The first Santa Barbara City Council meeting of the year started off with the oath of allegiance for Mayor Helene Schneider and the three councilmen elected in November, but that was soon overshadowed by two hours of public comment by opponents to the proposed gang injunction.
Councilmen Frank Hotchkiss and Bendy White were re-elected to their second terms, and Gregg Hart, a former two-term councilman from 1996-2004, was elected to fill the seat of outgoing councilman Grant House. It was a sort of reverse déjà vu since House took over Hart’s seat in 2005.
His colleagues praised him for being respectful and well-researched on the dais. His cordiality “pervaded and set the tone for this council,” Hotchkiss said.
House was a critical piece in getting the plastic bag ban ordinance passed and getting the network of Milpas Street’s utility wires placed underground, according to council members.
Hart said he made the same promises as the last time he took office: to work really, really hard, always be prepared and do his best every time he sits at the dais or is out in the community.
Schneider, re-elected to her second term as mayor and fourth on the council, said she faces the next four years with “a sense of renewed optimism.”
About half of those in the Council Chambers sat silent during applause of her short speech and others, and it was quickly clear why as dozens of people lined up to speak against the proposed gang injunction.
The City Attorney’s Office and Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office have filed a petition for a permanent gang injunction against the city’s Eastside and Westside gangs in Superior Court and have recently filed for a temporary injunction for more immediate action.
Vocal opposition has been growing since Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez announced the petition in March 2011, and many of those opponents came to Tuesday’s meeting.
Despite being embroiled in the complicated civil process for almost three years, the city has never taken a public vote on the subject and hosted only one public hearing. At that hearing, council members and now-retired City Attorney Steve Wiley didn’t respond to any citizen questions or concerns, but said they were just there to listen.
On Tuesday, people said the council needs to work with the community to find alternatives to the injunction and address the issue in public.
When a group operates in secrecy — like the closed session meetings — it results in mistrust, said the Rev. Art Stevens of Trinity Episcopal Church.
The proposed documents would restrict the activities of the named defendants, who are allegedly members of the Eastside and Westside gangs, within many parts of the city including neighborhoods and the beach and waterfront area.
Since the Police Department’s declaration claims that mostly Latino males in their teens to mid-20s are involved, the injunction would lead to racial profiling as well, Stevens said. A lot of it seems to rely on guilt by association, speakers said.
Speakers also said the stigma of an injunction could hamper the city’s tourism and overall business environment, since it would label the city as a gang “war zone,” according to court documents.
Santa Barbara City College student Brandon Morse, president of the Free Thinking Patriots Club, wrote a letter to the editor opposing the injunction and reiterated his thoughts Tuesday afternoon.
The decreasing crime rates don’t warrant an injunction that blocks off about 75 percent of the city, he said. He also took issue with the preliminary injunction being filed, which only gives the defendants 30 days to respond, right before the case is planned to go to trial.
The City Council should put the injunction to a vote and respond to the community’s many questions, he said.
Morse and others did thank Councilwoman Cathy Murillo for her participation in the Pro-Youth Movement trying to find alternatives for at-risk young people.
They called out Councilman Dale Francisco for reading a book during public comment — which he looked up from occasionally — and argued that the council doesn’t fairly represent the whole city since there aren’t district elections.
Cruzito Herrera Cruz, a council candidate who has long argued for district elections, said the city isn’t supporting the programs that really help young people, like Primo Boxing. The nonprofit organization was housed in a city-owned building until recently, when it closed its doors after years of financial troubles.
Speaking near the end of the meeting, resident Leo Gomez said he’s been in the criminal justice system for most of his life. He said conditions like the ones in the injunction would prohibit him from taking his child to school or the park.
Council members made no comments after the two hours of speakers, since the item was not on the day’s agenda.
Superior Court Judge Colleen Sterne is scheduled to hear the motion for a preliminary injunction on Jan. 27, and the trial confirmation date for a permanent injunction is still scheduled for March 17.