By Sharon Byrne
This letter was submitted by a local resident and restaurant entrepreneur. He owns restaurants on both lower State and lower Milpas, which gives him an unusual perspective on how we handle the homeless here. He sees a linkage between the operations of Casa Esperanza on Milpas, and effects that flow along the beach to State St, from a very personal perspective.
What’s also interesting about this letter is that it highlights the strange way in which Santa Barbara treats business owners and residents. To update a building requires navigating a lengthy planning process, where tiny details can send projects into tailspins. The ABR took a political stand, as we saw last week, against a business.
Contrast that with the daily experience of business owners with a population that sometimes exhibits very antisocial and even criminal behavior, for which there is seemingly no repercussion from the city at all.
I overheard this once at a Planning Commission hearing:
Welcome to Santa Barbara, where we welcome the homeless, and harass the home-owners.
Coastal cities like ours often create difficult planning processes to preserve the area, and prevent over-crowding and haphazard development. Sometimes the processes such a locality erects feel like keeping others who want to come here…out. Or at least make it incredibly challenging for them.
There are some in our city that say once you’re here for one day, you’re a resident, and entitled to help. Some feel that we do indeed welcome the homeless, and put no expectations on them, while putting the rest of us through incredible hassles just to live and work here. Randy Alcorn’s column this week in Noozhawk taps into that sentiment.
But these conflicting experiences lead to the question of what kind of city, exactly, is it that Santa Barbara really wants to be?
Question to the City of Santa Barbara:
What about us? Our small retail business community helps make Santa Barbara feel like it is still the quaint, seaside paradise it once was. Many days, I start work at our Milpas store location and work my way over to our State Street location. At Milpas, we clean up feces on our property and brace ourselves for a long day of dealing with Casa Esperanza’s clients. Will it just be panhandling today? A disturbance? Or an assault? We’ve had 3 this year. At our store on State Street, I find some of these same individuals disrupting the most vital retail corridor, the crown jewel, where most of our retail sales tax revenue is generated. This is disturbing to me. While I try to make a living, they are wondering: should I go panhandle the Milpas corridor on my way to the beach, or should I try my luck on State Street where it’s thriving with business and tourist activity?
To make matters worse, the City of Santa Barbara, where I have done business for the last 32 years, makes the process of building anything both immensely frustrating and very expensive. Not only is it a lengthy process, but I have to stand before the HLC and ABR while they nit-pick tiny details – should the gate be wrought iron or copper, how about a different doorknob to present a better aesthetic, etc. It takes months to get a simple change approved to a building, but our city allows transients to disrupt our business community daily instead of standing up for small business.
Let’s face it: our town is going to hell. There is not a business owner on Milpas or State Street that doesn’t feel that we as a community can do better. Contrast this with New York. It feels safer and cleaner than Santa Barbara. We should give credit to the former mayor, Rudy Giuliani. He turned his city of 8 million people around, facing the same issues on a much bigger scale. If they could do it, why can’t we?
While Casa Esperanza management is quick to give numbers and stats about the lives they are having a positive impact on, and the lives they save, it’s not a complete picture. What about their “clients” that just come through the revolving door looking for the free lunch and then stumble back into our neighborhood, wreaking havoc? The truth is that about 90% of them don’t want to change their lives. The problem I have with Casa Esperanza’s program is that clients can drink and use drugs and still, yes, receive a free lunch and services. As a result, we all pay an extremely heavy price. We get to deal with the same repeat nuisance offenders everyday with no relief or help.
Over the years I have had many conversations with the police, our firemen, as well as members of the business community and it is unanimous, we all feel the same way. It’s time for a change, City Hall. Don’t turn your back on our small business community while you throw hundreds of thousands of dollars through the revolving door.