Friday marks the deadline to apply for the next Santa Barbara civil grand jury, which will commence on July 1. An investigative body that serves as a watchdog over various government agencies, the grand jury is comprised of 19 volunteers. In their one-year term, jurors spend several hours each week and can join a number of committees such as finance or planning and development. “The strength of the grand jury is only as good as the people who participate,” explained foreman Ted Sten, a retired corporate manager who has been appointed to his position a number of times since he was first selected in 2005.
Not just retired folks apply for the grand jury, Sten added, and he’s seen nurses, business owners, part-time workers, physicians, and others with flexible schedules participate. In his first year, the grand jury studied the 1,000-foot breach of the Santa Maria levee that caused flooding to adjacent farmlands in 1998. (Just recently, repairs to the entire levee were completed.) “It was 12 of the best months I’ve ever spent in community service,” he said of his first year. Each year, the jury receives anywhere from 80 to 130 complaints — or sometimes mere “inquiries,” Sten said — and the group issues about 15 written reports, which are all available online. “It’s a very detailed process,” Sten said.
Last year, the Santa Barbara grand jury issued reports on jail food, the 2-1-1 system, and the Cuyama Valley Recreation District. Following the utter chaos of Deltopia, UCSB student leaders called for the grand jury to investigate the event, but it’s unclear as to the status of it as all of the jury’s proceedings are confidential. Depending the number of applicants the court receives Friday, the deadline may be extended one week. Applicants must have resided in the county for a year, be “of sound judgment,” and have no felony convictions.