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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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» on 03.01.09 @ 07:59 AM

A related issue is the semi-vacant lot at 512 Bath, recently purchased by the city’s Housing Authority.  Plans are in the works for a project in the range of 55 to 75 units.  Many neighbors are concerned that federal dollars used to build the project will come with federal strings attached.  Those strings would require a high percentage of the units to serve the chronic homeless.  The West Downtown already has a higher concentration of such housing than any other neighborhood in the City.  Why not house some of the chronic homeless in R-1 granny flats?

» on 03.01.09 @ 10:55 AM

Exactly who are these people protesting against? Gangbangers? Business owners?.

What do these people want us to do? Increase police patrols? Open another youth center?

What are these city council candidates going to do about crime, unemployment, failing businesses?

Pritchett wants to increase police patrols but is against the city government ordering the police department to report illegal alien gangmembers and/or their illegal alien parents to ICE. In fact Pritchett, Falcone, Schneider and House all hold the same position supporting Santa Barbara as a sanctuary city for illegals.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Deporting illegal alien gang members and/or their illegal alien parents will drop the crime caused by gang members and reduce the need to increase police patrols.

» on 03.01.09 @ 12:03 PM

Really, Tom Becker?

When and where did anyone you mention advocate for Santa Barbara to become a “sanctuary city”? 

You are just making up whatever you think will inflame.

If you want the city police to be surrogates for ICE, then maybe the Santa Barbara City Police will need more cops on the street after all?

» on 03.01.09 @ 12:10 PM

Mr. Singh, and/or co-owners of Brownie’s market, give us the i.p address to really see if alcohol ONLY makes up 10% of you sales. You’re not fooling ANYONE. You maintain the Latino community in an alcoholic cycle. You prey on those who don’t have cars and alcohol addictions and proper identification to buy your products.

Put your money where your mouth is…Show us you register receipts and video footage regarding your 10% sales. ALCOHOL sales make up over 90% of your profits from that store and YOU KNOW IT. Neighbors go and see for yourselves. You are a risk to our sober living housemates and the neighbors. Multiple robberies and your single sale of cans are still being sold throughout. Evidence is all over the streets. Go and clean up your mess. Great TALES you told to the Newspress. You don’t fool the westtown neighbors. I call for all the west downtown neighbors to petition for Brownie’s closure. Shut is down!!! Brownie’s plays a lionshare to the issues in this neighborhood. The Singhs also own La Bamba Market. They contribute and escalate the bad things in this area. Your promises and lies are out. Shame on you.

» on 03.01.09 @ 01:39 PM

Always looking for a divisive angle—-Becker now advocates ICE collaboration with SB Police as a way to improve quality of life for this neighborhood.  Wait a minute——if I’m not mistaken—-wasn’t the defendant accused of murdering the guy a couple months ago anglo? and aren’t over half of the law-abiding residents of this neighborhood latino—probably a good percentage “undocumented”?

» on 03.01.09 @ 02:35 PM

The nutty left liberals who run our city have failed. The city council has been warned that we need gang injuntions—But did nothing—vote them out—Enough already

» on 03.01.09 @ 03:10 PM

To Chit:

Back about 5 months ago Police Chief Cam Sanchez, at a public meeting, told the audience that if he was ordered by the city government to report illegals to ICE he would disobey the city’s order and quit. Not one member of the city council critized Sanchez. The definition of a sanctuary city is a city that takes deliberate steps to protect illegal aliens from deportation. Santa Barbara’s police chief, who serves at the pleasure of the city council, has declared that the police department will take proactive steps to protect illegal aliens from deportation and House, Falcone and Schneider did nothing to change that official police department position.

» on 03.01.09 @ 04:24 PM

This is my neighborhood.  The street violence is gang-related, not transient-related, though transients can certainly be a nuisance.  (As are the State street bars which spew drunken twenty-somethings onto neighborhood streets every weekend night.)  Ms. Falcone says she wants to add ten patrolmen to the police force, but a patrolman I know told me that the city would need to add 70-80 officers to reach the officer per citizen ratio of comparable cities in the state, such as Santa Monica.  The police have done an amazing job of making quick arrests after these incidents, but they do not have the personnel to create a preventive presence in neighborhoods like mine.  Poor lighting is also a problem: we need to double the number of street lights in my neighborhood.  Adequate street lighting should not be the responsibility of residents; that’s what city government is for.  But only a big increase in police presence in my neighborhood and others will deter violent crime.  A curfew is no use without enough officers to enforce it.  The same goes for using city police for immigration enforcement, assuming that’s even legal.  (That would be a huge waste of precious police manpower, and most of the violent gang members were probably born here anyway.)  If people want to fix this problem, they will need to give law enforcement the resources necessary for the job.  The whole town would benefit.

» on 03.01.09 @ 04:28 PM

Okay Im a idiot brownies was around a lot longer than the sober house and I need to get back on my meds.  If recovery was that important to the housemates, and Brownies was that big of a problem we would move.  Its just easier to blame others and try to deflect criticism at the crime at our place.

Sorry

» on 03.01.09 @ 05:17 PM

JORDANSB NOOZHAWK BEWARE OF MR. SINGH ASSUMING MY IDENTITY
HEY “DAVID” OR SIGNH, PLEASE DO NOT ASSUME MY IDENTITY. THIS MAY BE ILLEGAL. PLEASE TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR IRRESPONSIBLE PRACTICES. LET’S LOOK AT THE POLICE REPORTS AND SEE HOW MANY CRIMES ARE A RESULT OF BROWNIE’S MARKET. I SEE HOW MANY DEPENDENT ALCOHOLICS YOU SERVE AND MAINTAIN IN THE SAME VICIOUS CYCLE. READ THE PAPER AND LISTEN TO THE PEOPLE ON THE STREET. YOU PREY ON LATINOS AND ALCOHOLICS BY PROVIDING THEM WITH THE SAME ONE CAN DRINKS YOU SAID YOU DON’T SELL. SANTA BARBARA ENTER HIS STORE AND SEE FOR YOURSELF. HE LIES. CALL THE SBPD TO GET THE FACTS. ASK THE NEIGHBORS THROUGHOUT THE AREA. PHONES, BROWNIE’S AND STORE NEEDS TO GO. THAT IS THE ONLY WAY THIS NEIGHBORHOOD WILL BE SAFE. BROWNIE’S OWNER YOU LIE. HE SELLS TO DRUNKS WHO CAN BARELY WALK. HE KEEPS LATINOS HOOKED ON HIS SINGLE CAN 40OZ BEER. HE ONLY CARRIES LATIN PRODUCTS, AND CHIPS, COOKIES. HE ONLY TARGETS ALCOHOLIC AND LATINOS. BROWNIES IS THE PROBLEM.
BROWNIES IS THE PROBLEM. HEY MR. SINGH PLEASE USE YOUR OWN IDENTITY. THANKS. YOU HAVE BEEN EXPOSED YOU LIE. YOU ARE THE PROBLEM. OH DON’T PATRONIZE MESA PIZZA THEY OWN THAT TOO. THEY OWN LA BAMBA AND THE LITTLE CORNER STORE. DON’T ALLOW THIS BUSINESS MAN TO WEAKEN YOUR NEIGHBORHOODS. THANK YOU. THIS IS THE TRUTH AND YOU KNOW IT MR. SINGH.

» on 03.01.09 @ 05:24 PM

MR. SINGH WHEN YOU ARE GOING TO MAKE THE IP ADDRESS PUBLIC SO WE, THE NEIGHBORS CAN SEE WHAT GOES ON AT YOUR STORE. AFRAID WE MAY SEE ALL YOUR 90% ALCOHOL SALES? HEY, YOU BROUGHT IT UP. AT LEAST RE-RELEASE IT TO THE SBPD. THEY DON’T HAVE IT. WHO ARE YOU FOOLING. WE ALL KNOW THAT YOU MAKE MOST OF YOUR MONEY FROM ALCOHOL. WEST DOWNTOWN, DON’T BE A VICTIM OF BROWNIE’S MARKET. SHUT IT DOWN. PASS THE WORD. JORDANSB

» on 03.01.09 @ 06:14 PM

I don’t think Tom Becker gets it. I was one of the march organizers, and I think it was incredibly effective. We wanted to put West Downtown on the map, because you never heard of this neighborhood, other than to know it’s ‘bad’. I moved here January 1. I love the location - 2 blocks from state, 4 blocks from downtown. I love my neighbors, they’re a bunch of terrific, diverse people raising families, working, and living in the neighborhood.
But we get homeless dumped on us by the city. We have a liquor store next to 2 halfway houses, next to a large preschool. We had a murder on our street, and this is the third violent incident in 5 months.
Why?
Because it’s our ‘normal’, and that’s what we were protesting and working on fixing Saturday. By getting out, raising our voices, we sent a message that we don’t want that kind of crap in our neighborhood. We want a safe place to live and raise children. We also wanted to meet and greet each other, because when you know your neighbors, you start watching out for them. We also wanted the mayoral candidates and the city council to know who we are, and know we are organized.
The police have been great to us - they come fast, and they work hard to solve the crimes in our area. They supported us the day of the march, which is awesome.
If we don’t take our neighborhood back, who will do it for us? City Hall can’t fix our problems, and we know it. But if we come together as a neighborhood and organize ourselves, when we call the city, we want them to say ‘oh it’s those west downtown people - they’re organized. Better get on it.’
It was all worth it.
Next, we’re tackling a housing authority project, and we’re organizing a neighborhood get together for everyone to start making those relationships that will help make this a safer place.

» on 03.01.09 @ 07:57 PM

These people were protesting crime? Did the person who wrote the caption get that right? Psst. Criminals rarely respond to public protests. One of the women appeared to be carrying a sign which read “Mothers Against Killing.” Way to go out on a limb and shout down all of those mothers who are in favor of killing. Enough with the drama.

Street lights, more cops, and increased patrols all sound good. If I read correctly, though, in this instance and the much earlier homicide, both victims knew their assailants. I don’t know that criminal on criminal crime can be deterred by traditional means.

Lastly, how can anyone be against reporting illegals to ICE? The operative word is “illegal.” What the heck do you think law enforcement agencies are supposed to be doing? If a Santa Barbara police officer comes across someone who has an outstanding federal warrant for kidnapping, that person earns a trip to the city hotel. But our local police department shouldn’t be reporting illegal aliens to ICE because… Some of you people are working with a smaller ball of clay than the rest of us.

» on 03.02.09 @ 09:13 PM

Maybe if Sanchez mandated foot patrol, police would get to know the streets a little better, there would be more effective policing. It would probably save the city money in transportation and health costs as well. Maybe the police union doesn’t want that, who knows. Other cities seemed to have success with it.

» on 03.02.09 @ 11:27 PM

I am one of the women that organized the march. What were we trying to accomplish? We wanted to put West Downtown (the area bounded by Carrillo to Castillo to Gutierrez to State) on the map. We also wanted to send a message that we’re sick of the violence and crime in our neighborhood. We’re 2 blocks off State, and 4-5 blocks from the beach. It could be a wonderful place to live! We have kids, dogs, families, and jobs here. I am a graduate student, just trying to work on my dissertation.
We all just want a safe neighborhood.
Unfortunately, we angered a gang. They attacked Brownies on Sunday, in broad daylight, mimicking our rally, robbing the store, and knocking out the cameras. Then there was the cinder-block beating incident on Castillo.
Our neighborhood is overrun with homeless and gang violence. The night of the murder, I had just walked my babysitter to the car after a bad date. Five minutes later, it went down.
That march got a lot of people together, and we needed to do that to build a sense of neighborhood community here. I had business people cry as they told me their stories of trying to run a decent business here.
We are fighting a housing authority project going in on Bath nearby funded with federal dollars to house…more homeless. We already have Sally Army, and the two halfway houses across from the daycare, where a stabbing occurred in December.
Brownies is trying to change over to a Cantwell’s type of store, which we desperately want. We are going to do a neighborhood get-together to keep the sense of community alive. We also have a neighborhood food exchange for people growing fruit trees or veggies in their yards.
We have a long way to go, but we’ve met a lot of people who are excited by what we’re doing, and want our neighborhood to gel, to come together.
That’s what it’s all about for us.

» on 03.03.09 @ 12:25 AM

From the comments here and elsewhere, this seems like the lower west downtown people are really divided on what they think is causing the crime in their area.

Is it the Brownie’s market or not?

Is it the housing authority or not?

Is it the Mexicans or not?

A lack of agreement on the cause of the problems will give the city an excuse to do nothing.

» on 03.03.09 @ 08:18 AM

I am one of the women that organized the march. What were we trying to accomplish? We wanted to put West Downtown (the area bounded by Carrillo to Castillo to Gutierrez to State) on the map. We also wanted to send a message that we’re sick of the violence and crime in our neighborhood. We’re 2 blocks off State, and 4-5 blocks from the beach. It could be a wonderful place to live! We have kids, dogs, families, and jobs here. I am a graduate student, just trying to work on my dissertation.
We all just want a safe neighborhood.
Unfortunately, we angered a gang. They attacked Brownies on Sunday, in broad daylight, mimicking our rally, robbing the store, and knocking out the cameras. Then there was the cinder-block beating incident on Castillo.
Our neighborhood is overrun with homeless and gang violence. The night of the murder, I had just walked my babysitter to the car after a bad date. Five minutes later, it went down.
That march got a lot of people together, and we needed to do that to build a sense of neighborhood community here. I had business people cry as they told me their stories of trying to run a decent business here.
We are fighting a housing authority project going in on Bath nearby funded with federal dollars to house…more homeless. We already have Sally Army, and the two halfway houses across from the daycare, where a stabbing occurred in December.
Brownies is trying to change over to a Cantwell’s type of store, which we desperately want. We are going to do a neighborhood get-together to keep the sense of community alive. We also have a neighborhood food exchange for people growing fruit trees or veggies in their yards.
We have a long way to go, but we’ve met a lot of people who are excited by what we’re doing, and want our neighborhood to gel, to come together.
That’s what it’s all about for us.

» on 03.04.09 @ 03:53 PM

I think our fearless leader (Camp Sanchez) shoud send his men to do more foot patrol instead of having his men sit all day at McDonalds, Winchels and the other local resturants doing nothing, after all we pay for their salary.  Put more lights and housing should save that project for low-income families not homeless drunks, that’s the only to keep that area family orientated and safe. Bownies needs to GO or take his liquor license away!!!

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