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Milpas On The Move: Homeless Count Results Revealed

Column by Sharon Byrne

moveThe good news: 600 volunteers came out for the count, the Milpas Outreach Project got kudos for getting 9 chronically homeless individuals into stable living situations, and 74% of homeless individuals interviewed now have some form of health insurance, thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

The not-so-good news: the count was relatively flat in terms of number of individuals counted, 1,455 in 2015 vs 1,466 in 2013. While some shifts in population were seen, with Santa Barbara now carrying 61.3% of the county’s homeless population this year vs 64.53% in 2013, Santa Maria’s tally picked up. They counted 324 individuals experiencing homelessness, vs 243 back in 2011, the first time the count was conducted countywide.

15% of those counted were veterans, yet they also racked up the longest time living on the street at 8.3 years.

Most individuals counted were found on the street (38%) or living in a car (16%). Those in transitional housing decreased from 10% to 3%, a stat that needs examination.

Interestingly, when questioned about where they were before becoming homeless, the responses were:
North Santa Barbara County: 23.5%
South Santa Barbara County: 30%
Elsewhere in the state: 22.5%
Out of state: 0%
No answer: 24%

The out-of-state answer prompted questioning during the presentation on results. Something in the way the survey questions were constructed regarding origin data probably accounts for that result.

The oldest individual interviewed was 83. Average age was 43. Average length of time being homeless was 5.5 years.

There were 620 individuals identified as chronically homeless, and those are the most costly to society as they use a high level of crisis services, hospitals, and spend more time in jail.

For the veterans, the news is pretty dire. They have spent the longest time on the streets, and 66.4% have some sort of mental health diagnosis, with 51.8% reporting PTSD. They were found more often in the street than in shelters. The Veteran’s Administration has been under quite a bit of fire in the national media for poor treatment of veterans, though our experience of them in the Milpas Outreach Project is strong responsiveness to serving homeless veterans we’re working with.

Housing placements (countywide) are as follows since May of 2013:
284 Chronically Homeless individuals
256 Children
133 Veterans

Mayor Schneider has signed up for two aggressive challenges: one to end veteran homelessness in the US by the end of this year, and another to end chronic homelessness by the end of 2016. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never get there, as the saying goes. Achieving these will take some major chutzpah, though.

Enter the Big Frickin’ Wall: Housing. Santa Barbara is now in the grips of perhaps the tightest rental market in the city’s history. With less than ½% vacancy in residential rental units, rents have shot up markedly. People are paying top dollar for rock-bottom units. The market has priced many rentals out of reach for Section 8 and VASH (Veteran Affairs Supportive Housing). Low-income, working class, students, and even professional service sector individuals are chasing some of the same units sought for placement of homeless individuals. Clearly, Santa Barbara is not going to build our way out of this problem, so something has to shift on this landscape.

Enter Social Venture Partners, who presented a solution they’re exploring here locally. They’ve examined best practices for housing placements across the nation, and are modeling their project on Seattle’s program. Seattle too had a low-vacancy, high-density downtown, and a large homeless population. Their solution was to get creative with existing housing, and look at home-shares, master-leasing and different parts of the city for placements. They have a Landlord-Liaison program that works with landlords to place individuals ready to succeed in housing. Assistance with deposits, mediation, and ongoing case management reduces the financial risk to landlords significantly. Seattle housed over 400 people in 4 years this way, without building anything new. 94% of the people Seattle housed using this model are still housed a year later. The plan is to roll it out here second quarter of this year.

It’s aggressive, ambitious, and then some. The flat count, especially given the Herculean efforts of Common Ground, the Restorative Police, the Milpas Outreach Project, and many others…is disappointing. Without them, perhaps the count would have been far higher.

You can read the results for yourself: CLICK HERE.


Pain Management: A Fast Track to Prescription Drug Addiction

Sharon’s Take: As Featured in the Santa Barbara Sentinel
By Sharon Byrne

Years ago, when I had the first signs of sniffles and sneezing, my then future ex-husband would exhort me to get to the doctor. I would grudgingly go, and often be written a prescription for antibiotics. I wondered why, when antibiotics kill bacteria, and what I usually had was a typical flu or cold virus. When I questioned this, my doctor shrugged his shoulders and said people wanted to leave with a prescription in their hands, so he wrote them.

I quit going to the doc for colds after that.

I last had surgery in 1997, when I got my daughter via C-Section. My doctor then was quite conservative with pain meds, which was fine with me since I wasn’t in too much pain after. So it’s been some years since I’d been in hospital, but 2014 saw me check in twice for surgeries. Everything went fine, but something had radically changed since the last time I was in a hospital bed:

Pain management.

This had become a big deal, and everyone was very fast to push pain meds. Need more morphine? How is your pain, on a scale of 1-10? Do you need something stronger? Would you like a Xanax before your procedure to help relax you?

I have a fairly decent threshold for pain and a terrible fear of opiate addiction that I can’t rationally explain. Addiction runs very strong in my family, so perhaps opiates will take me down the addiction drain, and I just sense it somehow. Thus, I tend to avoid pain meds, or any meds, on principle. I just can’t shake the feeling that some of the medications pushed on me have less to do with my wellbeing than they do with golf weekends for prescribing doctors and massive profits for Big Pharma. I did some consulting work for a medical firm in the early 2000’s, and it seemed to me like we spent a lot of time arranging rather lavish doctor getaways so as to make hard-sell product pitches. A decade later, I’ve seen sensible, reasonable, professional people struggle mightily with addiction to Vicodin and Oxycontin, so I am put off in advance from taking them. Thankfully, I have been blessed with great health and no chronic conditions that entail tremendous pain, so I haven’t had to face the need for prescription pain meds, except coming out of surgery.

But wow, the emphasis nowadays on pain management is not just a little upsetting. Right before I disconnected cable, now 2 years ago, I recall thinking, ‘gosh there sure are a lot of ads for pills these days.’ If you’re depressed, anxious, not anxious enough, or whatever, they want you to take pills.

Lots of them.

For all kinds of things.

In the hospital, I felt like I was letting the staff down in refusing pain medications, like I was not living up to some expectation. I was handed a prescription for 80 Vicodin on discharge. That seemed like a massive quantity of pills for some discomfort easily handled with Advil. I tossed the prescription.

The death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman drove it home once more. Addicts of prescription opiates have turned to heroin use, and died from overdose. Michael Jackson died from prescription drug overdose. Dr. Diaz, the Candy Man of Milpas St., caused eleven Emergency Room overdose deaths. Just because the doc prescribes it doesn’t make it safe to take. The rush to aggressively manage pain by medical professionals, probably an evolution of my old doc’s tendency to write prescriptions for antibiotics, stem from the same place: patient-as-customer, and the customer wants to leave with something in hand so as to have a satisfactory customer experience. Big Pharma is all too ready with samples and aggressive sales pitches to help provide that experience.

I am normally a fan of the American ingenuity to spot a need, and create a product or service to fill that need. In the case of over-prescription of pain medications, though, I think we’re pushing immediate gratification too far in the wrong direction.


Santa Barbara Shows Love for El Bajio

By Sharon Byrne

On Sunday, from 12-3 PM, 12-15 protesters descended on El Bajio restaurant at 129 N Milpas to bully and shame the owner for supporting the proposed Eastside Business Improvement District. They screamed at restaurant patrons, went inside the establishment to protest, disrupted the patrons, took photos of patrons and passers-by, and questioned them with hostility. The protesters ultimately had to be removed by police, called twice to the location.

A short video, taken from across the street, is attached.

El Bajio’s owner Santos Guzman had been in a Chamber of Commerce meeting earlier that week, presenting on the proposed Business Improvement District.

This is who they struck at with their protest – a small, Latino-owned family business.

El Bajio has been at 129 N Milpas for 19 years. The Guzman family cares about making the Eastside a safe, clean community for families. They did not deserve to be mistreated like this. In November of 2012, Santos called a meeting in his restaurant of fellow business owners. He was upset that Milpas St did not have Christmas lights, and he felt the city should put our lights up the way they do for State St. The downtown has a business improvement district, since 1974, that pays for their holiday decorations. Santos led the charge to raise the funds to get our Christmas lights up, and the lights returned to Milpas, for the first time in years.

Santos also wanted a Christmas tree for the community in the Milpas roundabout, and it took a year to get that through the city’s permitting process. We had to use solar power because there is no power in the roundabout. Santos was out there in the roundabout at 5:30 AM stringing solar lights on the tree, and brought burritos for the team putting the tree up. He served Champurrado (hot chocolate) free to families at the Milpas Christmas Parade, and advocated before the city to let us put banners across Milpas announcing the Trick or Treat on Milpas St and the Christmas Parade. He has donated an enormous quantity of food to volunteers for community clean-ups and community events.

Clearly, this is a man that cares about this community, and has put a great deal of love into it.

For him to be called a traitor, and for protesters to defame him by telling patrons that the restaurant spits in the burritos and you get sick from eating here went far beyond the bounds of decency.

The protesters were largely not from the Eastside, and some were from Los Angeles. PODER claimed responsibility for the protest today with a press release loaded with falsehoods.

Last night, the community came together in love and support of Santos and the Guzman family. We want to wrap our arms around this respected and much-loved community member, and show our support for his good works on behalf of this community.
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Out Of Policy Clouds, Into The Street: Solid Progress On Tackling Homelessness

By Sharon Byrne

In a meeting this week, someone brought up the 10 Year Plan To End Homelessness, and asked what happened there, as the 10 year anniversary of the creation of that plan is approaching? Those plans were very in vogue a decade ago, pushed by then Homeless Czar, Phillip Mangano. While many cities never fulfilled the ambitions of those plans, they were useful in at least starting the discussion that cities needed to have about this issue. That led to efforts, some quite small, that started to chip away at the larger issue.

Some of those efforts are showing quite a bit of promise, though it may not feel like it at times.

We just completed the Point In Time Vulnerability Count organized by Common Ground. Over 600 volunteers hit the streets at 5:00 AM last week to interview people experiencing homelessness. This is our third survey. Getting good data is paramount to solving the problem. It helps you see where you’re making progress, and where you’re stalled. Santa Monica started doing annual counts in 2006. They learned that over half the people they were attempting to serve weren’t even from LA County, a burden they could not assume. They roped in county services, the VA, and started working aggressively on the issue. Their counts dropped dramatically as a result, and then stalled in 2011. From this, they realized while they still had work to do, they had probably prevented increased homelessness for their city.
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For our count, the Mayor was down on Milpas St, working hard. Our neighborhood team was also out on Milpas, accompanied by a leader in the Downtown Organization, learning more about how this all works. The Mayor recently signed the pledge to end Veteran homelessness. The Obama Administration has put a lot of funding into resources for veterans, making it possible to realistically tackle this problem.

The Milpas Outreach Project reached its one-year anniversary mark this week. We started one year ago by deciding to tackle chronic homelessness in the area, and targeted the Top 5 Police-and-Fire users. One year later, we’ve achieved success with seven individuals who embraced sobriety, and were either housed or reunified with willing and able family members. We’ve fallen into bureaucratic holes, and learned a lot of new tools. We also learned that working at the community level has so far been our most effective way to reduce the impacts of homelessness to the area.

Members of the Downtown Organization came to Milpas last week to learn about the project, and explore adapting it for State St. There are some k ey differences between Milpas and State. The ‘travelers’ require a very different approach than the chronically homeless, for instance. We were impressed with the businesses participating in the conversation from downtown, and sympathetic to their struggles. They’d already identified their top 5 chronically homeless individuals, and outreached to them to learn their names and history. That is how it starts. There will probably be some coordination between these two efforts, tackling these problems at the curb level, and a whole lot of learning. Getting results is the goal. It’s well known that homelessness is hazardous to your health, and disheartening to see the same face on the street, year after year. Hopefully, they will be able to leverage everything we learned in piloting this project, and we stand ready to assist in any way we can.

One of the holes we stumbled into is Mental Health. The Little Hoover Commission, a state-level organization that explores reforms to increase the state’s efficiency, recently released its comprehensive report on the Mental Health Services Act. Passed in 2004, the act passed the decade mark, and has generated over $13 billion in funds for the most critically mentally ill. But the persistent presence of severely mentally ill individuals on our streets indicates something isn’t working. While some progress has been made, Commission Chair Pedro Nava wrote, “After 10 years, the state cannot provide basic answers to basic questions: Has homelessness declined? Are programs helping Californians stay at work or in school? Who is being served and who is falling through the cracks?”

You can read the full report here: http://www.lhc.ca.gov/reports/healthhumanservices.html

So on a number of fronts, we’re leaving the lofty clouds of policy discussion, anecdote, and rhetoric, and moving to tackle the problem at the street level, where we can truly make a difference. Yeah, we need to make more progress, but you have to start somewhere, doing something, and that is happening.


District Elections Will Be THE Big Thing This Year

By Sharon Byrne

I attended the League of Women Voters’ panel presentation on district elections January 21st.

Whatever you’re doing while reading this, drop it and go watch the video of this discussion, below. Carve 2 hours out of your schedule (yes!), and watch it. I’ve been following this issue closely, and I learned a great deal in this session.

Oddly enough, it won’t matter if you’re for or against. The issue is before a judge, and a whole lot of things hang in the balance of his decision. It is virtually certain the judge will find racially polarized voting, and the remedy imposed will be district elections. It may include a switch for city elections to move to even years. This is an election year. The immediate need now is to find a way for citizens to participate in the drawing of the district lines, and figure out a schedule of when district elections will start. They could start this year or next year. Do you cut over all at once, or phase in 3 districts with the next election, and then the rest later? What happen to the existing council members who still have terms to serve out? Should a citizens’ commission draw the lines? Can we even do that?

Speakers included Shane Stark, former counsel for Santa Barbara County; Kristi Schmidt with the City of Santa Barbara; Jacqueline Inda, plaintiff on the lawsuit against the city to impose district elections; Lucas Zucker with CAUSE (formerly PUEBLO); and Sheila Lodge, former mayor of Santa Barbara and current Planning Commissioner.

districtmapThe League took the position of favoring at-large elections during the time when the city moved to adopt them and left the old district elections system in 1968. Part of this session was for them to get enough information to decide whether to revise that position. Since 1968, Latinos have become a larger population of the city, and the California Voting Rights Act passed in 2001 to allow the imposition of district elections as a remedy to racially polarized voting. Under that act, a city cannot recover its cost from successfully defending itself from a lawsuit charging racially polarized voting, yet must pay the plaintiffs’ cost should it lose. No city has prevailed after being sued, so the deck is stacked against the city that tries to defend itself.

The speakers had very interesting viewpoints to present, and Shane Stark had the legal details down. The districts must be equal in population, but voter registration is another story. You could see where some future districts could be very voter-dense, while others have low registration.

Jacqui Inda laid out a timeline that went back quite a few years, and leveled the charge that the city’s flat-footedness in response to their call for district elections escalated the plaintiffs’ decision to file the lawsuit. The CAUSE speaker, Lucas Zucker, had very interesting statistics. 26% of registered Latinos voted in the last city council election, vs 41% of whites. In odd years, voting in both groups drops off markedly from even years. City elections cost $200,000+ to city taxpayers, while running them on the county’s ballot costs $60,000. Far more people vote for school board members in even years than they do for city council members in odd years. Both Inda and Zucker encouraged the League to push for even year elections as part of the district elections process.

Sheila Lodge had perhaps some of the most eye-opening points, and covered decades of election shifts in her commentary. She’d talked with the mayor of Modesto, and someone else there, a Latina, that was disappointed in district elections. They only got to vote for 1 councilmember every 4 years now, instead of multiple councilmembers every 2 years – a striking loss in being able to determine your city government make-up. Some plaintiffs have argued that if they had a representative on city council, they could get needed improvements in their community, like the Cacique St bridge replaced on the lower Eastside. Sheila pointed out that election does not confer automatic power to commandeer city resources. You still need 4 votes on Council to do anything. Turns out Cacique neighbors didn’t actually want their bridge replaced with a road. They like the street quiet. The people around them wanted a road bridge for easier commuting through the area.

Things will start moving very quickly on this front, starting with a presentation of a plan to Council for public input on this process in early February. Get informed and engaged right now.


Want to solve the homeless problem? Get involved.

By Sharon Byrne

In January of 2011, I was in Santa Monica overnight counting their homeless population to learn how it was done. Three weeks later, I was out at 4 AM with a team in the Cacique / Milpas area, interviewing homeless individuals for the Point In Time count here. Two years later, we did the count, this time covering the beach west of State and lower Funk Zone.

Why does anyone get out of bed at 3:30 AM to go out and wake up homeless individuals in the cold and interview them?

If you want to solve a problem, you need more than anecdotal evidence of the problem. You need facts. You need data. And you need to see how you’re doing with the problem over time, to see if whatever you’re doing to solve the problem is actually working…or not.

The Point-In-Time count for 2015, which is coming up quickly, is where you can get involved. This costs about 8 hours of effort total every two years, and is totally worth it. It’s a place where you can step up and help your city work on a problem that affects us all.

Our experience on the Milpas Outreach Project, in working with the most chronically homeless, has opened my eyes to how hard this problem is to solve. I now see that we CAN make solid progress when we exit the policy clouds and work at the street level, within our neighborhoods.

Please volunteer to help us do the Point In Time Count. Most of us can probably afford to invest 8 hours every 2 years to help move this ball forward for our community.
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Milpas on the Move: It’s Herb Peterson Day January 27th

By: Sharon Byrne

Bit of Milpas food history for the epi-curious:

The Egg McMuffin was invented on this street. Modeled after Peterson’s personal breakfast favorite, Eggs Benedict, he presented his breakfast product idea to McDonald’s founder, Ray Kroc, and in 1972, the Egg McMuffin became the first McDonald’s breakfast item. At the time, no other quick service restaurant offered breakfast, and Peterson asked a local blacksmith to make an iron ring to keep eggs round and tidy as they were cooked for a hand-held sandwich.

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On Tuesday, January 27th, McDonald’s here locally will celebrate the creation of the Egg McMuffin® with $1 sandwiches during breakfast hours. Limit 2 sandwiches per customer.

Personal note: when I was little (getting to be a long time ago, grrr), my parents loved Egg McMuffins and marveled at American ingenuity in inventing a breakfast sandwich one could take on the go. Breakfast in restaurants, up until the introduction of the McMuffin, was largely a sit-down, fairly formal affair or the purview of the local casual diner. This was a radical departure from those early days of dining out for breakfast!

Editor’s Note: Erroneously published Herb Peterson Day on January 6, as it had been the previous six years. January 27th is correct so go get you $1 Egg McMuffins.


Santa Barbara Weird

Weekly Column by Sharon Byrne

What follows is a collection of odd experiences over the past week. They’re not particularly indicative of Santa Barbara, except that they occurred here. And that they’re not particularly weird, except, well… they are a bit odd.

First there was the New Years-ish beach walk, over the weekend, before the holiday week ended. My daughter expressed interest in going. She’s 17. She’s been a marvelous child, but those teen years… well they have their tense moments. I know she’s supposed to pull away and become her own person. I welcome it.

I just wish it didn’t feel quite so much like continual rejection.

But on receiving this invitation for the impromptu beach walk, I happily hoped I still have some status as a vaguely interesting person she might want to spend time with. Hooray! So off we went to Hendry’s, with trusty mutt eagerly in tow for the equivalent of Dog Happy Hour.

On arrival, we saw this couple standing at the water’s edge, and the guy was smoking a cigarette. I thought to warn him that there is a ban on smoking at county beaches and offer to let him put his butt in my dog-poo bag, but was still giddy with the notion that my daughter actually sought out my company, and decided to skip the responsible citizen bit for one day. She usually rolls her eyes when I don that role, and I didn’t want to spoil the good mood.

Five minutes later, we hear this woman screaming behind us about how this is her beach, how dare they! She lives here, damn it, and who the f&*$ are they! It was bad enough she had to smell his damned smoke, and then he had the gall to put the cigarette out in the sand and LEAVE IT THERE OH MY GOD!!!!

My daughter and I turned in surprise as this escalated. The couple at the waterline earlier was walking some ways behind us, and this woman, shouting the odds, was walking parallel to them, her embarrassed husband trailing far behind her, clearly pretending he was just some random beach walker, and not any part of this scene.

You’d have thought the man single-handedly engineered the genocide in Rawanda or was in charge of Abu Ghraib, to hear her.

At that point, the weird kicked in, and I actually felt sympathetic to the Smoking Man and his wife. My daughter obviously felt the same, as she said, ‘Mom, I feel so bad for them!’ So we approached. Turns out they were British tourists, and were quite surprised by the vehemence of the upbraiding. My daughter and I apologized, explained about the ban (they hadn’t been aware, and the signs are a bit small and oddly placed), and explained we’re not all like this.

I really should have done the helpful citizen bit at the start, darn it. Could have avoided the histrionics of the whole beach-Nazi scene.

What is also weird about that is that I usually promptly direct would-be litterers to the trash bins. Two nights later, I am walking the mutt, and am almost back at the house. I see this oddly dressed woman out in the middle of the road, and she’s picking up something in the street. She crosses to the sidewalk, a few feet from where I am, and drops her street pick-up. It clinked on landing – broken glass. I asked, hey, why didn’t you walk 10 feet further to the trash bin on the corner? Why drop it here on the sidewalk?

She didn’t even look back. I guess she’d done her civic duty in removing it before some car or bike ran over it and got a punctured tire.

On Monday, it felt like everyone was dazed and confused from the holidays, struggling to get back into the grind. People drove and acted erratically. A pedestrian walking down State decided to step out in front of my car as the light turned green at Canon Perdido. Enjoy your shopping, there, hon. Don’t let those pesky traffic signals slow your progress any! People drove right by the flashing school bus stop sign. They darted across traffic when the road wasn’t clear. Because clearly, getting there 5 seconds ahead of everyone else was so very worth risking lives.

I was beginning to wonder if something was in the water. Maybe when we switched over to groundwater, yeah, maybe something is off there.

And then, there was this. A sidewalk is so totally the right place to park your car.

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To be fair, when this was a 1940’s gas station, it had a beveled ramp into the lot of the old gas station. But it’s been fenced off since 1985. I doubt this driver was confused with pre-1985 conditions.

Whatever.


The Amazing Women of Milpas

By Sharon Byrne

Last year, I penned an ode to the terrific men in the Milpas area that put their hands on this community, and give it a ton of love.

The one’s for the ladies.

Ami Kang at Jack’s Bistro has a ready smile, and created the Milpas Panini, with hand-carved Tri Tip and a spicy chipotle dressing. She braved the Milpas roundabout at 6 AM with coffee and breakfast for the Christmas Tree crew, a welcome treat!

Right up the street, Pam at Your Place Thai will greet you at the door, and serve up all the wonderfully spicy dishes you can stand. There’s a reason she always wins “Best of Santa Barbara”, an honor Ami also won this year.

Mama Lu is one tough cookie, having survived a gang assault on her premises in 2010. She serves the only Taiwanese snack dishes in the city, a secret known amongst the Asian community here, and now you know it too. I can’t read the Chinese menu, but when I see a fragrant dish going by, I ask what it is, and order it next time. They deliver too! Even when you place obscure orders like, ‘something with beef, veggies, a lot of pepper, in a red sauce…” The dishes are amazing! All three ladies put sumptuous entries into the Taste of Milpas™, and helped us get the holiday lights up on Milpas.

New neighbor Natalia Govoni opened Sheer Delight in the 400 block of North Milpas, and she’s got some gorgeous Brazilian lingerie. Want to feel beautiful? Put on anything in her store, and you will. She’s also a tremendous volunteer, and fierce advocate for the business community on Milpas. She welcomes a great conversation, so definitely stop by for a chat.

Dahlila Alv at El Dorado Jewelry is an absolute jewel. Can’t figure out what to get your sweetheart on that special occasion? Go see Dahlila! She constantly comes up with great ideas for things we could do on Milpas to create excitement and make things better, and her enthusiasm is highly contagious.

Behind Dahlila is new Milpas business owner Tere Jurado. She makes jewelry by hand, and some of her pieces are stunning.

New neighbor Linda Sun Stein opened Zen Massage at 500 N Milpas. She’s right next door to Carlota at Omar’s Insurance, who educated business owners on ways to get tax credits under the Affordable Care Act. Carlota and her husband put a great antique truck into the parade.

Chris at Mariah Mazda is a doll, and loves doing the Trick or Treat. Kathy at Marborg is an angel. We rely on Marborg’s help for the Taste of Milpas™ and Holiday Parade. This year, 3 lovely Marborg ladies set up a table on Milpas for the Trick or Treat, and had a blast with the kids! Kim Garden at Mission Linen is a longtime parade supporter, and we love seeing the vintage Mission Linen truck in the holiday parade. Karen Feeney at Allen Construction calls me to make sure she is on the Trick or Treat route, and sponsored the Taste of Milpas™. Juanita at Cesar’s Place has the best Shrimp Cocktail in the city, and Cesar’s is a hit in the parade with their antique truck.

But it’s not just the business ladies that bring love to this community. We have rock star residents and non-profit leaders too.

I arrived at the old Milpas Post Office in early December to clean it for the holiday party. The place was a dusty mess. I sent out one email, asking for volunteers, a couple of days before. Note to self: organize better. As I was contemplating my task, a team of women converged on the old Post Office like Navy Seals, loaded with Christmas cheer, and armed with cleaning supplies, ladders and decorations. Betsy Cramer, Mary and Patty Robles, Abbey Fragosa, Bea Molina, Martha Jaimes, and Natasha Todorovic cleaned, shined, and decorated. The place was completely transformed inside 2 hours.

The men helped, of course. They mopped, hung lights and tried to figure out the electrical situation. They quickly realized the ladies had command of the situation, and applauded. MCA President Alan Bleecker marveled at the team transforming the place.

“It’s always the women, isn’t it?” he asked. “They can make anything happen.”

The women were back at 5:00 AM the next morning to help put up the tree, with Martha updating the star for the treetop and Sue Burke braving the roundabout to hang ornaments.

Raquel Lopez at la Casa de la Raza and Carolyn Brown at Boys and Girls Club of Santa Barbara work tirelessly on behalf of our community’s children and families. Juanita Hernandez and Casie Kilgore are outstanding principals at Adelante and Franklin, respectively. We are continually impressed with Monique Limon’s drive for this community, and strong advocacy for the children here. She’s very hands-on, a quality I greatly admire in a school board member.

They all deserve a huge de-stressing massage with the healing ladies helming the Santa Barbara Body Therapy Institute. Thank you so much, ladies, for all you do for this community!


A Local Look Back at 2014

By Sharon Byrne

I am going to revisit a few things that broke into our consciousness this year, locally, and on wider stages.

Mental Health Looms Large
A couple of years ago, it became public knowledge that all was not well with our county’s mental health department, ADMHS. The meltdown was exacerbated by the seeming inscrutability surrounding the department. It wasn’t that ADMHS didn’t want more transparency. It’s just that peering into the inner workings was about as easy as deciphering hieroglyphics through lenses covered in mud. The county supervisors (along with everyone else) could not understand the complex billing and gaps within the system. So a giant reorg was undertaken, and is still underway.

Against this backdrop, in May, Elliot Rodger carried out a plan for mass murder in Isla Vista, thrusting Santa Barbara County into the glare of national media. New calls for gun control ensued, though that was only one weapon of choice in Rodger’s heinous plan. New scrutiny was thrust onto the role of law enforcement in cases involving mental illness, ironically just as Sheriff Brown was securing funding for a new jail that would allow better handling of people with severe mental illness. Recognizing that jail is often the de-facto mental health facility in this state, Brown is at least trying to address that problem while also coping with overcrowding and offloading of prison inmates into his jail. He also sits on the state’s oversight commission for the Mental Health Services Act, passed in 2004 to provide funding for services for those suffering from acute mental illness. I can scarcely think of more difficult terrain for a law-and-order Republican to have to repeatedly navigate than the void of services for the mentally ill, and admire the sheriff’s tenacity in trying to find solid solutions on this front.

In August, Nicholas Holzer killed his parents, 2 young sons, and the family dog in Goleta. The news reported the killings as close to the University of California at Santa Barbara, and one could be forgiven for wondering if there’s some horrible government plot that puts something in the water or sends subliminal pings to induce insanity there. Someone had a theory like that back in the day about Waco, TX, as the apex of some vortex of unseen energy whose frequency was so high and unbearable, while also undetectable, that it caused people to go insane within weeks.

Whatever.

But two high profile mass murders by individuals suffering from mental illness in the same geographic area in one year has certainly got many of us scratching our heads. On the ADMHS reorg front, Alice Gleghorn has assumed the role of executive director. She comes to us from the San Francisco Department of Public Health, as their county alcohol and drug administrator. She’s got her work cut out for her, but looks to have the chops for it.

District Elections Lawsuit
Sued under an act specifically written, it seems, to encourage lawsuits to end at-large elections in California, the city is staring into the certain future of district elections. No city sued so far has prevailed, as the bar to prove racially polarized voting is low enough for a puddle to clear it easily. Once everyone finally accepts the reality that we will indeed be forced to district elections, expect the ball game to turn into a mad scramble over who is going to be in charge of drawing those lines.

The Drought
It started with Palminteri’s shots this year of Lake Cachuma approaching pond-scale. Right when Santa Barbara started moving to drought restrictions, the State Water Project reneged on delivering any water. The LA Times covered inland communities whose wells had run dry. Their children bathe fully clothed in communal barrels with water hand-carried from another community. Images circulated around social media showing lakes across the state at a fraction of their former size. Fights ensued over who has the right to punch a deeper well for groundwater that multiple farms and families rely on. The state passed legislation to put groundwater under new sweeping controls. 60 Minutes aired a story showing California’s groundwater depletion at dangerous levels via angry red zones. Examinations of Giant Sequoia rings revealed that California has seen 100-year droughts before. And as has happened with big bad droughts here before, a great many of us woke up to the precarious fate of 36 million people utterly dependent on a patchwork of tenuous water supplies governed by a snarl of weird regulations.

On that note, I am heading outside to do my happy rain dance. Maybe I can make the sky laugh hard enough to open up and pour down some relief.

Have a safe and prosperous 2015!