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Can’t Break this Habit

Weekly column by Loretta Redd

Brent and Bruce Reichard, owners of the Habit on lower State Street,  know a lot about burgers, but policing, social work and sanitation were outside of their expertise until they decided to reclaim the block where the restaurant is located.

Realizing their food service and ‘captive’ audience of patio diners was contributing to the growing number of young urban drifters in front, drunks and drug sales in back, and trash and cups in the streets, they did what successful entrepreneurs always do: they found a solution.

IMG_4124Gone, today, are the vacuous vagabonds of urban yoachers,  gone are those who used the garden circle as their urinal, who shot-up in the shadows of back alleys, and others who fished out empty cups to bilk “free” refills from the soda machines.

It’s what can happen when all of the ‘gatekeepers’  trade keys and share the combination to unlock the doors of possibility.

First the brothers found a local advisor with knowledge of the area and connections to various groups, both enforcement and non-profit types.  Then they called a series of meetings with the interested parties and created action items.

Rather than creating another program to rescue those on the street, rather than bemoaning that nothing had ever worked before, rather than complaining about how slow government was to react, or fearing their actions might be considered police brutality, they focused on their one block of State Street.  What was the source of the problem, what made this an inviting block for misbehavior, what were the liabilities and limits of their authority, and who can make things happen?

photo 1Spontaneous solutions began to fly like synergistic popcorn…the guys from the parking garage recommended fencing the circle, which would let the greenery grow and dissuade its use as a porta-potty.  Signs were erected  that the dark alleyway between Blush, Dargan’s and the Habit was under camera surveillance (why not, they’re everywhere from traffic lights to ATMs) to reduce the drug commerce occurring there.

Then the artist who installed the brick “wall” in front of the Habit was invited to consider a new, more visible and artistically appreciated location…though for now, it remains encircled with yellow construction tape.  Artistic expression yes, but I doubt the creator envisioned  his work  as the Greyhound bus stop bench it had become.
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trashThe garbage cans, once easily accessed by poachers and pigeons, sidewalk sitters and seagulls, have been replaced with those at Lake Tahoe, where trash attracts 500 pound black bears as customers.  These new trash containers require the contortion of Cirque du Soleil to successfully excavate a drink cup.

Over the course of a couple of weeks, the Habit is no longer in-habit-ed.  Without heavy-handed police presence or sidewalk bouncers, without Council declarations or new ordinances, without denying anyone’s civil rights, this small group of dedicated citizens, business owners, and organizations formed a tiny army of determination and took back their block of State Street.

It would appear those lost souls who had helped create an environment of intimidation and illegal behavior have completely dispersed, not just moved to the next block.  But if  they re-congregate, there’s now a menu of delicious action items the Reichard brothers have helped create for other business owners to select from.

And for those still on the street, there may be a job at the Habit waiting, whenever you decide to seek the programs that are available to get cleaned up, and back to work.  They’d love to have you…we all would.

Comments { 23 }

Setting a Low Bar

Weekly column by Loretta Redd

The confluence of power and politics dates back to the beginning of governments.   Money is power, of course;  it pays for the means to influence the decision-making of a voter or a legislator.

I don’t know of a single person who thinks there isn’t enough money spent on campaigns.  I don’t know anyone who thinks the obscene and growing contribution amounts are good for our Democracy.  I don’t know any individual who thinks money guarantees the most qualified and capable candidate will win.

Unfortunately,  I also don’t know a single person who believes they have any hope of changing the system.

But we do.

Campaign-FinanceAt least locally.  While the Supreme Court eviscerates any hope of campaign finance limitations, billionaire Sheldon Adleson has Republican candidates genuflecting before him in the very Capital of Greed, Las Vegas, and three California Democratic legislators are pink-slipped for bribery, we still have the right, the authority and perhaps the imperative to ‘course correct’ in our own backyard.

If indeed, all politics are local- I want some of you brighter, better schooled readers who live with the anxiety that our democracy really is slipping through our fingertips, to put a measure on the ballot somehow limiting the amount of money raised for a City Council election.

Placing limits on a donor’s “freedom of expression” sounds reasonable to most, until it thwarts our preferred candidate’s advantage. But if we capped the amount of money that could be raised for a Council seat, then our local influence peddlers, (be they Montecito millionaires or Milpas migrants, local land developers or public unions) would  be neutralized or neutered, depending on your perspective.

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SANTA BARBARA MUNICIPAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN DISCLOSURE ORDINANCE

Every city in California has its own campaign finance ordinances, and no two are alike.  Limits vary in individual contributions, campaign caps, aggregate giving, reporting periods, disclosure and other factors.  www.fppc.ca.gov True, the State of California writes the overarching campaign laws, though I wouldn’t credit Sacramento with being the paragon of integrity these days.

Finance comes down to fear.

Running for office is terrifying.  Being a candidate for public office is as vulnerable as it is egoistic, as strategic as it is idealistic.  Appearing before throngs (one hopes) of mostly strangers- some of whom believe in you, and some who are hostile to your beliefs- is tough.  And all the while, you’re trying to say something that gets them to write you a check.

This last election sent at least two City Council candidates into 6 figure contribution-land…and for what?  A 35% voter turnout and the privilege of looking down the barrel of our $400,000,000 UN-funded liability of retirement costs and unpaid for projects.

The next City Council election is stirring into action those who felt left out of the money game and believe district elections will magically guarantee them better representation.  They’re wrong, of course, because it will only increase influence peddling and set geographical ‘districts’ at war with one another.

The City has a public portal for Campaign Finance Disclosure where you can search any candidate’s name or filing number, and view every contribution made.  It can only tell part of the story, as some corporate and union monies are ‘bundled’ so the individual check writers and smaller donors are not identified.    There are also contributions from groups you’ve never heard of,  like the Peace Officers Research Association of California,  who write checks  for a couple of grand at a time. Why would they do that if they weren’t hoping to “buy” favor, or perhaps return it to those who may have served their interests (i.e, salaries) in other elections.

I admit, I’m frustrated.  Trying to figure out a way to have financial integrity in the political process, even on a small scale like Santa Barbara city, is daunting.

Our last Council election, where more than $300,000 was raised and spent, succeeded  in having one-third of those registered to vote even bother to stamp and return their envelope, I’d say there wasn’t much ‘bang for the buck.’

The City of Santa Barbara already has an ordinance called the Voluntary Expenditure Ceiling,  inviting each candidate to agree to a $50,000 cap.  The only sure way to convince those running for office to agree to the Expenditure Ceiling, is by pledging  to vote only for those who do.

Adopting the Voluntary Expenditure Ceiling for our next City Council election is having a standard of elections higher than that of our nation’s capital.  Unfortunately, that isn’t setting a very high bar, but it is a clear and easy place to start.

Comments { 20 }

Punks, Drunks & Skunks

Weekly column by Loretta Redd

Here we go again…front page “headline news” that transients are causing downtown businesses to lose money and citizens to stay home, while visitors get accosted by various ‘urban travelers’ and inebriated fools.   Of course asking the city government for “action” is about as fruitful as asking the marketing magicians at Visit Santa Barbara to even admit there’s a problem in paradise.

What I hear from Council is, “We tried to do something but it didn’t work.”   All I hear from the hotel industry is, “We don’t want to alarm our visitors.”  And the predictable police response is, “We need more officers.”

Final AG LogoIn reality, what the city ‘tried’ with their “Change for Change” was a poorly planned, underfunded and mismanaged mess of voluntary participation from a few businesses who ended up with nothing to show for their efforts but graffiti etched on their windows, and a miserly amount of “change” collected and sent to the Mother of all financial black holes, Casa Esperanza.

The police reluctantly admit that getting out of their cars and onto the sidewalks results in reduced criminal activity.  But in truth, is hauling off the drunk or deranged  the best use of our professional police force, especially when there isn’t anywhere to send a transient who is ‘disturbing the peace’  and less than 20 inpatient beds for the mentally ill?

One irresponsible, unrestrained or brain-addled individual can create a lasting image of downtown Santa Barbara as an unsafe and unsavory destination, just as a car-flattened or ‘deflated’ skunk can affect an entire neighborhood.

Councilman Rowse admonishes me (Letter to the Editor, July 8, 2013) that none of my prior recommendations will work, like using “giving meters” on the streets to collect coins from those wanting to help the less fortunate.  However, in addition to Atlanta, he can now check out Denver, Orlando, Nashville, Vancouver, San Francisco, Springfield, Miami and Washington DC, where they are successfully installed and proliferating.

Rowse’s accurate reflection that “we cannot legislate or arrest our way out of the problem” and that “all homeless are not panhandlers and all panhandlers are not homeless,” continues to be true; but for all the headaches this problem is causing, I can’t believe there aren’t better answers.

So, I’ll risk another idea for the Council, police, Downtown Organization or Visit Santa Barbara to shoot down.  But it comes with a warning:  it is proving very successful in tourist-centric places like Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, Florida…  and no, I’m not referring to the Florida’s concealed carry permit.

It is a take-off on an Ambassador program.  I know we have organizations conducting various forms of ‘ambassador’ work already, from Santa Barbara City College for foreign students, to greeters at the airport and Downtown Organization volunteers directing our cruise ship ‘boat people’ around town.

So, call them “State Street Saviors” or whatever you wish.  The point is, they are an radio-carrying, unarmed but trained, smiling, uniformed force of sufficient number to have an impact.  And they’re volunteers… or at least they’re not unionized.

I understand why the Council would prefer more cops on the streets, but cops are very expensive.

When it comes to police in Santa Barbara, we hire the best because we pay the best, and it is a relatively low risk town in terms of physical danger.  We have a fairly small force to cover our geographic area, but ‘deadly force’ crime here is minimal, even in areas of concentrated  populations.

For a variety of reasons, I’m not holding my breath for the kind of shoe leather you see at State Street bar closing hour, when Santa Barbara’s finest have to scoop up our twenty-somethings and get them home to Chancellor Yang or off to bed without killing themselves or someone else.

Plus, having  too many police can send the wrong message.  I’d be interested to know what the average lifetime salary, bonus, plus retirement’ cost of just one Santa Barbara police officer would be.   We could likely hire a dozen part-time security guards, or train, motivate and maintain a cadre of volunteers for that price.

I would imagine our officers in blue would be thrilled to not have to spend hours on processing drunks and punks, only to see them back on the street within 48 hours.  Surely, the Downtown Organization street cleaners would appreciate having fewer bodily functions, cigarette butts and skunky garbage to hose down from our red brick sidewalks every morning.  And maybe- just maybe- the Visit Santa Barbara tourism crew would feel a bit more genuine in their representation of our town as “The American Riviera” if visitors felt safe, welcomed and wanted.

Before readers slap the label of insensitive, indulged Caucasian liberal on my forehead, I want to offer these facts: the use of “downtown ambassadors” can also provide a link to services for those living on the streets, and help keep them safe as well.  The smiles and helpful attitudes of these volunteers could go a long way to making everyone feel safer, not just the tourists or Saks Fifth Avenue shoppers.

Giving meters, a genuine ‘force’ of helpful, authorized security personnel in high traffic areas, and a Downtown Organization and Restaurant and Lodging Association with the guts to request public information in all hotel rooms and restaurants that giving money to panhandlers is actually harmful and will likely result in their arrest or hospitalization, would be a start.

dontfeedCouncilman Rowse correctly acknowledged we need more than a “don’t feed the bears” approach to public education, but another try at a combined effort might help the drunks into treatment, the punks into better behavior and the skunks…well, I’ll have to leave that to other creative minds.

Comments { 37 }

Crazy for Reagan

Weekly column by Loretta Redd

With the Young America’s Foundation on State Street, and the Reagan Library not far down the road, there is a concentration of those who revere old Ronnie as some sort of past Presidential god.  I, on the other hand, would like him to come back to earth so I could walk him through Pershing Park or into the waiting room of Cottage Hospital at 3:00 in the morning, and show him the chaos and broken lives he helped create.

While Reagan was imploring Mr. Gorbachav to “Tear down these walls,” he was busy destroying the last vestiges of our nation’s psychiatric safety net.  And we have paid dearly for it ever since.

In a recent Mother Jones article, author Mac McClelland reminds us that over a half million people lived in mental institutions back in the 1950′s– that’s one in every 300 citizens.  Those were the days when a psychiatrist could lock you away for good, when families used ‘insane asylums’ to dispose of troubled teens or  troubling wives.

By the 1970′s activists, therapists and politicians demanded that we deinstitutionalize our population, dropping the number of people ‘held’ in psychiatric facilities to a fourth of what they had been.  Proponents of citizens rights, with their social and legal efforts to protect people from misapplied “imprisonment’  in mental institutions, were well-intentioned.

But their vision was never implemented, because state and national government proceeded to divert the funding for mental health to other projects.  “Today, there is one public psychiatric bed per 7,200 people,” writes McClelland, “the same ratio as in 1850.”

A joint commission of the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association declared in 1961 that the mentally ill would be better  served  if they were integrated into society, where they could live in their communities in transitional facilities, or even to at home with appropriate psychiatric support.

In 1963, Congress passed a law funding that intention.  Unfortunately, more than one psychiatric patient “flew over the Cuckoo’s nest” as states quickly downsized their hospitals and closed facilities.  It was far too rapid a change for communities to absorb those whom had been hospitalized,  were in crisis, or needed mental health support to find a workable safely net.

“Between the Vietnam war, political crisis and economic strain of the times, the money never came.”  Fortunately, in 1980 thanks to President Carter,  the Mental Health Systems Act was passed in order to bridge the gap of funding.

And that’s where the Gipper comes riding in; not to save the day, but to gut the Mental Health Act less than one year later by reducing Federal spending for mental  health to almost half.

Once again, the onus of caring for the mentally ill was shifted to financially strapped states and local governments.  Even though Reagan took a bullet at the hands of a psychologically deranged John Hinkley, Jr., the President failed to promote better care and oversight of those with mental illness or addictions.

The result is what you see on our streets and parks today, along with the lost lives at the hands of those suffering from psychotic disorders who end up with delusional plots in their heads and loaded guns in their hands.   Indeed, we continue to reap what Reagan and other federal budgetary saviors helped to sow…the destruction of the mental illness treatment system.

“Collectively, states have cut $4.5 billion in public mental health since 2009,” writes McClelland.  Today, that leaves close to two million mentally ill people housed in the same place they were in the 1800′s: prison.

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Health Management Associates Report on Inpatient Services

Sadly, that trend continues to be played out in our own back yard, where the number of acute psychiatric beds for Santa Barbara County (less than 20) is minuscule in comparison to the numbers  incarcerated in our jails and prisons.

Instead of discussing the construction of a new “North County” jail, we should be demanding the construction of a group of dedicated facilities for inpatient psychiatric, addiction or dual-diagnosis patients.  Unfortunately, the prisons and various law enforcement groups are represented by unions who have both collective bargaining power and political election muscle.

The costs of deinstitutionalization in this nation may well reach the trillions, when considering the private and public costs of mental illness, substance abuse and homelessness.  But this is about far more than budgets…it is about public safety, family security, and community conscience.

As Reagan’s shameful legacy has taught us, willful neglect hasn’t served anyone well.

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Red-Ink Drip Factor

Weekly Column by Loretta Redd

On this weekend’s political talk show programs, when asked why Vladimir Putin dared to increase his presence in the Ukraine, the answer basically was, “Because he can.”

water-rates-increaseIt may be a far stretch from the Black Sea of the Baltic to the Santa Barbara Water Resources department, but the news of yet another rate hike left me to wonder if it isn’t also, “Because they can.”

In July 2013, the Water Department released its Rate Study and “multi-year financial Plan and water rate structure that:

  • promotes water conservation
  • provides revenue stability
  • ensures customers pay their proportionate share of costs
  • is fair and equitable, and
  • is based on cost of service principles, as required by Proposition 218

The structure of rate charges for water and water-related services is complicated by its ever-changing categories and tiers of allocation.  The charges vary based on amount of use, type of use, delivery pipe size, residential or commercial or agricultural.  What is consistent, however, is the upwards direction of each of our utility bills.

In that July 2013 study, the residential rate was listed as $39.21, set to increase to $40.78.  In the Finance Committee meeting happening this Tuesday, our Water Resources folks plan to ask for yet another raise, to $43.00.  I imagine the staff report will contain bureaucratic language like “appropriate means of recovering additional costs related to water services,” “infrastructure improvement,” or that often used,  “customer related service costs.”

Funny, how the red ink never seems to suffer from a drought.

“Water rates must cover the costs of all of the operations of providing water to the City water customers,” according the City’s current web page.  But if “City water costs are mostly fixed,” and “purchasing the water itself is actually only a very small part of the budget,” then why do they need to raise rates every time they appear before Council?

Their answer,  according to this on-line missive, is “inflation.” My definition of their “inflation” has more to do with salaries and benefits, than the cost of purchasing state water, or materials and supplies.

I really want to know why didn’t the Water Resources department and the hundreds of other regional water “experts” didn’t sound the alarm- and I mean alarm- earlier about the drought?  Everybody from grandma to the gophers knew we were in trouble, but we continued to be assured it was far too soon to panic, or be told to meaningfully conserve.

I begin to feel like a conspiracy theorist when I read quotes like this from the City’s current water rate increase justification, “If the City is not able to meet all our customers’ water demands with its current water supplies and through the efforts of its customers conserving water, more expensive water sources will have to be developed.  Any new supply would significantly increase overall City water costs, which would cause a far greater increase to the City’s water rates.”

Supply and demand makes sense whether we’re talking about H2O or salaries and benefits…trouble is, they both result in higher costs to consumers.

Would the Council or Finance Committee find it beneficial to have a twenty-year historical review of just one consistent water related item?  That period of time would take us back through the last drought, as well as through time of plenty, when reservoirs were spilling over.  Would a twenty year salary and benefit chart be helpful as well, or are we to believe this increase is only about pipes and meters?

I don’t want to pick on any Water Resources department staff, whose competency and professionalism are not in question.  I just can’t understand why water rates have to be (1)so complicated, (2) always heading upward, (3) seemingly more tied to compensation than production.

I do hold elected officials responsible when they seem to be about as effective in holding down costs, as Obama in getting Putin to roll back his tanks.

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A Cause in Search of a Reason

Weekly column by Loretta Redd

When you’re up to your arse in alligators, it’s difficult to remember your initial objective was to drain the swamp…,” – or so goes the 1970′s take on an ancient proverb.

DistrictElections3The issue of District versus At-Large elections for City Council representation has found, yet again, a disparate group of activists.  Strange bedfellows they are, when Cruzito Cruz and Lanny Ebenstein, who have little in common except to have been losers in prior races for City Council, stand together on this ‘voting rights’ issue.

Cruzito is a regular name on the candidate list, showing up on ballots since at least 2005, though never finishing higher than next to last place.  I absolutely give him credit for running for office, but wonder if he doesn’t deflect from serious concerns of Latino residents.  Mr. Cruz’ thoughtful, but longwinded philosophical missives with inventive language (“equalitarianism,” for example) have left voters scratching their heads, rather than their ballots.

Lanny is a libertarian wild-card.  Standing among this group of mostly Latinos for representational government, is the same guy Pat Morrison described (LA Times, Oct 2011) as the guy who, “…wants you to vote to kneecap the state’s public workers union by banning their right to collective bargaining.”  I’m not sure how that would square with Ceasar Chavez or Delores Huerta, but economists are masters of the art of justification.

There is talk of bringing a lawsuit, a la pro-bono attorney Barry Capello, against the City of Santa Barbara to force a city-wide vote on changing the way elections are structured.  Capello might not want get paid, but it is certain to cost the City a bundle.

District elections, or Wards, are based on proportional representation, and supposedly offer minorities a greater voice in government.

Our current City Charter calls for “At-Large” elections, meaning that regardless of where a candidate might live within the City limits, the entire registered electorate can choose to vote for them.   Once elected, they are to represent all of the citizens of the city, not just those in their geographical area.

In 1991, the “Committee for District Elections” was formed in Santa Barbara.  At that time, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Southwest Voter Registration Project conducted research into the possibility of voting rights lawsuits.  None came.

The challenge of representation has been around a very long time. From a 1999 News-Press article written by Barney Brantingham,  “the issue is not whether a Latino could ever be elected, but whether the at-large system ‘impermissibly dilutes the votes of Hispanics.’”

Santa Barbara’s percentage of Latino voters (roughly 33%) hasn’t changed much in over twenty years.  Unfortunately, neither has the misguided perception that by creating districts of mostly Hispanic residents, the appropriations from City coffers,  or projects and priorities will change in their favor.

Measure S, the defeated push for District Elections back in 1991, quoted its leader as saying, “…one thing learned from the Measure S effort is that the Latino community cannot rely on much support from the city’s liberal, environmental ‘elitist’ leaders who oppose district elections…What they want is a Hispanic theme park…They are good at manipulating the working class.”

No one believes that quote would be the case today.  The Latino population of Santa Barbara is a vibrant cross-section of every economic, educational and social strata, and  I see absolutely no proof that the current At-Large system of voting has watered down the voting powers of its minorities.

District versus At Large voting is a spurious cause, and there’s no reason for it.

But here are two collateral changes which could have a far more positive impact on Latino representation and for the overall health of our City Council elections:

FIRST, place a cap on the amount of money that any candidate can raise for City Council.  Nothing keeps a group underrepresented more than the skyrocketing cost of elections.

One of the justifications for district elections, is that it is less expensive to run in a single neighborhood, than to have to cover the entire city.  But here’s the truth…candidates typically (or should) spend their time and dollars in the precincts with the largest concentration of people who consistently cast their ballot.

Why do the folks in San Roque, for example,  get inundated by campaign literature, telephone calls, actual candidates or their poll workers?  Because when you look at the precinct map of the City and the percentage of voters from prior elections in each precinct, you’re just wasting shoe leather and burning contribution dollars to go places where your time won’t pay off.  Just ask Jason Nelson, who claimed he visited 10,000 homes,  and still placed close to the bottom of the field.

Money influences elections, folks, and it won’t be a bit different if we have districts or not.  In fact, districts or wards have the reputation of encouraging spending not only for the seat, but also after election.  Levels of spending, resulting in debt and taxes, are significantly higher in cities where district representatives have power than in at-large cities.

From the pork in Washington, DC, to the favoritism in Chicago, district representation rarely has the intended result, but almost always has the unintended consequence of a higher cost of government, and acrimonious competition for limited City resources.

SECONDLY, districts can create further marginalization of minorities.  The paradoxical result of having “Latino” representatives, is that the other members of the Council may not feel that they need to pay attention to the issues they bring forward.  It also underscores the “us/them” dividing of community.

In our current system, every Councilmember including the Mayor, is responsible to every citizen.  Santa Barbarans of Hispanic heritage are living in every precinct of this city, so what better way to be represented?

If this yet-again formed “District Election Committee” truly believes there’s “stagnation in our neighborhoods” and underrepresentation on Council,  por favor, don’t waste your money (or the City’s money) on lawsuits trying to force District Elections.

Instead, take all that organizing effectiveness,  energy and income and do just two things: (1) get every eligible voter in this city registered and (2) make sure every registered voter casts their ballot.

You won’t capture front page headlines for your cause, but you most certainly will change the outcome of the next election…and the rest of us won’t end up paying the poachers to go alligator hunting.

Comments { 24 }

Chance or Fate?

Weekly column by Loretta Redd

Wait… am I falling in love, or was that just another earthquake?  As we near the day that Cupid shoots arrows through the air into the hearts of locals, I offer this Valentine’s gift of earthquake preparedness to you and your loved ones.

Living in California, the land of “quakes and shakes, fruits and flakes,” as my Duck Dynasty family from Georgia refers to us, certainly has its risks.  Recently we’ve had several hiccups beneath the ocean surface along the coast of central California, most in the 3.0 Richter scale range.

Scientists at UCSB were asked whether this might portend a larger, more heart-trembling quake in the near future.  After years of statistical tracking, satellite observations, topographical studies, seismic measurements  and geologic graduate dissertations, here’s their answer:

“Maybe.”

That less-than-reassuring “maybe” wasn’t helped this week by the Santa Barbara Office of Emergency Management’s false report of another trembler off the Carpinteria coast.  When it comes to Mother Earth, better not to confuse being heartsick for having heartburn.  The OEM report was retracted when the U S Geological Survey website neglected to confirm that an earthquake had occurred.

As it turns out, earthquakes are no more predictable than falling in love, which researchers tell us happens an average of four times in ones’ life.

We can do a lot of reporting on earthquakes after the fact  by utilizing the Advanced National Seismic System,  the California Strong Motion Instrumentation Program and other ground motion recording devices, but when it comes to “predictions,” we’re stuck with animal behavior, radon emissions, duration of migraine headaches, solar flares and ocean wave velocity  to hint at when to buckle our collective seatbelts for the “big one.”

As writer Colin Campbell explains, “forecasts are not predictions,” because predictions of any value would include the earthquake’s magnitude, location and time of day.  The chances of being pierced by Cupid’s arrow aren’t much more predictable, though researchers say there’s an 8 in 10 chance during your 20′s, a 4 in 10 chance during your 30′s, and 3 in 10 during your 40′s.  (The report didn’t go past the 40′s…maybe we should be glad we’re still breathing at that point.)

earthquakeThere actually is a category of earthquake behavior called the Love Wave.  Named for professor of elastodynamics, A.E.H. Love, this kinky quake is described as” a surface wave having a horizontal motion transverse to the direction the wave is traveling.”  There is little to love, however, about the sensation, the damage, or the injuries from a quake.

To no one’s surprise, one aspect of California earthquakes is entirely predictable: the cost of insurance has risen dramatically, as the benefits steadily decrease.  So my gift to you this Valentine’s season is to help you prevent the costly damage associated with earthquakes, and to keep those you love a little safer.

1. Drop, Cover and Hold On:  When you feel the earthquake as a significant jolt, violent shaking, or even a roll beneath you, drop to the ground or duck under a strong desk or table and cover your head.  If you’re in bed, lay on the floor beside the edge of the bed (not under it) and put a pillow over your head.

If outdoors, find a spot away from buildings, trees, powerlines, streetlights and overpasses.

If in a car, gradually slow your speed and pull over.  Be careful of any fallen powerlines, they may be ‘live,’ even if they aren’t arcing with sparks.

2. Inside your home, remove any shelving above your children’s beds.  Those trophies that Junior won and books above his head could cause real damage.  Likewise, bolt large cabinets, breakfronts and hutches to the wall.  Better to lose granny’s bone china than your life. Strap your hot water heater securely to the wall studs.

3. After you’ve taken care of yourself, look for and extinguish small fires.  If you’ve never actually operated a fire extinguisher, now is a great time to check to see if it is still “charged” with the indicator in the green zone on the gauge.  Teach yourself and your children how to operate a fire extinguisher with the acronym,  PASS: Pull the pin, Aim the nozzle, Squeeze the handle, Sweep the mixture back and forth at the base of the fire.

4. Learn where and how to turn off the main water valve, gas line and electricity in your home or apartment.  If you suspect a gas leak, do not use matches or any incendiary device, or even turn on the light switch or battery operated light. Never turn the gas line back on once it is shut off, let the Gas Company do that !

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Earthquake Safety Checklist

Attached left, PDF, ismore suggestions and information in  from the Federal Emergency Management Association.  Prepare your home, prepare your loved ones, and insure your survival with roses and chocolates.

Remember, “Love is like an earthquake – unpredictable and a little scary, but when the hard part is over, you realize how lucky you truly are.”

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Taking Pot Shots at Vodka Shots

Weekly column by Loretta Redd

“Quickly, bring me a beaker of wine, so that I may wet my mind and say something clever”

–Aristophanes,  early 400 BC.

Alcohol has been with us since its first unintentional fermentation ten thousand years ago.   We might even credit the Catholic communion with originating “wine tastings,” but the societal and economic ‘punch’ from alcohol has grown stronger by the century.

This is not a column about the evils of alcohol.  But it is a ‘call to action’ for those who believe a few taps on the brakes of marketing might be in order.  Adults are going to drink- most for occasional pleasure, some to feed  addiction, others to obliterate all sense of responsibility for their behavior.  As long as someone is over 21 and doesn’t intend on getting behind the wheel of a car, I don’t care whether they’re opening a Montrachet Grand-Cru or a Schlitz malt liquor.

But the proliferation of availability, advertising, marketing and promotional items has our kids squarely in its cross-hairs.  While the United States doesn’t rank among the top ten per capita countries for alcohol consumption, there is an ever-increasing presence of beer, wine and distilled spirits in places never seen before…

Like pharmacies.  Maybe it gives alternative meaning to “drug” store;  but when I was a child, you didn’t find the headache cause two aisles over from the headache remedy.

And grocery stores.  A few weeks ago, the local Albertsons at Five Points featured a cordoned-off, but very visible and inviting Vodka promotion with free “mini-shot” tastings.

And convenience stores.  It is hard to find six inches of open space on the windows of most corner shops, even though our local sign ordinance restricts signage to less than one-third of the window space.  And once inside, there are tubs of ice with single cans, t-shirts, bottle openers, surf boards, moving displays and neon signs to further entice the buyer.

And gas stations.  With 22 DUI citations in December in Santa Barbara alone, you would think that promoting alcohol at the source of automotive fuel might be sending a bit of a mixed message about drinking and driving.

To no one’s surprise, the higher the expenditure on marketing, the higher the sales.  Given the advertising with professional sports, a teenage viewer could easily come to the conclusion that most, football players and soccer stars are all in the bag by game time, and that the checkered flag of NASCAR means, “Gentlemen, pop your bottles… not your throttles.”

Want to make a significant dent in underage drinking?  Then reduce the amount of early exposure and you’ll target where addiction begins in 90 percent of cases, according to Santa Barbara’s  SafeLaunch co-founder, Janet Rowse.

A 2007 study at National Institutes of Health, which looked at the relationship between alcohol advertising, promotional items and adolescent alcohol use in over 2000 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, verified that two-thirds of the kids who tried drinking had made weekly trips to where alcohol was on display.  Those who had collected promotional items were three times more likely to have imbibed their favored “brand.”

So in our Five Points Albertsons last month, while mommy went in search of peanut butter, the kids in tow were not only rolled past aisles and aisles of wine and liquor and cases and coolers of beer, but they were likely quite curious about that ‘chained off area’ where only the adults could go for their mini-shots of vodka.

For me, it isn’t about the volume “served,” it’s about the method and the message it sends.

Adults can reach their own conclusions about what makes alcohol among the top five causes of preventable death, with 2.5 million cumulative years of potential  life lost (YLL) according to the Centers for Disease Control.  Even with an economic cost to society in excess of $220 billion, including prevention, recovery, emergency rooms and policing, plus lost wages, productivity, lives and families.

The hypocrisy of human behavior continues, as we attend wine-filled fund raisers for local sobriety programs, or collect $324 million in alcohol tax, to offset the billions in abuse.

It remains a choice that adults can make, and certainly many adults do so responsibly.  Alcohol isn’t going away- prohibition didn’t work, except to create a lot of jobs for the FBI and mafia.  But what about the kids?

Do we really need the convenience of having a source of liquor or wine within a half mile of almost every home in Santa Barbara?  Did you notice the prevalence of wine-related gifts this holiday season inferring  the “spirit” of Christmas now comes in a bottle?

You are the customer.  You are also the parents and relatives of our youth, and pay the bill for their addictions.   Here are 3 ways to help:  ask Albertson’s (714-300-6438) and other grocers to cease the alcohol tasting programs in their stores,  ask the owners or managers of corner markets and convenience stores to remove advertising for alcohol (trust me, it won’t slow sales), and when you see promotional items that would appeal to kids, have a gently thoughtful discussion with the manager or owner and ask for their removal.

It may be too late to put this influence back in the bottle, but we don’t necessarily have to “wet our minds to have something clever to say.”

Comments { 12 }

Porta-Potty Privacy

Weekly column by Loretta Redd

I’m wrestling with whether the elimination of our privacy regarding “personal” information is an accepted fact of life in this age of access we have created, or whether its impact remains worthy of protest.

Last Friday, the President began his major policy speech on data collection and the NSA, not with an apology to the citizens of this nation, but rather effusive praise to the spy community.   With cyber-theft becoming a worldwide phenomena and our own government collecting metadata on its citizens, there’s really little expectation of privacy anywhere.

We have far surpassed the intrusiveness or historical intrigue perpetuated by the likes of J. Edgar Hoover or the Nixon Watergate scandals; our methods of spying today make the novels of John le Carre’ or Ian Fleming seem ridiculously antiquated.

But what about our everyday lives…those little things we can still do to counter the giant sucking sound of privacy from our society?   It isn’t easy, because we have inextricably linked the digital age with supposed convenience, even though it has cost us dearly in privacy, money, jobs and patience.

target-letter-500.png w=500&h=541

Gregg Steinhafel letter, click to enlarge.

For all of the online ease of having my great niece choose Target for her wedding registry (hey, don’t roll your eyes, they live in North Carolina,) I am now one of those Target “guests” whose Social Security, passwords, user ID and financial account information has been “compromised.”

Quoting from his letter, left, here are the three “tips” offered to those of us who were digitally screwed because Target’s Chairman, President and CEO, Gregg Steinhafel, didn’t invest sufficient capital in his company’s online security and firewall protection…

  • “Never share information with anyone over the phone, email or text, even if they claim to be someone you know or do business with. Instead, ask for a call-back number.
  • Delete texts immediately from numbers or names you don’t recognize.
  • Be wary of emails that ask for money or send you to suspicious websites. Don’t click links within emails you don’t recognize.”

But  Mr. Steinhafel, at this point, shouldn’t I consider Target among the very MOST suspicious websites?  And, by the way, thanks for the offer of the “free” credit monitoring, but my greater concern is day-to-day corruption of financial information, not the credit score dropping like a rock after the fact.  Besides, there are already plenty of free online credit score services available.

Fortunately, I do not bank online and don’t use a debit card, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a myriad of other ways to acquire financial information stored, transferred or received about me (or you) every day.  One person’s privacy is another person’s suppression to access.

Who needs to steal information, when we give it away so willingly?

My COX Communication’s  Annual Customer Notice-2014 just arrived with my monthly statement.  Tucked away in the seven pages of 2-pt. font sized legal jargon is a statement designed to assuage your privacy fears, unless you read it carefully…

“…COX does not sell your CPNI (Customer Proprietary Network Information) information, and your CPNI will not be disclosed to third parties outside of Cox and our affiliates, agents, joint venture partners, and independent contractors, except as required by law or detailed here.”

Did they leave anyone out?

Under Personal Information, they state, “We consider Your Information confidential, and use it only in providing the services we or our partners offer for such things as sales, installation, training, operations, administration, advertising, marketing, support, development of new services, network management, maintenance, customer care, communications with you, and billing  and collection.  We may combine  Your Information with demographic and other information for purposes consistent with this Policy.”

Pretty much covers everything but porta-potties, don’t you think?

Truth is, there are no effective privacy laws because neither industry nor government want to live by them.  Congress has passed some legislation to protect certain groups or situations, but it is narrow in scope.  The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act prevents the online targeting of children under the age of 13; the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) requires notice of medical information sharing practices; the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Financial Modernization Act of 1999 is woefully inadequate in limiting access to financial institutions.

Back in 2006, MSNBC correspondent Bob Sullivan noted, “Privacy is like health. When you have it, you don’t notice.  When it’s gone, you wish you’d done more to protect it.”

Not only personally and financially, but psychologically, boundaries are important.  They offer a sense of safety within which we can choose to share or not.  But this is a new world; a world of backdoor viruses, secret cameras, tracking devises, pirated or co-opted information gathering.  We’ve traded freedom for greater convenience and confidentiality for tracking purposes.

The word privacy‘ doesn’t appear in our Constitution…but if it did, how would you define it today, other than “missing?”

Comments { 6 }

Ewe Er Jus Stoopid

Weekly Column by Loretta Redd

My brother was in elementary school in the 1950′s; far too early for a clear comprehension of learning disabilities.  In those days, there seemed to be two broad categories for children who “couldn’t learn”…the so-called Mildly Retarded or the Just Plain Lazy group.

My brother is one of the smartest people I know.  We attended the Westminster Schools in Atlanta; which to this day is considered a premier academic institution.   But the experience was far from positive for my brother, who couldn’t spell or read very well.

They tried everything at Westminster.   They switched “instructional  modalities” from phonetics, to sight reading, back to phonetics, then to memorization…all with little success.  In fact, had his name not been Bob, he probably couldn’t spell it to this day.

But stupid, or lazy, he was not.

Bob flunked out of Westminster, yet managed to graduate from public high school where an increased focus on math, geometry, calculus and science saved him.  He eloped at 18 and he and his new bride moved to Opelika, Alabama where he attended Auburn University.  She handled most of the English assignments, while my brother dove headlong into the new field of computer programming.

Finally, a ‘language’ that made sense to Bob!  He wasn’t retarded–he wasn’t lazy– he was dyslexic.

Bob graduated in just three years and found employment with a company he could spell:  IBM.  For the rest of his working life, until a brain aneurysm forced his recent retirement, Bob remained one of the few programmers for IBM, Texas Instruments and finally Hewlett-Packard who could still decipher the “ancient” languages of FORTRAN, COBOL, DOS or the OS/360 system.

With fifty years of improved understanding of neurological differences and patterns in learning, you might think we would stop putting those who learn “differently” into a category referred to as, “disabled.”

Let’s admit it…some of us feel  there are too many excuses made for children these days when it comes to classroom effort.  It seems every other child suffers from some form of “reading disorder,” “behavioral difficulty,” “hyperactivity,”  “attention-deficit,” or “learning disorder,” to name but a few.

Today’s classroom teachers are expected to create specialized instructional packages for a large percentage of little learners, while simultaneously addressing the growing number of homes where English is spoken as a second language.

All too often, either single or dual parents are working full time, not to mention the demands of their children’s sports or extracurricular activities, the ever-frustrating homework assignments plus the distraction of today’s  social networks.

While parents are expected to support, extend, encourage, diversify, and reinforce classroom learning, without the training to do so, teachers are supposed to find effective ways to get “horizontal” information into a “vertically” processing mind.

If you’re under the assumption that  your friends or family aren’t personally affected by dyslexia, it’s more likely that you simply haven’t asked.  Or perhaps you aren’t aware of the diverse and awesome “Hall of Fame” occupied by those who think “outside of the box.”

Creative talent and brilliant minds belonging to Albert Einstein, for instance, or Agatha Christie, Whoopi Goldberg, Anderson Cooper, Pablo Picasso, Gen. George Patton, Nolan Ryan, Ozzy Osbourne, Cher and  Harry Belafonte, all were “diagnosed” with dyslexia.   Business giants like Ted Turner, Charles Schwab and Paul Orfalea,  along with the founder of IKEA, Ingvar Kamprad, all had this marvelous  “disability” that forced them to see the world differently.

movieOn Friday, January 17th, at 7:00 pm, n the Santa Barbara High School theatre, filmmaker Harvey Hubbell will offer a free showing of his film, Dislecksia: the Movie, followed by a panel discussion about innovative approaches to improved learning.
Continue Reading →

Comments { 5 }

Auto Sanctity and Cycle Sanity

Weekly column by Loretta Redd

The weather has been temperate and the holidays long this year; a perfect time, it would seem, to pull out the two-wheeler for a healthy spin.  But let me issue a warning to all automotive drivers:  Santa Barbara cyclists have gone collectively insane.

bikers

SBView File Photo

I live close to the Mission.  That places me in the triangle of cycling hell.  There are the skinny butt, skinny tire, ‘serious’ cyclists in their neon billboard outfits who pump up and fly down the Riviera hills, the once-a-month leisure cyclists enjoying the slightly sloping straight shot from the Mission to the ocean on Laguna, Olive or Garden, and the impervious and death defying adolescent males who ride on anything, anywhere and anyway they wish, usually in tandem with their hormones.

Few wear helmets.  None seem to have acquired the ability to use hand signals.  Most must be blind, because they apparently cannot see a STOP sign.  All ask motorists not to run them over, while tempting them at every turn.

I don’t want to hit anyone on a bicycle- it would definitely spoil my day and theirs.   But as the adage goes, “The hardest part about riding a bike is the pavement.”

This morning’s lunatic award is a tie. There was  the cyclist screaming down Olive in a wide zig-zag pattern, not bothering to even slow at the STOP signs, one knee up high and then the other, leaning into the turns like some death-defying motocross moron, occasionally up onto the sidewalk, then back onto the street, as unwitting residents were backing out of their driveways and other motorists were caught off-guard by his darting back and forth between cars.

When I turned onto Victoria, I was greeted by an oncoming, helmet-free cyclist with his hands tucked under his armpits, sitting upright and singing along with whatever mind-numbing music must have been pouring from his headphones.  While in my lane, facing me, he swerved using his hips and made questionable use of his one ‘free’ hand to flip me off, while I later cleaned my brake-slamming, spilled coffee from my lap.

Guess who would be cited if I had inadvertently ended either of these joy riders’ jaunts through midtown?

Having owned Fleet Feet Triathlete in Atlanta back in the 1980′s, I remain a cycling proponent and  strong advocate for ‘sharing the road.’  The invention of the bicycle is among the best ever and we would all do well to use cycling for health, and to slow down our lives a little.

But I’m tired of the lack of etiquette and total disregard for the law when it comes to our peddling pals. Just so you don’t think I simply have a gear to grind, let me invite you to ride over those pesky little speed bumps of California Highway Patrol state regulations regarding bicyclists:

1. When moving slower than traffic, stay near the right edge of the road except when passing another bicycle or vehicle, when getting ready to turn left, when passing a parked car or other objects, or when on a one-way, two-lanes or wider road.

2. Whenever there is a bike lane, you must use it if you are moving slower than normal traffic. You may leave it when necessary to pass another bicycle, pedestrian or vehicle, when getting ready to turn left, or when necessary to avoid parked cars or other objects.

3. Keep at least one hand on the handlebars.  Bicyclists must ride on a permanently attached seat.  Carry no passengers unless there is a separate seat.

4. Give proper hand signals when turning or stopping. Correct signals are:

  • Left turn – Left arm straight out, pointing left
  • Right turn – Left arm pointed straight up, or right arm straight out pointing right
  • Stop – Left arm pointed straight down.

5. Before leaving a lane, give a hand signal.  Leave the lane only when safe to do so.

6. Never hitch rides by hanging onto or attaching your bicycle to a moving vehicle.

7. Bicyclists may not ride on most freeways.

8. Never leave your bicycle blocking a sidewalk.

9. Headphones covering both ears may not be worn while operating a bicycle.

10. Bicycles must be correctly equipped:

Helmet: a person under 18 years of age cannot operate a bicycle or ride as a passenger without a properly fitted helmet that meets the ANSI or SNELL standards.  (If it were up to me, helmets would be mandatory, just as they are on motorcycles.  They refer to helmets as ‘brain buckets’ for a reason)

Handlebar:  must be set so that your hands are no higher than your shoulders when you hold the steering grip area

Size: must not be so big that operator can’t safely stop bicycle upright with at least one foot on ground.

Brakes: must be able to make one wheel skid on clean, level, dry pavement

Night riding: bicycle must be equipped with a white headlamp, attached to the bike or your body, visible from 300 feet to the front and from the sides, a red rear reflector, white or yellow reflectors on front and back of each pedal, white or yellow reflectors on each side, usually attached on wheel spokes.

In support of my two-wheeling readers, let me assure you that I do not find motorists faultless.  Let me share some tips from BicycleSafe.com on How Not to Get Hit by equally clueless drivers and pedestrians.

There’s “The Door Prize,” when a vehicle opens its door into the path of an oncoming cyclist, which happens to be  the number one crash cause in Santa Barbara.  Best way to avoid this unpleasant airborne experience?  Slow down, use caution, get a headlamp, and when possible, ride further to the side, and never on sidewalks.

Those same tips come in handy while avoiding the “Right Cross,” the” Left Cross” and the “Crosswalk Slam” as well.   For what the website refers to as the “Wrong Way Wreck,” simply never ride against traffic.  It’s 3 times as dangerous for adults, 7 times for children and probably 10 times as dangerous if you are on a Colorado high or in some other way, impaired.

The “Red Light” is referred to as the Stop of Death, because of the number of automotive idiots who never signal their intention to turn, and plow into the bicyclist when the light turns green.  I’m coming to the conclusion that really expensive, foreign cars now consider the turn signal to be optional equipment, while attention-distracting ‘entertainment systems’ are now standard.

To avoid the “Right Hook” and the” Rear End“, here are some simple tips: use your mirror.  Don’t have one? Get one.  Today.  Never move to the left without looking behind you, and always signal (see CHP #4) your intention.

To avoid being used as a launch pad from a read end hit like Wiley Coyote, get a flashing rear light, wear a reflective vest, use your mirror, choose wide, slow streets and don’t swerve in and out of lanes.

Cyclists need to ride as if they are invisible, not invincible.  The question isn’t “Will you crash?” but rather, “When will you crash?”   Regardless of the carelessness of cyclists who ride without helmets, mirrors, lights or brains, or the implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act, a 20 pound bike will never be competition for a 3600 pound vehicle.

Good luck, Santa Barbara, especially around the Mission.  I guess whether you’re swearing at a bicycle or praying not to get hit while you’re riding one, at least there’s a church nearby.

Comments { 108 }

Flush Twice

Weekly Column by Loretta Redd

On what merit do you decide that a State legislator has value or is successful in their service to you?  Is it by their championing of issues which you hold dear, being a watchful conservator and distributor of tax receipts received, or by capturing headlines as a visionary guardian of our future welfare?

Even on the State level, the Democrats are the party of government activism.  “They say government can make you richer, smarter, taller and get the chickweed out of your lawn.” However, “the Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work, and then they get elected and prove it.”

While modern-day legislators can be simultaneously described as both “do-nothing” and “overreaching,” one might argue that generally speaking, legislation is designed for the benefit and protection of the public.  But sometimes, that provokes a conundrum between good intention versus incredible intrusion.

California Senate Bill 407

Such is the case with California Senate Bill 407, scripted by Alex Padilla years ago during the 2009-2010 legislature, entitled:

An Act to Add Section 1102.155 To, and to Add Article 1.4 (Commencing with Section 1101.1) to Chapter 2 of Title 4 of Part 4 of Division 2 Of, the Civil Code, Relating to Water Conservation.”

I wouldn’t know if Sen. Padilla was attempting to be obscure with his impactful and futuristic legislation, though its purpose is simple enough:  help the state conserve our most valuable resource: water.

tankAs innocuous as SB 407′s title may be, you may want to be sitting down–though hopefully, not on a porcelain throne– when you hear its regulatory effect on your wallet.  In condensed form, California SB 407 begins January 1st, 2014 and will “require, for all building alterations or improvements to single-family residential real property, that water-conserving plumbing fixtures replace other non-compliant plumbing fixtures as a condition for issuance of a certificate of final completion and occupancy or final permit approval by the local building department.”

This is a “state-mandated local program,” which supersedes any local or county ordinance, and it doesn’t stop at one flush.

By January 1, 2017, “a seller or transferor of single-family residential real property, multifamily residential real property, or commercial real property must disclose to a purchaser of transferee in writing, specified requirements for replacing plumbing fixtures, and whether the real property includes noncompliant plumbing….”

Then, on January 1, 2019, it requires that “all non-compliant plumbing fixtures in multifamily residential real property and commercial real property be replaced with water-conserving plumbing fixtures….”

“The bill would permit a city or county or retail water supplier to enact a local ordinance or policy that promotes compliance with the bill’s provisions or that will result in greater water savings than otherwise provided in the bill….”   The State Constitution requires reimbursement to local agencies and school districts for certain costs mandated by the state, but this Bill conveniently fails to list any specific reasons such reimbursement may be granted or denied.

How does this affect you? If you obtain a permit to remodel a property built before 1994, you must provide “johns” using a maximum of 1.6 gallons per flush, showerheads with flow rates of 2.5 gallons per minute, and interior fixtures of 2.2 gallons per minute.  You don’t have to be remodeling your bathroom for this to apply…ANY permit for remodel will cause this bill to poop pushing water conservation to go into effect.

So the “low-flow when you go ” toilet has now joined the growing list of required disclosures when purchasing a home, alongside smoke detectors, buried military ordinance, water heater bracing, earthquake, forest fire and flood zones, pest control, carbon monoxide, sex offenders, fluorescent bulbs, meth labs, material defects and lead paint.

Granted, all of these requirements (along with that proverbial road to hell,) are paved with good intentions, and water conservation may indeed be the most basic need of all.  But I question whether monetary incentives might have been chosen over legislative commandments, and I really question passing a piece of “environmental impact” legislation five to ten years before its enactment.

I know that legislators are supposedly looking out for our best interests, but do we really live in a place that requires flood zone notification AND water conservation enforcement in the same contract?

Just so happens, Santa Barbara is in year three of a historical six year dry weather cycle.  With Lake Cachuma down by fifty percent, and Gibraltar reservoir water currently described as “unusable,” the City is well into its “long-term water supply plan” for drought.

Santa Barbara Water Department Conservation Supervisor, Alison Jordan, explains how we have various water sources to rely on, including surface, ground, recycled and State water allotment.  Manager Rebecca Bjork has made sure the city has been saving water, although if we reach year four without significant replenishment, City officials will begin taking “extraordinary measures” of conservation that come with a Stage One drought emergency.

As prepared and relatively unconcerned as our City Water department heads currently seem, I might ask that we toot the horn of conservation a little earlier…like now.   While the visionary State Senator Padilla is about to tack several hundred dollars of new potties and plumbing fixtures onto your window replacement or  bedroom remodel, you might as well start saving some money by asking for a free City irrigation evaluation of your landscaping sprinkler system.

Unlike the poop out of Sacramento that persistently flows down, the cost to consumers by such legislative visionaries and watchful conservators is only going to go up.

Comments { 7 }

Imposters and Impossibilities

Column by Loretta Redd

indexWhen I first heard about the imposter  interpreter who used unintelligible sign language gestures at the Mandela memorial, I figured it was a ‘throw away’ story designed to capture a small percentage of readers or listeners attuned to the irreverent and irrelevant, more than significant “news.”

But after days of front and second page print coverage while carrying the ‘lead’ on every cable news channel, I’m convinced our nation has fallen to the level where we are living the cultural equivalency of Animal House.

Welcome to the Roman Empire, just before the fall.

The moron on stage in South Africa, flapping his hands like RuPaul with a seizure, was the front man for a circus of players passing themselves off as legitimate interpreters.  Since the discovery, his partners have flown the coop.  But rather than admit his transgression, rather than accept responsibility or hold himself accountable in any manner, shape or fashion, he had the audacity to conjure up an even bigger lie about having a psychotic episode brought on by visions of angels entering the stadium.

Yes, maybe more time for security and background checks would have exposed this fraud standing  ten feet from ninety global leaders, but that’s not the point.

The tragedy is that while the President of the United States gave one of the most honest and moving speeches of his life and other dignitaries spoke eloquently of the unassailable compassion of Nelson Mandela, this idiot’s portrayal of sign language continues to capture the headlines.

“We must search for his largeness of spirit somewhere inside of ourselves….”  What we have chosen as of late to focus on in the world of 24 hour media is far from a tribute to our “higher” selves.

What has happened to us?  Are we Americans so entrenched in this increasing frat-boy mentality,  that personal accountability has taken a second seat to the number of views on YouTube’s latest mind-numbing stupid-tricks video?

The day after Madela’s memorial, halfway across the globe in Fort Worth, Texas…a place no-less antediluvian  than most of Africa, a 16 year old male was given probation after running his big-boy pickup truck over four pedestrians, killing every one of them.

The year before, this same now-murderer was caught in his pick-up truck with a passed out 14 year old girl.  According to court records, he started driving at 13, and drinking at an even earlier age…all with the passive approval of his criminally-indulgent parents.

So what horrific psychological condition did this young person suffer from that would provide rationalization for his reckless endangerment and unconscionable behavior?  According to his defense psychologist, Dr. G. Dick Miller, it was “affluenza,” where wealth and privilege apparently cancels out any modicum of accountability.

“Affluenza” is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) as a valid diagnosis…but maybe in Texas, blowing a 0.24 blood alcohol three hours after mowing down four human beings doesn’t really qualify as being drunk, either.  Especially if your parents are going to pay $450,000 out of pocket per year so their darling can attend a country-club style “recovery” center.

Just because rehab didn’t work for Lindsay Lohan the first sixteen or so times, doesn’t mean this Texas genius won’t graduate from treatment with more than a great tan.  I think he should share a jail cell with his parents.

Maybe authorities used the same DSM manual to diagnose “psychosis” in the fraudulent interpreter in South Africa, as they did for the equally culpable “affluenza” brat in Texas.  Neither speak well for the legitimate practice of Psychology, or for the Justice system, yet both are an indication of  where our values have come to reside and what we now think of as newsworthy,  regardless of what continent you stand on.

Hail, Ceasar.

Comments { 5 }

Government Blinded Visionaries

Weekly column by Loretta Redd

governmentcontractsPresident Obama and Governor Brown are two recent examples of well-meaning visionaries who seem to be blind to the complexities of the government they’ve helped to create, and their naiveté is going to cost us a bundle.

The President’s Affordable Health Care Act did not stand a snowflake’s chance in hell of getting off to a smooth start, given the realities of government contracting.  In pursuit of the lowest  bid more focused on equal opportunity and requisite diversity than on skill and experience, there is no wonder  the group which was ultimately awarded the contract for the ACA website was beyond inept.

Any of you who have ever tried to apply for a government contract, whether State or Federal, knows what a byzantine process of online frustration it can be.  I had the experience of working together with Tony Perez, a disabled, Hispanic Viet Nam Veteran who had been awarded a Purple Heart and was imminently qualified in his field.  To add to the diversity requirement of the contracting process,  I represented an ex-military, woman-owned business.

After nine months of online frustrations, circular conversations, “lost” applications and hours of paperwork, we surrendered to the gate keeping  gods and goddesses in the procurement department who had no real interest or intention of awarding this particular contract to anyone they didn’t already know or hadn’t worked with before.

In other words, the system is fixed…and the outcome is at best, mediocre.  But then, what do you expect from the lowest bidder?

In my innocence, I asked my business partner if we should file a “bid protest.”  Here’s a taste of how you do that:

“To file a bid protest, the protestor must be an actual or prospective offeror whose direct economic interest would be affected by the failure to award the contract. Thus, while a protester challenging the terms of a solicitation must be an actual or prospective offeror, a protestor challenging an agency’s selection decision must also demonstrate that it would be next in line for an award but for the agency error or that it would regain the opportunity to compete it its protest was sustained.”

I don’t doubt for a moment it was with regretful innocence that the President mouthed the assurances offered to him by those in charge of the kickoff of the Healthcare Mandate.  Given the political cost of the roll out, he’d simply be considered suicidal if he’d had an inkling of what was to befall us and went ahead anyway.   As President, he is ultimately responsible, whether he knew all of the private sector complexities, convoluted  and special deals struck by legislators of both aisles or not,  and has said as much.

In addition to “getting the website fixed,” there needs to be an extraordinary task force to dismantle and repair the system of contracting in government, or these type of problems will only escalate. The terms “politically correct” and “efficiently operated” are diametrically opposed.

And the problem is only exacerbated when the self-interest of elected officials are put into the equation.  Take Governor Brown’s High Speed Rail to Nowhere debacle…please.  Though the funding is far from assured, the surface for the rails now have to be laid in concrete because they just realized a train at 100 mph might toss gravel into the faces of people or animals standing near the tracks, plus they haven’t been able to get environmental approval  for major sections south of Fresno, the High Speed Rail Authority Board is busy awarding contracts to train apprentice rail operators.  Governor Moonbeam, indeed.

Jerry Brown, like the President, is more focused on the starry-eyed vision of their projects than the practicality of them.  With the funding for the High Speed Rail slowing down to turtle speed, George Skelton of the LA Times noted, “It’s astonishing that a seasoned governor who fancies himself a prudent spender refuses to recognize the need to secure financing before embarking on the largest public works project in California history.  It’s like a middle-class family starting to build a mansion before obtaining a loan.”

Apparently, the State procurement process – like that of the Federal government- prefers to select firms that are good at navigating the process of filling out an application more than the capacity to successfully fulfill the contract.

As in most high-dollar contracts, the elected officials representing the district where dollars are being spent and work is being done, stand to benefit through both direct and indirect payback.  Not the voters.

For so many in Washington or Sacramento, it has become blatant graft, filling their re-election coffers in exchange for pushing contracts and influencing decisions.  For this President and Governor,

their projects will be their legacy, so they are stubborn in their commitment, even when downright foolish in the design.

On a local level, what “legacy” will our area City Council members strive for in coming years?  Will the new Council ask voters to consider a rail system between Goleta and Ventura, for instance?  Or will our citizen protests of the State’s 101cookie-cutter design be disregarded by our elected officials, so Caltrans can continue to do what is easiest for them, rather than most beneficial for us?  We are already accountable to the State’s Mandated Housing requirements, and must constantly find places for in-fill housing whether we think it is wise, sustainable or fair.

Although government has no monopoly on incompetence, elected officials of all levels are ultimately responsible for the program management and outcomes, and that requires oversight and perhaps even a modicum of competition.

“A better idea,” says Steve Cohen, professor at Columbia University, “would be to pay attention to more pragmatic issues related to cost-effective service delivery and effective, innovative management.”   Grand visions can be blinding.  Whether local or larger government, the people should not have to suffer the consequences of our broken system of contracting, or the greediness of those we’ve elected to award them.

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When Death Seems Artificial

Column by Loretta Redd

In an era where Grandpa’s taking testosterone replacement, along with his reconstructed knees while Grandma’s at a post-menopausal Pilates class, stretching out after her last triathlon, I wasn’t surprised to read an LA Times article, where “the percentage of Americans who say physicians should always do everything possible to save a life has more than doubled since 1990, rising to 31% from 15%.”

The Boomer generation seems to treat death as some avoidable condition; but other than birth, it is the only universally shared experience of every living organism.

As our questionably healthy fear of aging translates into a growing industry of joint replacements, green breakfast drinks, facelifts and sports cars, it may ultimately bankrupt our nation.

It’s not that we don’t want to die in pain…it’s more like we don’t want to die, ever.

Aggressive medical treatment for patients within a month of death accounts for over $140 billion in health care expenditures.  Put in a different perspective, one percent of the population is now responsible for 30% of total healthcare costs.  And those costs extend life less than 30 days.

The economic paradox is that the distress of our current medical cost has been brought on by the success of our post -war economy.  As households became increasingly affluent after WWII,  family members relocated to cities and towns farther and farther away from their “family of origin.”

With the siren call of manufacturing,  Madison Avenue and middle class jobs, the days where multiple generations lived – and died- under one roof came to an end.  Why share a house, when, with the help of the GI Bill, you could afford one of your own?

No longer were babies brought home to a family which included not only siblings and parents, but grandparents and often great-grandparents.  No longer did seniors die in the arms of those they had born.

Today, severe illness results in a person being taken to the sanitized environment of a hospital to be cared for by strangers.  If the diagnosis is terminal, we’ve created an industry of hospice workers– loving, compassionate,  and well-trained–but not family.  Because “family” now lives in different cities or countries or are simply too busy living their independent lives.

So we call…or text…or email.  No wonder death feels foreign.

Rarely anymore do we hear a physician say, “There’s nothing we can do.”  Modern medicine has given us transplanted organs, artificial hearts, bionic limbs and life-extending drugs, to the point that rather than a natural conclusion to life, death almost seems like a failure to try.

But try we will…as if the point of extending a life is to compensate for the time unspent together or to bridge the emotional chasm created throughout life.  Economy has replaced emotion.

Rather than, “Do whatever you can to keep them alive,” might I suggest  a different trajectory.  Take time this holiday season to have a fearfully frank discussion about your death with family members.

power-of-attorney-480x450Consider a Power of Attorney for Health Care, and Advance Health Care Directives which spell out exactly what – if any- life-extending measures you might want to have taken. Yes, it may be uncomfortable and unfamiliar; unfortunately, that’s the kind of world we’ve created.

But it won’t be a burden, because a burden- whether economic, emotional or physical- is what the survivors face when you have left things unsaid and unplanned.    Having buried most of my family, and over 200 clients during the 1980′s AIDS epidemic in Atlanta,  I can speak with experience that clear directives are a godsend.

The toll that death takes on all of us will be smaller financially, and even emotionally, if your wishes are clearly spelled out.  The real gift is to your survivors who will sleep free from doubt…though not free from grief.

Grief is part of love.  Love is part of living.  Life is part of death, and death is not an option.  Your decision as to what extraordinary steps should be taken to keep you alive, are yours alone to decide.  But don’t put this off.

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