If implementing the gang injunction doesn’t create a “war zone” in the city, holding an open forum for three hours on the matter at City Hall just about did. Though the proposed injunction has been in the forefront of Santa Barbara politics for much of the last three years, Tuesday’s City Council meeting marked the second time councilmembers held a public forum on the matter and the first time they voted on it in open session, with support running 5-2.
Though the vote was largely symbolic — only Councilmembers Cathy Murillo and Gregg Hart, who called for the forum, opposed the injunction — the hearing allowed for one last “robust” debate before the case goes before Judge Colleen Sterne on May 5. Dozens of speakers took to the podium — several gave their allotted two minutes to another speaker — to reiterate many of the arguments against an injunction. “It’s the definition of insanity,” said one speaker. Among the opposing arguments were that it encourages racial profiling, wastes taxpayer dollars, violates civil rights, decreases property values, shifts crime out of “safety zones” into adjacent ones, wrongly assumes the defendants will violate the law in the future, and undercuts traditional police tactics.
If implemented by Sterne — the trial is expected to take several weeks — the injunction would prohibit the defendants and any future members of named gangs from associating in the “safety zones” that make up the Eastside, Westside, and beach or waterfront area (about a third of the city, one speaker noted). Any active gang members would be bound by the terms of the injunction, but adding a member to the injunction could only happen through the courts.
The issue of cost set the tone for the fairly tense hearing. City Attorney Ariel Calonne reported that the city had spent $160,000 total in staff costs and expert witnesses in the past three years. But the price tag for the police department is unavailable, said Police Chief Cam Sanchez, explaining he does not track how much time his staff spends investigating line items like gangs or sexual assaults. This response — coupled with the same answer from the District Attorney’s Office — prompted skepticism from Councilmember Murillo. “If we build a bridge, we know exactly how much it costs,” she said. In response, Sanchez explained the department has not expended any more money than within its $5 million budget for its investigations bureau. “If we weren’t working on the gang injunction,” he said. “We’d be working on something else.” In 2012, the police department announced it had spent close to half a million dollars on the injunction, Murillo noted, and $700,000 was used as a ballpark figure for total cost. The cost of a “vigorously fought” appeal would range from $25,000-$50,000, Calonne said. Mayor Helene Schneider later said ongoing funds spent on prevention efforts likely “dwarf” the onetime money spent on the gang injunction.
Though 27 people are officially named on the injunction (three names were eliminated, Calonne explained), several are incarcerated. And “without getting into things we shouldn’t talk about,” said Hart, approximately a dozen would now be affected by the injunction. Violating the order would be a misdemeanor that could land a defendant in jail for a maximum of six months, said Assistant District Attorney Hilary Dozer in an email.
“I am always walking,” one woman touted. “I am not afraid of gangs.”
Quite a few speakers complained that the public debate “should have happened two years ago.” Schneider countered that argument more than once, stating a five-hour public hearing was held last May. “Most of you were there,” she added. And many — only the first speaker was in favor of the injunction — described themselves as long-term residents of both the Eastside and the Westside and argued they never feel the presence of gang violence in their neighborhoods. “I am always walking,” one woman touted. “I am not afraid of gangs.”
“You don’t think we have a gang problem?” countered Councilmember Frank Hotchkiss. “Well, there are 16 people who might disagree with you,” he said, referring to the 16 killed by gang violence since the 1990s.
On more than one occasion, Sanchez has announced that although the number of gang-related crimes has decreased in the past several years, more serious crimes including assaults and homicides have been on the upswing. He reiterated that fact last Wednesday at the quarterly meeting of the South Coast Youth Gang Task Force. The number of juveniles on probation with gang terms has dropped from 306 in 2009 to a daily average of 53 so far in 2014. But the number of female juveniles on probation with gang terms has flatlined, said the task force’s coordinator, Saul Serrano, explaining girls face different challenges and have different needs.
Dale Francisco, who said he would speak for those “not represented” at the hearing, contended plenty of studies show that gang injunctions do reduce crime. Even a 10-15 percent reduction would be worth it, he said.
Wrapping up much of the voiced concerns, one final speaker told city councilmembers, “You dug your feet in the sand. This is going to be your legacy, and it’s embarrassing.”