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Friday, December 14 , 2018, 2:36 pm | Fair 65º


Candidates for Santa Barbara City Council Talk Public Safety

Many of the 10 hopefuls vying for three seats share the same goals, but they differ on how best to achieve them

Candidates for the three Santa Barbara City Council seats have similar public-safety priorities but have their own ideas about how to accomplish safe streets.

The 10 candidates on the Nov. 5 ballot are Megan Diaz Alley, Gregg Hart, Cruzito Herrera Cruz, Frank Hotchkiss, Michael Jordan, Matthew Kramer, David Landecker, Jason Nelson, Bendy White and Lesley Wiscomb.

Hotchkiss and White are running for re-election.

Even though the city has an ordinance against abusive panhandling (verbally asking for money or blocking someone’s way on a public sidewalk), many candidates say residents are afraid to spend time downtown, and tourists get a bad impression from being approached on the street for money.

Some incidents are “borderline assault,” Landecker said.

He believes prosecution of panhandlers isn’t enough of a priority, perhaps since it’s left to the City Attorney's Office instead of the District Attorney's Office, and wants to emphasize that in the future.

Nelson said portable police and information kiosks around the State Street, Milpas Street and waterfront areas would make Santa Barbara police officers more accessible and visible.

To pay for more officers, he suggests combining the city’s 9-1-1 Communications Center and Emergency Operations Center with the county facilities to save money and fund more officers.

There needs to be a larger police presence in the business corridors to deter panhandlers, so the municipal budget should be reprioritized to provide an increase to police, Hart said.

Hotchkiss said he wants to hire another five or six officers, and isn’t sure how the city would pay for them, except that the improving economy “may take up some of the slack.” 

Wiscomb wants to pursue Park Ranger-type personnel to “deter undesirable behavior,” she said. “They are uniformed, wear badges, carry combat sticks and have radios for direct contact with police as needed for emergencies.”

They act as ambassadors for visitors and locals and are much less expensive to hire, compared to sworn police officers, she noted.

Others want to beef up the restorative-policing program, which balances enforcement with outreach for the homeless population and brings on “blue and yellow shirts” employees for social services work.

“I’m of the mind that it leverages the use of high-cost police folks,” White said.

Diaz Alley wants the Police Department to hire more Spanish-speaking officers and Explorers Program graduates, since it would bring more locals to the force.

The council candidates believe the Fire Department is well-staffed and well-funded, but several voiced concern about emergency preparedness for wildfires.

“I know we’ll never be fully prepared for a wildfire, but I do think there’s more to be done there,” White said.

Wildfires are the biggest public safety danger to the community, Kramer said, which means the Fire Department should be allocated more funds to deal with the threat.

There’s also a concern that so many police officers and firefighters live outside the town limits.

In the case of a catastrophic emergency, it could be difficult for first responders to get into town quickly, Diaz Alley said.

In response to that, she would support policies to provide more South Coast housing opportunities, she said.

Landecker said the city most will likely be “operating with a relatively tight belt for the next decade,” and wouldn’t propose increases to public safety unless the city “miraculously” gets more money and all other services can be bolstered as well.

Building a new police headquarters is a priority, though, since the current site isn’t seismically safe, he said.

The issue of a gang injunction has come up at many candidate forums, and many candidates are opposed to the injunction because of its expense and limited scope.

If granted by a Superior Court judge, the injunction would be a restraining order of sorts for 30 named individuals who are allegedly involved in Santa Barbara criminal street gangs.

It would outlaw things such as gathering in public “safety zones” throughout the city with other named gang members, and give law enforcement the ability to file civil charges against people if they break any of the conditions.

The Police Department worked on it with the District Attorney and City Attorney offices, and Police Chief Cam Sanchez says it’s just another tool for police to use against gang violence and recruitment.

It wouldn’t be a “silver bullet,” but “any measure to stifle gang violence, we should take, including the injunction,” Hotchkiss said.

He and White — both council incumbents — have been supportive of the injunction in the past.

Wiscomb also supports it, saying it’s a piece of the strategy to deter gang violence. The city needs to balance prevention with youth programs, intervention with outreach to at-risk or current gang members, and enforcement to prevent and investigate crimes, she said.

Herrera Cruz believes the city needs to put more effort into educational and entrepreneurial job skills, and be more wary of labeling young people as gang-related or gang associates. He said there needs to be an exit program for people already involved in gang life.

Diaz Alley said the city needs more proactive solutions, like youth engagement activities, and community policing with intervention and crime prevention programs.

“Part of that is providing positive role models and mentoring in the community,” she said.

The 15 named people who aren’t in prison can already be stopped by police or probation officers, so the injunction is not a cost-effective tool, Hart said. He also believes the city should pursue more job training and mentorship programs.

Kramer said the injunction targets a small group instead of looking at all criminal behavior, which wasn’t worth the amount of time and money spent on it.

Residents have a mixed reaction to the injunction, but many people fear it will lead to racial profiling.

“It’s the community relations part that really concerns me,” Landecker said.

It’s a small tool and the city spent a lot of money, time, and community good will on it, he said.

Nelson believes it’s unconstitutional, particularly the “association” provision that infringes on someone’s right to assembly.

Jordan did not respond to Noozhawk's requests for comment.

The city’s vote-by-mail election has two candidates for mayor and 10 vying for the three City Council seats.

Mayor Helene Schneider is running for re-election against challenger Wayne Scoles.

Ballots are being mailed out this week and are due back Nov. 5, by mail or dropped off at City Hall.

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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