The sidewalks along the Cacique Street Highway 101 underpass have been power washed and cleared from personal belongings and transients, while city officials on Tuesday discussed potential permanent solutions to a longstanding issue.
The Santa Barbara City Council voted unanimously during its regular meeting April 28 to direct City Attorney Ariel Calonne to return next month with an emergency ordinance that would prohibit sitting or lying down in the Cacique Street underpass. The ordinance would also include the Milpas Street 101 underpass, expanding the city’s current sidewalk enforcement in the downtown corridor.
The city currently has an ordinance that forbids sitting or lying down on the sidewalks of State Street between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m. Last year, the council added the first block of East Haley Street to the ordinance. The concept of extending the ordinance has been around for quite some time, Mr. Calonne said.
Earlier this week, officials with Santa Barbara Act and City Net met with a dozen homeless individuals at the Cacique underpass. Ten of the 12 people contacted agreed to move into a hotel to receive housing and case management services, while the remaining two chose no services but were willing to move, said Jeff Shaffer, of Santa Barbara Act.
Those who were moved to hotels will also receive meals and a two-week stay in the hotel. At that point, officials will try and “bridge them” via reunification or through the city’s shelter system, Mr. Shaffer said.
“I think that the individuals are in a much safer situation and they’re all willing to take on some case management and hopefully get them further prepared for maybe eventually being permanently housed,” said Laura Dubbels, housing and human services manager for the city.
Mr. Shaffer told the council he was on a call with various stakeholders last Thursday to discuss possible solutions. Added as a special item to Tuesday’s agenda, officials did not list a policy direction on developing an ordinance, preventing the council from taking a vote on any ordinance Tuesday, Mr. Calonne said.
As such, the ordinance is scheduled to be introduced May 12, with the council voting whether to adopt the ordinance May 19. It would then go into effect June 22, while City Administrator Paul Casey was informed to enact an emergency order to prevent new encampments from being formed.
Several public commenters spoke during Tuesday’s meeting and pointed to the existing issues they are seeing along the Milpas Street corridor and near the 101 underpasses at both Milpas and Cacique streets.
Eastside resident Robin Unander raised questions regarding the current safety issues in the area and questioned what would happen after residents are provided shelter for two weeks.
“Then what? Then where are they going? There’s going to more people that come in as those individuals move into the shelters or wherever the hotels that they’re going,” she said. “There’s this influx of people that seem to be coming, and I’m not even sure if it’s because the shelters are limited in their capacity so this where everybody is spilling over, or we have new individuals coming into our town like we’ve had in the past.”
She also raised concerns that they were “shuffling things around.”
“If we put limitations on where we’re saying they cannot be, then they’ll just go right outside those borders. They’re just going to go into those other areas and this is going to perpetuate and overflow,” she said.
Mr. Shaffer acknowledged the need for long-term solutions, while also agreeing that people may simply relocate to other areas.
“At the end of the day, we need to increase our capacity for both outreach and for shelter beds and permanent housing solutions,” he said.
Because the council voted to have the ordinance brought back at a future date and Mr. Casey issued his own order, it will preserve the “status quo” of no encampments since the area was cleared out prior to the vote.
While expressing desire to work with Ms. Murillo and find a permanent solution, Councilmember Mike Jordan described the situation to that of a dog chasing its own tail.
“It’s unfortunate, and I love Jeff Shaffer to death, but it is true that this just shuffles the problems around,” he said. “I think we just need to continually ask ourselves if we’re willing to live with that dynamic, or if there are things that we can do… It’s been going on forever.
“Not to be disrespectful to the good people out there doing work, but the problem continues and the problem moves around and it does not seem to be abated even when you take steps like this.”
Councilmember Meagan Harmon said she voted in favor of bringing the ordinance back for discussion due to the emergency circumstances, while expressing desire that solutions “focus on the humanity” of those without shelter.
“I understand that it’s difficult to deal with some of the impacts in our communities, and we have it in my district as well, but I think it’s really important moving forward that we remember that our unsheltered neighbors — they’re our neighbors too and their fundamental humanity is something that we need to consider and center in our discussion as well,” she said.
Councilmember Alejandra Gutierrez, whose Eastside district would directly be affected by the ordinance, shared before-and-after pictures to the council, with the former showing cluttered and blocked sidewalks.
“These are scenarios that happened before COVID-19. COVID-19 happened and it just highlighted the issue that we’ve been dealing with in that district for many years…. It has always been a public safety and health issue, not just right now. It’s always been an issue in District 1,” she said.
Ms. Gutierrez also expressed a desire to expand the sit lie ordinance to include Milpas Street.
“If we put limitations on where we’re saying they cannot be, then they’ll just go right outside those borders,” she said. “They’re just going to go into those other areas and this is going to perpetuate and overflow.”