In a decision that’s allowed both sides to claim victory, Santa Barbara Community Development Director Paul Casey concluded that the Casa Esperanza homeless shelter on Cacique Street is now in compliance with its conditional-use permit after conducting a two-month investigation into charges levied by the Milpas Community Association (MCA) that it wasn’t. Casey’s finding, however, came with a substantial asterisk. “Please be aware that this finding is based on Casa’s operations over the past two months,” he wrote, adding that there had been “a discernable improvement in condition compliance” ever since the complaint was lodged in July.
While Casey never found Casa to be out of compliance on any of the points enumerated in the MCA’s complaint, he strongly urged Casa director Mike Foley to maintain the elevated levels of community responsiveness Casa has adopted in recent months. Casey also found room for considerable improvement in the conduct of Milpas Action Task Force meetings, where Casa and its neighbors are supposed to hash out issues of concern. By many accounts, these meetings have become acrimonious, dysfunctional affairs, and Casey found that “Casa Esperanza representatives play a large role in the effectiveness of these meetings.” While Casa director Foley commented the “Task Force process has been difficult for everyone involved,” he also announced that he and MCA representatives have selected former planning commissioner John Jostes — a high-powered, high-stakes mediator — to help facilitate those meetings henceforth. In addition, Casey strongly suggested Casa get a dedicated phone line for neighborhood complaints.
He rejected MCA’s contention that Casa’s new jail-outreach program to better handle homeless people upon their release from County Jail constituted a permit violation because, he said, there’s been no increase in the number of Casa clients coming from County Jail as a result. Foley expressed gratitude the investigation demonstrated Casa’s compliance, and Sharon Byrne, director of MCA, expressed “optimism” that the additional guidelines articulated by Casey would “assist with improving conditions in the area.”