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Help For The Seriously Mentally Ill On Our Streets: Your Voice Needed!

By Sharon Byrne

blog-mental-health-638x425I wrote earlier this year on Prop 63, the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA), passed in 2004. To refresh: Prop 63 levies a 1% additional tax on the wealthiest Californians, earning over $1,000,000 annually. The MHSA directs these tax dollars to counties to care for the most acutely mentally ill. Since passage, the MHSA has collected $7.4 billion in revenues.

I know what you’re thinking:
$7.4 billion….and we have mentally ill individuals wandering our streets, homeless???? With THAT kind of money available to help them??? Everyone has encountered someone mentally ill and homeless at this point, right? People love to complain about it. I complain, to wit: I was on an early morning beach walk Tuesday, and heard shouting. A disheveled man across the street was shouting the odds at 6 AM. To himself. Or the train. Or me. Or the sidewalk. I’m not sure what exactly wound him up like that, actually.

One of the key components of the MHSA is this: Community Services and Supports (CSS) – provides funds for direct services to individuals with severe mental illness.

Why is my Shouting Man of the Early Morning not serviced by the MHSA? This is precisely who it was intended for. If he’s not in need of direct mental health services, then who the heck is? MHSA provides funding for outreach on the street. It provides funding for treatment, housing, including supportive housing, where he could receive mental health services and remain housed, rather than living on the street and screaming to himself, and the rest of us, at 6 AM.

What!?! They should do something, darn it!

Amen, brother, but ‘they’ is ‘we’, and ‘we’ can do something.

Santa Barbara County Alcohol, Drug, and Mental Health Services (ADMHS) determines the services it will provide with MHSA funding. Every year, the department proposes programs to address the county’s needs for mental health, and seeks stakeholder input on them before applying for MHSA funding from the state.

Who is a stakeholder?

We all are.

Anyone interested in mental health, alcohol and drug services provided in Santa Barbara County should be providing input. And if we want our county to get serious and apply all available resources to solving the problem of severely mentally ill individuals living on our streets, then we’d better get moving. Because right now, the proposed MHSA from the county is not nearly robust enough to adequately address this problem.

So here’s what you can do:

1.    Attend the Stakeholders Meeting:
Dec 16th
9 AM to 12 PM
Ballroom at the Marriott in Buellton.
RSVP to ccontreras@co.santa-barbara.ca.us.

Feel you need more info? Learn more about the MHSA services on offer currently here: http://cosb.countyofsb.org/admhs/admhs2.aspx?id=37228&id2=38600

2. If Buellton is too far to go to a long meeting, here’s one that’s closer and requires significantly less time:
Mental Health Commission Meeting
December 19th
1 PM
Santa Barbara Children’s Clinic,
429 N. San Antonio Rd. Santa Barbara

You can speak for a few minutes at the beginning, during public comment, on the importance of providing increased services for the mentally ill in this county, including outreach, supportive services, and housing. Since there is a bucket of funds allocated by Prop 63 for this purpose, we should expect them to be used to the fullest extent possible to resolve the problem of seriously mentally ill individuals living on our streets. The current plan needs bolstering. The only way that will change is if enough of us make it clear that bolstering it is a top priority.

3. I gotta’ work…OR… another meeting just too much for my already crammed schedule. It IS the holidays, after all. Fair enough. Email your county supervisor and express your thoughts to them. That will take you all of 5 minutes. They’re not hard to get hold of, and they’re usually pretty responsive:

1st District: Salud Carbajal: scarbaja@co.santa-barbara.ca.us
2nd District: Janet Wolf: jwolf@co.santa-barbara.ca.us
3rd District: Doreen Farr: dfarr@countyofsb.org
4th District: Peter Adam: officeofpeteradam@countyofsb.org
5th District: Steve Lavagnino: steve.lavagnino@countyofsb.org

The good news is we live in a democracy, whatever you might think of its present state. You can talk to your elected representatives about this topic, and others, that concern you. You can participate in the public process to help determine the shape and scope of programs like the MHSA that address a specific community need. And you can make a difference.

You can even nudge someone who says ‘they ought to do something, darn it!’ to do something, darn it.

If we want to ensure the resources available to us are used to the fullest extent possible to help the most severely mentally ill among us…well, we can do that.

So let’s get on with it.


20 Years of Kids Day in Santa Barbara

Each year at this time, Rick Feldman throws his special brand of holiday magic and pulls in dignitaries, doctors, clinics, Santa, and more for the kids of Santa Barbara. It’s Kids Day, now a 20 year tradition in the area, held at the Eyeglass Factory on Milpas. Hundreds of kids come from all over to get free eye exams, health screenings, dental care, and more. Rick gives out loads of free eyeglasses to all the kids, and the event is his enormous gift to our region. In the most recent year, over one thousand individuals were given eye exams and free eyeglasses and, over a period of 20 years, it is estimated that over one million dollars in eye care has been provided.

Rick recalls one of the early Kids Day attendees, and a little girl that got him misty-eyed. As she proudly donned her new glasses, a news anchor asked her, ‘what does this mean to you?’ She turned to him, and proudly announced, “well now I can see!” That’s what it’s all about. 

Kids Day at the Santa Barbara Eyeglass Factory - Sunday, December 14, 9:00 am – 1 pm., 1 S. Milpas Street at the corner of Milpas & Quinientos.

John Dixon of Tri-County Produce, Mayor Helene Schneider and 1st District County Supervisor Salud Carbajal award bikes to lucky kids on Kids Day at the Eyeglass Factory.


What is Community?

Milpas on the Move, by Sharon Byrne

Often we hear the term community used in casual conversation. “I’m doing this for the community.” Or “we give back to our community.”

I looked up the word community, to see where it came from. The oldest roots are, not surprisingly, Latin. The word communitas probably evolved from communis: common, public, general, shared by all or many. There is also communitatem: fellowship, community of relations or feelings. Communitas means things held in common, an organized society, a free city. Rome was a giant, ancient metropolis, of course, but the empire spanned across Europe, and included villages of people living together, in communitas.

The next iteration is old French, 14th century, communete. That evolved to communité – everybody, commonness, community. I’ve also read this definition, which I like the most, though I think it’s questionable as to correct etymology:

Community: The origin of the word “community” comes from the Latin munus, which means the gift, and cum, which means together, among each other. So community literally means to give among each other.

That’s certainly how it feels on Milpas, with getting our holiday lights up, raising a Christmas tree in the roundabout, and putting on the big holiday parade! It feels like we’re giving among each other, in community, and that is a very sweet experience.

Here’s a look at our community putting on the holidays on Milpas!

(photos by Chris Cowan and Sharon Byrne)

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Sharon’s Take: Election Results Indicate Potential Underlying Shifts

Sharon’s Take by Sharon Byrne, as featured in the Santa Barbara Sentinel

This midterm election served up some surprises, even within predictable outcomes, in my opinion.

Education bonds no longer a slam dunk. Measure S and the Montecito Union School bond both failed. I wrote about Measure S last month, and some readers told me that for the first time ever, they voted against an education bond measure. The question of infrastructure is not exclusive to City College. 60 Minutes just did a story on failing bridges, highways, railroad infrastructure, aging ports that haven’t been dredged in decades, and more. Our city is trying to sort out what should be prioritized in a $600 million capital infrastructure backlog. A whole lot of people are wondering why it is that once upon a time, we had the funding to build schools, bridges, buildings, and a highway system that was the best in the world, but can no longer find funding to adequately maintain any of it? There is a growing unease among our citizenry that something has gone very wrong on this front. How did America, with all its can-do and know-how, come to this place of crumbling infrastructure? And why is it that we can no longer maintain our schools adequately? We once had budget to do that…what happened? I expect future school bond issues will run into increasing scrutiny along these lines.

Lois Capps squeaks by. This was quite surprising. Not that she won, no that wasn’t the surprise. It was that she posted a win of merely 51.7%. The 24th Congressional was considered a Dem stronghold going into this election. Big Republican guns like Boehner were glaringly absent, though McCarthy did pop by to try to help Mitchum. I saw one Mitchum sign on the way to Buellton and a couple around Santa Barbara. Hardly a big threat. But these results move the district to toss-up status, and that’s striking. Which is probably why Capps, with 5 times the war chest of Mitchum, ran the ugliest smear campaign seen in these parts, and she ran it in full saturation mode, astonishing for a Congresswoman who wears ‘nice’ like it’s deodorant.

But maybe it wasn’t Mitchum that had her sweating. Perhaps it’s her would-be-successors circling like hungry sharks, hot on the scent of fresh chum. Midterms tend to favor Republicans, but Dems started saying, “well, I love Lois, of course….” and moved uncomfortably into a pregnant pause, or rolled their eyes outright. I guess inside-political-baseball-players expected she would retire gracefully and leave Salud and Helene to fight to the death, with Das also supposedly chomping at the bit. That scenario probably has the Democratic Central Committee sweating, on the inside, but if people are asking when is she going to finally retire, damn it…well, maybe that got back to her.

Laura-Capps-Photo-2-e1376420940682Now, I am decidedly against shoving a woman off the stage just because she’s gotten older. I love Hillary and Madonna, in that order. But that sentiment that Lois has passed the sell-by date is newly bolstered by rumors swirling that she’s planning to abdicate while still in office, to hand the seat to her daughter, Laura Capps, via a special appointment by Governor Brown.

The idea of a Capps dynastic lock on the 24th Congressional seat is going down about as smoothly as deep-fried fork with Dems and Republicans alike. But Laura Capps, pictured right, is suddenly everywhere.

Expect some very interesting developments on this front.

North County Flexes Its Muscle on Measure P. It’s old news that the 2010 census saw Santa Maria eclipse Santa Barbara in population, 100k vs 90k. The county supervisors redistricted appropriately in response, but I’ve wondered when we would see this shift reflected in one of those infamous North-vs-South County divides? Well, we’ve possibly just witnessed it with Measure P. The charge has been fairly leveled that Big Oil killed Measure P with $7 million in campaign spending. However, big campaign spending has failed here before, and the voting results indicate something a little more than just money might be at work. It appears that North County collectively voted their economic interests against the environmental ideology of the city of Santa Barbara, and prevailed. This may well be the first time we’ve seen the population shift translate into actual voting strength that flips the longstanding dynamic where South County idealism dictates to North County. If it is indeed the start of such a trend, then our county is headed into some very interesting times, to say the least.


Thanksgiving Holiday Proclamation

By Sharon Byrne

One Thanksgiving, our family, consisting of ex-Brits, cancelled Czechs, and 1st generation American kids, had a bit of a discussion on this American holiday. My father asked us if we knew which president had made Thanksgiving permanently a national holiday?

First-Thanksgiving-LincolnI guessed Abraham Lincoln, surprising him. After all, wasn’t it mostly a northern celebration, originating with the Pilgrims in 1621? Wouldn’t earlier presidents have proclaimed Thanksgivings? And indeed they had. Washington and Adams both proclaimed Thanksgiving Day holidays in their respective presidencies. Jefferson skipped it, but Madison renewed it in 1814. From then on, states tended to set their own Thanksgiving holidays, often at different times of the year.

But Lincoln would be sorely tested at the task of holding the new nation together when it erupted into strife before even turning 100. What other president would have desperately needed to remind Americans of their beginnings in braving a long sea voyage and carving a new life out of the wild forests of the New World? What better way to remind Americans that they are first and foremost Americans, than by remembering that hard won first feast, and calling everyone in the nation to do the same? Making it a permanent, official holiday would evoke one American People to celebrate our origins and success created out of hard scrabble, in unity.

Now that, folks, is politics at its finest. At this time of reds vs blues, coast vs flyover states, the 99%, and other internal divisions in our nation, we might do well to remember we’ve been divided before, but our union held. We might also want to give thanks that these present divisions aren’t accompanied by military occupation of our homes and cities, civil war and strife.

Here is the text of the Thanksgiving Holiday proclamation, written by Secretary of State William Seward:

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.”

By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward, Secretary of State

Happy Thanksgiving weekend!


It’s Getting Dark Out There. Let’s Have Some Fun!

Milpas On the Move: By Sharon Byrne

Continuing on with my favorite season, Autumn, there are some great things going on in the community. You can certainly participate without having to live or work in the Milpas area. We take all comers and welcome you as honorary Milpaserenos!
Check these out:
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Light Up The Night – Illuminado de Noche – Milpas

We’re heading into the darkest time of the year, when days are short and nights are long. If you’re a bicyclist on the street after 5 PM, you’ll be biking in the dark. On unlighted streets like Gutierrez, that’s super dangerous unless you’re lit up like a power plant. So Bici Centro, a wonderful Eastside neighbor, is giving out lights and safety manuals to low-income cyclists in the area to make them more visible at night time. It’s free, and geared for Spanish speakers. They’re looking for volunteers. Speaking Spanish is not necessary, as they’ve got solid bilingual team leads.

The program runs 5 nights:
Milpas – Nov 3rd
Carpinteria- Nov 4th
Old Town Goleta Nov 5th
Westside- Nov 6th
Milpas Nov- 7th
For more info, go to www.bicicentro.org.

Day of the Dead – November 2nd:
1. Casa de la Guerra – 11 AM – 4 PM – Benefit for Adelente Charter School
2. Casa de la Raza. 5-10 PM.

One of the best things about America as a nation of immigrants is the importation of culture that broadens us, and expands our possibilities as a nation. The melting pot has its sweet spots, certainly. It’s also the American way to innovate and re-invent traditions from the Old Country (whichever one yours happens to be). When my parents grew up long ago in the north of England, All Hallows’ Eve was decidedly not fun. It has a history in the British Isles as the night when evil spirits walk the earth. Better lock up your farm animals and bar the door. In contrast, we Americans dress up little children as the things that go bump in the night, and send them out to get treats. Make fun of what scares you, and play with the dark side, rather than fear it. Brilliant.

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, my all-time favorite holiday imported from Mexico, has a similar connotation. Don’t think zombies and graveyards. Day of the Dead is a day to get out pictures and keepsakes of relatives that have passed, put them on an altar, inviting them to be part of the family again, celebrating them with family and friends. Death is presented not as something sad, or to be feared, but to be embraced, as a part of life.

Adelente Charter School’s celebration of Dia de los Muertos at la Casa de la Guerra downtown features food, music, art and dance. I’ve seen some of the children’s art going into the event, produced by the Incredible Children’s Art Network, and it’s gorgeous. This is a fundraiser for the school, and should be a lot of fun for families.

The evening celebration at la Casa de la Raza is a stunning array of community, light, and life. The altars the Casa staff puts together are breathtakingly beautiful. It’s one of their best events, and before you ask, no you don’t need to speak Spanish or bring your passport for admission. Their doors are open to all, as a Mexican cultural heritage organization, and they want you to come in. Really. They are very warm and welcoming.

If that isn’t enough, let me further tempt you: they have great food at the event, and a bustling Mercado where you can get all kinds of cool Day of the Dead items.

There’s something very warm, comforting and healing in this particular holiday. I hope you’ll come out and enjoy this experience for yourself.
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Ballot Initiatives This Election: Surprisingly (Or Not) Unpalatable

By Sharon Byrne

ballot-measureCalifornia offers ballot initiatives as a route to direct democracy, and it is one of the things I both love and hate about this state. I love it because it gives voters a chance to enact legislation should their legislators prove too squeamish or self-interested to do their jobs. I am thinking of 2010’s Prop 20 to redraw state and congressional district lines using a non-partisan citizens’ commission, as that exercise was counter to sitting elected officials’ interest in being able to pick their voters and thus stay elected.

On the flip side, ballot initiatives can be complicated, heavy-handed, and deceptive. Prop 63 in 2004 promised acute care for the most severely mentally ill. Billions of dollars later, it’s funding conferences and glossy brochures, while mentally ill homeless individuals roam the streets. The Compassionate Use Act fooled many Californians into thinking they were allowing dying cancer patients to use marijuana for pain relief. They had no idea they were passing a toe-hold to drug legalization.

So I hesitate with ballot initiatives. I want to know who’s funding them, who wrote them, where they came from and what they really do. Succinct information is surprisingly hard to come by. We get deluged with hyperbole by the “yes” and “no” camps, but it is a hard sell to the average voter to make a careful, thoughtful analysis that takes in all the nuances on a given initiative. If facing multiple ballot initiatives…well, it might be easier mentally to just throw in the towel.

This election, we have a couple of initiatives that sound great, but give pause – S and P. Let’s deal with S first.

Full disclosure: I am the parent of a child that attends SBCC as a dual-enrollment student through the Santa Barbara High School. My daughter has taken classes at SBCC since the 8th grade. I am a huge fan of that program. I live next door to an SBCC student, and another lives behind me. These 3 kids grew up here.

Over the past 4 years, longtime Latino families have moved out of this neighborhood as rents have risen. Those homes now host SBCC kids, and I’ve met several of them over time. Late-nite parties have necessitated those meetings. These kids are all Euros or Brazilians. I often hear German, French, Portuguese and Swedish spoken on a street that used to host mostly Spanish speakers.

Someone posted photos on the Santa Barbara View recently of all the foreign co-eds now living in the lower Westside, another neighborhood that used to be dominated by Latino families.

I’ve heard the official numbers for foreign enrollment at SBCC, but it doesn’t jive with what I see in the community. And the rental squeeze is definitely on. These kids are living 8-10 to a house that formerly housed 8-10 Spanish-speakers, but I guess the college kids pay much higher dollar.

When SBCC proposed Measure S, I internally balked before I’d even heard much about it. The fallout from Deltopia, the takeover of parts of downtown causing the rental squeeze, the partying, trashing and dumping in neighborhoods by SBCC students – things are seriously out of balance between SBCC and the community. Forcing homeowners to pay the school more money to serve an increasingly foreign population – no. I particularly don’t like the college’s answer for the problems of poor student treatment of neighborhoods:

“Once they’re off campus, they’re not our responsibility.”

Not so. Many college towns in this country have successfully pushed campus administrations to significantly improve student behavior in the community. That’s responsible citizenship, and college administrations should be first in line to demonstrate that quality. After all, they’re educating our future citizenry.

As it stands, I don’t feel there’s enough ‘city’ focus at SBCC, so I won’t be voting for S.

Measure P has a similar hesitation factor for me. Fracking Ban? Sign me up. That was easy. There’s simply too much data now about fracking harms that you ought to be very wary when it turns up at your doorstep. But Measure P keeps getting undressed as a huge overreach. The county liability factor with vested rights and existing wells just keeps swirling. This seems to be a Get Oil Out Initiative, which is fine. Just say that’s what you’re up to. Don’t dress it up as one thing, when what you want to do is something else entirely. For many in the campaign industry, that’s good business. Say whatever you have to in order to get the win. Secure the toe-hold. Push for as much as you can. Initiatives are time-consuming and expensive for those wagering them. So initiatives like these ‘aim for the moon’.

For the voters, though, the feeling of being duped leaves a very sour taste, and diminishes our willingness to embrace future ballot initiatives, good and bad. Ultimately yesterday and today’s ballot initiative proponents are screwing future proponents by generating increasing voter scrutiny and distrust, so overreach and masking is really not smart long-term politics. It just makes it easier for voters to say no.


Milpas on the Move – Autumnal Happenings

Weekly column by Sharon Byrne

It’s cooling down from the desert-inferno temps of a couple of weeks ago. The days are getting shorter. The kids are back in school. Pumpkin is the new black. My mail-in ballot is sulking on my counter, awaiting my attention.

And all of that can only mean one thing:

It’s Autumn, my favorite time of year, and a time of fun family-friendly events. Coming up first is the McTeacher Night at the Milpas McDonald’s. On October 20th, starting at 5 PM, Franklin Elementary will be hosting families as a fundraiser. The following day, on October 21st, Notre Dame School families will take it over. This is a cool fundraiser concept: the teachers work as restaurant ‘staff’, the families all come out for dinner, and a portion of the night’s proceeds go to the school. Franklin has had a long, warm relationship with the Milpas McDonald’s, thanks primarily to an amazing principal in Casie Kilgore. The parent-level participation at Franklin has grown in spades under her leadership. Franklin’s McTeacher night tends to be the biggest in the city, according to McDonald’s managers, a testament to the support for this school in the neighborhood.

The Eastside Gets A “Y”: A new YMCA is opening in the home of the old Primo Boxing at Haley and Quarantina. The grand opening is October 20th from 1-6 PM. Memberships are expected to be very affordable, as the facility is catering to the immediate area. They’ll have fitness classes and equipment onsite. The YMCA is also looking to coordinate youth sports leagues at the nearby Ortega Park. As we learned from the Milpas Healthy Community Initiative this summer, families in the area are hungry for health and fitness resources, so the timing of the arrival of the “Y” is perfect!
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And now for some OUTDOOR fun and exercise for the whole family: Open Streets returns October 25th 10 AM to 4 PM. Get your bike, skateboard, roller blades and walking shoes and come out to have fun while you exercise. This year features a 5k “Run Wild” from the zoo, and more activities and vendors.

The 2.2 mile route runs along Cabrillo from the Bird Refuge to Anacapa St, and is closed to traffic so as to make maximum use of the open street for fitness and fun. They’re looking for additional volunteers, so if you’re interested go here.  Incentive: they have a post-party after the event to celebrate! The event is produced by COAST – the Coalition for Sustainable Transportation.

SBOS_volunteer_trio[1]The Milpas Halloween Trick or Treat: 2-5 PM on Halloween. Send your trick-or-treaters, because we do it up on Milpas! The merchants love giving out candy, Alpha Thrift puts up great decorations, and the great crew from the Don’s Riders at Santa Barbara High School love taking over the lot next to Super Rica to greet the little Halloweeners on the route. We need volunteers to blow up balloons and place them along the route, and also to help families across the crosswalks, so if you’re interested, email info@mcasb.org.

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Under The Overbearing City

By Sharon Byrne

City_SealI’ve spent a lot of time with the city lately. There were a few bright moments, like SBPD / Public Works/ Caltrans hyper-fast response on an encampment, and the bust of the RV meth and prostitution ring near the Nopalitos Way Post Office – great work from SBPD. The Architectural Board of Review went for the Yes We Can! Project, so we’re about to start turning our trash cans into art projects.

But other experiences… rankle. Sometimes, the city and its advisory boards can take on Dark Overlord tendencies. Like the way an irritated TSA agent can hold you from making your flight, sometimes government over-reach becomes over-bearing. Anyone who has ever tried to get anything through the city’s planning process can relate.

Attempting to navigate the city’s process for getting special event banners on Milpas:

“Banners are illegal. Not allowed. Besides, we don’t feel this artwork represents the newly emerging identity of the Milpas area.”

–       Sign Committee to the team responsible for the newly emerging identity of the Milpas area.

At the same hearing:

“Why don’t you do flags on poles, like they do on State St?”

Because the city doesn’t invest money on Milpas like they do on State St? Someone has to pay for those flagpoles and flags.

Oh, guess that would be us.

We suspect that drivers attempting to read small flags posted under a large tree canopy on the far side of a 5-lane road while driving 30 mph in traffic will generate accidents. Lots of them.

Sign Committee retort:

Well overhead signs (banners) would cause way more accidents…

Apparently Caltrans is just a bunch of fools then because they post highway signs overhead, rather than on cute little flags with inscrutable art by the side of the freeway.

The Taste of Milpas

“Wow. You did all this with just businesses and non-profits? That’s amazing! What did your city do to help you?”

-Neighborhoods USA judges, during the Neighborhood of the Year competition in Eugene, OR. We competed against several city neighborhood departments that have implemented amazing programs in their communities.

What did our city do to help make the Taste of Milpas a success?

Cue the crickets.

Wait…. The city hung our Taste banner last year, and that was a big shot in the arm for the community. This year, we can’t get through the city’s planning process to do same. Though the city allows banners for some of its parks and rec programs.

And the beat cops came through. They made darned sure Milpas was clear of problems during the Taste, and they brought hordes of wonderful PAL and Explorers teens with them to volunteer.

What happened those community beat cops? Gone. This is how it unfolded:

  1. “I’ve been reassigned. Wojo is now your beat officer until the end of the year.” Officer Gutierrez
  2. “I am actually the director for PAL right now…” Officer Wojo
  3. “Officer Reyes will be filling in on the Eastside.” Sgt. Harwood. Officer Reyes is the Westside Beat Officer. So now he’s covering an area formerly covered by 3 officers? Hope he’s taking his vitamins!
  4. Chief Sanchez to City Council: “We’re working on making some new hires, one of whom will help fill the coordinator space. We’re getting there, and we hope to get back to the four (beat coordinators).”

Cue Judy Garland singing ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’. Doncha’ love how the community is the last one to find out their community police are gone? Well, technically, the City Council was the last to know.

Curious: Why is State St getting $150,000 of taxpayer money for rent-a-cops while we lose community-based policing?

Permits for the Taste of Milpas:

CA Dept. of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC):

The area needs to be enclosed and fenced with ID checks for alcohol sales. Hire security guards.

SBPD:

Everything ABC said, and put out trash bins. Your stage might need a building permit. (be very afraid)

SBFD:

“Required: a fire lane 20 ft wide to be able to close off the Ortega dead-end.

That dead-end is about 30 ft wide. Losing 20 ft would make it quite the skinny venue. No one over 1 ft wide admitted? Fire backed off this requirement as long as we could meet this one:

A gate at the back needs to be opened, and manned during the event in case people need to get out during emergency.

Conflicting direction from that given by SBPD and ABC.

Public Works:

Pay $155 for temporary no-parking signs you post. Rent and set up your own traffic control equipment.

SBFD: You also need to post 2A10BC (size) fire extinguishers every 75 feet on the block.

Aaaarrrghhhh!!!!!

I know the city has to protect itself, and make sure we don’t do crazy stuff like put on pyrotechnic festivals in drought-parched shrubbery fields. I get it. Some city employees are quite helpful, while rolling their eyes over the increasingly onerous regulations. I wish the city put more thought into their value-add, but ultimately, the city has every businessperson’s fantasy: an absolute, ironclad monopoly.


The Darker Side of Aging

By Sharon Byrne, as featured in the Santa Barbara Sentinel

When I was little, we often visited our UK relatives. Grandma Byrne lived in a Home for the Aged, as Brits call them. She had a nice flat, with a parakeet, and her own furniture. The Home took them round to the shops, and on outings. She was well looked after, especially given it was government-run.

But that’s Europe for you – they take care of you from cradle to grave over there.

By contrast, the American system of care for the elderly is a bit of a crapshoot. There are good facilities, to be sure, but there are some awful ones too. Lest you think I am talking about some dreadful state-run facility for destitute elderly, egregious instances of elder abuse also occur in private facilities, the kind you pay a lot of money for.

It’s an old joke here that Santa Barbara is for the newly-wed and nearly-dead, but there’s some truth to the adage, as there are quite a few senior living communities here. The climate is gentle on older bones, and the scenery stunning. Senior living options include:

1. Independent Living
2. Assisted Living
3. Skilled Nursing Care

These are fairly self-explanatory, and the cost goes up as you move down the list. Assisted living facilities are not inexpensive, with some here running at $5,000 per month. That doesn’t include extras: hospital beds, wheelchairs, diapers, medications, bedding, and additional care-givers.

Senior living facilities aren’t charities. They’re a business, so their job is to generate revenues and minimize expenses. They must market themselves, and the brochures for some of these places look terrific. Piano in the main room, activities, gourmet meals – they sound a bit like resorts. But the reality can be quite different. Some facilities draw clients by advertising that they have an RN on site, but the staff are hourly workers without nursing skills, and the RN is never there. So who’s dispensing medication?

Economic pressures drive leaner staffs, so seniors that require too much labor can be subjected to some dreadful tactics. Someone who needs considerable assistance to use the restroom, for example, is sedated and diapered so as to reduce staff load. The family is told the senior is now incontinent. And don’t disrupt the dining room by complaining loudly about the food or causing a scene. You will be isolated to meals in your room.

One facility here has a ‘death closet’, where the recently deceased are stored while awaiting removal. A family with a loved one at this facility came to visit. The loved one had cognitive impairment issues, so the family was quite surprised to discover she was not in her room, but someone else was. When the family cornered staff on her whereabouts, they discovered to their horror that she had been moved into the ‘death closet’. The facility wanted to rent out her room at a higher rate, while still charging the family for it.

Some workers are understandably horrified by these kinds of abuses, but fear speaking out, as whistle-blowers aren’t likely to be welcomed at other facilities. The same goes for family members who protest about problems with their loved one’s care. Bills for newly necessary equipment, new requirements for a caregiver at your expense, and even eviction can ensue as retribution.

Many of us take care with our health, strive to live a long life…. and shudder at the thought of wasting away in a nursing home as our closing chapter. We also cringe with worry over subjecting our parents to potential abuse when they’re very frail. Money is supposed to be the great equalizer in this country – we believe that by having financial resources, we can insulate ourselves from being at the mercy of others, particularly when we are at our most vulnerable. But even with expensive senior care, there are no guarantees. The industry is loosely regulated, and California generously warns facilities of impending inspections.

What can you do? Review the Medicaire ratings for facilities. A Place For Mom also has great info on audits and complaints. Hire caregivers to keep eyes on your loved one when you can’t be there. Make surprise visits. Ensure your family puts these provisions in place for you.

As a country with a large population of aging baby boomers facing their golden years, you can bet this issue will generate increasing scrutiny, as it should. Our senior care options should be a lot better than this.