Activists gathered at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse on Monday afternoon to disrupt the weekly auction of foreclosed houses and to show solidarity with a Sacramento protest aimed at temporarily halting home foreclosures statewide.
Protesters of all ages followed the auctioneers to their post at the front of the courthouse in Santa Barbara, banging kitchen pots and pans together and waving signs in an attempt to create an uproar significant enough to stop the auction. The demonstration was spearheaded by a branch of Occupy Santa Barbara that focuses on home-foreclosure issues.
Aside from interrupting the auction, the broader goal of the movement is to persuade the state Legislature to impose a moratorium on all home foreclosures until an investigation is made into the supposedly illegal methods banks use to repossess houses.
Kathy Swift, a UCSB graduate student in education who is part of the Occupy movement, claims these auctions are actually illegal by California civil code.
“[The auctioneers] are supposed to have a bond, or authorization, from the secretary of state in order to operate,” Swift said. “We looked into 350 auctioneers, and found that none of them had this bond.”
The Occupy Santa Barbara working group recently met with First District county Supervisor Salud Carbajal to discuss a countywide halt in foreclosures, and has drafted a letter to Assemblyman Das Williams to solicit his support in the statewide effort.
The concept of a moratorium is not unheard of — San Francisco County recently passed a countywide moratorium on home foreclosures, and the state government instituted a similar measure to stop foreclosures for 90 days in 2009.
Legally-trained housing activist Margaret Carswell said the state government has shown a general lack of resolve in enforcing regulations on foreclosure procedures and auditing potentially fraudulent bank documents.
“California has been one of the states hit hardest by the housing crisis, but for whatever reason, the state is simply not standing up to the banks,” Carswell said.
Many of the demonstrators present were homeowners fighting to prevent the foreclosure of their own homes, according to 90-year-old Santa Barbara resident Wayne Tustin.
“I’m trying to fight to save my house, and I think that is probably true of most of the people here,” Tustin said.
Michael Merenda said he was motivated to get involved after hearing stories of people who previously lived in upscale houses in Santa Barbara being forced to live in homeless shelters due to foreclosures.
“My main concern is the profound effect it is having on the culture of the United States,” Merenda said.
After being assailed by the cacophony of the demonstration, the auctioneers departed within half an hour, and no transactions were made. Protesters then migrated to the sidewalk, holding up their signs — which berated banks and called for more accountability — for passing cars and pedestrians.
Activist Jack Reed said it appeared that the protest successfully disrupted the auction.
“I would guess that they couldn’t do business today, but they still have to come here and read the listings,” Reed said. “Sometimes, there will be nobody here, but they have to read through them anyways.”