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Letter to the Editor: Oppose Santa Barbara’s ‘Misbegotten’ Gang-Injunction

We are extremely concerned about the manner in which our Santa Barbara City Council has made a decision that will affect the prosperity of our city and the lives of many of its residents. I refer to the approval of a motion, filed in Santa Barbara County Superior Court on Dec. 13, seeking an emergency Temporary Restraining Order or Injunction over much of the city, including the entire downtown and waterfront.

The only notification to the public was a brief and unpublicized notation in the agenda that there would be a 30-minute “closed session to consider pending litigation pursuant to subsection (d)(1) of section 54956.9 of the Government Code and take appropriate action as needed. The pending litigation is People of the State of California, City of Santa Barbara v. Eastside, Westside, et al., SBSC Case No. 1379826.”  The City Council never reported the result of its deliberations, nor was the filing reported in any local paper or in any other manner.

As the president of the Central Coast Republican Liberty Caucus, I am concerned about Big Government and lack of transparency in this city. It may surprise those who stereotype all Republicans as racially prejudiced law-and-order fanatics to learn that libertarian Republicans are among the strongest supporters of open government and the Bill of Rights, and that we are not anti-immigrant or anti-minority. Libertarians do not like Big Government because we do not trust it to preserve individual freedom. Our country is fortunate to have a Constitution that protects those freedoms, but over the past few decades our constitutional rights have been severely eroded by Big Government (both Republican and Democrat-led) acting in secret.

How does this relate to our City Council’s actions? Talk of the possibility of a gang injunction began many years ago. The city’s intention to seek an injunction was announced in March 2011. Only once has the City Council invited public comment from the residents of the enormously proposed “Safety Zones” or from those who work there — and that includes those who live and work in downtown Santa Barbara. Never has the city publicly asked if those residents and workers “live in terror of being assaulted or shot at,” are “afraid to leave their homes,” feel that they live in “a gang-war zone, where only the narrow width of State Street separates the warring gangs.” The one time the City Council invited residents and the business community to publicly comment on the potential effect of the Gang Injunction on real estate values and on tourism, all 46 speakers denounced the injunction.

Not only has secrecy prevailed, but active deception has been used in an attempt to disarm critics. The city attorney stated, falsely, that the injunction was limited to 30 persons and that no one else could be enjoined. This falsehood was repeated by the mayor and by other members of the City Council. The wording of the injunction makes absolutely clear that the entire gangs (as the police nebulously define them) are enjoined. The new court filing even states for most of the 30 named members that they have been chosen because they are in a position to put the other gang members on notice that their entire gang is being enjoined. Another attempt to deceive the public and to deprive the community of its rights is the sleazy timing of the move for an accelerated court date. The defense attorneys, who thought that they had until late March to prepare, were given just 30 days, most during the busy holiday season, to submit their response.

As a libertarian Republican I am extremely concerned about the breakdown of open government under the present city leadership. We all live under the same Constitution and I hope that those who may disagree with me on other issues will nevertheless join me in protesting our secret local government. Even if that does not concern you, we should be very aware of the potential damage to our city’s real estate values and tourism industry that will result if this injunction is granted. Do you believe our city is unsafe? Do you believe that it is a gang war zone where people are afraid to leave their homes and are afraid of being assaulted or shot at? I doubt it. But what will potential out-of-town visitors think? What will those considering moving to Santa Barbara believe?

The lies about the dangers of Santa Barbara are cut and pasted from past injunctions imposed on the poorest and most-crime ridden areas of Los Angeles and other cities. These false descriptions mimic the details of a tiny four-square block area of San Jose, Rocksprings, listed as an “urban war zone” by the California Supreme Court when it approved the injunction 17 years ago. This injunction then became the model for future injunctions. In fact, the motion for an injunction here even claims that conditions in Santa Barbara “parallel” those in Rocksprings, and this wording is being used to convince the court to impose an injunction here.

Who is behind this injunction? Some say Montecito money that supports the mayor, the sheriff and other leading local politicians (after all, the injunction might even help Montecito property values). But I don’t know and neither does the general public because we were totally excluded from secret City Council sessions in which our mayor and elected City Council decided what was good for us.

Big Government under both parties has eroded personal freedom and constitutional rights. This is not a partisan issue. I urge anyone who supports open government, and anyone who believes that Santa Barbara is not an urban war zone to join with us in vigorously opposing this misbegotten “gang injunction.”

Stephen Pratt
President, Central Coast Republican Liberty Caucus

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