Greek to Me
Budget Problems the Size of the Acropolis
Thursday, May 12, 2011
ON THE STREETS: How wonderful it was to return from the troubled Mediterranean to a town with few real problems. Except, of course, the ones the City Council reelect-us crew is flailing away at as campaign issues.
While gone, I found that when you wade through hundreds of angry Greek strikers waving red flags and shaking their fists, or smell fumes on your jet at 30,000 feet, you’ve got real problems.
And our ship wasn’t all that far from where Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi was bombarding the rebels while other countries were going off like a string of firecrackers. Luckily for us, our ship wasn’t summoned to rescue Libyans injured fighting Qadhafi, to blaze away at him with AK-47s, or to supply rebels with ammo.
Greeks, who invented democracy after all, are having all kinds of trouble with their 21st-century brand: budget problems, big ones, the size of the Acropolis and almost as old. But the strikers, mostly middle-aged folks from what I could see, were satisfied with yelling insults at police guarding the famed Hotel Grande Bretagne and not barging in to unnerve the coffee-sipping tourists.
Nor did our jet burst into flame, although the smell from the announced “battery problem” forced us to land in a foreign country. It turned out to be a tiny airport in Canada with no facilities. Friendly folks from the area, however, soon arrived with piles of pizzas.
Back in Santa Barbara, I rushed to the streets in search of a grave problem that some on the City Council seeking reelection insist is threatening our way of life and alienating (horrors!) the tourists. They want more cops on the beat, armed with citations to hand to people who have no money to pay them.
City budget-makers say they can’t afford to hire more cops just in order to sic ’em on the homeless, and besides, you can’t police your way out of this. What exactly cops would do with someone like Ann, as I’ll call her, I’m not sure. She’s not someone lured here by easy handouts and temperate weather. Ann was born here.
I knew her as a child, the daughter of a coworker who died some years ago. She’s still a sweet person, and we chat when I see her next to her mountain of belongings laden on a cart. She says she has children, siblings, and an aged father who still lives here. She’s a gentle soul, and I’ve never seen her panhandle or show signs of alcohol or drug abuse. The last time we spoke, she talked of getting closer to her father.
She longs to get off the streets, and I’m not sure how long Ann, in her fifties, can survive on the streets. It’s an unhealthy place. An elderly homeless woman died recently. Ann is one of about three women living on the downtown streets, in poverty, vulnerable and with mental issues that aren’t being treated. She probably qualifies for Social Security SSI disability but worries that someone might steal her belongings and cart while she’s inside the area office applying. She is getting help this week to apply.
Society has long turned its back on people like Ann, although county social worker Ken Williams and outreach doctors do check in on the homeless. “It breaks my heart,” Williams says of their plight. One problem is that there are no more low-cost hotels, he said.
City Administrator Jim Armstrong is proposing hiring two outreach workers, a small but good start.
CATCH-22 FOR WENDY: Wendy McCaw, owner of the circulation-shedding Santa Barbara News-Press, would love nothing better than to get rid of the newsroom union she herself brought on more than four years ago. So at least eight employees have obliged by asking the feds to decertify the union born after the July 2006 meltdown. The only publicly known signer is ex-TV sportscaster Gerry Fall, who joined the NP sports desk after the meltdown.
But last week, National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) officials put the kibosh on the decert. Reason: Wendy has too many labor-law violations pending. NLRB judges have found that she’s responsible for 25 unfair labor practices, including illegally firing eight reporters and refusing to bargain in good faith. Her appeals have taken years. But as long as the blatant union-busting violations are pending, she can’t get a decert, unless she finds a friendly judge. Since the meltdown, 70 employees have quit or been fired. Ironically, although Wendy accused some of the fired reporters of being biased — a transparently bogus charge — she’s reportedly filled the newsroom with recruits from the conservative Young America’s Foundation.
WENDY OWES: Speaking of Wendy, she’s also appealing an arbitrator’s order to pay ex-NP editor Jerry Roberts $915,000 in attorney fees. After Roberts quit on July 6, 2006, the same day I packed up and left, McCaw spent $2.4 million accusing him of everything short of writing press releases for Osama bin Laden. Result: She’s gotta pay.
ANYTHING GOES: I spent a great evening at Santa Barbara High on Saturday, as talented students staged Cole Porter’s musical Anything Goes. Kudos to a great cast, including student singer/actors Katherine Bottoms, Allison Lewis, and Geoff Hahn, director Otto Layman, musical director Richard Weiss, and choreographer Christina McCarthy. Next up this week: Me and My Girl, at San Marcos High.