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District Elections Will Be THE Big Thing This Year

By Sharon Byrne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Historic Trees on Anapamu Show Signs of New Growth and Increased Health

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The City Parks and Recreation Department will be completing the installment of 31 slow-watering devices (irricades) within the parkway along East Anapamu Street this week. Thanks to a Pearl Chase Society donation, 56 units have been purchased to help water the historic Italian Stone Pines. Twenty-five have been providing water to some of the majestic trees along this corridor since late November. The additional 31 will ensure that every historic tree with available space for an irricade get one.

Irricades are redesigned traffic barriers equipped with a valve and soaker hose that release 125 gallons of water to the trees over a ten to twelve hour period. First developed in Autralia, this method of watering penetrates deeper and saturates the soil more thoroughly than hand watering. Mulch covers the hose to reduce evaporation from the soil.

The Parks and Recreation Department is committed to the care of the historic Italian Stone Pines that have been stressed from drought, beetle infestation and a confined growing environment. Prior to the irricade installation, staff hand watered the trees, a very time consuming task. Thanks to the irricades, staff time has been reduced by nearly 70% and the trees are showing signs of new growth and increased health. “With each month of watering, the trees improve visually”, says Tim Downey, City Urban Forest Superintendent.

The Department is also utilizing “gator” bags to support tree watering on young trees. Gator bags are a smaller (25 gallon) slow-release system best used on young trees trying to establish in their new environment. They promote deep root growth, have no runoff and reduce time spent at the tree. The City welcomes community assistance in filling the gator bags or adopting an irricade. For more information on how to help water these trees, or any tree in front of your house, call the Parks Division at 564-5433.


Want to solve the homeless problem? Get involved.

By Sharon Byrne

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

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

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

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

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

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

By: Sharon Byrne

Bit of Milpas food history for the epi-curious:

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

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

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

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


Petition for Preservation

ellwoodgasstationNearly 1,500 people have signed the petition to save the old Elwood gas station. According to Tom Modugno, “Goleta is growing and changing faster than ever before, and the few reminders of our history we have left should be preserved for future generations.”

“The station should be preserved not only for it’s architectural significance, but as a monument to the historic Ellwood oil fields and the overwhelming impact of that industry on our area,” writes Tom. “Every day that passes, this beautiful structure falls further into disrepair and if our city leaders don’t act soon, it will be too far gone to save. Please ask the Goleta city council to do what they can to preserve the old Ellwood gas station.”

Click here to sign and share this petition for preservation.


EcoFacts: The Economics of Water

Weekly column by Barbara Hirsch

waterAn email arrived a few days ago announcing the proposed water rate increases in Santa Barbara, the revenue from which would be used to help manage our ever dwindling water supplies, and possibly reactivate a very expensive desalinisation plant that was never put into use. Much has been written on the City’s water situation with Cachuma’s level being around 28% and Gibraltar’s even lower. But, if people are paying an extra $15 or $20 a month (not including Montecito here) will they change their water use ways and conserve considerably more? Still though, water remains one of the lowest utility bills, even as its importance is rising fast due to drought, flooding and climate change. A survey of 30 cities in the U.S. shows that water prices have increased 33% since 2010, even in places where rain is plentiful, but infrastructure maintenance is not. And flooding does not bring water to drink.

Also in this past week at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, global elite have been meeting to discuss the world’s greatest challenges. “For the first time, water crises took the top spot in the World Economic Forum’s 10th global risk report, an annual survey of nearly 900 leaders in politics, business, and civic life about the world’s most critical issues. Water ranked third a year ago.” This was in the Societal Risk category. In the Environmental Risk category, extreme weather events was first.

All to say, that more focus on the subject is needed in the world’s richest places, and in its poorest, where access to clean water can be a day’s work. The comfortable have long taken it for granted because it seemed plentiful, and its price supported that view. It does always seem to end up being about economics.


Santa Barbara by Bicycle

7% of Santa Barbara residents now commute by bicycle, while accidents are up 18% year to date. A recent enforcement sting was conducted to help reduce this uptick. According to officers, the three most common infractions made by bicyclists are: riding on the sidewalks, rolling through stop signs and failing to stop at red lights.
The City has summarized the situation in the following video:


Local Views of Santa Barbara

By Dan Seibert

P120037172 degrees this past Saturday, nice change from the steady rain a week ago. I was on boat taking photos of some outrigger and SUP races when we saw a woman with dolphins circling her. I can see a camera hanging around her neck, her photos must be amazing. The water was so clear we could see down twenty feet. (click to enlarge photo)


Living on One Knee: Learning to Manage While Waiting for Managed Health Care

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150It was the week before Christmas, a time of rushing around too fast and not paying enough attention. The last person who had driven my car had moved the seat back and lowered it; I planted my foot and, when the seat wasn’t where I expected it to be, I twisted my knee.

The minute it happened, I knew something went wrong. But I thought it was just a stretch, a strain, something that would go away. Besides, I had too much to do at that time of year to deal with it: a birthday celebration for my daughter, a drive to Orange County for a shopping trip with my sister, holiday gifts to select, food to prepare, friends and family to entertain.

Through it all, I tried to ignore my throbbing, swollen knee. Well, not exactly ignore: I did the whole RICE thing, rest (as much as possible), ice, compress, and elevate. Every morning I hoped it had magically healed overnight; every morning that first step confirmed it had not.

A couple days after the holiday, my husband finally convinced me to go to urgent care to get medical assistance. But when we walked in, the place was filled with people in obvious distress with bad colds and flu, and the waiting time was three to four hours. Not possible.

So I called Sansum Clinic, the local medical clinic approved by my new Platinum insurance plan with Anthem Blue Cross, and got the first available appointment, for the second week in January. When that blessed day finally arrived, I soon learned that my co-pay had been increased from $40 to $50. Fine. I paid the money, looking forward to relief.

I finally saw the physician’s assistant, who examined my knee and said it was a classic injury. He suspected a torn meniscus. That part of the knee doesn’t heal on its own, he explained, an MRI was needed so they could figure out exactly what is going on, and what to do about it. We’d get the OK from the insurance company—which takes just a couple of days, and schedule it. I could just manage pain with over-the-counter medications, he noted.

That’s when the new reality of “health care” kicked in. The injury occurred on December 17; the appointment was on January 8; I am writing this on January 20, and still no word. Actually, there was word: I called a couple of times and was told it was still too soon to be concerned.

Funny, I was pretty concerned about my increasingly painful knee, and the restrictions it was putting on my life. All this waiting was doing no good at all.

Last week I called to talk with the insurance liaison at the clinic. She told me that it’s her job to process and prioritize, that there were a number of cases waiting because one person was out of the office. She noted that I was lucky I wasn’t one of the ones who is dying or bleeding out. Those “emergent” cases take precedence. She told me that they have 14 business days to make a determination about whether or not to authorize the procedure (the one recommended by the medical professional who had examined my knee). She said I could appeal if they denied the MRI, suggesting maybe cortisone or physical therapy could work. She reminded me that no matter what the doctor had recommended, everything has criteria that need to be met—and that imaging procedures receive a great deal of scrutiny. She told me this is managed care.

And here’s the problem: my blasted knee hurts. Walking more than a block or two is a painful proposition, something quite humbling for an active person who wrote the book on walking Santa Barbara, for whom a sedentary life is unthinkable. Going up stairs is difficult, going down them is even worse—just at the time that the elevator is broken at the place where I work. I’ve learned to live with the pain, but it’s taking a toll by limiting my activities and affecting my mood.

I try to ignore it; sometimes I take ibuprofen, other times I take naproxen, hoping to take the edge off. The idea of taking anything stronger scares me, messes with my head, and makes me realize how easy it would be to get hooked on some painkillers while waiting for the medical procedure that would take care of the cause of the pain.

This is not health “care.” This is health business. Health bureaucracy. With people evaluated, shelved and inventoried like so many troublesome widgets.

I guess if I was paying cash for an MRI I could get it scheduled in no time. And if I could afford a fancy concierge doctor on demand, my knee would be fine by now. Apparently those hundreds of dollars we shell out every month aren’t enough to get basic medical care in a timely manner.

Somehow I don’t think this is what Universal Health Care is supposed to be, with the local health clinic serving as a way station and the insurance companies calling the shots about whether or not people get care—and how long they suffer before they get it. Or not.

Stay tuned for the next chapter of managing life on one knee in Santa Barbara. And waiting for health care to deal with it.