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West Downtown Neighborhood Clean-up‏

By Sharon Byrne

Saturday, about 25 neighbors took to the streets of West Downtown: Haley, Chapala, Bath, Gutierrez and De La Vina. The team was led by Mark Gisler of the Salvation Army (‘the Sally) and myself. We picked up 40 bags of trash and weeds, cleared overgrown brush, and wiped off graffiti. We also weed-whacked a bunch of foliage, that was acting as cover for drug use and public inebriation in the area. We bagged 30+ bags of trash (!) and dragged furniture, shopping carts, and tree limbs to the curb. Afterwards, we ate a lunch at the Sally donated by Happy’s Autobody, International Autohaus, and the Sally.

The equipment was provided by the City of Santa Barbara’s Looking Good program. Councilman Frank Hotchkiss was part of the graffiti crew at 8 AM. Councilman Gregg Hart came by to view the results and thank everyone at lunch after the clean-up.


Photo credits, Sharon Byrne and the Salvation Army’s Sharon Kerr.

Who Will Be Our Next Congressional Representative? It’s a Free-For-All!

By Sharon Byrne

It’s spring, and the city’s District Elections lawsuit only just settled. People are starting to look at newly carved-up city maps, and wondering if their district is up this year, who will run, etc.

And out of nowhere, the long-awaited shift in the Congressional District 24 seat hurtled into prime time, completely eclipsing city electoral processes. Lois Capps announced she is retiring. She’s served nine full terms in Congress, since 1998.

Suddenly, a seat many have longed for is wide open.

This seat has always leaned Democratic, and still does. But the redistricting exercise of 2011 and the ‘jungle’ primary of 2012 shifted make-up of the district, as you can see below:

Politico recently noted: “The 24th District has been competitive for multiple cycles and instantly becomes a more likely pick-up opportunity for Republicans in 2016 with Lois Capps’ retirement,” said Zach Hunter, regional spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Now that it’s an open seat, expect a free-for-all, with everyone getting in.

Politico is already speculating the seat could go to Laura Capps, the daughter of Lois Capps, though her tweet on her mom’s retirement was fairly coy on whether she’d run.

The locals, however, lost zero time jumping in. Within hours of Capps’ announcement of her retirement, Mayor Helene Schneider announced she would run for the Congressional seat. This may have surprised some, including the second candidate to announce, Supervisor Salud Carbajal. Helene clearly believes in the bold move. Some chafed online that “the body wasn’t even cold yet” before Helene announced her run, which itself is a bit of a chilling commentary. But politics is about the here-and-now, and Helene is not one to sit on the sidelines and wait to be wooed into the race. She’s showing her campaign style on the big stage, so take note.

Supervisor Carbajal announced that his Congressional run the next day, touting his work on the Climate Task Force in D.C. and his bi-partisan work on the Board of Supervisors.

Those two getting in the race will introduce some serious heartburn for the local Democratic party ranks around here. They’ll both be chasing Democratic party endorsements including the Democratic Central Committee, Democratic Women of Santa Barbara County, and the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee. Both candidates are well regarded and respected within their ranks, making the choice painful. It could end up rather like the city council race of 2013, where endorsements were split between competing candidates. There are also elected Democratic officials’ endorsements to pursue. Expect some wailing and gnashing of teeth as they grind through the machinations of the Democratic party endorsements process.

William Ostrander, a Democrat from San Luis Obispo who played the high school thug in the film “Christine” is also running for Congress in the 24th District. He currently heads the nonprofit Citizens Congress.

So what about Das Williams or Hannah-Beth Jackson for Congress? Das is termed out of the Assembly in 2016, and probably would be expected to enter the Congressional race as an upward career move. But instead he’s entering the First District Supervisor race for the seat currently held by Carbajal. That seat is up in 2016, and Carbajal can’t run for Congress and re-election to his supervisorial seat at the same time. So the plan is for Carbajal to win Congress, and Das to become the new First District Supervisor.

Looking at the Republican field, well, it could include everyone and anyone from Mitchum to Dale Francisco to Justin Fareed, with the latter already announcing his run. Justin fired up some conservatives in 2014, invigorating them with his energy and youth, as he’s in his 20’s. He placed second in the 2014 primary.

Some have wondered if former State Senator Sam Blakeslee will get into the race. Katcho Achadjian, 35th District Assembly Rep, also announced. Both of these gentlemen hail from San Luis Obispo, which has proven to be the place Republicans go to die in Congressional elections. Fielding a San Luis Obispo Republican that can garner robust support up there is probably their best shot at winning the seat.

It’s only April, of 2015, and we’re already looking at a pretty crowded field for this race.

Let the free-for-all begin!

Chart Source:

From Ruin to Reclamation and Reuse: an Eastside Story

By Sharon Byrne

Carol Ashley is a quiet, busy resident genius in the Eastside’s industrial zone. Nestled in among the construction trades just west of Milpas, she runs Demo2Design, a humming hive of harvesting construction materials, building casitas out of them, and educating college kids on how you turn old doors into display kiosks and more. Carol started with the intention of diverting construction materials from the landfill. So she’d turn up at every remodel job site, armed with a screw gun, and busily deconstruct whatever was being remodeled. Then she’d haul it back to her shop on Union Ave, between Quarantina and Nopal, and look to resell it to homeowners looking for authentic fixtures, designers and architects. Need a Tiffany lamp shade? Some vintage stained glass windows? Doors and hinges for your Craftsman home?  A Victorian lamp post? Go see Carol. Her door inventory alone is like a walk through the history of architecture and building trends in this town.
Over the years, she’s developed a keen eye for what can be reused from remodels and demolitions in other building and design projects. There are some real jewels and surprises in her inventory. She’s got the arched doors and arch from the Van Halen estate and a front door from a historic landmark home. Over here is the sink from the very first home in Hope Ranch. Upstairs are vintage Victorian lamp fixtures. In a drawer are the glass globes that used to adorn the old Stateside bar in La Arcada. They were throwing them into the dumpster. Carol got them, and used them to architect a gorgeous lights display for a wedding. And so on. This woman knows materials, and what they could be used for in future.

Her birthday is Earth Day, April 22nd, of course.

Over time, her genius evolved from demolition, harvest and reuse into creative repurposing, and here is where she shines. Her creations can make you stop, scratch your head, and exclaim, ‘huh. Would have never thought of that.’

reclaimA 1960’s aqua toilet serves as a planter for a bright and colorful flowerbed. She created a portable show kiosk that can be assembled / dissembled in minutes using old doors, shutters, and other materials. She crafted garden benches out of furniture bits and old wrought iron. She’s got a casita in her driveway constructed totally out of harvest materials. It’s got a bit of a modern and funky architecture to it. She teaches people to build these using reclaimed materials, and the dimensions she uses render them outside of the city’s planning scrutiny. She made flowerbed planters out of Montecito gutters. She put some 1930’s picket fences together with a couple of sinks from an old school, and voila! Yard art. She created a giant rolling podium / work table out of old bed frames and doors. She can see the quality material in something old, deconstruct it, and revision it into something new, creative and useful.

There’s a genius to that, a particular, rare genius, and Carol’s got it.

Marborg refers customers to Demo 2 Design for questions about reuse.  Construction trades call her for demolition work before they start a remodel. And City College Construction Academy students turn up for work sessions to learn how to harvest, reuse, and revision materials in hands-on projects at Demo2Design. She also takes on UCSB interns to help with marketing and organizing the constant flow of materials. She puts on workshops for homeowners for $10 to come learn how to take old materials and do creative things with them in their homes.

She’s been a treasure in this area, dominated by construction trades. She’s moving to a new spot soon, and won’t say more than ‘come buy a piece of history, and find out where we’re going to be.’ I hope she stays in the Eastside, as she’s one of the hidden jewels in this bustling area.

In the Headlines: Part II

Milpas on the Move by Sharon Byrne

Congrats to the Dons Net Café!
They’re in the Big Apple! This group of budding entrepreneurs at Santa Barbara High School starts and runs their own businesses as a way of spurring young people into becoming future entrepreneurs. Instructor Lee Ann Knodel puts them through the paces of business planning, start-up, and execution. The Dons Net Café currently has 14 student-run entrepreneurial businesses, and they are presently on a serious bi-coastal hot streak. Underclassmen won 2nd place out of hundreds of schools at a UCLA competition last week. The Seniors took their yearly trip to New York City, paid for by their businesses! We’ve been tracking them on Facebook as they went on a private tour of CNN, the Ground Zero Museum, Wall Street, Intrepid, and an International Business Trade Fair. Way to go Dons! You can follow the Dons Net Cafe on FaceBack, Instagram, and Twitter. Give them a ‘like’ and send them a note of congratulations!

beer_pairKudos to Telegraph Brewery for making USA Today’s list of the top 25 beers you need to try before you die.
Their Reserve Wheat was declared “the best wheat beer you’ll ever drink” by the magazine. Their tasting room makes a great happy hour spot in this area, open till 9 PM Tuesday through Thursday, and 10 PM Friday and Saturday. They also do rotating art displays to keep it fresh. We’re delighted to have you guys here on the Eastside!

Milpas on the Move: In The Headlines

By Sharon Byrne

Our little community is making some big news this week. First, I got a chance to taste some new sandwiches coming out at one of our local eateries. I sampled chicken grilled in olive oil with guacamole and pico de gallo on an artisan roll. I tried a burger with applewood smoked bacon and white cheddar. I also tried a crispy chicken sandwich with a spicy mayo on a potato roll.

They were all surprisingly good.

Why surprisingly?

I was tasting them at the McDonald’s on Milpas.

When I was a kid, McDonald’s was THE bar for the American standardized experience. A Quarter Pounder at the Milpas McDonald’s tastes exactly the same as one in Spartanburg, South Carolina, or Munich, Germany. OK, when I was a kid, the Euro McD’s did taste kind of funny, and they had some different menu items, but the experience McDonald’s trotted out to the American consumer was universal, and it was their strongest marketing tool in going international. No matter where you are, you can count on the McDonald’s experience to be absolutely standard. Other industries followed the McDonald’s lead. When you check into a Holiday Inn or get your latte at Starbucks – you know what to expect, whether you’re in Freeport, LA or LA in California.

So this idea of custom artisan sandwiches is a big departure from the ‘standard fare everywhere’ concept McDonald’s pioneered and continues to dominate. Owner Dave Peterson told me the idea came from McDonald’s customers, and the company listened. Today’s restaurant patrons are a more sophisticated, health-conscious set, and they want to see menu choices that reflect this consciousness. So they changed their cooking methods for these sandwiches, and adapted the kitchen to handle freshly-made guacamole, pico de gallo, and more.

The second reason these new sandwiches are newsworthy: McDonald’s is test marketing them in our area. You can order these new customized artisan sandwiches at the McDonald’s in Santa Barbara, but you can’t get them in Ventura, San Francisco, or LA.

Fast food has always been an intensely competitive space. Burger King and Wendy’s historically cropped up across the street from McDonald’s. Chick Fil A carved out a niche in crispy chicken sandwiches. The Habit, a local phenomenon, was named best fast food burger nationwide. The space is always churning with big players, nimble competitors, and continual downward pressure on profit margins. The latest trend in fast food is the breakfast market – everyone’s jumping in. You can now get breakfast at Taco Bell, for example. McDonald’s pioneered the breakfast sandwich when Herb Peterson hatched the Egg McMuffin, at the McDonald’s on Milpas. McDonald’s once proudly displayed ‘over 1 billion served’ signs. Now, they’re pioneering again, and going into customized artisan sandwiches. If the concept proves successful in our local test market, it will go nationwide. Stop by and try one for yourself.

The Horrible, Destructive Power of Gossip

By Sharon Byrne

The Spanish word for gossip is chisme. In its most destructive form, it can ruin reputations and destroy livelihoods. From casting aspersions to deliberate misinformation spread to maligning people with longstanding good names, I feel like I’ve seen it all on the gossip front recently.

gossipGossip is a natural human tendency. Some of it is done under the pretext of sharing news and information that builds cohesiveness in a community – “I heard Fresh & Easy is closing stores in California. What’s going to happen to ours? Oh it’s staying open – good!” “Our school principal is out on medical leave – we should do something for her.”

But sharing news that’s personal…if someone wanted me to know about his divorce, well he’d tell me, wouldn’t he? Besides, gossips are surely going to also gossip about me to others. Best to steer clear of them.

Ever notice how people seldom question gossip? They scrutinize cable news commentators more closely than they do the source of wild gossip. Gossip is granted instant believability that leads to its rampant spread.

Even more insidious is the intentioned indefensibility against gossip. The one gossiped about is never granted the luxury of presenting a defense. Gossip lets you destroy someone’s reputation without the risk of revealing yourself as the destroyer.

There is no honor in maligning someone under the guise of anonymous gossip.

Gossip moves like water in a stream, whispering past the rock it accuses, touching it only briefly, moving quickly on, while the rock has no ability to respond to the water. Smaller rocks can be swept away in a torrent. Larger rocks are eroded over time. Gossip destroys good people without large public stature that can resist such assaults. Good names that took decades to build can also be badly damaged by gossip.

In some parts of our community, gossip is aggressively dealt with as ‘ratting’ out. An affronted subject, having learned of rumors being spread about them, will hunt down the source and confront them. Punishment can be swift and harsh. That’s the street way, but you get the point. Unchecked, gossip can be very dangerous.

Here’s how dangerous:

– A wonderful police officer was accused of spreading a rumor. He was stunned and hurt. The gossip attributed the rumor to him deliberately in order to lend it more credibility. They also sought bring down his good name in order to elevate their own stature.

– A businessman was the victim of a protest intended to shame him as a race traitor. His crime? Supporting the creation of a business district to make the area more welcoming for families. Sadly, the racial shaming stuck. All his good works for years for the Latino community were dismissed on the spot. The perpetrators defend what they did as social justice, and got in their cars back to UCSB or LA, never stopping to think for second about the destruction they’d wrought on a man, his family, and his business.

– Chisme that started as mutterings about late night money transfers quickly transformed into wild rumors of jihad and terrorism. These rumors incited the murder of a store clerk for the crime of talking on his phone in Arabic on a dark street late at night while walking home from his job.

Gossip lets us cast aspersions over what others are doing while providing zero evidence, safely cloaked in the gossip’s anonymity. We can reframe good works as nefarious enterprises with sneaky aims. We can ruin someone’s reputation, their livelihood, their relationships, and their lives – things that took decades to build…in seconds.

A gossip has two nightmares: the first is confrontation. It’s why they start off with, ‘don’t tell anyone I told you this…’ Stop the would-be-gossiper right there, turn the lens back on them, and ask them what they think they’re doing? Why would they set out to ruin someone this way?

The gossip’s second worst nightmare is becoming the target of gossip. In order to inoculate themselves against this fear, they first pretend this will never happen to them, but of course they know subconsciously they are lying to themselves. So they trade lies about others like currency, in the vain hope that by being a source of gossip, they can control against becoming the victim of what they perpetuate.

Gossip now manifests online in anonymous comments sections. Anonymity breeds a particularly loathsome version of it in these forums.

When you’ve been maligned, you will long for some sort of due process to combat it. With gossip, there isn’t any.

The only defense is aggressively halting its spread. Seek to do that whenever possible.

Fluctuations in Eastside Business Area A Function Of Market Forces. Really!

Milpas on the Move, By Sharon Byrne

BID-Poster-GraphicThere is an effort underway in the Milpas / Eastside business area to create a Business Improvement District (BID). Numerous BIDs have been formed in California and other states, as they provide a mechanism for businesses to pay for services that the city can’t and won’t provide them, like picking up litter off sidewalks, graffiti removal, and promotion and special events to draw new patrons to the area. Jeff Harding wrote a really good piece on the Eastside BID in March.

It is typical for a minimum 20% of businesses to oppose forming a BID. For a variety of reasons, some business owners will just never sign up. It’s also typical for BID formation to bring out the best and the worst in people, rather like ballot initiatives. As you can tell from my column on the destructive power of gossip and the PODER protest of El Bajio, the worst can be pretty darned ugly.

Jeff dealt with the red herring of gentrification quite well in his column. I’ll only add that the example thrown around of Fresh Market is a poor one. There is no BID, and they moved in. They provided Christmas lights for us in 2013 (a $9,000 expense). They put on fun events for kids, like cookie-decorating contests. They handed out goodies at the Milpas Holiday Parade. Their intent was to draw Whole Foods and Lazy Acres customers, and it worked. They went profitable 6 months ago at the Milpas location. Some whined it wasn’t a neighborhood store, but Fresh Market employed many former Scolari’s employees. Eastside neighbors shopped there. They had a brisk lunch trade from employees at nearby businesses. Interestingly, Scolari’s also exited the state of California for the same reason Fresh Market did: expensive distribution issues. California is a very tough state to do business in.

I’ve had phone calls asking what’s going in the Fresh Market space that go like this: THEY should put in a market that’s for the neighborhood this time, like there’s some central government planning committee somewhere that decides which market goes in each neighborhood. But that’s not how it works. That space rents for $55,000 per month. A business that can meet those terms leases it, transforms it to suit their needs, and attempts to prosper there. Some things make it in this town. Some don’t. It’s the landlord’s prerogative as to which business moves in, and they aren’t required to check in with any Central Neighborhood Approvals Committee before leasing their property. We’re not a centrally planned economy like China. Free market still reigns in America.

I am happy to report that some of the Fresh Market employees were picked up by Tri County Produce, and Wells Fargo is recruiting some as well. This is what you do in a community. You take care of each other.

Another myth perpetuating about the business improvement district is that this is some sort of takeover of the area. A takeover of a business area…by the businesses within it? Aren’t takeovers usually external? The businesses in this district will govern the BID. They’ll decide which services to provide themselves with BID assessments. That’s not a takeover. It’s the spread of democracy within the business community.

Fresh Market’s departure creates another heartburn: empty storefronts are blight magnets. A business improvement district could seek out tenants for vacant storefronts. Some do. A BID could get also creative about attracting the type of business the community wants. A small town with empty storefronts painted the windows to make it appear that an ice cream store had opened, and a cheese shop, among other things. Sure enough, someone started similar businesses in those empty storefronts.

Fresh & Easy is also going through tumultuous times as a corporation. Ours on Milpas is staying open, thankfully.

The old Milpas Post Office has been leased to Lumber Liquidators. East Beach Tacos has opened at the Batting Cages. The ambience is great, and the Asian-fusion tacos are excellent.

Change is happening all around this district, and it will keep happening. The BID didn’t cause those things, as it doesn’t exist yet. But by providing a more welcoming area and drawing more patrons to businesses here, existing businesses will find it easier to prosper. There are lots of mom-and-pop businesses in this neighborhood that make it special. Why wouldn’t we want them to succeed?

A Call For Good Governance

By Sharon Byrne

It’s always a critical time in government. No matter what year, election, or issues, it’s critical. Ever notice that?

ggThis week’s column isn’t to advance the interest of any candidates, party, or cause. The only concern expressed is a call for good governance… on every front. We’re not in some kind of “Bell” state of affairs, i.e., rampant corruption. In the news as of late, there are some struggles looming large within our city and county government, and I just hope our elected officials and staff can navigate through them to a good end for all of us.

The recent Point-in-Time Count is disappointing: the homeless count is flat since 2013. As someone who’s worked on that problem, people are getting help, including housing. But are we drinking a storm with a teacup, so to speak? Are we putting adequate resources in play to address homelessness? Are there enough Restorative Police here in Santa Barbara? Two cops work darned hard with chronically homeless individuals. With 893 homeless counted in the city of Santa Barbara this year, and 600+ deemed chronically homeless, is 2 cops even remotely realistic to tackle this problem? On the Milpas Outreach Project, we’ve learned 10 chronically homeless individuals can keep 10 of us volunteers pretty darned busy, and take months to finally house. Santa Monica, with a 2015 count of 738 (also flat), has 10 Homeless Liaison Police. Given that State St is adopting the Milpas model and had to push for Community Service Officers, where is the horsepower and leadership from SBPD to seriously address this problem?

The county funds alcohol, drug, and mental health services. That county department, ADMHS, itself the subject of heavy criticism, offers annual training sessions for law enforcement on dealing with mental health crises. It stands to reason that SBPD is probably called out to deal with individuals experiencing mental health crises on the streets pretty regularly. So why not flood these training sessions with officers to better equip them?

ADMHS has tens of millions of dollars available through the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA). Those funds can be used for increased outreach to mentally ill individuals on our streets, supportive housing for them, and other crisis services we clearly need. Can our county supervisors direct ADMHS to prioritize MHSA funds to help reduce the number of severely mentally ill individuals on our streets? Are our city leaders aggressively lobbying the county supervisors in this direction?

ADMHS also has a number of job openings on the mental health side, with a hiring backlog approaching 100 for some time. There is a fairly new emphasis in hiring for cultural competency, but it’s resulting in turning away good people that are not bilingual. Are there not options for translators or bilingual contract staff to close the gap?

At the same time the flat homeless count was released, the County Supervisors’ pay hikes made the news. Pay raises for government officials and staff are always controversial. Taxpayers resent paying increased salaries, and it’s a somewhat poor argument to use salaries in other jurisdictions as the basis for increases, rather than performance, as multiple op-ed writers have noted. The problem is gaming the system. The first county to increase their pay paves the way for other counties to follow suit, whether warranted or not. Our county supervisors make less than some of their staff. They’re not rolling in the dough. But the optics, as they say in DC, aren’t good.

Infrastructure is a huge city and county challenge across the United States. How is it that at one time we could build all these bridges, roads, and buildings, but can no longer afford to maintain them? I am not a civil engineer, so am admittedly not expert, but it seems to me it’s probably more difficult to maintain a 50 year-old Ferrari in perfect condition than it is to buy a new one. Trying to find parts alone would be an ordeal. Edison, though not a government entity, is wrestling with 100 year-old infrastructure in our downtown, built when the area was not nearly so densely commercial. That aging infrastructure can’t handle today’s load; witness the blackouts. Edison would likely find it far less onerous to wire up a new downtown yet-to-be-built versus upgrading 100 year-old infrastructure buried underground. Sometimes, maintenance is just harder than demolish / build new. We’ve built an awful lot of stuff through the industrial era, and I guess we’ve hit critical mass in what it now takes to keep it all up.

Throw in district elections, rental market squeezes, IV, public pensions, and so on, and… well, it’s a critical time, as always. Consider this a plea for good governance, whatever times we’re in.

District Elections Coming This Year

By Sharon Byrne, as featured in the Santa Barbara Sentinel

It’s official, we’re moving to District Elections in the city of Santa Barbara. From the city’s public information session Saturday, a lot of information came out about the mechanics of how this is all going to work.

First, there will be six districts created, though only three go up for election this year: Eastside, Westside, and Mesa. The other districts would be presumably put in play in 2017. The intention of the settlement of the lawsuit Banales et al v City of Santa Barbara is to create two minority-majority Latino districts: Eastside and Westside. The settlement cost the city $600,000 in plaintiff attorney fees, and some of that is rumored to be going to the plaintiffs. Not included in the settlement is a move to even-year elections, where turnout is greater. According to city attorney Ariel Calonne, that would be done via ballot initiative.

The big question before the public now is: who draws the district lines, and where? The answer is we all can, though the timeframe is extremely compressed.

How can you participate?

CLICK HERE to play with the mapping tool that lets you create your own version of the city’s district map. You have a couple of constraints:

Constraint 1: District 1 (Eastside) and District 3 (Westside) must be minority-majority Latino districts. The litmus test is Citizen Voting Age Population, It must be greater than 50% Hispanic. That’s not registered voters, nor total population. It’s the number of people that self-reported as Hispanic in the 2010 census over the age of 18, who are presumably eligible to vote. You can pull a precinct in to a district, edit one out, etc with the mapping tool. But if Districts 1 and 3 are not more than 50% Hispanic in terms of eligible voting age population, then your map will not pass the test required by the settlement.

Map drawers are encouraged to keep concepts like Communities of Interest (COI) at the forefront of their minds. One thing this whole situation brings to the forefront is this: what is your neighborhood? How do you define it? What is the city’s definition of your neighborhood, and does it map to your own? Neighborhoods are included in districts via the city’s General Plan classification for them. That may or may not reflect your own sense of your neighborhood.

Another concern is neighborhoods in transition. What happens to those? The answer is the census count. A neighborhood’s make-up in 2010 may have shifted considerably by 2020, and so there will be a redistricting effort in 2021 to address those shifts. Whatever district maps get adopted this year will be in effect for about 6 years, and then will be redistricted every 10 years from now on. Here’s a look at a potential district map from the city’s online tool:


Constraint 2: deadline for maps submitted by public is March 12th. Why so fast? Barry Cappello, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said it’s time to stop talking, answer the call of disenfranchisement, and act now. City Attorney Ariel Calonne said the city is not admitting disenfranchisement. What’s clear is that some Latinos that run can win. Some can not. Since it never went to court, disenfranchisement among Latino voters was never proven.

Given that Palmdale has spent north of $3 million fighting their district elections case, and no board or city sued so far has prevailed, the city exercised some financial prudence in settling quickly.

Some of the questions around district elections will take time to bear out. For instance, does having a city council rep really guarantee more attention to your community? Given that it takes 4 votes to do anything on council, district reps would presumably need to acquire considerable skills in diplomacy and horse-trading. A council rep doesn’t have awesome powers to command city staff to do anything on their own. Another question is does district elections, with 2 minority-majority districts, who may have priorities that other district reps don’t agree with, now set up a string of 5-2 votes on City Council?

Time will tell.

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.