The backlash against Santa Barbara City Hall intensified Tuesday with members of the public calling for the mayor and the City Council to take wide and sweeping action to stop racism and discrimination, and hold the Police Department more accountable.
For the second consecutive week, dozens of speakers criticized Mayor Cathy Murillo for her inability to cooperate or meet with Black Lives Matter SB organizers, now more than a week after she declined to take a knee at a protest and rally the group organized on May 31.
Many of the speakers suggested she was tone-deaf to the concerns of the black community.
“Cathy Murillo did not reach out to the Black Lives Matter movement,” said Krystle Sieghart, one of the leaders of Black Lives Matters SB. “We had to reach out to Cathy, even though Cathy posted a video on her Twitter saying she is in full support, yet we have not had any meeting with Cathy.”
Sieghart also said that Black Lives Matter SB has yet to meet with Police Chief Lori Luhnow or the Santa Barbara Police Department, even though they issued a statement and embraced a Saturday protest not organized by Black Lives Matter SB.
“For them to come out and make a statement, as if they want to work with the community but they are neglecting to speak to the community, is absurd,” Sieghart said. “We are trying to work to make this community better. We are trying to work to help vulnerable folks in this community and we are trying to make sure that folks are taken care of, especially when we are dealing with a pandemic.”
The meeting followed four Santa Barbara protests in the past 10 days that collectively drew nearly 10,000 people, calling for an end to police brutality after the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black Minneapolis man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
“I’m sorry,” Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon said. “I’m sorry to everyone in the community who has to fight so hard to be heard, who has to raise their voices so loud and in such numbers to feel that we will act. I don’t know how else to say that I am truly, truly, sorry. “
The council directed staff to create a resolution condemning all police brutality, declaring racism a public health crisis, proposing independent police oversight options for a meeting on July 14, directing staff to work with the Historic Landmarks Commission to protect and preserve black landmarks, and appropriating $35,000 annually to support a Juneteenth celebration.
Sneddon also proposed a “summit” to have a community conversation about race, equity and ending systemic racism, with Black Lives Matter SB leaders involved.
“I think we need anti-bias training across our entire organization,” Sneddon said. “It’s not just the Police Department. We’re an entire organization that needs to look at this head-on.”
Councilwoman Alejandra Gutierrez agreed, and said she’s been having conversations with city staff and bringing in outside experts who can educate staff and City Council members on these issues.
“Racism is something that was here way before I was born and I think now that we are in this seat, we definitely have to take action,” Gutierrez said. “I am extremely proud of my community for speaking up. I remember when I was young and loud, a lot of my motives to sit here now were exactly that drive, wanting change, wanting to be heard.”
Councilman Mike Jordan suggested that maybe there should be a fee or tax or some way to dedicate a source of revenue to help fight racism and discrimination, similar to how the city charges a 2 percent hotel bed tax to fund environmental programs.
“The situation we are in, the foundation for it, was placed largely on economic gain by others using people of color, whether brown, yellow or black,” Jordan said.
Jordan said the city should find a long-term way to fund such a program, including possibly a relocation of law enforcement financial resources to community well-being, or an incremental sales tax addition.
“It could be that if you are going to come visit this city and have the pleasure of being in this city you are also going to help contribute to making this city a better place or all of our community,” Jordan said.
Some of the speakers also criticized City Attorney Ariel Calonne, who at the beginning of the meeting said, “Oh, (expletive)” on a hot mic at the same time that Sarah Gorman, the city clerk, informed the mayor that there were about 150 public comment speakers.
The speakers thought it was disrespectful. After one of the public commenters suggested that the comment came from Councilman Mike Jordan, Jordan quickly declared that it wasn’t him.
That prompted Calonne to offer an explanation.
“Madame Mayor, I am the guilty one who uttered those words when I spilled a drink on my lap,” Calonne said. “Those who are blaming the mayor or Council Member Jordan for uttering ‘Oh, blank,’ need to reconsider. I apologize that’s what happens when you spill your lunch on your lap after six hours at work.”
At the end of the meeting, Murillo addressed the critics.
“I will be voting for the motion, humbled by this experience,” Murillo said. “I, too, give credit and thanks to Black Lives Matter, especially as expressed by Krystle Farmer (Sieghart) and Simone Baker (Ruskamp).
Murillo said she has been transformed by the moment.
“I am offering myself as an ally, and I am hoping that I am teachable,” Murillo said.
Murillo also lent her support to the Police Departmentt.
“We want a Police Department that makes everyone feel safe and where everyone is safe,” Murillo said.
“Here’s our opportunity to effect real change,” Murillo said. “We have a unique situation and this opportunity to create a new reality for our residents, our community, for all the people we are responsible for.”