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Tuesday, November 20 , 2018, 8:48 am | Fog/Mist 51º


Goleta Grapples with Homeless Challenges of Its Own

In wake of Camino Real Marketplace shooting, businesses keeping closer watch on transient panhandlers

Six weeks ago, Goleta had a worst-case scenario of aggressive panhandling: A transient allegedly shot two people with a high-powered pellet air-gun when his demands for money were rebuffed during a confrontation at Camino Real Marketplace.

Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies caught up with the suspect, 42-year-old Charles Quinn, in a vacant lot across Hollister Avenue from the shopping center. In an exchange of gunfire on a bustling Saturday afternoon, the suspect hit two of the three deputies, who then shot him four times.

Quinn was hospitalized for several weeks as a result of his wounds and the deputies were treated and released, then placed on administrative leave while the incident was under investigation. Quinn has been charged with 17 felony and misdemeanor counts.

Camino Real Marketplace has a consistent presence of homeless people and transients on the 54-acre property at the corner of Hollister and Storke Road. The private shopping center has a specific enforcement policy in place: call on-site property manager Mark Ingalls, who is summoned by tenants throughout the day — every day — to confront people and ask them to move along.

The Goleta Police Department, which is operated by the Sheriff’s Department under a contract with the city, has a substation at Camino Real Marketplace, but Ingalls’ method is to only get law enforcement involved as a last resort.

Although he’s used to approaching transients who are holding signs, asking people for money, chaining their luggage to bike racks or camping out in the landscaping, the violence of the Jan. 15 incident was — and still is — a big shock.

“It’s a daily, daily task for us here,” Ingalls said. “And now, I’m a little apprehensive of approaching — in light of what happened — those people with the same confidence that I can rationalize with them, and be kind and courteous and ask for their cooperation. I mean, I’ve got a family. It could happen. And I never thought about that, it was never in my mind … Now it is.”

Most commonly, people hold signs near the “money spot” at the shopping center’s exit to Storke Road and they spend the rest of their time camped out somewhere nearby. With about 15,000 visitors a day, the marketplace is rich with opportunity.

Angel Lopez, a member of Camino Real Marketplace’s maintenance and grounds staff, knows the long-timers well, but even when new ones replace them, mannerisms are often the same. Sometimes groups of people ask for money together, each taking turns one-by-one holding a sign while the rest “hang out,” he said.

Ingalls said he was disappointed that neither the city nor authorities contacted him about the shooting on his company’s property. He said he only heard about it the next day from a tenant.

“It isn’t what happens, it’s what you do about it, I think, that really qualifies leadership of the city and policymakers,” he said. “I think there’s been a real absence of dialogue and action.”

Ingalls’ concerns are well-known to the city, as he has been meeting with city staff on the issue of homeless and transient panhandling and camping for years, he said.

“We shouldn’t be in reactionary mode, we should be dealing with this proactively,” he said. “I think it deserves some discussion. It’s not a debate, but no action is not the action either.”

Camino Real Marketplace will also soon have “code of conduct” signs posted on the property to clearly articulate the rules of the center and help enforcement efforts.

“It’s not a result of the incident, but something we want to follow through with,” Ingalls said.

Most people already comply, he was quick to add.

Some behavior prohibited on the private property includes disorderly conduct, such as yelling or throwing objects; skateboarding, rollerblading or obstructing pedestrian traffic; littering; defacing property; possession or consumption of alcohol, illegal drugs or other controlled substances; and loitering.

Nearby, University Village Plaza, 7127 Hollister Ave., doesn’t have on-site management but does have daily grounds staff and merchants with initiative who call law enforcement when they need to.

“I’m just so grateful that we’ve never had any problems with violence,” said Betty Jeppesen of Islay Investments, the shopping center’s property manager.

Although it’s probably never been used, there is an arrest letter on file so deputies have the authority to arrest people on the plaza’s private property.

“To my knowledge, we don’t even have panhandlers,” Jeppesen said. “We have a terrific response from the Sheriff’s Department to get them to move along and a great group of tenants who help report it.”

What The Plaza does have is sleeping, loitering and the occasional odd use of shopping center resources.

“There were a couple of outlets not in use (on the outside wall of Albertsons) and the homeless were charging their cell phones there,” Jeppesen said. “The manager said they would sit there and wait for their cell phone to be charged up, causing an annoyance, so we put a cover over it and locked it. Things like that are a surprise.”

Most of the South Coast’s services for the homeless — including shelters, warming centers and community kitchens — are in Santa Barbara, although they serve the entire region.

Goleta Police Chief Butch Arnoldi said he can count on one hand the officer-related shootings during his 37 years on the South Coast. He said panhandling enforcement is based off citizen complaints — unlike in Santa Barbara, where there are no panhandling-specific ordinances but incidents are reported and responded to just the same. 

Within an hour of the Camino Real Marketplace shooting, Arnoldi notified Goleta municipal staff and the City Council, according to Councilman Roger Aceves. While there was a public safety meeting, he said, there was no council discussion of increased enforcement efforts for panhandlers.

Aceves’ 30 years of law enforcement experience with the Sheriff’s and Santa Barbara Police departments has made him a valuable resource on the council, and the police are about to help implement his newest suggestion.

“One thing I’m encouraging (Arnoldi) to do is a business watch program similar to a neighborhood watch program at all our shopping centers so when there’s an incident, they’ll have basically a communication tree by e-mail or Web site or something to tell each other of incidents,” Aceves said.

“It can be a bad check, a panhandler or a shoplifter, but it’s just a way to keep them all in the same loop.”

The program will be headed by community resource Deputy Greg Sorenson and will be launched soon. Authorities have already held meetings with various shopping centers in the Goleta area.

“We have a very involved community and they really love that the number of neighborhood watches went up,” Aceves said. “I’ve been to many meetings and it’s really how we leverage our limited resources to have our neighbors talk to each other and be alert when things are happening.”

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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