The Santa Barbara City Council acted Tuesday to start work on a resolution condemning police brutality and declaring racism a public health crisis.
The council’s resolution came in response to a national and local outcry for police reform and racial reconciliation spurred on by the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.
In a unanimous vote, the council directed city staff to meet with leaders of Black Lives Matter Santa Barbara to craft the resolution, after members of the public voiced the need to have all community members feel protected, listened to and served by their public servants during the council meeting on June 7.
“As you know the vision in Minneapolis was very tragic and obviously makes us reflect on our own policies, practices and behaviors,” said Assistant City Administrator
“The questions of whether we are doing enough, are we vigilant enough, have we fostered a true culture of respect and honesty are questions that need to be asked and answered.”
To take meaningful action to answer those questions, the City Council also unanimously voted to take three steps to address public concerns over racism and police brutality.
The council directed the City Attorney’s Office to return July 14 with an array of options for an independent police oversight system or review board.
The objective for establishing the review board will be to “add sunshine” to the police discipline process by reviewing objectivity, thoroughness and the Santa Barbara Police Department’s response to any complaints of police misconduct.
“We will bring back an array of options that run the gamut from an independent police review board or commission to an independent auditor to taking advantage of the existing fire and police commission in some configuration,” said City Attorney Ariel Calonne
The council will ultimately decide what form the oversight will take after a thorough presentation from the City Attorney’s Office.
“Typically review boards that you see many cities use — they’re in three types of styles. We want to give you an even more robust choice, but the three styles you see are an investigatory board, an audit board who are reviewing in terms of policies, or a combination of both,” said Assistant City Attorney John Doimas.
Mr. Calonne and staff will present a report on what legal options are available to the city two weeks in advance of the July 14 meeting in order to educate both council and the public and allow for opportunities for community input.
The City Council will also look for dates on weekends for community input meetings to accommodate the many Santa Barbarans who work Tuesday afternoons during regular meetings.
“We’re responsible for the community’s well-being and we want a police department that makes everyone feel safe and where everyone really is safe,” said Mayor Cathy Murillo.
Mayor Murillo said she understands the need for realignment or adjustment for the city’s budget for the Santa Barbara Police Department.
“You take resources and funding that went to one kind of law enforcement or incarceration or programming, and you shift it to mental health programs, behavioral health outreach, working with our houseless residents and have that discussion of what kind of police services that the community wants,” said Mayor Murillo.
The council also directed staff to work with the Historic Landmark Commission to identify, protect and preserve spaces and landmarks of historical importance to members of the African-American community in Santa Barbara.
Nicole Hernandez, the city’s urban historian, will meet with the commission today to begin the process of identifying the locations to be preserved, and plans to meet with BLM SB leadership as well.
The City Council also allocated $35,000 to financially support annual events like the Juneteenth Celebration and Black History Month and any other events that celebrate Santa Barbara’s cultural and racial diversity.
“The idea was that the leadership of Black Lives Matter and Healing Santa Barbara will be a primary focus of how that will be programmed, that they will decide and tell us how they would like to spend that money,” said Ms. Antil.
The $35,000 dollar figure is one that Ms. Antil said staff felt comfortable allocating amid the city’s projected $26.5 million budget shortfall for fiscal year 2020 and $24 million in fiscal year 2021.
Although the funds were originally going to be allocated to the Santa Barbara Public Library as a placeholder from which to distribute the money, there were several requests that the city distribute the money to other organizations.
“The council may select to divert that money to another organization, and that’s certainly something you could do,” said Ms. Antil.
How the funds will be distributed will be determined at a later date.
In making the motion to allocate the funds, Councilmember Kristen Sneddon suggested making them a permanent part of the city’s budget.
“I would like to direct staff to appropriate $35,000, not through the library, but looking at other options where that can be used to support Juneteenth, and then possibly a separate line-item for Black Lives Matter in perpetuity. That we have it as a line-item, budget item, to be used as they see fit in supporting these causes,” said Ms. Sneddon.
Ms. Sneddon also moved to add a summit with BLM to the council’s agenda to create a process for community outreach and a system for “sustained conversations” to keep reform moving in perpetuity.
“This cannot be something where we just meet four demands and call it good. We need to set up a structure to continue to look at that through all of our systems. I think we need anti-bias training across our entire organization,” said Ms. Sneddon.
A date for the summit will be determined at a future meeting.
“This is just the beginning and it’s not going to stop,” said council member Oscar Gutierrez. “We’re going to continue going through these issues and devoting the appropriate amount of time and energy to each one of them. Again, we just ask for a little patience but just keep us accountable and keep checking in with us and let us know how we can better serve you.”