A person crosses Milpas Street in Santa Barbara.
A person crosses Milpas Street within the zone where it will be illegal to sit or lie down. Santa Barbara on Tuesday passed a sit-lie ordinance for sidewalks between Carpinteria and Canon Perdido streets. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday approved a “sit-lie” ordinance that will make it illegal for people who are homeless to sleep on the sidewalks for most hours during the day. 

The ordinance will apply from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. and stretch from Carpinteria to Canon Perdido streets.

City Attorney Ariel Calonne framed the ordinance as necessary because the sidewalks are narrow along Milpas Street, and people sitting or lying on the sidewalk makes passage unsafe. He did not present any data showing the numbers of accidents or injuries because of those conditions.

The vote was 6-1 with Councilwoman Meagan Harmon opposed. She raised concerns about the legality of the ordinance. At one point, Harmon, an attorney, peppered Calonne with a series of legal questions, seemingly disagreeing with his interpretation of the law. 

She also expressed concern about targeting people who are homeless when they don’t have an alternative place to go.

“This ordinance targets homeless individuals and criminalizes their state of being,” Harmon said. “I can’t do the mental gymnastics required to get myself to the point where I don’t feel that this ordinance is specifically targeting the state of being for our homeless neighbors. It is not a sufficient alternative for me to say they can just move to a different block.”

But Councilwoman Alejandra Gutierrez, whose district includes Milpas Street, says the issue is about safety. She said the community members in her district have advocated for many years for the extension of the sidewalks and for more lighting.

“I know that this does target the homeless population,” Gutierrez said. “I am not going to pretend that it does not. But I want people to understand it’s more than the homeless. It’s about safety.”

Natasha Todorovic, an Eastside resident who lives near Milpas Street, said Milpas Street needs fixing.

“I can’t tell you how many times I have been walking in the street to walk around people, particularly during COVID, because as you have seen, the sidewalks are very narrow,” Todorovic said. 

She also pushed back at Harmon’s empathy for those who are homeless.

“Councilwoman Harmon, you might not be aware, we have a number of shelters in the area, so there are places for people to sleep if they choose to pursue those options,” Todorovic said. “The problem is that most of them don’t choose to pursue those options.”

The city plans two additional ordinances in the near future that address vendor carts along sidewalks.

The new ordinance is part of a brighter spotlight being shined on the Eastside, largely because of Gutierrez’s advocacy. Business owners and patrons have complained for years that the sidewalks are unsafe and that homeless people loiter near liquor stores. The city also is toying with an ordinance that would require liquor store owners to take care of their properties or face the possibility of losing the right to sell off-sale “airplane bottle” liquor beverages.

The city has a similar sit-lie ordinance for the Cacique Street underpass, where many homeless people were gathering, and the 00 to 100 block of East Haley Street in order to address ongoing sidewalk obstruction in the area. 

People with a disability or who have a medical emergency would not be subject to the ordinance. The city also would need to give warnings before writing anyone a ticket. 

Mayor Cathy Murillo said she supports the sit-lie ordinance. 

“I know that sidewalk,” Murillo said. “I have friends on the Eastside. I have activities on the Eastside. Some of my favorite restaurants are over there. We are not targeting the homeless specifically. No one will be able to block that sidewalk. We need the sidewalk clear.”

Water, Trash Rate Increases Approved

The City Council unanimously approved water and trash rate increases for the next three years. 

Water rates for residential customers will rise about 5% on average over the next three years. The actual percentage increase varies depending on usage and whether the customer is a resident, commercial or agriculture.

For next year, agriculture property owners would see a 9.3% jump. City water department officials said that the city’s agriculture property owners have historically underpaid based on usage, and this is an effort to catch them up. 

The rate increases are also designed to pay for capital infrastructure projects, including replacing six miles of water mains annually, upgrades and renovations to the Vic Trace Reservoir and the Cater Water Treatment Plant, as well as ongoing upgrades to groundwater facilities, pump stations and meters.

As it relates to trash, single-family residential customers would see an average increase of $3.78 per month; a two- to four-unit multi-unit property would see a $6.70 monthly increase; and a five-unit or more residential building would see a $28.54 increase.

For the next 20 years, the city will be making payments toward the $134 million materials recovery facility (MRF) that would sort the trash and recover recyclable commodities, and an anaerobic digester (AD). It’s a joint project between the city and Santa Barbara County.

The facility will help the county’s jurisdictions divert trash from the landfill, and is expected to open this summer. In addition to the tipping fees jumping from $158 a ton to $164, the pandemic hurt the city contractual obligations to deliver trash.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.