Insisting that reports of its demise — published on the front page of this Sunday’s Santa Barbara News-Press — were greatly exaggerated, leaders of La Casa de la Raza denounced Santa Barbara’s oldest daily newspaper and demanded a retraction. Raquel Lopez — the organization’s embattled executive — charged the News-Press story grossly missed the mark by relying on reporting that was six weeks old without verifying the facts.
The Sunday article — originally published in the paper’s Spanish-language publication Santa Barbara Latino on February 15 — stated that La Casa de la Raza’s property on East Montecito Street would be sold by the county tax collector at public auction this May because La Casa was nearly nine years and $92,000 behind on paying its property taxes. While La Casa’s tax problems and longstanding financial challenges have been extensively reported upon, assistant county tax collector Clint Donati stated he’d been assured the unpaid taxes would be paid off well before any auction could take place. But even if La Casa didn’t pay, Donati cautioned, new state rules have effectively postponed the next auction for many months. The absolute soonest, he said, an auction could take place is this August, not May.
Lopez confirmed that La Casa is in the process of securing a short-term loan from individuals sympathetic to the organization — possibly from former Santa Barbara school boardmember and architect Ray Franco — to pay off its debt to the county. While the loan has not been finalized, Lopez stated, the county would be paid off no later than April 11. She denounced the article as “irresponsible and unconscionable,” objecting it gave readers a false sense of the institute’s financial troubles. La Casa’s tax-exempt status, she insisted, has not been revoked by the federal government; its state permit to operate as a nonprofit was suspended. She said attorney Nick Schneider — paid for by the McCune Foundation — had paid the state fine of nearly $350. Likewise, she said, the McCune Foundation had paid for a consultant to help La Casa figure out how to best use its property to maximize revenues and programs.