Santa Barbara City Council Gets Inaugurated…and Inundated

By Sharon Byrne

One week ago today saw the trading of a House for a Hart, as Frank Hotchkiss put it. Grant House said farewell and was lauded, and Gregg Hart was sworn in, with Bendy White, Frank Hotchkiss, and the Mayor.
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In their remarks, each newly re-elected (Hart has served on City Council before) talked about their intentions and hopes for this term. Bendy gave praise for ‘the rich, open discussions we hold here on council.’ He also brought up green energy projects, and then spent quite a bit of time on capital infrastructure needs, always less sexy than other projects, but the kind that bite governments when they’re ignored too long, like failing bridges and pedestrian safety.

Frank was excited to be ‘back in the saddle’, pun clearly intended. He was grateful that we can pass power cordially after elections here in the US. That is not possible in some parts of the world.

Gregg Hart mused that 8 years ago, Grant House took his place on City Council as a departing councilman, and now, he’s taking Grant’s. He feels they share many of the same ideals, and he promised to work hard, be prepared, and do his best for this community.

Helene noted a great snapshot of the community in the room. That was an interesting comment, given the assembly of gang injunction protesters. She acknowledged Goleta Mayor Roger Aceves and former Santa Barbara Mayor Hal Conklin in the room. She then spoke about a renewed sense of optimism in this city. The harsh challenges of the economy and state issues had receded a bit. She praised the level of civic engagement in this city, calling it ‘unparalleled. It makes us stronger and better.’

After a brief punch-and-cookies reception, it was down to the business of wading through public comment, a considerable task for the normally adept peacekeeping mayor, given the organized protest afoot.

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A slew of speakers turned in slips, proclaiming to represent the community in standing against the gang injunction. Brandon Morse, with the local chapter of the Republican Liberty Caucus, gave a lengthy speech. He said of the injunction, ‘you’re declaring more than 75% of this city a war zone.’  Wearing t-shirt that said ‘Our PEOPLE are all the same. It’s a gang injunction that divides US’, he closed with, ‘we don’t need a gang injunction to stop some taggers.’

Raquel Mendoza, longtime activist replete with pet Chihuahua in her arms, urged the council to help the young people. She said of a recent visit to Long Beach, ‘I’m very embarrassed to be from Santa Barbara. There is nothing here for the young people to do.’

I’ve heard that sentiment expressed a few times in this discussion, and it rankles. For a girl that grew up in the ‘burbs of Atlanta, where there really was nothing to do but go to the mall, Santa Barbara would have been a godsend. I’d love to ask some kids presently residing in Compton, North Minneapolis, Oakland, or the Bronx to spend a week here and then get their thoughts on the subject.

Mickey Flacks chastised the council for meeting too much behind closed doors, violating the spirit of democracy and openness proclaimed in their opening remarks.

Then it was time for the out-of-town set. One young female with shaved head, formerly homeless in Santa Barbara, now living in Lompoc, said she slept on streets here and was never afraid of gang members, or people who looked like gang members.

The Youth Justice Coalition from Los Angeles chimed in on their opposition to the injunction. A representative from the ACLU threatened the council with their recent win in the Orange County suit, and then someone from LA spoke, saying said they’d probably never get the opportunity to sit in a chair like the council because they weren’t white.

Several speakers said it was ridiculous to have a gang injunction for 12 people, though the injunction names 30 defendants. A speaker from Oxnard said the gang injunction has not worked there, though their former police chief disagrees. There was also a guy from Salinas who asserted that the gang injunction targets the people. He came here in solidarity.

With few local speakers, not much of a case was made that the actual community in Santa Barbara is against the injunction.

Lazaro Gomez, a named defendant in the injunction, was one of the final speakers. He feels like he paid the price for his gang involvement. The injunction means he can’t pick up his kid at school. He told the council, ‘you gotta give me a job. I want to live in a home like you.’

The gang injunction was not on the council agenda, so no action was made after the close of public comment.

About Sharon Byrne

About Sharon Byrne Sharon Byrne found herself unwittingly thrust into municipal and political issues when she took a sabbatical from her corporate career, and moved to West Downtown in late 2008, a neighborhood in serious decay. She helped engineer a major turnaround there working with engaged neighborhood women. She served on the Franklin Neighborhood Center Advisory Committee, and the Neighborhood Advisory Council. She is the executive director for the Milpas Community Association, and currently serves on the Advisory Boards for the Salvation Army Hospitality House and Santa Barbara County Alcohol and Drug Problems. She is a former Deputy Director of Common Cause in California, and has worked on several ballot initiatives locally and at the state level. Her education in engineering and psychology gives her an unusual mix of skills for working on quality-of-life, public safety, and public policy issues.

2 Responses to Santa Barbara City Council Gets Inaugurated…and Inundated

  1. Elephant in the donkey's dining room January 14, 2014 at 9:03 am #

    Anyone offer how to fund the $200 million (and growing) backlog of city infrastructure maintenance and repairs?

    Anyone even acknowledge the $200 million (and growing) unfunded city employee pension liability?

  2. Tri-fecta January 14, 2014 at 9:36 am #

    Three urgent city problems that won’t disappear, even if the city council refuses to talk about them:

    1. Drought
    2. City infrastructure maintenance back-log
    3. City employee pension obligations