Monday, May 02, 2011

Fear and Loafing in Downtown Santa Barbara

My post from last week about the debate over what to do about "transient crime" in downtown Santa Barbara drew a lot of attention and comments over at Edhat.

I was surprised at the number of people who expressed reluctance, if not out-and-out fear, when it came to venturing down to State Street.

Let me repeat what I said in my original post, I'm not suggesting that there isn't a problem. I'm just wonder how far we should be willing to go to solve it?

At last week's City Council meeting, a motel owner talked about a homeless women who jumped into the motel's swimming pool, fully clothed, and went for a swim. Well, that's trespassing and a crime and I'm not about to suggest that the police shouldn't be called. But bear in mind, a trespass is not an assault or a robbery so unless she's drowning we shouldn't expect a Code 3 response to this type of call.

At that same meeting, council member Frank Hotchkiss expressed concern about "conduct that makes other people feel uncomfortable." He suggested that we "roll back the clock to insist on civil behavior by everybody. If it is offensive or rude then we should do something about that." In a question directed to City Attorney Steve Wiley, he wanted to know why people who "annoy" other people couldn't be cited. Really? Two years ago a Santa Barbara jury refused to convict a guy who allegedly used racial slurs and threatened to "kick the ass" of Chief of Police Cam Sanchez. Good luck trying to convict someone for yelling at someone else or making them feel "uncomfortable."

And by the way, how did that particular incident involving the Chief get started? Reportedly, it began with an attempt to register a complaint with Sanchez about "all the crimes going on by all the drunken bums." Isn't that what the current debate is about?

Short of criminal conduct, what should and should not be policed and how much to spend policing it is a matter of opinion.

Council member Randy Rowse urged that we turn "some attention to aesthetics." I would assume he is referring to the aesthetics of people because we all know how much time and energy has been spent on the aesthetics of the physical features of the downtown area.

As one poster on Edhat pointed out, "It's not just fear that keeps people away from State Street, it's the smell of urine, body odor." So, should we take some police officers and assign them to the personal hygiene detail?

Another commenter cited the "chain smoking, tattooed, angst ridden youth of our fair city," that hang out around The Habit hamburger stand.

Actually, chain smokers kind of bug me too, so I'm all in favor of banning them from downtown. And I know a lot of people who think people with tattoos all over their bodies look kind of scary, so I say run them out of here too. As for the angst ridden, haven't we all fallen into that category at one time or another? Suddenly downtown is looking pretty deserted.

Another Edhat poster offered a solution: "There are loitering laws on the books that will allow the police to hassle these kids at will. And that's what needs to be done. These bums must be hassled on a daily basis until they and their ilk move on."

Getting that "ilk" to "move on" is an interesting idea but my guess it won't be anywhere near as easy as taking Santa Barbara's contaminated soil and dumping it in Oxnard.

But as long as the police are going to be hassling the angst ridden, I suggest they also target big burly guys who wear sweatshirts with the sleeves cut off to expose their hairy arms. After all, they are kind of unsightly. I propose we include them among those-who-ought-to-be-chased-away.

Yet another person posting a comment at Edhat wrote, "Craig displays the over-tolerance that has slowly but surely degraded the quality of life in this town."

Yes, your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, they were welcome at Ellis Island but they're not welcome in downtown Santa Barbara. "Pepper spray the panhandlers!" as another commenter wrote.

Actually, I'm really not that tolerant. I have some pet peeves. For instance, most of you out there know how I feel about people who talk loudly on their cell phones in public. Tell them to hang up or shove off. And what about guys who wear mutton chops? Have they no sense of style? Use a razor or use the bus! Specifically, the next Greyhound out of town.

My point is that now that we've banned the loud yakkers, the angst ridden, the unattractive, the unwashed and the unshaven it won't be long before middle-aged guys like myself are showing up on somebody's downtown "no-fly" list.

And I'm sure there would be more than a few commenters at Edhat who would be okay with that.

* * *

On Wednesday, May 4, I will be a guest on Ernie Salomon live which airs at 7pm on Channel 17. The other guest will be local writer Cheri Rae who wrote the investigatory piece about the export of our contaminated soil. I'm sure we'll be talking about both of these issues so tune in and call us up.

Never miss another one of my blog posts, 
subscribe to Craig Smith's Blog by Email

© 2011 by Craig Smith and