Column by Sharon Byrne
The Polarity Trap
A powerful, polarized argument is emerging in our collective consciousness:
The police are over-armed, paranoid, and trigger-happy. They shoot innocents, whose sole mistake was to be the wrong color, or in the wrong place at the wrong time. And they’re never held accountable for it.
Net: Police are Bad.
Police put their lives on the line for the public. They’re often outmanned and outgunned by dangerous criminals. They follow police protocols and procedures. In defending themselves and the public from harm, they face scorn from those they are sworn to protect.
Net: Police Are Justified.
It feels like we’ve lost respect for our officers, as defenders of the law, and started seeing them as oppressors, who use the law against us, a meme that is on fire in national media. Why? Because there are places where the police do not have good relationships with the citizenry, where there are elements of oppression instead of protection. And now that this notion has crystallized in our national consciousness, there’s no un-ringing that bell. Cops that do great work in their communities are tarred with this same brush.
If police tactics have escalated, perhaps it’s because police face increasing hostility. This was scrawled at Gutierrez and State:
Cops are hoisted up as de-facto villains in whatever play is currently being acted out by those with long-simmering frustrations. Cops are taunted and provoked, as though antagonists want police to lose control so they can point and scream, “Police brutality!”
There’s a time for diplomacy, and then there’s a time for threat assessment. Will there be more cop funerals if we insist they try diplomacy first in every situation?
Just Don’t Do Anything That Makes Us Uncomfortable.
In Santa Barbara, that tends to be the prevailing sentiment. Please, officers, keep us from having to encounter someone peeing in public, or shouting the odds in a severe mental illness crisis when we’re going past them on the street.
Our mental health system cannot cope with these individuals. The county just declined to adopt Laura’s Law, so we’ll keep turning the severely mentally ill back out onto our streets. There, the public encounters them, and it’s uncomfortable, to say the least.
Who will they call?
Responding officers will then face unpalatable choices: Is a crime being committed? If no, leave them where they are. If yes, then take the individual to the jail, the county’s de-facto mental institution. Hopefully they won’t resist arrest, because police tactics for dealing with the uncooperative and hostile look ugly to us.
Pressure to reduce crime, in full view of a more scrutinizing, yet simultaneously squeamish, public have wedged police into a rapidly narrowing pincer of conflicting public sentiment. Police should deal with crime and criminals, but be incredibly humanitarian about it so we can all feel good.
Is this realistic?
One way out is to implement more community-based policing. Cops that know the community, and are welcomed within it, are far less likely to mistake community members as a threat. It’s hard for taunters to gain traction in attacking cops that we see at the grocery store, at the gas station, and whose kids go to school with our kids. We know them. They know us. There’s a relationship.
Body cams and other new technologies can also help with increased accountability and transparency. Australia’s had them for years. The LA Police Commission just approved them.
We must restore a sense of trust between the police and the community they serve, and everyone needs to be part of that effort. The cop on the street is not responsible for every single injustice ever inflicted on any community. And cops need to know that answers of ‘procedure’ can be deeply unsatisfying to community members who feel wronged. Embracing transparency might be a police force’s fast-track route to casting off community suspicions and hostility.
Weekly Column by Sharon Byrne
Media stories have turned a harsh lens on police, running a very dangerous risk of distortion, tapping into long-simmering frustrations built up over perhaps decades.
The prevailing media narrative, from Baltimore to Ferguson to here, is that cops have gone too far over the line.
A New Scrutiny
Police now face an instant citizens’ oversight commission in a public armed with smartphones. News media then ominously narrate these cell phone videos and social media sends them viral. The media’s job is to highlight controversy, and they have found a goldmine. Everyone’s rioting in response to allegations of police heavy-handedness.
Last week, a story broke about a local sergeant that allegedly blocked a video recording of an arrest. The department issued a statement. Comments are raging online. The verdict has been issued in the court of public opinion.
I saw a video story on the LA Times website about a homeless man in Venice Beach beaten during an arrest. The website then cycled through 10 more videos with the same narrative: the Police are Bad.
Derision accompanied the SBPD purchase in 2010 of the Bear Cat, an armored vehicle, paid for by a Homeland Security grant. “It’s just so military.”
One can easily see the allure in military equipment. If you’re putting your life on the line every day (in some jurisdictions, a coldly sobering reality), wouldn’t you want the best possible stuff for protection?
Like the military?
My daughter pointed out that the difference is that the military protects us from other countries that want to hurt us. The police protect us… from us.
What does it say about ‘us’ that our police feel the need to increasingly arm themselves against ‘us’?
Hyper-Tense Situations and The Split-Second Response
Police in intense, rapidly escalating situations have to respond instantly. No cop shooting or use of force is ever played out lazily over hours, with everyone getting a chance to weigh in on how to do it right.
This stuff goes down in seconds. Lives could be lost if the cop fails to act properly. The heat of the moment is visceral. It only takes a second to stab someone. It takes less than a second to shoot someone.
Time is the luxury of afterwards, where we feel entitled to judge the cop, though we have never faced anything similar. And the airwaves have reams of time for hype. They can replay it for weeks. Months. Fan some more flames. Get those ratings up, people!
Even with video shot on-scene, do we ever really know all the events and interactions that led to the use of force, deadly or otherwise, in a given situation? Chances are we’ve got a snippet in time, and that’s all. And absent context, we make lots of assumptions.
People ask things like, ‘why didn’t they just shoot the weapon out of his hand?’
Like in the movies.
By Sharon Byrne
It’s spring, and the city’s District Elections lawsuit only just settled. People are starting to look at newly carved-up city maps, and wondering if their district is up this year, who will run, etc.
And out of nowhere, the long-awaited shift in the Congressional District 24 seat hurtled into prime time, completely eclipsing city electoral processes. Lois Capps announced she is retiring. She’s served nine full terms in Congress, since 1998.
Suddenly, a seat many have longed for is wide open.
Politico recently noted: “The 24th District has been competitive for multiple cycles and instantly becomes a more likely pick-up opportunity for Republicans in 2016 with Lois Capps’ retirement,” said Zach Hunter, regional spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Now that it’s an open seat, expect a free-for-all, with everyone getting in.
Politico is already speculating the seat could go to Laura Capps, the daughter of Lois Capps, though her tweet on her mom’s retirement was fairly coy on whether she’d run.
The locals, however, lost zero time jumping in. Within hours of Capps’ announcement of her retirement, Mayor Helene Schneider announced she would run for the Congressional seat. This may have surprised some, including the second candidate to announce, Supervisor Salud Carbajal. Helene clearly believes in the bold move. Some chafed online that “the body wasn’t even cold yet” before Helene announced her run, which itself is a bit of a chilling commentary. But politics is about the here-and-now, and Helene is not one to sit on the sidelines and wait to be wooed into the race. She’s showing her campaign style on the big stage, so take note.
Supervisor Carbajal announced that his Congressional run the next day, touting his work on the Climate Task Force in D.C. and his bi-partisan work on the Board of Supervisors.
Those two getting in the race will introduce some serious heartburn for the local Democratic party ranks around here. They’ll both be chasing Democratic party endorsements including the Democratic Central Committee, Democratic Women of Santa Barbara County, and the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee. Both candidates are well regarded and respected within their ranks, making the choice painful. It could end up rather like the city council race of 2013, where endorsements were split between competing candidates. There are also elected Democratic officials’ endorsements to pursue. Expect some wailing and gnashing of teeth as they grind through the machinations of the Democratic party endorsements process.
William Ostrander, a Democrat from San Luis Obispo who played the high school thug in the film “Christine” is also running for Congress in the 24th District. He currently heads the nonprofit Citizens Congress.
So what about Das Williams or Hannah-Beth Jackson for Congress? Das is termed out of the Assembly in 2016, and probably would be expected to enter the Congressional race as an upward career move. But instead he’s entering the First District Supervisor race for the seat currently held by Carbajal. That seat is up in 2016, and Carbajal can’t run for Congress and re-election to his supervisorial seat at the same time. So the plan is for Carbajal to win Congress, and Das to become the new First District Supervisor.
Looking at the Republican field, well, it could include everyone and anyone from Mitchum to Dale Francisco to Justin Fareed, with the latter already announcing his run. Justin fired up some conservatives in 2014, invigorating them with his energy and youth, as he’s in his 20’s. He placed second in the 2014 primary.
Some have wondered if former State Senator Sam Blakeslee will get into the race. Katcho Achadjian, 35th District Assembly Rep, also announced. Both of these gentlemen hail from San Luis Obispo, which has proven to be the place Republicans go to die in Congressional elections. Fielding a San Luis Obispo Republican that can garner robust support up there is probably their best shot at winning the seat.
It’s only April, of 2015, and we’re already looking at a pretty crowded field for this race.
Let the free-for-all begin!
Chart Source: www.aroundthecapitol.com
By Sharon Byrne
Carol Ashley is a quiet, busy resident genius in the Eastside’s industrial zone. Nestled in among the construction trades just west of Milpas, she runs Demo2Design, a humming hive of harvesting construction materials, building casitas out of them, and educating college kids on how you turn old doors into display kiosks and more. Carol started with the intention of diverting construction materials from the landfill. So she’d turn up at every remodel job site, armed with a screw gun, and busily deconstruct whatever was being remodeled. Then she’d haul it back to her shop on Union Ave, between Quarantina and Nopal, and look to resell it to homeowners looking for authentic fixtures, designers and architects. Need a Tiffany lamp shade? Some vintage stained glass windows? Doors and hinges for your Craftsman home? A Victorian lamp post? Go see Carol. Her door inventory alone is like a walk through the history of architecture and building trends in this town.
Over the years, she’s developed a keen eye for what can be reused from remodels and demolitions in other building and design projects. There are some real jewels and surprises in her inventory. She’s got the arched doors and arch from the Van Halen estate and a front door from a historic landmark home. Over here is the sink from the very first home in Hope Ranch. Upstairs are vintage Victorian lamp fixtures. In a drawer are the glass globes that used to adorn the old Stateside bar in La Arcada. They were throwing them into the dumpster. Carol got them, and used them to architect a gorgeous lights display for a wedding. And so on. This woman knows materials, and what they could be used for in future.
Her birthday is Earth Day, April 22nd, of course.
Over time, her genius evolved from demolition, harvest and reuse into creative repurposing, and here is where she shines. Her creations can make you stop, scratch your head, and exclaim, ‘huh. Would have never thought of that.’
A 1960’s aqua toilet serves as a planter for a bright and colorful flowerbed. She created a portable show kiosk that can be assembled / dissembled in minutes using old doors, shutters, and other materials. She crafted garden benches out of furniture bits and old wrought iron. She’s got a casita in her driveway constructed totally out of harvest materials. It’s got a bit of a modern and funky architecture to it. She teaches people to build these using reclaimed materials, and the dimensions she uses render them outside of the city’s planning scrutiny. She made flowerbed planters out of Montecito gutters. She put some 1930’s picket fences together with a couple of sinks from an old school, and voila! Yard art. She created a giant rolling podium / work table out of old bed frames and doors. She can see the quality material in something old, deconstruct it, and revision it into something new, creative and useful.
There’s a genius to that, a particular, rare genius, and Carol’s got it.
Marborg refers customers to Demo 2 Design for questions about reuse. Construction trades call her for demolition work before they start a remodel. And City College Construction Academy students turn up for work sessions to learn how to harvest, reuse, and revision materials in hands-on projects at Demo2Design. She also takes on UCSB interns to help with marketing and organizing the constant flow of materials. She puts on workshops for homeowners for $10 to come learn how to take old materials and do creative things with them in their homes.
She’s been a treasure in this area, dominated by construction trades. She’s moving to a new spot soon, and won’t say more than ‘come buy a piece of history, and find out where we’re going to be.’ I hope she stays in the Eastside, as she’s one of the hidden jewels in this bustling area.
Milpas on the Move by Sharon Byrne
Congrats to the Dons Net Café!
They’re in the Big Apple! This group of budding entrepreneurs at Santa Barbara High School starts and runs their own businesses as a way of spurring young people into becoming future entrepreneurs. Instructor Lee Ann Knodel puts them through the paces of business planning, start-up, and execution. The Dons Net Café currently has 14 student-run entrepreneurial businesses, and they are presently on a serious bi-coastal hot streak. Underclassmen won 2nd place out of hundreds of schools at a UCLA competition last week. The Seniors took their yearly trip to New York City, paid for by their businesses! We’ve been tracking them on Facebook as they went on a private tour of CNN, the Ground Zero Museum, Wall Street, Intrepid, and an International Business Trade Fair. Way to go Dons! You can follow the Dons Net Cafe on FaceBack, Instagram, and Twitter. Give them a ‘like’ and send them a note of congratulations!
Kudos to Telegraph Brewery for making USA Today’s list of the top 25 beers you need to try before you die.
Their Reserve Wheat was declared “the best wheat beer you’ll ever drink” by the magazine. Their tasting room makes a great happy hour spot in this area, open till 9 PM Tuesday through Thursday, and 10 PM Friday and Saturday. They also do rotating art displays to keep it fresh. We’re delighted to have you guys here on the Eastside!
By Sharon Byrne
Our little community is making some big news this week. First, I got a chance to taste some new sandwiches coming out at one of our local eateries. I sampled chicken grilled in olive oil with guacamole and pico de gallo on an artisan roll. I tried a burger with applewood smoked bacon and white cheddar. I also tried a crispy chicken sandwich with a spicy mayo on a potato roll.
They were all surprisingly good.
I was tasting them at the McDonald’s on Milpas.
When I was a kid, McDonald’s was THE bar for the American standardized experience. A Quarter Pounder at the Milpas McDonald’s tastes exactly the same as one in Spartanburg, South Carolina, or Munich, Germany. OK, when I was a kid, the Euro McD’s did taste kind of funny, and they had some different menu items, but the experience McDonald’s trotted out to the American consumer was universal, and it was their strongest marketing tool in going international. No matter where you are, you can count on the McDonald’s experience to be absolutely standard. Other industries followed the McDonald’s lead. When you check into a Holiday Inn or get your latte at Starbucks – you know what to expect, whether you’re in Freeport, LA or LA in California.
So this idea of custom artisan sandwiches is a big departure from the ‘standard fare everywhere’ concept McDonald’s pioneered and continues to dominate. Owner Dave Peterson told me the idea came from McDonald’s customers, and the company listened. Today’s restaurant patrons are a more sophisticated, health-conscious set, and they want to see menu choices that reflect this consciousness. So they changed their cooking methods for these sandwiches, and adapted the kitchen to handle freshly-made guacamole, pico de gallo, and more.
The second reason these new sandwiches are newsworthy: McDonald’s is test marketing them in our area. You can order these new customized artisan sandwiches at the McDonald’s in Santa Barbara, but you can’t get them in Ventura, San Francisco, or LA.
Fast food has always been an intensely competitive space. Burger King and Wendy’s historically cropped up across the street from McDonald’s. Chick Fil A carved out a niche in crispy chicken sandwiches. The Habit, a local phenomenon, was named best fast food burger nationwide. The space is always churning with big players, nimble competitors, and continual downward pressure on profit margins. The latest trend in fast food is the breakfast market – everyone’s jumping in. You can now get breakfast at Taco Bell, for example. McDonald’s pioneered the breakfast sandwich when Herb Peterson hatched the Egg McMuffin, at the McDonald’s on Milpas. McDonald’s once proudly displayed ‘over 1 billion served’ signs. Now, they’re pioneering again, and going into customized artisan sandwiches. If the concept proves successful in our local test market, it will go nationwide. Stop by and try one for yourself.
By Sharon Byrne
The Spanish word for gossip is chisme. In its most destructive form, it can ruin reputations and destroy livelihoods. From casting aspersions to deliberate misinformation spread to maligning people with longstanding good names, I feel like I’ve seen it all on the gossip front recently.
Milpas on the Move, By Sharon Byrne
By Sharon Byrne
It’s always a critical time in government. No matter what year, election, or issues, it’s critical. Ever notice that?
This week’s column isn’t to advance the interest of any candidates, party, or cause. The only concern expressed is a call for good governance… on every front. We’re not in some kind of “Bell” state of affairs, i.e., rampant corruption. In the news as of late, there are some struggles looming large within our city and county government, and I just hope our elected officials and staff can navigate through them to a good end for all of us.
The recent Point-in-Time Count is disappointing: the homeless count is flat since 2013. As someone who’s worked on that problem, people are getting help, including housing. But are we drinking a storm with a teacup, so to speak? Are we putting adequate resources in play to address homelessness? Are there enough Restorative Police here in Santa Barbara? Two cops work darned hard with chronically homeless individuals. With 893 homeless counted in the city of Santa Barbara this year, and 600+ deemed chronically homeless, is 2 cops even remotely realistic to tackle this problem? On the Milpas Outreach Project, we’ve learned 10 chronically homeless individuals can keep 10 of us volunteers pretty darned busy, and take months to finally house. Santa Monica, with a 2015 count of 738 (also flat), has 10 Homeless Liaison Police. Given that State St is adopting the Milpas model and had to push for Community Service Officers, where is the horsepower and leadership from SBPD to seriously address this problem?
The county funds alcohol, drug, and mental health services. That county department, ADMHS, itself the subject of heavy criticism, offers annual training sessions for law enforcement on dealing with mental health crises. It stands to reason that SBPD is probably called out to deal with individuals experiencing mental health crises on the streets pretty regularly. So why not flood these training sessions with officers to better equip them?
ADMHS has tens of millions of dollars available through the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA). Those funds can be used for increased outreach to mentally ill individuals on our streets, supportive housing for them, and other crisis services we clearly need. Can our county supervisors direct ADMHS to prioritize MHSA funds to help reduce the number of severely mentally ill individuals on our streets? Are our city leaders aggressively lobbying the county supervisors in this direction?
ADMHS also has a number of job openings on the mental health side, with a hiring backlog approaching 100 for some time. There is a fairly new emphasis in hiring for cultural competency, but it’s resulting in turning away good people that are not bilingual. Are there not options for translators or bilingual contract staff to close the gap?
At the same time the flat homeless count was released, the County Supervisors’ pay hikes made the news. Pay raises for government officials and staff are always controversial. Taxpayers resent paying increased salaries, and it’s a somewhat poor argument to use salaries in other jurisdictions as the basis for increases, rather than performance, as multiple op-ed writers have noted. The problem is gaming the system. The first county to increase their pay paves the way for other counties to follow suit, whether warranted or not. Our county supervisors make less than some of their staff. They’re not rolling in the dough. But the optics, as they say in DC, aren’t good.
Infrastructure is a huge city and county challenge across the United States. How is it that at one time we could build all these bridges, roads, and buildings, but can no longer afford to maintain them? I am not a civil engineer, so am admittedly not expert, but it seems to me it’s probably more difficult to maintain a 50 year-old Ferrari in perfect condition than it is to buy a new one. Trying to find parts alone would be an ordeal. Edison, though not a government entity, is wrestling with 100 year-old infrastructure in our downtown, built when the area was not nearly so densely commercial. That aging infrastructure can’t handle today’s load; witness the blackouts. Edison would likely find it far less onerous to wire up a new downtown yet-to-be-built versus upgrading 100 year-old infrastructure buried underground. Sometimes, maintenance is just harder than demolish / build new. We’ve built an awful lot of stuff through the industrial era, and I guess we’ve hit critical mass in what it now takes to keep it all up.
Throw in district elections, rental market squeezes, IV, public pensions, and so on, and… well, it’s a critical time, as always. Consider this a plea for good governance, whatever times we’re in.