Members of Santa Barbara’s Neighborhood Advisory Council wanted to hear presentations from both sides of the gang injunction debate, but when it came to the opposition, city staff members forbade any questions or discussion during the May 14 meeting.
Eleven out of the 13 members live within the proposed safety zones of the gang injunction, NAC member Sebastian Aldana pointed out. The majority of City Council members do not.
There was a presentation on the gang injunction about 18 months ago from now-retired Santa Barbara police Capt. Armando Martel and Sgt. Noel Rivas, Aldana said.
The NAC asked questions, discussed the issue and voted to have a presentation from the other side, explaining the potential impacts to the neighborhoods.
Three presenters were turned down for being more about “bashing” than information, and they eventually settled on NAC member and youth advocate Christy Haynes, Aldana said.
There was a catch — the presentation could only happen if the NAC agreed not to ask questions or discuss the issue at all during the meeting.
As part of the agenda committee, Aldana agreed to it — not happily — because he thought the committee needed the information.
“It was just …” he sighed. “Is it fair? I would say no. I just feel we should be able to present it providing we do it properly.”
He added: “There’s nothing we could do about the 11 people left on the list, but we can inform the residents of what’s going on in their neighborhoods and how they’ll be affected.”
The NAC already feels left out of the conversation, because the City Council has never asked for a recommendation and never held any informational or outreach meetings on the topic, he said.
This advisory group’s mission, after all, is to “provide a vehicle for community input,” and help meet the needs of the targeted neighborhoods — the Eastside, Laguna, Westside and downtown.
“I was a little shocked, to be honest with you, that the city had not asked for us to have any dialogue on this topic,” said Haynes, who joined the NAC this year. “If the neighborhood outreach council is really there to advise city staff and the City Council on challenges in our at-risk neighborhoods, including youth violence, I am just curious and want to understand better why we were not part of this discussion. Why were we told this was not in our purview?”
She was asked to do a small presentation on the “alternate perspective” with strict guidelines, and no one was allowed to ask questions afterward.
Instead, she gave out her personal email address to anyone who wanted to follow up.
NAC members believe the city administration had a hand in this rule because staff members kept saying the gang injunction was in litigation, so they had to be careful, Haynes said.
Haynes’ presentation explained the legal document, the status of the trial, and handed out impact information written by Tom Parker, a retired FBI agent who has spoken against the injunction.
She also sent out a Department of Justice document about approaches to prevent gang membership, which doesn’t include injunctions.
The gang injunction is in trial before Superior Court Judge Colleen Sterne, who will grant or deny the petition.
City staff members made a mistake in limiting the NAC’s discussion, Parks and Recreation Director Nancy Rapp said this week.
Staff working with the NAC include Mark Alvarado of Neighborhood & Outreach Services, who handles agenda-setting with the NAC agenda committee.
The NAC members should have been able to ask questions and discuss the issue like any other informational agenda item, Rapp said.
“When I became aware of the situation, I realized that we had a staff error,” she said.
She took responsibility, saying there was a lack of clear direction to staff and some misunderstandings.
“It’s one of those challenges that we have sometimes with advisory groups and staff, and there’s not quite as much experience as other staff who deal with these things more frequently,” she said.
“I had some raised eyebrows when I realized what had happened, as did others, I’m sure.”
The gang injunction has been “emotional on a number of levels,” and she talked to staff to clarify the rules, Rapp said.