In its regular meeting on Tuesday, the Santa Barbara City Council received an update from community leaders on youth safety and gun-related homicides.
Santa Barbara Police Interim Chief Bernard Melekian discussed the Liberty Street shooting on Jan. 3 and the Eucalyptus Hill Road shooting on March 29. He said that in both cases, Santa Barbara Police detectives worked around the clock to find the suspects.
“The reality of gang violence is that the impact of these incidents reverberates far beyond the incident itself, and for those of us that have spent some time with members of the families of the victims, you realize that the impact of what has happened is going to reverberate for a long, long time,” he said. “For the longest time, law enforcement saw its role solely as to solve the crime and arrest the perpetrators, but it is very clear that this is no longer enough.”
Chief Melekian said that the department has a three-part focus on a larger solution to gang violence in the community: prevention, intervention and enforcement. Ricardo Venegas from the city’s Public Works Department provided an update on job apprenticeships available for local youth and the Arts Alliance program in place, which provides kids with art-related opportunities and community service projects to address juvenile delinquency, youth-on-youth violence and graffiti vandalism.
Hilda Maldonado, superintendent of Santa Barbara Unified School District, also provided an update on ways the schools are addressing violence. She pointed out three areas to improve in: academics, belonging and connections. She said the areas can improve with family engagement, youth outreach, addressing mental health and wellness, a diverse and responsive educator workforce, effective family engagement and community partnerships, inclusive teaching and learning, and sustainable operations such as fiscal, food and facilities.
Saul Serrano, the South Coast Youth Safety Partnership coordinator, also provided the priority areas for the partnership.
“I think for too many of our young people, safety is defined as knowing where not to go, and I think the challenge for all of us is to change the definition of what safety means,” Chief Melekian said.
Council member Alejandra Gutierrez, the Eastside representative, said, “We really need to hold everybody accountable for every death that happens in the streets of this city, not only just in my district, but I take responsibility, because like many mentioned today, we’re all in this together and we all have to hold some sort of level of community … It really takes the community to solve these issues.”
In other business, the council voted to award the $1.1 million contract with Lash Construction, Inc. for the Arroyo Burro Open Space Restoration and Trail Improvement Project, which will restore a portion of the Campanil Drainage, create formal trail routes to improve drainage and install an 85-foot-long pedestrian bridge.
“This project accomplishes so many of our goals as a city,” Council member Meagan Harmon said. “It facilitates access to open space, it preserves, it improves water quality, it prioritizes our natural habitat. These are all things that, as a city, we have very clearly spoken with one voice about the need to prioritize.”
Council members received the recommended two-year financial plan for fiscal years 2022 and 2023 in the meeting on Tuesday as well. In an overview, staff wrote that the impacts from COVID and continued economic uncertainty directly impact the city’s budget.
Since COVID began, Santa Barbara is projected to receive $35 million less revenue by the end of FY 2021 across all funds. Staff reported that budget balancing requires expenditure reductions and the use of reserves in FY 2021 and 2022, and the depleted General Fund contingency reserve in FY 2021, 2022 and 2023 budgets do not show any replenishment.
Staff also listed major work efforts being considered in the budget, including: restoring economic vitality citywide; the new police station; community choice energy; Measure C capital priority projects; State Street master planning process; De la Guerra Plaza; Library Plaza; and many others.
“It’s not entirely good news on the budget, but thank goodness we had a reserve and we were able to use those emergency funds for exactly what they were set aside for,” Mayor Cathy Murillo said.
The council also explored a proposed hazard pay urgency ordinance — a $5/per hour premium to be paid on top of the employee’s base wage — for grocery and drug store workers, to sunset in 120 days. The hazard pay would go to any employee who performs at least two hours of work within the geographic boundaries at any grocery or drug retail store with more than 300 employees nationwide.
The ordinance was proposed in reference to a Brookings Institute study that showed that an average company in this bracket earned an extra $16.7 billion in profit in 2020, but that increase has generally not translated into an increase in pay for the low-wage frontline workers.
“They really were there when so many other businesses were shut down,” Mayor Pro Tem Oscar Gutierrez said of the grocery and drugstore workers. “They still came in and worked, and we want to be able to honor them by helping them out with a bit of a hero’s pay.”
Other council members, including Council members Mike Jordan and Kristen Sneddon, expressed concerns about the ordinance, citing union representation, smaller businesses, “tardiness” of the measure and other fields that also continued working in person during the pandemic.
“I’m very concerned about that messaging, that some are heroes but some aren’t,” Ms. Sneddon said.
However, the council voted to move the conversation forward and to have the city attorney draft an ordinance, which will need to be voted on again later.
“The intent of this isn’t to devalue any other efforts,” Mr. Gutierrez said. “Just because we’re focusing on this group doesn’t mean that we don’t find the value in all of the other groups. We just want to take small bites of a bigger apple and this is what we’re focusing on.”