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Santa Barbara Council Disowns Landslide-Area Road, Hears Police Department Update

City also rejects a mute-button request for a Coast Village Road gas station and allows its expansion to proceed

The Ealand Place cul-de-sac has only one home left on it; the other parcels are empty with owners driven away by wildfire, landslides or both.

The Santa Barbara City Council decided Tuesday to essentially disown the road, which is in bad shape as the ground moved 4 feet horizontally and 2 feet vertically within the past two years, according Pat Kelly, assistant director of Public Works. The road is within the Conejo Road Landslide Area, which was also hit by the 2008 Tea Fire.

Kelly said it would cost the city $325,000 just to make temporary improvements on that patch of Ealand Place, and long-term rehabilitation is estimated to be $3.5 million to 4.5 million.

The abandonment impacts the eastern-most part of the cul-de-sac. There are six parcels impacted by the abandonment, but only one single family residence, at 22 Ealand Place. One parcel has never had a residence constructed on it — and most likely never would, Kelly said — and the rest are vacant, three of which are owned by Conejo Landslide Open Space Demonstration Garden Inc. and are designated as open space.

The city will still maintain the utilities running to that house, but city attorney Steve Wiley said it’s inappropriate for the public to maintain access to one home, given the expense involved, when it appears the homeowner can do it himself.

Ruben and Paula Barajas, represented by attorney Joseph Liebman, had their home destroyed by the Tea Fire and sued the city for the right to rebuild and won in April. They also bought the parcel across the street from their home.

Liebman said the city has the responsibility to maintain the access road and utilities, but the city agrees only with the latter. Kelly said city staff members already spend a lot of effort replacing and fixing the water lines in that area, which have to be above-ground because of the geologically unstable ground.

The Barajases are apparently suing the city over the road, and a similar court case determined that the city in question should pay the full property value or abandon the road, so Santa Barbara is pursuing the latter, according to Wiley, adding that the city will help the couple get access from public roads to what is now their private driveway.

That area is “one of the open wounds of the city, both physical and financial,” Councilman Bendy White said. “The litigiousness of that area concerns me.”

The vote to abandon, or “vacate,” the road was 4-3, with White and two others dissenting. They wanted to discuss the issue in closed session before making a final decision.

City Rejects Mute Button Request, Moves Ahead with Service Station Approval

The City Council also upheld an appeal for John Price’s project at 1085 Coast Village Road, an expansion of the service station to include a mini mart and car wash.

The Planning Commission added a condition that he must include a mute button with Pump Flix, which are advertising display screens above gas pumps. His attorney, Doug Fell, argued there was no reasoning behind the condition and it wasn’t relevant, since the project being reviewed didn’t include any changes to the existing gas pumps.

The project was deemed to comply with the city’s noise and sign ordinances, and it can now move forward.

Planning Commissioners Stella Larson and Sheila Lodge advocated for the mute button or some form of volume control, saying they felt assaulted every time they pumped gas at a station with the advertisements.

The ads are 15 seconds long, and Larson said the average person spends 4½ minutes at the pump.

“Not everyone wants to hear 18 commercials while they pump gas,” she said.

Councilman Frank Hotchkiss said he would merely go to a different gas station if he felt assaulted and suggested customers do the same.

Councilman Dale Francisco agreed: “There’s far too much advertising in modern life, and I wish there wasn’t … but people of their own free will go to these places.”

Councilwoman Cathy Murillo was the lone dissenting vote, saying she was in resolute, fierce and angry opposition to that kind of commercial speech, which takes away from the city’s character.

“Devices advertising to me against my will are obnoxious,” she said.

Police Hope Thief Arrests Will Abate Property Crime Rates

There were 253 property crimes in May, but Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez guaranteed to the City Council that numbers will be lower the next time he gives his monthly update.

Detectives made 10 burglary arrests in the past five weeks, and they were burglars who took big-ticket items, he said at Tuesday’s meeting. Much of the property has been recovered, including thousands of dollars worth of jewelry to one Alta Mesa neighborhood family burglarized in a midday raid.

Sanchez said there were 50 residential burglaries in May and the beginning of June, with 50 burglaries/theft from vehicle cases and 18 commercial burglaries during that period. Very few, if any, cases had forced entry, he said, reminding people to take precautions such as keeping doors and windows closed and locked.

Vehicle thefts aren’t “smash and grabs,” he said, but crimes of opportunity when people leave doors and windows unlocked or even leave keys in the ignition.

“We live in a great place, but we shouldn’t do that,” Sanchez said, adding that police officers are happy to conduct a safety assessment of someone’s property.

The Police Department hopes to respond to every Priority 1 call for service (when someone’s life is in danger) within six minutes and had a six-minute average in April and 5½-minute average in May, Sanchez said. There was a 14.8-minute average for Priority 2 calls and 30.5-minute average for Priority 3 calls for service.

He said violent crime rates are lower than previous years, and gang incidents are 11 percent lower than the same period last year, with 66 from February to May.

On the lighter side, Sanchez said, the Police Activities League is in full swing for summer, with camps at El Capitan Beach and more than 700 youngsters signed up for the PAL Junior High School Sports League.

The department will provide a full-time school resource officer to Santa Barbara High School in the fall — the Sheriff’s Department provides deputies at San Marcos and Dos Pueblos high schools — and plans to explore a law enforcement program at local junior high and high schools.

It would follow the model by the Los Angeles Police Department’s partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District, which encourages and prepares students to pursue a career in law enforcement. 

Sanchez said he wants to work with Santa Barbara Unified School District Superintendent Dave Cash to follow that model with the goal of creating more local police officers. 

Of the 3,000 applications for SBPD openings and 200 finalists, none was from Santa Barbara County, Sanchez said. However, the LAPD has half of its program graduates — who also graduate from a four-year college or university — become officers with the department, he said.

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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