Two Santa Barbara City Council members voted not to send a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom requesting the release of the Central Coast region from the regional stay-at-home order.
With a 5-2 vote, the letter will still be sent and signed individually by the mayor and four council members.
Mayor Pro Tempore Kristen Sneddon and Council member Oscar Gutierrez were the two dissenting votes.
“This isn’t the time to celebrate and open our doors and invite a party downtown,” Ms. Sneddon said in the final regular meeting of the year on Tuesday. “I don’t believe it’s safe for the workers in restaurants to be pressured to be serving other members of the population at risk of their own health.”
She said that she would rather send a letter to the governor asking for financial relief to help those struggling with the closures.
“We’re L.A.’s playground and backyard,” she added. “They’re putting stricter restrictions than the state is because they’re out of beds.
“If we’re the only place open around and we think that we won’t have people highly exposed coming to visit.
“It’s just not the time. We’re in the final, final stretch.”
Mr. Gutierrez shared that he was recovering from COVID-19 himself.
“I understand the situation that our business owners and residents are in, in regards to their employment and livelihoods,” he said. “I do not want you to lose your business but I sure as hell don’t want you to lose your health or your life.
“The people who brought the virus to me, they weren’t from this county. They were from the SoCal counties,” he said. “They came up here because they thought it was safe. I feel like if we encourage any of it, we’re defeating the purpose of why we’re in this position as elected officials to protect people.”
However, Mayor Cathy Murillo and Council members Eric Friedman, Alejandra Gutierrez, Mike Jordan and Meagan Harmon voted to send the letter, and Mayor Murillo agreed to make an exception and allow Ms. Sneddon and Mr. Gutierrez to be exempt from the letter.
“If we’re just going to say we’re part of the SoCal region, then we need to be prepared to say we’re going to lose a lot of businesses, a lot of jobs, a lot more homelessness… Our kids are not going to be able to go back to school this year,” said Mr. Friedman. “Our kids are struggling with mental health issues.
“If we’re just going to say that we should remain with San Diego and L.A., then what are we doing up here? We should just defer all our authority to L.A. and San Diego because they can’t get their acts together,” he said. “I’m sending this letter so that we can control our own destiny.”
Mayor Murillo added, “I was ready to write the letter myself last week. No, we can’t use parklets for public picnic areas; no, we’re not rejecting the governor’s order. This to me seemed like a reasonable gesture to detach us from Southern California and let us act as a smaller region, which on the whole, has had better numbers.”
In addition to sending the letter to the governor, the council also unanimously authorized the interim community development director to execute a funding agreement for an additional $50,000 with the Santa Barbara Alliance for Community Transformation and a new one-year contract in the amount of $330,000 in PLHA funding with City Net.
City staff shared that Santa Barbara’s homelessness has increased every year for the past several years.
The last time data was captured, the total number of homeless individuals in the city was 340, with 44% at the waterfront, 35% on State Street and 21% on the Eastside. This was a 5% increase from last year’s numbers, and city staff hasn’t seen the impact of COVID on the data yet.
Staff also stated that three census tracts in the city note that almost 2,000 individuals are currently vulnerable to fall into homelessness due to COVID-19.
To meet the current need, SB ACT would need 262 emergency shelter beds in addition to the number of beds it has now in its emergency shelters, 120 units of transitional housing and 232 units of permanent supportive housing.
“I think we probably all feel like we wish it was more,” Ms. Sneddon said regarding the money the council authorized. “We know it needs to be more. I really think this is one of the best things the city has done to address homelessness, and we’re just on the verge of seeing how much this is going to affect things.”
Added Mr. Jordan, “I’m cautiously optimistic that SB ACT and City Net are not just driven by sustenance and maintenance, but they’re actually going to be the resolution of impacts and results-oriented.
“My message to myself and my peers is that it will take us having the political will, not worrying about the votes… or the pushback… Until we have the political will to address that in a way that solves the problem, it’s just a dog chasing its tail.”
The next meeting of the Santa Barbara City Council will not be until 2021.