I’ve lived my whole life mostly in towns and villages, by choice, for necessity and with luck. From Weston, Conn., which was a small town when my parents moved there from Manhattan for a peaceful life in 1946, to Waterloo, Belgium, where my husband and I moved to from Switzerland in 1984.
Waterloo was a short train ride to Richard’s office in Brussels. A Brit, Richard was fascinated by the town’s history and loved to take family and friends to the battlefield with the Wellington vs. Napoleon lore. We sometimes wondered if the famous town would be our Waterloo, when we paid Belgium’s outrageous taxes, the railway frequently went on strike and crime was spiking with the influx of wealthy, on-the-move European Union diplomats.
We moved to Montecito in 2006 for a peaceful, safe retirement.
The only city I’ve lived in is New York, and that, too, was by choice, necessity and luck. Choice: No more commuting from New Canaan, Conn., for Richard, when the children had finished college. Necessity: Richard’s job meant he was a cab ride away from John F. Kennedy International Airport. Luck: We found an apartment on the then safe, upper East Side, which would take a dog and was only three blocks from then-safe Central Park.
We feel we made the right choices back then.
Crime in Montecito has risen sharply since we moved here from Scottsdale, Ariz., in 2006. Many of the well-heeled residents — even those celebrities behind gates and/or those who have around-the-clock security (one couple, who moved here in 2020 comes to mind) — are afraid.
We are warned daily to stay home, lock our doors and windows and to not leave our cars on the street. If we feel the need to get out of the house for a cappuccino on Coast Village Road, we are advised to not wear Rolex watches and other bling (we don’t have any), leave our designer purses (I don’t own any) and wallets home, to use instead our pockets. Such is village life in Southern California these days.
Those who live down the hill in Santa Barbara are advised to watch their backs on State Street. Especially at night and on lower State Street.
Some may think I’m exaggerating and am privileged to have lived in Europe for two decades. They are right. But we wouldn’t want to live there now. Europe has also changed for the worse. Just ask our children who live in France.
Back in the 1970s, we brought up three children in the village of Lutry, on Lac Léman where they could walk to school. Then we moved to a village above the town of Morges, across the road from Audrey Hepburn. I never met Ms. Hepburn — unless, if buying mushrooms next to her in the town’s Saturday open market counts.
Safety and anonymity were the reasons so many celebrities chose to live where we did. There were also excellent schools. We only locked our door at night and if we were going out of town. Petty crime didn’t exist. But our wealthy, Greek neighbor’s son was kidnapped and held for ransom in 1984. Perhaps that was the first sign to us that even Switzerland was changing.
In 2019, when Black Lives Matter and Antifa held a rally for 2,000 people downtown to defund Santa Barbara’s fine police force, I became acutely aware of the city’s new flavor — wokeism. Since then, it’s frightening how beholden residents of Montecito and Santa Barbara have become to the left’s call to arms over redistribution of wealth, critical race theory in the schools and abortion, while avoiding illegal immigration, drugs and the homeless and the values that brought many residents to this so-called “Paradise on the Pacific”.
On July Fourth, many people like us still tried to celebrate our country’s birth safely at home. With the massacres in Ulvade and Highland Park and mob rule taking over our cities and institutions, we are scared. We are too old to move to another village or town. But will we be safe anywhere?
After locking our doors, Richard and I still take our nightly stroll around the neighborhood. The other night, we bumped into a neighbor who asked if we knew what had happened in the house on the corner of APS, two streets away — the house with the pink flamingos? We didn’t.
On the Fourth of July, police and rescue were called to the house with pink flamingos. A large quantity of drugs was seized, and a man was found dead from an overdose.
When we got home, I asked Richard, “If the country’s villages and towns are no longer safe, where do we live?”
On Monday, as I drove down Alameda Padre Serra to Trader Joe’s, I noticed that the flamingos were down and lying by stuffed garbage bags. Apparently, if you have pink flamingos on your lawn, you’re signaling that it’s party time. Now, it must also mean that there are illegal drugs available to help you shop ’til you drop.
In 2021, Donna Mason, a 76-year-old grandmother was walking to her car in a parking lot in the middle of the day, when she was attacked by a purse-grabbing thug. Luckily her daughter had bought her a little hand alarm that on pulling a pin set off a loud alarm. That little alarm may have saved her life.
Wake up, America, or none of us will be celebrating future Fourths of July.
Calla Jones Corner
The author lives in Montecito.