Did You Know? By Bonnie Donovan
Did you know that in 2018, the Santa Barbara City Council considered a grant proposal for $6 million to put 40 tiny (trailer) homes on the Carrillo/Castillo commuter lot? It would have only been for 30 months, and it was the first time we heard of City Net.
At this meeting, I asked this man from City Net if he knew that the homeless were being dropped off in Santa Barbara. His answer was yes, but when I asked him if he would tell the city, he just walked away.
City Net came to Santa Barbara from Orange County, and now five years later, where are we? Santa Barbara County has approximately 3,500 homeless people, and the city count was 882 in April. We are confident that if done today, the city count would be more than 900. The problem grows and grows.
When we look around Santa Barbara, we see lots of activity, many committees, tons of meetings, oodles of money spent and a lot of spinning around, with much time wasted and few concrete results.
We have already spent a heck of a lot of time and money trying to decide on the future of the city, with no results. Here we are, again spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on yet another consultant to tell the city council and city administration what to do, as we have to wait until the end of 2023 to find out the latest version. There is a survey out right now they want you to fill out. Go to statestreet.santabarbaraca.gov.
As for homelessness, it doesn’t get solved, it just gets bigger. Again, millions of dollars down the drain with pitiful results.
Why does the city of Santa Barbara continue to give our taxpayer money to groups that haven’t given a report on how it worked? Why isn’t anyone stopping the import of the homeless to Santa Barbara so we can see that our money did help?
Last week Did You Know? published a letter from Kelly Brown, owner of The Natural Cafe on lower State Street, in which he informed his landlord and the Santa Barbara City Council why he was closing the restaurant, after 30 years in business.
Soon after our column was published, we received via the internet, from a third party, a copy of a letter to Kelly Brown from Robin Elander, executive director of Downtown Santa Barbara. Just to make the point, this letter is already in the public domain. Its contents are a matter of public interest because the organization Robin Elander represents is partly financed from city funds, Business Improvement District fees, and other sources, such as event sponsorships.
However, when Did You Know? approached Ms. Elander about her letter to Mr. Brown, she responded that it was a private letter, and she refused permission for us to publish it. Well, we won’t publish her letter, but, as it is already in the public square, through the internet, we shall refer to it.
First, what does she have to hide? She complained that Mr. Brown should have come to her because his allowing his landlord to go to the press tarnished the brand of downtown. We don’t believe going to the press tarnished the brand of downtown. We believe not taking care of the issues people have been complaining about for years has tarnished the brand.
For example, she said she works with people who could have helped with the homeless. Here are the names of those people: City Net and SBACT. She states that Mr. Brown could participate in meetings called RAP (regional action plan) to get results with the homeless.
Well, we have participated in our area RAP where around 78 businesses/residents started attending the weekly meetings. Yet after no results and people feeling like it was a waste of time, the last one I attended featured only two neighbors on Zoom. And the meetings were no longer weekly.
We reported a woman living in her car and a man in his truck on Montecito Street. The city has their garbage cleaned up weekly. She was the homeless person breaking into hotel rooms and private residences. Yes, it’s years later, and they still live in the same spots.
Right now we have a young man living in his chair under the Garden Street bridge — for the last five months now.
At one point , one of these employees of SBACT, City Net or city staff could have reported this.
We have a hundred more of these stories so why do you think it would help Mr. Brown or the future tenant?
Did You Know? submitted a public records request on how much the city of Santa Barbara pays Robin’s group Downtown Organization a year.
According to the records, “the city allocates $310,000 per year to the DSO for Marketing & Promotional Services.”
The Santa Barbara City Council just approved an agreement with SBACT for coordination and collaboration of homeless services and providers for $100,000 for fiscal year 2022-2023 (which is a decrease of $50,000 from the previous fiscal year). This includes the monthly and weekly RAP meetings and neighborhood site visits…”
Four years later, what’s the total cost?
According to the city, “City Net is our primary homelessness outreach and case management provider in the City of Santa Barbara. Their current contract is $618,920.”
Five years later, what’s the total cost? All the above numbers are per year.
Furthermore, as her job is indirectly funded by public money, how can Robin Elander’s official letter be private from public interest? We are not dealing with the official secrets act here.
Can it be her assertion to Mr. Brown, that the publication of the details in his letter in both the News-Press and other local papers has in the opinion of many of his peers, tarnished the brand of downtown, which will take some time to recover from? How does this help Mr. Brown?
It seems to Did You Know? that Mr. Brown was only speaking truth to power, as he sees it. He revealed his distress and sorrow in closing down a 30-year-long endeavor appreciated by thousands of diners. He did this both in his letter and in making the very difficult decision to close down his restaurant after so many successful years.
Those of us who frequented The Natural Cafe through the years feel not only a sense of loss but also, a sense of helplessness in reaction to the reasons he stated.
What we are getting for our money is a block party in exchange for our annual Christmas Parade.
I was out of the state two weeks ago, and when people heard I was from Santa Barbara, a few asked what happened to our city. They said they used to vacation here yearly but stopped due to the homeless and how dirty Santa Barbara has become.
Who is responsible for this tarnishing?
Bonnie Donovan writes the “Did You Know?” column in conjunction with a bipartisan group of local citizens. It appears Saturdays in the Voices section.