By Cheri Rae
This beautiful place once felt like a safe refuge from the rest of the world, a place that embraced creative spirits who could make a simple living. We could afford a downtown office space, regular dinners in local restaurants, and even shopping in a variety of mom-and-pop-owned boutiques and specialty stores. We felt safe walking everywhere at all hours of the day and night: around the nice old neighborhood, to State Street, and all the way to the beach.
Out-of-town friends have envied our living situation, calling it a modern-day “Leave it to Beaver-ville,” for its old-fashioned feel and neighborly ways. We actually kind of liked the comparison and expressed gratitude for our great luck to live in such a safe and special place—and to raise our children in a community that felt protected from modern-day city life.
But it’s not that way any more.
A young man was recently murdered just a few blocks away from where I live, a few doors away from a friend who has always thought she was secure in her little cottage in a safe neighborhood. There are more thefts in the neighborhood than I can even count (including an unsolved break-in and bicycle theft I recently documented here); graffiti and vandalism of private property are encroaching, and it’s an unwinnable battle with the City to get the infrastructure repairs that are so needed—where curbs are crumbling, sidewalks are cracked, and the much-needed storm drains are on indefinite hold.
Residents are told to file their own police reports; to pay obscenely inflated and ever-rising fees for everything from parking tickets to building permits; and to tolerate doubletalk and double standards from a nearly impenetrable city bureaucracy that exists to maintain itself.
The citizen who dares ask questions, and even worse, expects honest answers and accountability—is scoffed at and given the run-around. And the rare one who digs a bit deeper is treated as an enemy of the establishment (don’t even get me started on that subject).
I have shelves full of books, articles and references to a time when Santa Barbara mattered, when the local residents were asked to weigh in about such important matters as “How Many People Should there Be in Santa Barbara?” But today, Santa Barbarans are more of a bother than a benefit, unless it’s election time.
In recent years, we have seen a total transformation of this town as the city bureaucracy tries to simultaneously turn it into a shelter for the homeless; a chi-chi getaway destination for the wealthy; an expensive mecca for students from all over the world; and a subsidized housing haven. And the average citizen is valuable only for how much money can be leveraged from them to pay for it all.
How long this delusion will continue is debatable, but it can’t go on forever, as the ever-present “situation” between haves and have-nots appears to be escalating with no end in sight.
And still, the so-called leaders of the city say nothing, do nothing, and are not apparently accountable for the transformation they’ve foisted upon Santa Barbara’s citizenry. Right about now, it’s feeling like one big failure, with no way to fix it, no one up to the task of leading this this city in a different direction. Instead, we’re reminded it’s about time for another slate of candidates to assert their competency, attend another round of special-interest endorsement meetings and meaningless community forums as our city continues to slip away.
It’s enough to break your heart, this recognition that Santa Barbara isn’t Santa Barbara anymore.