I moved to Santa Barbara two years ago after living on the Upper Eastside of Manhattan for 20 years. The only concern I had when I was leaving New York City was this: Will we be safe enough in Santa Barbara?
Within two months of landing here, a young Syrian man named George Ied was beaten to death while walking home from his late-night job. He was, apparently, mugged by gang members while he was talking to his brother on his cell phone.
What stunned me most about this unspeakable crime — which, had it happened in my old neighborhood, would have made the national news as a horrific hate crime — was how little the people who lived here cared that this had happened.
There was never a formal obituary published about Mr. Ied, though interestingly, every unhoused person who dies here is usually eulogized on the front pages of every newspaper by “activists” who are, not coincidentally, on city or county payrolls. (The lack of real, objective journalism for a city this size is a whole other problematic issue.)
The point is, no one seemed to care that this young man’s life had been cut short, except his family, his nearest neighbors and one local community activist — a woman named Sharon Byrne.
Byrne is not your typical Santa Barbaran. She’s middle class, a single mother, someone who, like the vast silent majority here, struggles to make ends meet. She’s got a set of values that is surprisingly rare here: She’s direct, she’s kind, she’s extremely compassionate and she’s as smart as a whip. She cares about her neighbors — even when she doesn’t know their names.
As the head of the Milpas Community Association (her full-time job), she’s made it her mission to make sure that there is never another George Ied on the Lower Eastside, or in any other neighborhood in this town.
Here are some things about Byrne you may not know:
She’s not anti-homeless, she’s anti-homelessness. She understands the problems associated with widespread homelessness (vagrancy, public drunkenness, desecration of property, loitering, disrupting business and social interactions, etc.) have to be addressed directly and firmly. This is, quite radically, a compassionate approach to addressing this problem and one that will bring a much-needed sense of civility and integrity to this town. (She understands the “Broken Window” theory of crime reduction, which turned NYC around, both in terms of crime and homelessness.) By making our lives more livable on a daily basis, everyone’s quality of life will be elevated, including the lives of those without homes.
She’s begun by cleaning up the Cabrillo Ball Field, empowering Milpas business owners to take back their sidewalks and storefronts, and energizing the neighborhoods on the Lower Eastside (including the one Ied lived in) to take care of their streets and to help each other in times of need.
She’s against wasteful government spending — even if it’s packaged to look like it’s for the greater good. Byrne has a laser-quick intelligence and is able to discern what’s at the heart of an issue — and to stay on task — even when everyone else around her is dozing off into a kind of passive mental fugue state that is often labeled as “progressive” thinking here.
She’s pro police on the street. As she should be. There is just far too much serious violent crime here. The reason? There are no beat cops (I knew the policemen who patrolled my neighborhood in New York by first name). Santa Barbarans don’t seem to respect cops, which just baffles this New Yorker who knows that beat cops are, hands down, the very best neighbors one could ever have.
She’s on the street making things happen while other candidates are … . I still have no idea how any of the other candidates are actually, tangibly working to improve the quality of life in this city, on a day to day basis, the way Byrne is, do you? (One example: She restored a trick-or-treating event to the Milpas corridor even though the election was just days off.)
Here’s the thing. Byrne is more than just an independent woman. She is a person capable of deep, meaningful critical thinking, which seems to be a rare trait in this town. She’s a person who cares so deeply and honestly for this city that it actually makes some people uncomfortable. Except, of course, those people she’s actually trying to help. Like me.