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

Need Help From The City? Here’s Where To Get It!

Milpas on the Move by Sharon Byrne

In the process of working to improve Milpas, we’ve engaged with the city of Santa Barbara repeatedly. One of our first lessons we learned in urban renewal was to find all the services the city provides that can help you to help your community. We’re pretty fortunate around here that our city has several helpful numbers you can call for various concerns. To get the list, call (805) 897-2526.Call list f

Post it up on your fridge, and start dialing!

See an abandoned shopping cart? Call the Shopping Cart Hotline at 1 (800) 252-4613. They’ll come retrieve it and return it to the store of origin.

photo[3]FHow about dumping on the sidewalk? The first of the month always produces a plethora of mattresses, TVs and other urban flotsam on our sidewalks.

Yes, it’s irritating, but there is something you can do. First, there is a Junk On The Sidewalk hotline. Call (805) 564-5413 to report dumping, and they will come pick it up. Second, if you happen to catch someone in the act of dumping, Sue Sadler in Code Enforcement is your new best friend. For Sue to be able to prosecute an illegal dumper, she needs an eyewitness, a photo (whip out that cell phone), or other proof of the identity of the dumper. I once found a dump pile on the sidewalk with the dumper’s mail conveniently included, so I turned it in to Sue to pursue. She told me they catch a lot of folks that way! Sue is at (805) 564-5669.

We pride ourselves on being very walkable as a city, but some of our sidewalks are in need of repair. If you see uneven pavement, cracking, rupturing, or other sidewalk issues, call the Pothole and Sidewalk hotline at (805) 897-2630. They will take your sidewalk complaint, and put it into a queue of repairs, so don’t get miffed when a city truck doesn’t immediately pull up to start repair work. They will eventually get to it.

There’s also the ever-popular Graffiti Hotline. Caveat emptor here: the city removes graffiti from public property only. So if you find it on a bridge, city building, public trash can, park property, road sign, or other public place, call it in. If your property was vandalized, you should report it to SBPD so they can photograph it for their graffiti database. When they catch vandals, they search through their photo database for similar tags, and prosecute for all matches. So it’s worth reporting. And if they catch the vandals, the District Attorney’s office has a restitution program – very good reasons to report graffiti.

One number on the list reflects Santa Barbara’s rather unique set of problems – the Leaf Blower hotline. If someone fires up a noisy gas-powered blower nearby, call PD Dispatch at 897-2410.

Finally, if you want to be active in making our city a cleaner place, you can participate in the Giant Annual Community Clean Up Day! Looking Good Santa Barbara, run by Lorraine Cruz-Carpinter, puts this on with a huge assist from Marborg. Over 500 volunteers come out for 3 hours on a Saturday morning to scrub off graffiti, pick up trash, remove dumped items, corral shopping carts, plant trees, and more, all in service to a cleaner community. It’s a wonderful activity for families, and creates a great sense of ownership and pride in our city. The first 200 volunteers to sign up online will receive a $5 Starbucks gift card at the event. Sign up at http://www.santabarbaraca.gov/services/recycling/community/cleanups.asp


So quit whining, make some phone calls when you see problems, and come to the clean up! If we all do just a little, it can add up to making a huge difference!

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Milpas on the Move, Part II

Column by Sharon Byrne

World Cup Extravaganza at Pro Garden Supply

pgs sharonThanks to John Palminteri, I discovered Nat “Nathalio” Waller intended to provide 4,000 tacos for the Brazil V Mexico game at Pro Garden Supply on Milpas.

No, you don’t need to get your eyes checked. You read that right. 4,000 free tacos.

I immediately hustled over to find out if Nat was open to inviting the neighborhood? He enthusiastically said yes, because he’s just an all-around great guy. I sent out the invite immediately to the Milpaserenos. Turnout was huge. The tacos were amazing! The setting was awesome because Pro Garden Supply is loaded with gorgeous plants, flowers, and trees. The match was electrifying. Milpas is THE perfect place for World Cup action. Mental note to self: make Milpas into World Cup HQ Santa Barbara in 2018, if I’m still kicking.

Thank you Nat!


We’re Moving On Milpas!
We’re three months into the Milpas 1000 Challenge to drop 1000 pounds collectively, and get fitter around here. This month’s Milpas Moves! – our free community workout – came from Esteban Ortiz, who teaches a butt-kicker of a Zumba class at Casa De La Raza at 6:00 PM Mondays and Wednesdays for the bargain price of $5.

If you’ve never tried Zumba, it’s a blast. Think Salsa dance meets aerobics. A cardio workout that’s sexy. You actually feel good while burning massive amounts of calories. About 10 minutes in, you’re convinced you’re at least part Latino, as this is clearly in your blood. Plus you can’t stop smiling even though you’re sweating. In public.

Pushy Shovels grows incredible organic produce in the Eastside Community Garden, just a few blocks off Milpas. Marcos Olivarez turned up to give away free organic, locally grown goodies to the community! Maybe organic produce costs more, but we can all afford FREE.

Yes We Can!
Big win this week: we scored grants and a nod of enthusiastic approval from the Visual Art in Public Places Committee for a project near and dear to our hearts on Milpas: Yes We Can! turn our public trashcans into art.

IMG_4322Our trashcans are… well, eclectic, as we have multiple styles, and they’re not always in the best shape.

They’re expensive to repair and ridiculous to replace: like $2000+ per can. So rather than pester the city to spend a bunch of taxpayer dollars, we wondered if WE could take ownership of them by turning them into public art pieces?

We need to clear the Architectural Board of Review, but things are progressing. We’ll create some prototypes, with the Casa De La Raza youth arts team preparing the art. They’ll work up colorful pieces depicting a clean, healthy Milpas community. We’ll capture the art with a high res camera, print it to outdoor vinyl banner, and ‘wrap’ the cans. It gives Milpas an instant facelift, provides a public gallery for our youth to display their artwork, and gives kids (our most prolific litterers) a vehicle to educate each other on creating a better place for us all.

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The Congressional Race That SHOULD Happen

Opinion Journalism by Sharon Byrne

Primary election results are certified, and Chris Mitchum will be taking on Lois Capps this fall for the 24th Congressional District.


While projecting anything off the miserable primary turnout is risky at best, it is worth nothing that the redistricted 24th is theoretically supposed to be more competitive. From aroundthecapitol.com:


Registration alone won’t determine this race, obviously. Lois comes in with enormous advantages. However, we the voting populace should push the envelope here, and demand some serious conversations during the campaign. Candidates, please don’t trot out the usual: environment, women’s rights, and Tea Party sound bytes. Debates, if there are any, will no doubt be thoroughly peppered with them. The voters with pulses already know them all. By heart.

Instead, let’s start having a serious conversation about the Big Issues in this country, and there at least a few hot ones at present that these candidates should address:

  1. The IRS Scandal. And that’s what it is, plain and simple. Aside from the Massive Conglomerate of TSA / NSA / DOJ / CIA / FBI and Homeland Security, no agency in the federal government strikes greater fear into the hearts of Americans than the IRS. They possess awesome powers of intimidation, scrutiny, and confiscation. Americans are required to keep 7 years of tax returns handy in case the IRS wants to rescrutinize them. As citizens, we must be able to prove what we earned, what we paid to the government in taxes, and justify all of it to the nano-level of detail. It’s therefore utterly preposterous that this same agency is capable of losing their own emails in house when those are demanded for a bit of scrutinizing. It strains incredulity that our entire Congressional body and President are not screaming in unison for heads to roll, ordering up special prosecutors and thorough investigations, and rendering operations in the IRS openly transparent to the taxpayers.
  2. The VA Scandal. It’s a very dark day when Sarah Palin starts looking like she was on to something re government-provided healthcare. Although the American people have chosen to provide top quality care for our veterans, what has transpired is a national disgrace. Paying out bonuses to VA top dogs while they cooked the books to massage their stats, while they shuffled veterans desperately needing care further and further out on the calendar to the point of death …it’s a terrible national disgrace. Again, our congressional body and president should be properly appalled, and immediately take firm, decisive action, starting with rolling some heads. Electeds come and go, but bureaucrats remain, and actually run the show. This batch of VA Bureaucrats have now openly shown themselves to be focused on perpetuating the income, comfort, and longevity of…themselves. Quality of care for our veterans is clearly far from their minds. It’s time to flip that dynamic, and force some serious accountability and transparency into the VA.
  3. The Student Loan Bubble, and Impending Shrinkage of the Economy. This is a huge problem just breaking into mainstream consciousness. Something has gone horribly wrong when college graduates are working as barristas, living with Mom and Dad, and paying down loans that approach mortgage size. Something fundamental has shifted in our economy. Gone are the days of lifetime, secure employment with a retirement pension. Those jobs only exist in government now. The current economy is more uncertain and less stable. With high debt loads, even the more successful graduates aren’t going to be in the housing market anytime soon, or will find they’re severely constrained in how much house they can buy…by their student loans. Those loan payments are for services already rendered, and thus won’t be stimulating the economy, so expect that effect to start kicking in at some point. Others are defaulting. Expect to feel that too. Maybe the US could learn something from China about where to place strategic bets in expanding one’s economy, and getting those to pay off (rather than just paying off corporations for feel-good stuff or subsidizing them because they got you elected).

There are no cute, pat answers for these problems. And this is just three of them.

I wait eagerly to hear what our candidates propose to do. I long for some fresh thinking, sharp strategizing, and some brilliant proposals to move this country forward again. Where’s the coalition-builder capable of getting things done? I want to see some real leadership talent, and get an up-close look at the highest powers of creativity these two are capable of bringing to the table. That’s the campaign that SHOULD happen.

We have to demand that, en masse, or we’ll just get the usual well-trod and market-tested talking points, followed by a high dose of mudslinging.

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Political Thoughts: What Does The Primary Tell Us?

By Sharon Byrne, as featured in the Santa Barbara Sentinel

This one had some seriously strange outcomes, which are actually fairly normal for California. The primary has not yet been certified by the Santa Barbara County Elections Office, so things might still be in flux, but as of print time, here’s how it looks.

First, I am a little surprised at the unintentional (hopefully) truncating of the governor’s name in the SB County Elections website display:


‘Jerry Bro’ seems headed to victory this fall, but that might not be the best campaign moniker ever invented.

Secretary of State: Mostly considered a snore in state politics, this is perhaps the most interesting election ever for this seat. The Secretary of State is responsible for voter registration, election administration, and the granting of business licenses to LLCs, to name a few key responsibilities. Currently, registration and elections are administered mainly at the county level, which leads to patchwork outcomes. Get voter registration data from 2 different counties, and you’ll get really different formats, for example. A statewide central voter registration database has been in the works for over a decade, and we still haven’t managed to get it done.

We charge $800 annually for a business license for LLCs in this state. Nevada charges $200, Texas $300. We take up to 6 months to grant new business licenses, adding to our reputation as a very business-unfriendly state.

The current Secretary, Deborah Bowen, is termed out, so some Good Government reformers slugged it out with termed-out state legislators who clearly need to win some seat to keep earning a living. Pete Peterson, head of the Davenport Institute at Pepperdyne University, a civic-engagement think-tank, got the most votes. Right behind him is Alex Padilla, current state senator termed out this year. Oddly enough, when we passed the ’12 years total’ term limits initiative in 2012, it only covers those elected AFTER June 2012. Now legislators can serve 12 years total in the Senate, Assembly, or some combination. Previously one could serve 3 terms of 2 years each in the Assembly, and/or 2 terms of 4 years each in the state senate. Those approaching their grandfathered term limits, like Padilla, need to figure out what they’re going to do, clearly.

I expected Dan Schnur, former head of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, and Derek Cressman, former VP of Common Cause, to do better than they did. I especially expected them to beat Leland Yee, who dropped out due to his indictment for illegal arms racketeering. His name was still on the ballot, though – clearly an election reform that needs to happen. Some media outlets have run apologist stories on Yee’s 3rd place finish, hoping to deflect the only possible conclusion here: California voters are just not very informed…

Congressional District 24, or Republicans ‘Bungle in the Jungle’ primary. Could they possibly have run any more candidates??? In Santa Barbara style, the candidates, though perhaps ‘normal’ for this area, would not have stood a chance in a more cosmopolitan or (oddly) more rural American district. In the end, it boiled down to the Conservative Sophisticate (Francisco) vs the Kid (Fareed) vs the Soft-Porn Star (Mitchum). The winner? Capps, who looks to get her wish granted in choice of opponent. Mitchum will be Taking One For The (Republican) Team this time.

Footnote: San Luis Obispo holds onto its title as the place moderate Republicans go to die. Just ask Abel Maldonado. I bet Boehner pops a TUMS every time he thinks of the 24th…

Assembly District 35: Das gets 58% of the vote, doesn’t campaign, and neither does the other guy. Kind of like Yee, you gotta’ wonder, after Das squirmed on CNN over abstaining from removing sexual predators from the classroom…can we just not do any better here?

Sheriff: Brown vs Brown, and the winner was…Brown. I’ve worked with Sheriff Brown on various things over the years, and have been impressed every time. He did a good job representing the office on national TV during Isla Vista. Strangely, for a town that views itself as highly sophisticated, Santa Barbara often comes off sounding utterly provincial when thrust under the unflattering glare of national media spotlight. I was watching Isla Vista on CNN while I was still up in Eugene, and even the ATF guys were impressed by SBSO’s response time in that terrible tragedy. Good job, Bill.

2nd District Supervisor: Wolf beats back Aceves. Money sometimes just can’t buy you (enough) love here.

Measure M: CLOSE. Every public official came against it, except for the one sponsoring it. It was tempting to immediately support it just because all the electeds were so vehemently against it. Peter Adam is either the crazy outlier, or the lone sane guy. The fact that it was so close suggests that there is something a little deeper at work here than potholes. Would it have forced the county into a maintenance discipline lacking at present? The first Supervisor meeting post-election quickly devolved into maintenance issues. Hmmm. Would the county have to scramble for new revenues to pay for all the stuff M would have kicked to the curb? Would they have been forced to consider wild, crazy ideas like opening up oil drilling in the north county area? Hmmm. I suspect this is not the last time we’re going to visit this particular set of questions.

Government as lifetime employment: Some county officials have really safe jobs. Really, no one else wants to run for Superintendent of Schools, Auditor-Controller, etc? Anyone?


Finally…a note on democracy. One wonders, if one were sitting in the nosebleed seats of the Ukraine, for example, if democracy is ultimately a wasted exercise. 25% turnout, criminals on the ballot, entrenched mediocrity in office, and ridiculous over-regulation…is this the ultimate future you get to after shedding blood for the right to self-govern?

Something to ponder…

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Sharon’s Take: Elliot Rodger’s Rampage

by Sharon Byrne

Narcissism Unbounded

The morning of May 24, I watched on CNN the horror of Elliot Rodger’s rampage unfold. I cried openly for the beautiful young lives taken for no apparent reason, and for the searing, visceral wound our community received, a deep wound that will take years to heal. How could this terrible thing have happened here?

More information about Rodger will undoubtedly come out, and psychologists will be studying him for years to come, trying to find answers.

In “My Twisted World,” he provides a chillingly lucid account as to why he committed these horrible acts. We know so far that he legally owned his guns in one of the toughest states on gun control. His therapist(s) did not detect how dangerous he was, and he wrote often in “Twisted” that he resisted therapy. He planned this out well in advance, first looking at Halloween, then Deltopia, both discarded because of heavy police presence. He settled on April 26, and began posting some of his darkest videos up on YouTube in late April.

His mother asked the sheriffs to do a welfare check on him after seeing some of that material. He might be suicidal. The sheriffs checked on him, so Elliot reassured them he wasn’t suicidal and naturally didn’t inform them of his plans. He took down his YouTube videos after their visit. In “Twisted”, he writes that he was relieved not to be diverted from his path. He knew exactly how to deflect them. Sheriffs aren’t psychic and we don’t live in the pre-crime world of Minority Report.

This is a case where a lot of people did what they were supposed to do, but the dreadful outcome was ultimately in the hands of one individual.

He had hints that he was on the wrong path: a terrible cold, when he never gets those, on April 24. He questioned briefly if this was a sign from destiny that he was on the wrong path? Why didn’t he spend more time on that thought, rather than deciding to continue with his terrible course, and pushing the new day of Retribution to May 23?

He was 22, an adult. His parents made mistakes in subsidizing an adult who didn’t have a job and never seemed to sign up for more than two classes. He volunteered once. Giving him a BMW to boost his confidence was foolish. The way to build confidence is to push against your edges and succeed. He should have jumped out of a plane, signed up to drive an ambulance in some war-torn province, or dug wells in Africa. He needed to find out what he was really made of and build a life of meaning.

Instead, his whole life was an endless navel-gazing whine about what he lacked, which was sex and success on the party scene.

I watched his Retribution video before it was stripped off YouTube and was stunned at his vapid spiel. Chills ran up my spine. How does one constellate a worldview, as Rodger did, that the world is here simply to serve his pleasure? And when the world doesn’t serve up satisfactorily, he’s entitled to exact a brutal revenge on it?


He was brought up on the fringe of Hollywood. It’s not hard to imagine the pretty, plastic people there sidling up to him, batting eyelashes, eyeing a hopeful gig on Daddy’s next film. In a shallow mind brought up in a shallow world, this early attention probably rooted as an anchor. He was owed fawning. People living in a bubble tend to believe the rest of the world operates just like their bubble.

As he went through puberty, he shifted to a fixation on sex. His entire existence was reduced to one aim: get laid.

Online Fuel

Having moved outside his bubble to Isla Vista, and finding that world not so acquiescent to his desires, Rodger entered an online world catering to his ‘get laid’ ambition: Pick-Up Artists (PUA) sites. And in this world, he was introduced to ‘Harem control’, 7’s, 8’s and 9’s (ratings for women you should aim to pick up), Alpha Males, Beta Males (the ones who feminism-indoctrinated women shun in favor of Alphas), Game (how one gets women into bed), and other frankly misogynistic nonsense that continually presents women as opponents to be conquered.

Elliot Rodger spent quite a bit of time percolating in online cauldrons of this thinking. Most people are perfectly capable of looking at hyperbolic, even vitriolic, Internet content, whatever the subject, set their BS filter to ‘high’ and not get incited by it. For some reason, Rodger seems to have sucked it up through a straw, unfiltered, and adopted it as mantra.

But instead of developing game, “Twisted” reveals repeated incidents of Rodger going to social events, and expecting others to approach him. He seemed to have no sense of his obligation to interact socially to develop relationships. It was as though others were supposed to provide his desires by reading his mind.

When this didn’t happen, he got more and more angry, particularly toward men of color, for being able to land hot blonde chicks, when he himself was such a miserable failure.

Spiraling Downward

His psychological maneuver in the face of failure was not to question his social style, but rather to move into serious ego inflation, elevating himself to god status repeatedly in “Twisted” and fantasizing about world domination, with him as Supreme Leader.

He also moved over to anti-PUA sites. The anti-PUA crowd doesn’t disagree with PUA philosophy that women are opponents to be conquered. They’re just pissed that the PUA sites sell stuff to desperate guys… stuff that doesn’t work. They also indulge in a fair amount of self-loathing. Rodger was a prolific poster on PuaHate.com, taken down after the murders.

Even these websites ran out of psychological gas eventually for Rodger. Had he turned inward and explored what he was contributing to his problem, it could have led to a reckoning with the self, a Dark Night of the Soul, so to speak, that could have perhaps generated a psychological breakthrough: he was the one who needed to change. This is the path many people take after divorce, job loss, or other major life-altering events. It is the path of being able to confront yourself and be totally honest.

Narcissism Takes Over: It’s Not Him. It’s Them.

From anti-pua-johnny.blogspot.com: “If you are still not getting anywhere with women, the problem is very likely got nothing to do with you and primarily with your environment and the chicks around you.”

Could this type of thinking be what planted the seed of the Day of Retribution in Rodger’s mind? It echoes in “Twisted” and the YouTube Retribution video: those who have failed to serve his wants (women, and men who are having sex with them) are the problem. Therefore, they must be destroyed.

There’s no easy answer for how to stop an individual devoid of any meaning in his life from spiraling into an absolutely poisoned, insular, narcissistic mindset that destroys lives as Elliot Rodger did. He is 100 percent responsible for his actions. Do not seek to lay blame elsewhere. This one rests with the individual.

There are some very dark corners in the human heart. The anonymous capability of the Internet renders them more visible, but sadly less rectifiable at the same time. I wish we viewed posting comments as public discourse, deserving of decorum, rather than as an open mic for rants that some may internalize as mandate. Does anyone really want a psychiatrist monitoring their posts to see if they’re possibly dangerous, and signaling enforcement to follow up on them? Be cautious before heading down that path.

Thankfully, the Alpha Phi women did not open their door that night. Rodger’s plan collapsed on itself but not before he served up every parent’s ultimate nightmare: utter powerlessness to prevent the murder of one’s child. University neighborhoods are supposed to host students engaged in higher learning, not provide stalking grounds for maniacal individuals.

I asked my daughter, a junior at Santa Barbara High, how she feels. She no longer wants to go to a large school. Maybe not any school in California. When I was a student in the 90s, one just had to be watchful about stepping out into a dangerous neighborhood next to campus. Drive-by shootings there weren’t uncommon, but seldom affected any college student.

For this college-age generation, a new normal is now in play, and it’s pretty dark and scary.

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Milpas Wins Neighborhoods USA’s Neighborhood of the Year Competition!

By Sharon Byrne

shar1Folks will urge me to write about something I played a role in, and I hesitate. While I am all about promoting the Milpas community, and highlighting the cool things we get up to, I have this inner resistance to tooting my own horn, so to speak. Which then prods goading: Girl, you gotta’ tell them what you did!

Ok, fine, I will. This once. Because it’s really cool, and even though I made the presentation, it’s our community that won the gold.

So here it is.

Neighborhoods USA is an organization that promotes stronger communities and neighborhoods. They host an annual conference that neighborhoods across the country attend. I was stunned by the size of the delegations from Little Rock, Memphis, Birmingham, and Seattle. These people are serious about neighborhoods! They put on workshops on neighborhood topics: sustainability, matching neighborhood grant funds (yes, some cities do provide these!) organizing, involving youth in the community, and more. It’s very inspiring to see what other communities are doing.

Some neighborhoods, Milpas included, compete in the Neighborhood of the Year competition. We were beaten out last year by Eugene, OR, host of this year’s conference. Editor Matt Mazza smelled a fixed contest, and I suspect the Mayor did too, but our team was very energized by placing second nationwide, as all the entrants had done amazing things. The Mayor, District Attorney, Sheriff, Senator Jackson and First District Supervisor Carbajal all commended Milpas for being the first neighborhood in Santa Barbara to step up and compete, and then to take 2nd nationally.

So the Milpasarenos dispatched me to Eugene to compete this year, with an order not to come back without that first place prize. I sweated the presentation. I put us in for the Taste of Milpas because it brought our whole community together to produce. We got everyone to taste fabulous food and wine available in our area, hosted art galleries in our empty buildings, put on live music, funded 8 non-profits out of half the proceeds, and put the remaining funds to the 60th Holiday Parade, first Milpas Neighborhood Holiday Party, and first-ever solar-powered community holiday tree in Santa Barbara.

I thought we had a pretty good case, and the judges did too. We can now proudly wear the title of Neighborhood of the Year 2014. A $500 cash prize means we’ll be throwing a celebration soon!

I saw some very cool things in Eugene, like great bike lanes. Sadly, they too have the bike / car / pedestrian conflict, and point to bicyclists as the most egregious offenders of the lot. Sigh.

I could see this being useful in some land-use fights around Santa Barbara:

Eugene has a fair amount of the traveling vagabond set downtown, so we’re not alone, folks.

Their pedestrian signals ‘talk’, verbally counting down how many seconds you have left to cross the (named) intersection. That must be very useful to the blind.

I also loved this:shar2And this: much cooler for bus stops than Municipal Green:


And this: a way to make an empty building look vibrant. Paint it like people are walking by on the sidewalk:


I found myself feeling a lot of sympathy for ‘the Whitaker’ neighborhood, as residents called it. A funky, rundown area young families started moving into, planting their sidewalk strip gardens, living alongside some nefarious elements. Over time, they developed neighborliness, and the area picked up.

  Mural wall in the Whitaker neighborhood. Note the planter boxes – they plant veggies in their sidewalk strips. Sustainability and local food growing is very big in Oregon.

Mural wall in the Whitaker neighborhood. Note the planter boxes – they plant veggies in their sidewalk strips. Sustainability and local food growing is very big in Oregon.

Then the craft breweries moved in (beer is really big in Oregon, along with granola, sustainability, and ‘back to the land’ sentiment). Now their little funky ‘hood is getting commercialized, which will be followed shortly with gentrification and sanitization suitable for Starbucks, and thereafter, a newly unaffordable neighborhood. Milpas has been nervous about that fate, and of course the Funk Zone is living it. These things have to be navigated carefully, as I was reminded in Eugene.

I also met a cool crew from Long Beach and Pasadena doing some interesting gang intervention work. They’re up for a field trip to visit us, which would be cool.

It’s a great conference – I encourage any neighborhood to attend. Check them out at www.NUSA.org. Maybe we can be the host city one year, and get everyone to come here! (I’ve been nudging the Mayor…she seems up for it!)

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Measure M: Is Maintenance Really That Hard?

By Sharon Byrne


Measure M: Check Yes or No

You’ve got your ballot, hot in hand.

You’re reading through it and realizing a) you don’t know who half these people on your ballot are, but jeez there are an awful lot of them running for office. Does this pay well or something?; b) there are a lot of elected offices just in this county….Auditor-Controller? Treasurer-Tax Collector? Clerk-Recorder Assessor? How is that guy different than the Auditor Controller and Tax guy? Hmmm…

Then there are the measures. Most people dread measures. Sometimes they sound good and catchy, like more money for the schools. Who’s gonna’ vote against that? It’s for the kids, man! Until you find out your property tax goes up, and the initiative is backed by teachers’ unions. Thus, California voters have learned to scrutinize initiatives better. And it’s always easier to rest on status quo than it is to risk changing something, and possibly get a poor outcome. Many initiatives go down because NO is just easier.

This election, we have measure M, put on the ballot by County Supervisor Peter Adam, after getting 15,000 signatures to do it. The arguments out there are pretty simplistic:

YES: let’s maintain our county roads, facilities and parks at current levels, or better.

So…that doesn’t seem like rocket science. Isn’t government supposed to just do that? How come it’s on the ballot, if that’s the case?

Enter the NO camp. And there are a lot of arguments here. Measure M forces a reprioritization of county spending (true that – Adam intended to do that), and since only $200 million of our $800 million annual county budget is discretionary, and since 60% of that is for public safety, and we need a new north county jail that costs millions…. this is bad because it will gut public safety. It will raise new taxes. Terrible things will happen.

A lot of voters at this point will read that argument, and flash back instantly to childhood memories of math tests that caused them to break out into a sweat…on the inside. Remember those? They go like this: Susie is 8. Her brother Johnny was born 4 years before her brother Fred, who is 1.3 years older than Susie on her last birthday, which occurs 6 months before her other brother Jack’s birthday, and 21 day and 2 hours after Johnny’s birthday.

Solve for X:
What was Susie’s grandmother’s name?


The easy answer to Measure M is no. Stay at status quo. Whatever that is. As long as I don’t have to figure out what percentage of the discretionary budget needs to be allocated to do basic maintenance and all that…

But Adam is doing something really important here. He is attempting to force the county to attend to basic maintenance before things really slide and get too expensive to patch and repair. It’s the difference between doing basic maintenance to a building now vs letting it devolve to the point of demolition and rebuild in the future, which costs way more taxpayer dollars.

So then Measure M is a good thing. Why commitment to basic maintenance is not happening today is what needs some serious ‘splaining. Measure M does not raise taxes, but what it will do is force a decision to siphon off funds from some other dearly beloved budget items. The discussion of which of those sacred cows goes on the chopping block could prove very interesting to the general public.

Will Measure M pass? Probably not. Status quo (NO) is easier. We know what that looks like. But Adam should be applauded for putting it on the ballot for two reasons:

1.    It turned a spotlight on the question of county maintenance, and made it clear that it’s sliding. Eventually, potholes could become a huge election item. Think Koch’s New York. When infrastructure gets bad enough, voters demand change, and those who let it get so bad are the first ones thrown out.

2.    Regular people are actually talking about county maintenance, which has got to be the most unglamorous, unsexy and decidedly boring topic ever…unless you’re listening a golf tournament in Mandarin or a physics lecture led by a professor resembling a fossil with a perm droning on about wingtip velocity of a bee in an oscillating plane…snore!

If Measure M passes, it’s likely not going to be the end of the world.

If it doesn’t pass, it’s not going to be the end of the world either.

Just a bumpier ride when you hit those potholes…

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Creating a Healthier Community…and Having Fun!

Milpas on the Move! By Sharon Byrne

MCA_FlWhen we crafted the Healthier Milpas Community Initiative, we wanted to find ways to connect our community with all the health, fitness and well being resources available here. It turns out we’re embarrassingly rich in those resources on the Eastside, so we decided to do an event every month, on a Saturday morning, to introduce better health to our community.

We’re one month into our Milpas 1000 Challenge. We’re going to lose 1,000 pounds as a neighborhood. So far, we’ve lost 300 pounds, which is pretty darned amazing! I am excited to see how svelte we’ll all be looking! The Challenge runs from April through October, and all you have to do is lose 10 pounds in 2 months. Once you lose the 10 pounds, you’re entered into a drawing for a brand new bike from Hazard’s, a gift basket from Fresh Market, passes to the Montecito YMCA, and more. We have partnered with some terrific Cottage nurses to weigh people in discreetly, and coach on lifestyle and habit changes to make losing weight easier.

We also want to introduce folks to healthier eating that’s available in the Milpas area. Tri County Produce, Fresh Market, and Fresh & Easy are totally into being part of the Healthy Community Effort. This month, we’re going to put out a bag of fresh Tri County Produce goodies and ask people to guess how much it cost. The person guessing closest to the actual cost will win the shopping bag full of fresh veggies and fruits!

We hear people say they just can’t afford to eat healthy. Now, heavily manufactured food, like a box of macaroni and powdered cheese, is pretty cheap. But is it good for you? No. Produce is one of the least expensive food items we can buy, and it’s healthier, especially when it’s fresh-picked from the fields, and grown locally.

We’re also lucky to have loads of great fitness options in the area, so we created Milpas Moves! to provide free community workouts. Last month, Casa de la Raza put on a fantastic Zumba class. This month, the Montecito YMCA will bring a Montecito Mash Up – a combo of cardio and strength training using different workout formats. The workout is tailored so anyone at any fitness level can do it. People aged 6 to 65 did the Zumba class with us! It’s a free workout because we want everyone to come out and get in on it. If you like it, you can take more classes to keep working on your fitness. Future free Milpas Moves! will include Chi Gong movement, salsa dance, and a mass neighborhood bike ride down Milpas and along the beach.

There are also many wellbeing resources in the area, like Milpas Chiropractic, Santa Barbara Body Therapy Institute, and multiple clinics, all specializing in different aspects of care. We’re bringing one out every month to meet the community and introduce them to offerings that increase their wellbeing.

It’s a lot of fun to come out on a Saturday morning, see your neighbors and co-workers, and work on improving our health as a community. We actually like working out together as a neighborhood!

And you don’t have to live or work on the Eastside to join in! We welcome everyone, because there are no borders when it comes to community health. So come on out Saturday May 17th from 9-11 AM behind the Milpas McDonald’s for the next Healthier Milpas Community Event!

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Way To Go, City Council!, Part II

By Sharon Byrne

You’ll seldom read a column like this one, but I am a firm believer in catching people when they’re doing something good. Elected officials for sure know when they’ve screwed up when op-eds, calls, and emails rain down on their heads. But I suspect they’re greeted with a deafening silence when they do their jobs as the public expects.

With that in mind, I’d like to point out how our city council is up to some serious good at the moment.

I’ve written on the problem of encampments before, but here it is in a nutshell:

encampmentLand adjoining the freeways and railroad tracks is owned by state or national agencies. They have neither budget nor staff to adequately maintain and patrol these areas, rendering them chronic targets for encampments. Feces, used drug needles, and other health hazards make these very onerous to clean out. Typically, tons (actual weight) of trash is removed.

Organizing a clean out is a never-ending series of hurdles. If Caltrans can’t do it, then SBPD and the city’s Public Works Division have to take it on. They use county SWAP workers (Sheriff’s Work Alternative Program). Someone has to insure those workers in case of injury, so liability has to be sorted. The encampment must be posted 72 hours in advance, and any belongings that appear to be personal must be stored for up to 6 months, a result of court cases from Fresno. All this renders clean-outs very difficult, so they don’t happen often.

When they do, re-occupancy is the next problem. Fencing could be useful in deterring camps, but who pays for it between Caltans and city property? Who maintains it? Sometimes fences are cut, so you have to stay on top of it.

Gregg Hart is part of the team working on the issues in the 600 block of State. There’s a clear link between some of the criminal element there and large encampments around the Castillo / 101 area. Hart wants to put processes in place that clear these hurdles and ensure maintenance of these areas is systematic.

He’s also encouraging the business community on an awareness or alternate giving campaign, like Loretta’s article on Atlanta, that educates on the harms to our community from giving to panhandlers.

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Way To Go, Santa Barbara City Council!

By Sharon Byrne: Part I

You’ll seldom read a column like this one, but I am a firm believer in catching people when they’re doing something good. Elected officials for sure know when they’ve screwed up when op-eds, calls, and emails rain down on their heads. But I suspect they’re greeted with a deafening silence when they do their jobs as the public expects.

So that’s not exactly the most motivating set of work conditions. Kind of like the job of parenting, now that I think about it – subject to heavy criticism when you do it wrong, and invisibility when you do it right.

What about when they’re thinking long term for the good of the people, showing courage in making hard calls that ultimately change the course of things for the better, and putting themselves and their political careers at risk to do it?

History would suggest they might get some post-mortem acknowledgement, when everyone finally realizes decades later that they did a good thing…but that’s cold comfort to a brave elected official presently being pilloried for showing some backbone.

With that in mind, I’d like to point out how our city council is up to some serious good at the moment.

homelesssleep2Ordinances for urination and defecation, panhandling, taking over street furniture (benches), etc.

Council members don’t just decide to go off and write ordinances for no reason. They do so in response to a situation that is approaching crisis conditions. That is the case here. The experiences of Milpas over the past decade, where a team of businesses had to organize and enlist our government in dealing with an out-of-control situation, and the present effort of business owners in the 600 block of State shows that problematic behaviors mainly associated with homelessness have devolved to a point where new tools are needed.

Frank Hotchkiss and Randy Rowse are teaming up to look at ordinances that could help.

The public is clearly angered over behaviors that destroy enjoyment of public spaces. It takes guts to pursue the course Hotchkiss and Rowse are headed down, but they’ve got a great new city attorney to work with in Ariel Colonne. Good, solid ordinances that protect public spaces will be very welcome here.

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Fresh & Easy Carving Out Bold New Organic Terrain

Milpas on the Move by Sharon Byrne

Those of you that thought Fresh & Easy was on the ropes, closing, or going down…get ready for a pleasant surprise. You might remember that several Fresh & Easy stores were bought out by Wild Oats, ours here in Santa Barbara included. I’ve been keeping up with changes at our local Fresh & Easy, and after a conversation with friendly store manager John, who donated all the bottled water for our first Milpas Moves! event, I am feeling downright optimistic.

Wild Oats has an interesting marketing strategy, and their intended vehicle to execute that strategy is Fresh & Easy. The organic grocery business is still fairly young, regionally-based, and somewhat limited. You find a great organic product here, but it’s not available in the next town, and certainly not one state over. Only Horizon distributes organic foods nationally, and their focus is dairy. Wild Oats intends to one-up and then blow past them. The first change at Fresh & Easy is that they’ve brought in Wild Oats organic milk and eggs. So that puts them on a straight par with Horizon. But Wild Oats then created an unusual competitive differentiator. Typically, eggs arrive in stores weeks, even months after being laid. Not for Wild Oats – their “Just Laid” eggs are delivered to the store within 72 hours of being laid! There is actually a “laid on” date stamp on each eggshell. Customers are demanding more locally sourced foods, and want to know more about their food’s origins. Wild Oats is clearly responding. The cage-free Wild Oats hens eat vegetarian feed, and drink a special formulation of mineral-fortified water for thicker eggshells. Wild Oats locally sources the eggs within 50 miles of the store to ensure freshness.

Now that’s Fresh!

sharon3In another bold step ahead into national organic food distribution, Fresh & Easy is now offering Wild Oats 100% USDA- certified organic single-serving salads and sandwiches. I sampled the Beef Fajita and Veggie Salad sandwiches, and they’re tasty! Fresh & Easy is the first store in the USA to offer fully certified organic single-serving salads and sandwiches, which is pretty spectacular.

Best of all, you can get ‘em right here on Milpas St.

Bring on the healthy eating, and a healthier community!

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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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