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Santa Barbara Council Takes Public Vote in Favor of Proposed Gang Injunction

The case will proceed to trial as scheduled on May 5, when a judge will decide whether to grant the injunction

The Santa Barbara gang injunction will go to trial May 5 as scheduled after the City Council took its first public vote Tuesday in favor of the civil suit, which would restrict alleged gang members from certain activities.

Councilman Gregg Hart and Councilwoman Cathy Murillo argued against the injunction — as did dozens of people during public comment — and urged the council to have the city attorney withdraw the civil case and stop the process.

That motion lost in a 2-5 vote.

The injunction case was filed in March 2011, and it’s scheduled for trial in two weeks. Superior Court Judge Colleen Sterne will hear testimony from both sides and decide whether to grant an injunction.

The City Attorney’s Office, the Santa Barbara Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office are the plaintiffs, and while some of the defendants have attorneys, others do not. The list of 30 defendants has dropped to 27 as the city dismissed a few names, and the city is in the process of dropping more, according to council members.

The number of people who still live in town and would be subject to the injunction’s rules is more like 12, Hart said.

Only a judge can add names to an injunction after it’s granted, according to City Attorney Ariel Calonne.

Hart and Murillo argued that prevention efforts are more effective and less divisive to the community. They also said gang crime rates are decreasing and that the injunction could damage Santa Barbara’s reputation and property values.

“I defend my neighborhood as a beautiful and safe community,” said Murillo, who lives on the Westside.

The injunction assumes people will commit crimes in the future, she said.

“I cannot imagine a bigger violation of civil rights,” Murillo said.

Dozens of opponents spoke during the public comment period, expressing the same concerns raised during the only other public meeting last year.

Some said an injunction wouldn’t address any of the root problems of youth violence and that the city should focus its money and energy on prevention and intervention efforts.

“It tears neighborhoods apart and ultimately it tears communities apart. We don’t need to do that in Santa Barbara,” said Tom Parker, a member of Santa Barbara County Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Commission, which opposes the injunction.

He also said there isn’t evidence that Santa Barbara has a significant gang problem.

“I can think of 16 people who can’t be here today who would disagree with you,” Councilman Frank Hotchkiss said. “The people who were killed.”

Since the injunction would target Latinos as alleged criminal street gang members, community members also expressed concerns about racial profiling and designating a third of the city in the restrictive safety zones.

Several men spoke about their own experiences as teenagers in Santa Barbara and said it was the attention and love of mentors, not punishment, that turned their lives around.

“He showed me somebody cared about me,” Vincent Castro said of youth mentor Matt Sanchez.

During the council’s comments, Councilman Dale Francisco said gang crime rates are down now but they move in a wave, ebbing and flowing over time.

“When people are getting killed in our streets by gang members, we have a gang problem,” he said.

He also disagreed with critics who say the injunction could damage the reputation of areas within the proposed safety zones. 

“This does not stigmatize a neighborhood,” Francisco said. “Murders stigmatize a neighborhood.”

Public comment during this and the previous meeting has been overwhelmingly against the injunction, but council members say they’ve received “a lot” of letters from community members who support it and want to stay anonymous. That fear shows there is still a problem, Councilman Randy Rowse said.

Once it was clear which way the vote was going, most of the crowd left the council chambers and started chanting in the hallway outside.

“Whose streets? Our streets!” they shouted, frustrated with the outcome.

The next hearing date for the injunction is scheduled for May 5 in Sterne’s courtroom of the Santa Barbara Superior Court.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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