor Carbajal announced that his Congressional run the next day, touting his work on the Climate Task Force in D.C. and his bi-partisan work on the Board of Supervisors.
Those two getting in the race will introduce some serious heartburn for the local Democratic party ranks around here. They’ll both be chasing Democratic party endorsements including the Democratic Central Committee, Democratic Women of Santa Barbara County, and the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee. Both candidates are well regarded and respected within their ranks, making the choice painful. It could end up rather like the city council race of 2013, where endorsements were split between competing candidates. There are also elected Democratic officials’ endorsements to pursue. Expect some wailing and gnashing of teeth as they grind through the machinations of the Democratic party endorsements process.
William Ostrander, a Democrat from San Luis Obispo who played the high school thug in the film “Christine” is also running for Congress in the 24th District. He currently heads the nonprofit Citizens Congress.
So what about Das Williams or Hannah-Beth Jackson for Congress? Das is termed out of the Assembly in 2016, and probably would be expected to enter the Congressional race as an upward career move. But instead he’s entering the First District Supervisor race for the seat currently held by Carbajal. That seat is up in 2016, and Carbajal can’t run for Congress and re-election to his supervisorial seat at the same time. So the plan is for Carbajal to win Congress, and Das to become the new First District Supervisor.
Looking at the Republican field, well, it could include everyone and anyone from Mitchum to Dale Francisco to Justin Fareed, with the latter already announcing his run. Justin fired up some conservatives in 2014, invigorating them with his energy and youth, as he’s in his 20’s. He placed second in the 2014 primary.
Some have wondered if former State Senator Sam Blakeslee will get into the race. Katcho Achadjian, 35th District Assembly Rep, also announced. Both of these gentlemen hail from San Luis Obispo, which has proven to be the place Republicans go to die in Congressional elections. Fielding a San Luis Obispo Republican that can garner robust support up there is probably their best shot at winning the seat.
It’s only April, of 2015, and we’re already looking at a pretty crowded field for this race.
Carol Ashley is a quiet, busy resident genius in the Eastside’s industrial zone. Nestled in among the construction trades just west of Milpas, she runs Demo2Design, a humming hive of harvesting construction materials, building casitas out of them, and educating college kids on how you turn old doors into display kiosks and more. Carol started with the intention of diverting construction materials from the landfill. So she’d turn up at every remodel job site, armed with a screw gun, and busily deconstruct whatever was being remodeled. Then she’d haul it back to her shop on Union Ave, between Quarantina and Nopal, and look to resell it to homeowners looking for authentic fixtures, designers and architects. Need a Tiffany lamp shade? Some vintage stained glass windows? Doors and hinges for your Craftsman home? A Victorian lamp post? Go see Carol. Her door inventory alone is like a walk through the history of architecture and building trends in this town.
Over the years, she’s developed a keen eye for what can be reused from remodels and demolitions in other building and design projects. There are some real jewels and surprises in her inventory. She’s got the arched doors and arch from the Van Halen estate and a front door from a historic landmark home. Over here is the sink from the very first home in Hope Ranch. Upstairs are vintage Victorian lamp fixtures. In a drawer are the glass globes that used to adorn the old Stateside bar in La Arcada. They were throwing them into the dumpster. Carol got them, and used them to architect a gorgeous lights display for a wedding. And so on. This woman knows materials, and what they could be used for in future.
Her birthday is Earth Day, April 22nd, of course.
Over time, her genius evolved from demolition, harvest and reuse into creative repurposing, and here is where she shines. Her creations can make you stop, scratch your head, and exclaim, ‘huh. Would have never thought of that.’
A 1960’s aqua toilet serves as a planter for a bright and colorful flowerbed. She created a portable show kiosk that can be assembled / dissembled in minutes using old doors, shutters, and other materials. She crafted garden benches out of furniture bits and old wrought iron. She’s got a casita in her driveway constructed totally out of harvest materials. It’s got a bit of a modern and funky architecture to it. She teaches people to build these using reclaimed materials, and the dimensions she uses render them outside of the city’s planning scrutiny. She made flowerbed planters out of Montecito gutters. She put some 1930’s picket fences together with a couple of sinks from an old school, and voila! Yard art. She created a giant rolling podium / work table out of old bed frames and doors. She can see the quality material in something old, deconstruct it, and revision it into something new, creative and useful.
There’s a genius to that, a particular, rare genius, and Carol’s got it.
Marborg refers customers to Demo 2 Design for questions about reuse. Construction trades call her for demolition work before they start a remodel. And City College Construction Academy students turn up for work sessions to learn how to harvest, reuse, and revision materials in hands-on projects at Demo2Design. She also takes on UCSB interns to help with marketing and organizing the constant flow of materials. She puts on workshops for homeowners for $10 to come learn how to take old materials and do creative things with them in their homes.
She’s been a treasure in this area, dominated by construction trades. She’s moving to a new spot soon, and won’t say more than ‘come buy a piece of history, and find out where we’re going to be.’ I hope she stays in the Eastside, as she’s one of the hidden jewels in this bustling area.
Congrats to the Dons Net Café!
They’re in the Big Apple! This group of budding entrepreneurs at Santa Barbara High School starts and runs their own businesses as a way of spurring young people into becoming future entrepreneurs. Instructor Lee Ann Knodel puts them through the paces of business planning, start-up, and execution. The Dons Net Café currently has 14 student-run entrepreneurial businesses, and they are presently on a serious bi-coastal hot streak. Underclassmen won 2nd place out of hundreds of schools at a UCLA competition last week. The Seniors took their yearly trip to New York City, paid for by their businesses! We’ve been tracking them on Facebook as they went on a private tour of CNN, the Ground Zero Museum, Wall Street, Intrepid, and an International Business Trade Fair. Way to go Dons! You can follow the Dons Net Cafe on FaceBack, Instagram, and Twitter. Give them a ‘like’ and send them a note of congratulations!
Kudos to Telegraph Brewery for making USA Today’s list of the top 25 beers you need to try before you die. Their Reserve Wheat was declared “the best wheat beer you’ll ever drink” by the magazine. Their tasting room makes a great happy hour spot in this area, open till 9 PM Tuesday through Thursday, and 10 PM Friday and Saturday. They also do rotating art displays to keep it fresh. We’re delighted to have you guys here on the Eastside!