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A Call For Good Governance

By Sharon Byrne

It’s always a critical time in government. No matter what year, election, or issues, it’s critical. Ever notice that?

ggThis 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.


Ice Ace: The Clear Vision of John Rodrigues

“Sculpture is the art of the intelligence.” –Pablo Picasso

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150Take one 7,200-pound block of ice, add an assortment of power tools—including a chain saw and a drill—put them in the hands of one uniquely talented individual and you’ve got art. Ice Art. Crystal-clear and freezing cold, it lasts only until the sun comes out.

John Rodrigues just returned from competing in the World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks, Alaska, where he worked for days on a massive chunk of ice, turning into two large and graceful swans featuring intricately feathered wings.

ice art birdsThat experience is just another chapter in the interesting life of this author/teacher/artist/high-school dropout/college graduate/inspirational speaker. One more interesting aspects about Rodrigues: like 1 in 5 people, he has dyslexia and it’s anything but a disability.

Rodrigues struggled in the classroom—so much so that he dropped out of high school, but not before he learned the skill of ice sculpting in a special Culinary Arts program. As a teenager with this unique talent, he landed a job on a cruise ship making thousands of dollars a month as he traveled to exotic ports of call around the world. Despite all that money and all that travel, the desire to earn a college education burned within him. And he decided to return to school. “Ironically, the key to getting into college was not in trying to change my dyslexia,” he noted, “but in embracing how I learned to its maximum potential.”

from high school to harvardHe started taking classes at his local community college, eventually transferred to University of California, Berkeley, and studied at Harvard University. Today, he teaches high school math in Hemet, CA.

As part of the Santa Barbara Unified School District’s regular “Dyslexia Dialogues,” Rodrigues, author of “High School Dropout to Harvard: My Life with Dyslexia,” will be speaking at the Santa Barbara High School Auditorium on Thursday, March 26 at 7 p.m. He will share the story about his uniquely inspired pathway to success, and his recent competition in the World Ice Art Championships in Alaska. The event is free and Spanish interpretation will be available.

“John Rodrigues is an uplifting, rebellious voice who will strike a chord with anyone who has ever had a hard time marching in step in a culture of

conformity. His book is not just about how John found personal success after growing up with severe learning differences (Dyslexia and ADHD), it’s the story of his journey to accept himself by finding others labeled ‘disabled” or “not normal” who survived and even triumphed.” -Entertainment Weekly


The Last Word: Comments after Attending the Single Family Design Board Hearing

by Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150I have a book titled, “The Place You Loved is Gone.” More and more it feels like that’s what’s happening in Santa Barbara these days.

In this City, the birthplace of Earth Day, we are supposed to be environmentally aware and sensitive. We can’t even get a plastic bag in the city, and “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is supposed to be our mantra. This is a place where sustainability, smart growth, affordable housing and small, efficient housing is all that’s been talked about for years.

209 east islayBut if you want to demolish a perfectly good house and replace it with one that’s bigger, better, and way more expensive, go right ahead.

Just one of those oddities about Santa Barbara.

The demolition of the old house at 209 E. Islay will happen. And it will be replaced by the property owners’ beautiful new dream home, a Craftsman-style mansion more than twice its size.

The property owners get to build exactly what they want, and have the money to do so. Lucky for the Upper East neighbors that they don’t want to build an ultra-modern structure, but as members of the Single Family Design Board pointed out, they probably could.

What’s ironic to me is that I live in a 1912 Craftsman home in “Bungalow Haven.” It’s not nearly as grand, as large or located in as nice a neighborhood as 209 E. Islay, but it’s not in and danger of demolition, even though it’s on an R-3 lot, because we neighbors have worked together—and with the City—as good stewards, we will likely keep the historic working-class neighborhood intact. Our homes are a century old, in fine repair and lovely to live in and look at.

Money talks these days, and McMansions are big business everywhere, including the Upper East Side of Santa Barbara, coming soon.


Luna, Mars, and Venus‏

Local Views of Santa Barbara by Dan Seibert

Here’s follow up to my, “Saturday with Seibert” post. On Saturday the moon was 3% illuminated, with Mars appearing close by. On Sunday the breeze made some branches fuzzy while others were in focus. Now the moon was at 9% and had joined Venus in the same photo. I like the contrast of the moving branches and still moon, although everything is moving. – Dan

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A Loan to Fund the Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant

desalToday, the Santa Barbara City Council will likely approve a 20-year loan to fund the the Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant. According to the Agenda, “the continued drought has made it necessary to continue to plan for the reactivation of the Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant (Desal Plant). The cost to reactivate the Desal Plant is estimated to be $40 million dollars. This large expenditure needs to be financed over a number of years. Staff has applied for a Drinking Water State Revolving Fund Loan (DWSRF Loan) to finance the project. The DWSRF Loan is an attractive loan because of the low interest rate, estimated to be approximately 1.6 percent over a twenty-year repayment term. One of the requirements of the DWSRF Loan is that the City pledge repayment from the Water Fund net revenue – the revenue available after payment of operation costs and ahead of investment in capital improvements or reserves. The City must also agree that the pledge constitutes a lien in favor of the State Water Resources Control Board on the Water Fund until the loan is fully repaid and to collect such revenue as necessary to repay the loan.”


Stop the Supersizing at 209 East Islay Street

209 east islay 2Today, at 4:40 p.m., nearly 10,000-square-feet of new development, which is proposed to replace the historic old house at 209 Islay Street, is to be reviewed by the Single Family Design Board. The super-sized development exceeds the City of Santa Barbara’s maximum floor-to-area ratio by 123 percent and the plans call for 5,792-square feet of house above ground, a 2,843-square-foot habitable basement, a 719-square-foot 3-car garage, plus a pool and pool building… all on a half-acre lot! The hearing will take place in the Gebhard Room of the City Planning Building on Cota and Garden and your comments are encouraged.


Santa Barbara “Scarface” Villa for Sale

369392The Santa Barbara mansion where the classic movie Scarface was filmed in 1983 is up for sale. The Mediterranean estate is memorable as the site of the Pacino character’s most famous line, shouted over the blast of his machine gun: “Say hello to my little friend!” According to Zillow, it is a four-bedroom, nine-bathroom home that was built in 1906. It sits on 10 acres and features a unique Roman-style decor, painted and gold-leaf ceilings, tiled rooms, woodwork and carvings and a pool with fountains… it hits the market at a cool $35 million!


Santa Barbara Mountain View

Santa Barbara photo of the week by Bill Heller, click to enlarge.
A view of the Santa Barbara hills from downtown State Street
Downtown Santa Barbara mountain view from just off State Street. The light hitting the mountains in the late afternoon really brings out their texture and makes for a beautiful backdrop to the city.

-Bill Heller