Thursday, July 27 , 2017, 4:14 pm | Fair 73º

 
 
 
 

Local News

West Downtown Residents Rally against Neighborhood Violence

A week after a dead man was found face down along the sidewalk in the 400 block of De la Vina Street, defiant neighbors gather to protest crime.

Fed up with what they call a growing wave of crime and violence, residents near the 400 block of De la Vina Street dubbed themselves West Downtown and stepped out to protest their neighborhood's condition.
Fed up with what they call a growing wave of crime and violence, residents near the 400 block of De la Vina Street dubbed themselves West Downtown and stepped out to protest their neighborhood’s condition. (Michelle J. Wong / Noozhawk photo)

Calling themselves West Downtown, a coalition of residents of the area where a man was found slain on a sidewalk Feb. 22 rallied Saturday for a safer neighborhood.

About 120 residents and supporters gathered in the 400 block of De la Vina Street at Haley Street, where 22-year-old Baldemar Leal was found stabbed to death last week.

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“Enough is enough,” said Christina Pizarro, one of West Downtown’s organizers. “We need so many things. That’s why we are here — to bring together the community.”

Chanting “We are West Downtown! What do we want? Safety now!” the protesters marched several blocks to State Street with their cries and signs calling for peace in the area.

The march and rally were in reaction to what the neighbors have been calling a growing trend of crime and violence in the area. In December, a man was fatally stabbed at 231 W. Haley St., a crime that was later pinned on his housemate and the housemate’s girlfriend. Leal was killed during an altercation late on the night of Feb. 21. Santa Barbara police have arrested a total of six suspects in connection with the slaying.

Neighbors report having seen prostitution, drug deals, gang activity and violent crimes in their neighborhood. Some blame it on the increased density caused by illegal second units, others on poor lighting, and yet others on the transients and recovering addicts housed in two city-owned facilities on Haley.

“You have two halfway houses right across the street from a preschool,” said neighbor Jacqueline Abbud.

Baldemar Leal, 22, was stabbed to death the night of Feb. 21, his body found along the sidewalk early the next morning. A makeshift memorial marks the spot.
Baldemar Leal, 22, was stabbed to death the night of Feb. 21, his body found along the sidewalk early the next morning. A makeshift memorial marks the spot. (Michelle J. Wong / Noozhawk photo)

Councilwomen and mayoral candidates Iya Falcone and Helene Schneider were on hand to support the group, each suggesting measures to increase the safety of the residents.

“I’m hearing that the immediate neighborhood is fed up with the fact that there’s so much violence,” said Falcone. One of the reasons the neighbors may feel dissatisfied with the level of protection they are getting is because of staffing levels at the Santa Barbara Police Department.

“We have a policy now that requires a staff of no less than 140 officers for patrol,” she said. “Is that adequate? I submit that 150 is the more appropriate number.

“So I’m going to try to work toward that goal,” she said, although she acknowledged the current budget climate most certainly would mean such a change would be slow to occur.

Schneider pointed to infrastructure improvements that could be made to make the streets safer.

“There’s a whole lot of issues going on here,” she said. “The main thing is that if the neighbors get to know each other a lot better, if we can facilitate things as much as we can, I think that’s a huge piece of the puzzle.”

Defiant Lower De la Vina Street residents marched their anti-crime protest over to State Street.
Defiant Lower De la Vina Street residents marched their anti-crime protest over to State Street. (Michelle J. Wong / Noozhawk photo)

The crowd also included Councilman Grant House and Steve Cushman, president of the Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce, who is purported to be running for mayor as well, although no announcement has been made. Meanwhile, David Pritchett, community activist and co-producer of the cable-access show Off-Leash Public Affairs, confirmed his council candidacy at the rally.

“On Monday I’m rolling out a 10-point outline of my policies as a council member, and at the top of it is fiscal discipline,” Pritchett said. “Of course, we’re all hurting for money and it’s going to be that way for years. But, by making tough budget decisions the city should be able to maintain, if not increase its number of police on the street for patrols.”

Saturday’s gathering looks to be the first step in a broader coalition of neighbors, which have so far been divided along cultural and language barriers, even as they strive for the same goal. David Singh and his brother, Suresh, co-own Brownie’s Market, the neighborhood store at 435 De la Vina St., that is being blamed by some neighbors as one of the reasons for the presence of transients, because of alcohol sales.

“Alcohol only makes up 10 percent of my sales,” said Singh, who nevertheless acknowledged the presence of transients and other questionable elements in the neighborhood.

“I’ve told the neighbors never to send their children alone to my store,” he said. Singh has installed several cameras in and around the store and offered his neighbors motion-sensing lights for their own use.

“We’ve been working on this for years, said longtime resident Tony Vasallo. “We’re trying to put together a focused and sustainable long-term effort to create a vision for this neighborhood that runs all the way over and includes all the businesses on State Street.”

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