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Hart, Murillo Call for Santa Barbara Council to Take Public Vote on Gang Injunction

Two Santa Barbara City Council members are calling for a public vote Tuesday on the city's proposed gang injunction — just weeks before it is headed to court for trial.

Even though the council initiated the injunction, it has never taken a public vote or had a public discussion on the subject.

The proposed gang injunction is a restraining order of sorts for the defendants, who allegedly are involved in Santa Barbara criminal street gangs.

The proposal has come under fire for banning otherwise legal activities such as congregating near local schools and parks, and associating with other alleged gang members.

Gregg Hart and I think the City Council should discuss it one more time before the trial and take a public vote,” Councilwoman Cathy Murillo said Friday. “One of the reasons people are uncomfortable is because we’ve been talking about it in closed session since it’s a legal matter, but there are so many implications.”

Superior Court Judge Colleen Sterne is scheduled to take up the case May 5 and decide whether the injunction should be granted.

Loud critics have raised concerns about racial profiling, and spent the last few years holding forums and protesting public meetings. The ACLU filed an amicus brief with the court calling the case unconstitutional.

The City Council could, with a majority vote, order City Attorney Ariel Calonne to file a motion to withdraw the case, Murillo said.

The District Attorney’s Office is also involved in the case, but the conditions apply to city limits, city residents and the city’s Police Department.

When the injunction was filed, Police Chief Cam Sanchez called the 30 defendants “the worst of the worst.”

However, Calonne removed three names from that list a few weeks ago, and is in the process of removing several more, Hart said.

Several defendants are in jail, awaiting trial or serving long prison sentences.

The number of defendants who would be affected by the injunction has dwindled to about 12, he said.

Meanwhile, crime statistics show fewer gang-violence incidents and fewer people on juvenile probation with gang terms over the past three years, which Hart and Murillo argue is proof that traditional law-enforcement techniques are working.

The city’s cost of pursing the gang injunction — in terms of  city attorney and police time — was $481,866 as of June 2012. The City Attorney's Office has spent an estimated $113,000 since then, so the total is $594,866 as of now.

Sanchez is expected to give an updated number for police time at Tuesday's council meeting, Murillo said. 

It’s an issue that typically would go through a full vetting by the community, Hart said, but there has been only one public meeting on the topic and council members made no comments.

“This is the opportunity, and I think it’s been long overdue and important,” he said. “I’m hopeful folks can look at the situation as it exists today and keep an open mind, where we are today versus where this started.”

There will be “hefty public comment” at Tuesday’s meeting, and then Hart and Murillo will call for a vote, Murillo said.

Council members won’t be able to talk about specific defendants since the court case is ongoing, but they can make arguments about the injunction as a policy issue.

“I hope we can change somebody’s mind,” she said.

The City Council meeting is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. at City Hall, 735 Anacapa St., but the gang injunction item isn’t expected to be heard until 4 p.m., according to the agenda.

“The threshold issue for me is, Santa Barbara never had to do this before, despite gang issues coming and going over time, and it says a lot about what the community’s about, to go to this level,” Hart said. “The effect on property values is significant; the Santa Barbara Association of Realtors opposed the gang injunction for that reason, and a huge area of the city is covered by the gang injunction. There’s a million reasons, and we’ll talk about all of them on Tuesday.”

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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