Individuals will now be prohibited from sitting or lying down on public sidewalks on the 12 blocks of Milpas Street between Carpinteria Street and Canon Perdido Street.
The Santa Barbara City Council extended the city’s “sit-lie” ordinance on Tuesday at its meeting, citing that the street has significant sidewalk obstructions and heavy traffic, endangering any pedestrians who have to walk on the street to get around obstructions.
“I think the general public has a right to use the sidewalks,” Councilman Eric Friedman said. “This is a public health and safety issue…The Eastside community has the right to walk on the sidewalk obstructed, and there’s a lot of other obstructions in there we are going to work to address, but right now, we have to act on the circumstances that we have and the conditions that are there.”
The City Attorney’s Office conducted fieldwork of the blocks in question to determine the facts warranting the sit-lie legislation. Staff found eight different types of sidewalk obstructions that limit travel for pedestrians and pushcarts — curbs, newsracks, public trash bins, traffic cabinets, fiber optic boxes, street lights and traffic control boxes.
The total sidewalk square footage of North Milpas between Mason Street and Yanonali Street is approximately 3,783 square feet. However, when staff took into account the following obstructions — five street lights, eight street tree wells, one trash can, three street signs, six driveways, one traffic signal and two panel boxes — the total sidewalk area was reduced by 57%. This results in 2,145 square feet of sidewalk area for pedestrians, and the average sidewalk width is 42 inches.
“It’s just not wide enough,” Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon said. “If you have a stroller or wheelchair, or even just walking, it’s difficult passage…It seems it (the ordinance) is necessary for people to be able to be on the public right of way safely, including any of our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness, for them to be able to walk on the street as well.”
The measure will forbid sitting or lying down on certain sidewalks during certain times of day, with exceptions for disability, medical emergencies or events like lawful parades or demonstrations. In addition, a prior warning is required by law enforcement or service providers.
The ordinance passed with a six to one vote, with Councilwoman Meagan Harmon voting in opposition. She said that while she respected her colleagues in support, she believes the ordinance targets the homeless population.
“This ordinance targets homeless individuals and criminalizes their state of being. I just can’t do the mental gymnastics required to get myself to a point where I don’t feel that this ordinance is specifically targeting the state of being of our homeless neighbors,” she said. “It is not a sufficient alternative for me to say that they can just move to a different block. I cannot wrap my head around the legality of that.”
City Attorney Ariel Calonne outlined the office’s focus on factual justification, which he said must be solid. According to the office’s findings, the factual determinations concluded that Milpas Street has several permanent structures that limit walking and pedestrian use, vehicular traffic is heavy and that traffic poses a significant risk for pedestrians using the roadway to navigate around obstructions.
Business owners in the area spoke in support of the measure during public comment, including Natalia Govoni, who runs a boutique in the 400 block of Milpas.
“This is a grave issue that we, not only the business community, but residents, face on a daily basis,” she said during public comment. “We business owners and residents should not have to walk in the street because people are passed out drunk on the sidewalk. It’s scary, frightening and unsafe.”
Natasha Torodovic, a resident of the area, spoke about children who walk down the street to access the schools nearby.
“What they’re seeing are people passed out on the sidewalk in a drunken stupor in their own feces and urine and mess,” she said. “And this is behavior that is becoming normalized, and that is being witnessed on a daily basis by our children. I think that is horrific.”
Ian Baucke spoke on behalf of Santa Barbara Young Democrats, and said that while he understands the concerns of residents who live in the area, he, too, believes the ordinance targets the homeless population.
“I’m afraid some of the rhetoric we’ve heard from some of the proponents, not all, but some, has been a bit dehumanizing and a bit fear mongering, and I don’t think that’s something we should necessarily accommodate in our policy,” he said. “At the end of the day, when a warning is exhausted, this tells our unsheltered neighbors — people who are still your constituents, most of whom are from here — that by exercising their right to access the public right of way, that they can face criminal prosecution and all the long-term damage and repercussions that causes, just for simply being there and being homeless. I just don’t think that this is the appropriate direction to go.”
Mayor Cathy Murillo expressed that the main point is to have the sidewalks clear, protecting families and the elerly who try to get through the tight areas.
“I know that the enforcement will be compassionate and a service-oriented approach, and we have restorative officers,” she said. “I just know that they will take a helpful approach first with warnings, and then be able to keep the sidewalks clear.”email: firstname.lastname@example.org