Sharon Byrne

Paul Wellman (file)

Sharon Byrne

Demonizing the Homeless?

Council Candidates Bristle at Cathy Murillo’s Characterization

Santa Barbara City Council candidate Cathy Murillo accused the three incumbents running for reelection — plus the two other challengers to emerge from the Milpas Community Association (MCA) — of “demonizing” the homeless over the past six months. Murillo’s remarks came at the tail end of a candidates’ forum Monday night hosted by a number of youth organizations.

Murillo charged her opponents did so “to create fear around street people.” While the incumbents Dale Francisco, Randy Rowse, and Michael Self did not respond, Sebastian Aldana — vice president and cofounder of the MCA — said he was “offended” by the remarks, and Sharon Byrne, MCA president, said Murillo’s comments “were the most inflammatory things I’ve heard on the matter.” Both Aldana and Byrne have complained that the Casa Esperanza Homeless Center on Cacique Street — coupled with the free lunches served there to anyone — has drawn a population of street drunks and panhandlers to lower Milpas who would not otherwise be there. Byrne has said the shelter, now 13 years old, should be moved.

Cathy Murillo
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

Cathy Murillo

Murillo said she recognizes the shelter has drawn troublesome people to Milpas, but said the MCA should have taken a more constructive approach. Instead, she said an MCA brochure described Milpas Street as “a dumping ground for City Hall,” and as creating a “toxic mess.” At a press conference Tuesday morning, Byrne highlighted a multi-partied, nondenominational cross section of neighborhood residents and activists supporting her, including longtime homeless activist Nancy McCradie and her husband, Bob Hanson. McCradie spoke passionately about how she and Byrne “went from being adversaries to being one.”

Byrne, running as an independent, is trying to induce Democrats and Republicans to cross party lines and vote for her. But prior to entering the race, Byrne — a 13-year declined-to-state — had been most actively involved with the council’s more conservative wing, advocating for tougher enforcement of transient-related street crime and against medical marijuana dispensaries. Byrne broke ranks with her former allies among the conservatives, arguing the incumbents weren’t sufficiently responsive to MCA’s demands, and that the incumbents’ electoral strategy was too party-focused and doomed to failure.

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