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Police: Para-Military Oppressors, or Public Servants Left Holding the Bag? Part II

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.

The Taunters

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?

The police.

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.

Police: Para-Military Oppressors, or Public Servants Left Holding the Bag? Part I

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

videoshotPolice 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.

Increased militarization?

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.

Stage Three Drought Emergency in Santa Barbara

droughtmToday at their weekly meeting, the Santa Barbara City Council will likely discuss and adopt stage three water use regulations and development restrictions.

According to the Agenda, for over a year, the City has been taking successive steps in response to what has turned out to be the worst dry period on record in Santa Barbara, with 2015 being the end of the driest four years on record. These steps have been in line with the City’s Water Shortage Contingency Plan and the 2011 Long-Term Water Supply Plan, which are based on the following principles:

• Most of the City’s water supplies depend on rainfall to fill reservoirs;
• Severe drought is an expected part of water supply planning and develops over a number of years, as our primary water supplies diminish;
• A drought might end in a relatively short time, but the lead time needed to ensure an adequate supply of water requires an assumption of continuing drought; and
• Management of customer demand is a critical part of water supply management, including ongoing efficiency improvements during normal times and extraordinary additional cutbacks during extended dry periods.

On February 11, 2014, Council declared a Stage One Drought Condition at the midpoint of a possible third consecutive dry year. On May 20, 2014, with no improvement in water supply during the last half of the rainy season, Council adopted a Stage Two Drought Condition.

pdf-logoThe above actions were in response to a third dry year. The rainy season of the fourth year has again provided less than half of average rainfall. Gibraltar Reservoir is essentially empty, the 2016 State Water Project allocation is expected to be no more than 20 percent, and, for the first time in history, no water entitlements from Lake Cachuma are anticipated for 2016. Accordingly, staff recommends adoption of a Stage Three Drought Emergency, to be implemented in a phased approach, starting with the following development restrictions, summary of recommended stage three drought measures PDF right.

6 Years Ago Today, the Jesusita Fire

firehillsBelieve it or not, six years ago today, the Jesusita Fire broke out. First word of a fire in the hills came around 1:45 in the afternoon, a breaking report followed… “there is a very visible fire in the hills above Santa Barbara.” Preliminary reports had the fire near Tunnel Road… the first picture of the blaze was sent in from a Viewer at La Cumbre Mall (left).

For the next two weeks, the Jesusita Fire had Santa Barbara residents on edge. The skies around Santa Barbara filled with smoke and power went out throughout the city. 1,200 homes were immediately put under a mandatory evacuation order and a proclamation of local emergency was declared by Santa Barbara County. Flames, fueled by 84 degree temperatures and sun-downer winds, were no match for brave helicopter pilots. The blaze swelled from 150 acres to 8,700+ acres burned.

By May 9th, nearly 6,000 properties were under mandatory evacuation orders.

Nearly 1,000 firefighters fought the flames from the ground. Six fixed-wing aircraft, 5 helicopters, and a DC-10 jumbo jet tanker battled the blaze from above. 100% containment of the Jesusita Fire was reached on May 18th; unfortunately, 80 homes had been destroyed. The cost to fight the blaze was put at $20 million.

As for the start of the blaze, 50-year-old Craig William Ilenstine and 45-year-old Dana Neil Larsen, were allegedly using gas powered weed cutters on the trail at the origin of the fire. Both men were eventually charged with one misdemeanor count.

Illegal Vacation Rentals‏ in Santa Barbara

Dear Santa Barbara City Council:

You continue to aid and abet property owners in R zoned areas of Santa Barbara who rent out their homes as vacation rentals, effectively turning them into motels. It is a stated policy of your administration to profit from these illegal rentals. Commercial use of properties in R zoned neighborhoods is specifically prohibited by the City of Santa Barbara Zoning Ordinance, Chapter 28.

Email001[12]On behalf of other concerned local citizens I have been in contact with the California Attorney General and they have sent me the attached letter (image right, click to enlarge) outlining a course of action against the City of Santa Barbara.

I am following the instructions of the Attorney General’s office and private legal advice I have received as follows:

I hereby officially request that you immediately start enforcing the City of Santa Barbara Zoning Code, Chapter 28, which you have taken an oath to do. I request a written answer from you within 10-days from today on whether you are going to carry out your legal responsibilities to uphold the law and to start to close these illegal motels down in a timely manner.

Ernest Salomon

Re: Nepal earthquake, Barbara Hirsch Column‏

Local Views of Santa Barbara by Dan Seibert

I have a friend that lives in Nepal. She is also well known to Santa Barbara as the artist that created the mural on the county building on Anacapa, pictured below, and for her beautiful street paintings at I Madonnari. To make her bio even more interesting, she was a member of the Brawlin Betties, our local roller derby team.

_MG_9355_2As soon as I heard about the earthquake in Nepal I thought of Joy. She lives there, she’s from here, and I know many other share my concerns. She is safe but many her artistic subjects are destroyed. The temples and buildings, and the loss of human life.

Joy Lynn Davis currently lives in Patan, Nepal. This is her website,

This link is to another site that showcases her artwork. 100% of the price of her Glclee prints benefit the Himalayan Art and Cultural Heritage Project, Inc. (501c3 registered non-profit).

Santa Barbara’s More Mesa Offers Hiking and More

Column by Outdoor Editor John McKinney, aka The Trailmaster, follow on Facebook.

More Mesa offers more: a defacto nature preserve, great bird-watching, a network of walking-hiking trails and access to Santa Barbara’s most isolated beach. I’ve been hiking More Mesa for more than 30 years, and it’s been my great pleasure to share this hike in my guidebooks for nearly that long.

The More Mesa Preservation Coalition held a symposium recently to remind locals and conservationists statewide about the wonders of nature the mesa holds and the perils of development it could face.

220px-White-Tailed_KiteMore Mesa has a diversity of habitats and attracts an abundance of bird life. It’s known for its bird life, including 16 different species of raptors. The white-tailed s kite, marsh hawk and other raptors, are quite active over the mesa in their pursuit of prey. Rare birds include the northern harrier and short-eared owl.

This land has been threatened by development for decades. And it still is, though any development scheme faces vociferous opposition. Prominent Saudi developer Sheikh Khalid S. Al-Shobily purchased More Mesa in 2012, but has not announced any development plans.

The mesa was once part of Thomas More’s Rancho La Goleta, who bought it in 1857 and grazed cattle here. More noticed natural tar seeping from mesa cliffs, gathered it up and sold it to the city of San Francisco, where the asphaltum was used to pave city streets.

A mile-long walk up a residential street, across the bluffs, and down the cliffs on a combo stairs-pathway leads to a clean, mellow and sandy beach. More Mesa is a great walk without going down to the beach. The property is honeycombed with trails.

John-on-More-Mesa-coastal-bluffsI like hiking a 2.5-mile loop around mesa. If you’re new to More Mesa, I suggest taking a counter-clockwise route. Head for the stairs to the beach, then take the path extending up-coast along the oceanside edge of More Mesa. Choose from a narrow footpath at the very edge of the bluffs or a wider one paralleling and enjoy views of the Channel Islanda and of the UCSB campus a few miles to the west

The Trailmaster likes to walk the full length of the bluffs before turning inland near a line of homes and commercial nursery. (You can also follow the bluff trail to intersect other trails on your right that lead north toward the mountains and dip into oak-filled ravines.) Turn back east, along the inland edge of the mesa, continuing past a profusion of trails to close the loop and rejoin the main trail near the trailhead.

Directions to More Mesa: From upper State Street at its junction with Highway 154, continue west along State as it becomes Hollister 1.2 miles to Puente Drive. Turn left (south). Puente Drive bends west, undergoes a name change to Vieja Drive, and passes Mockingbird Lane on your left 0.7 mile from Hollister. Public parking is not permitted along Mockingbird Lane; you must park along Puente Drive/Vieja Drive and walk up the lane past gated residential streets to the gated entrance to More Mesa. (Or exit Highway 101 on Turnpike. Head south to Hollister and turn left. Drive a few blocks to Puente Drive and follow above directions.)
Interested in more hikes in Santa Barbara? Check out my guide: HIKE Santa Barbara

Shorline Reflection

Santa Barbara photo of the week by Bill Heller, click to enlarge.
Shoreline Reflection
A few wispy high clouds and a great view of the setting sun. We found ourselves at Shoreline park late in the afternoon and decided to take a walk down the long stairway to the beach where we wandered and watched the setting sun. This is about the time everyone on the beach seemed to just stop and watch the beautiful scene. It was a wonderful evening!

-Bill Heller

Saturdays with Seibert: Jacaranda Trees

Local views of Santa Barbara by Dan Seibert

Some jacaranda trees are blooming early this year and others are devoid of any blossoms. Those that are blooming are heavy with flowers.

According to Wikipedia, the Jacaranda mimosifolia is native to south-central South America. In the USA is found from Oregon through the southwest to Texas, and Florida. Also found in parts of warmer countries around the world. Spain, Portugal, southern Italy in Europe. Considered by some an invasive species in South Africa and Australia.

I have read some comments by people in Santa Barbara that also consider the tree to be a pest. I’m not one, it’s one of my favorites.


EcoFacts: A Look at Nepal

Weekly column by Barbara Hirsch

Coat_of_arms_of_NepalThe country of Nepal takes up an area of between Iowa and Illinois in size, and has a population of around 30 million people, with an average density of over 500 per square mile, however much of the country is mountainous.  There is one good road from India to the Kathmandu valley. More than a third of Nepalese live more than two hours’ walk from an all season road, as most roads are not useable during the rainy season.

Ecoregions and climates vary greatly from tropical to the rock and ice of  high mountains.

Nepal is bordered by India in the south, and Tibet (China) in the north.

80% of the population is Hindu, 10% Buddhist.

About half the population has access to electricity, most energy needs are supplied by wood and ag waste. Fossil fuels make up only 12% of energy sources. Deforestation has been rampant but community forestry is helping to change this trend.

Fertility rate has trended downward, is lower in urban areas than rural, and averages 2.4 children per woman. 

“Nepal is one of the few countries in Asia to abolish the death penalty and the first country in Asia to rule in favor of same sex marriage.”

More than 2/3 of the people rely on farming, only 21% of the country is arable. Rice and other cereal grains are the staple crops.

Besides the thousands of lives and homes lost, the ancient temples, the earthquake has killed livestock, ruined crops and threatens the coming planting season.

A poor country has been made poorer.

*Thanks to Wikipedia