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<b>QUICK FIX:</b> In response to escalating complaints about threatening behavior by “urban travelers,” city officials have transformed the “Crescent Crossing” sculpture, which doubles as a bench, into what appears to be a taped-off crime scene. Jeff, a traveler from New Hampshire, points to a chip in one of the sculpture’s bricks.

Paul Wellman

QUICK FIX: In response to escalating complaints about threatening behavior by “urban travelers,” city officials have transformed the “Crescent Crossing” sculpture, which doubles as a bench, into what appears to be a taped-off crime scene. Jeff, a traveler from New Hampshire, points to a chip in one of the sculpture’s bricks.


Cops Take on ‘Urban Travelers’

‘Crescent Crossing’ May Be in City Hall Crosshairs


Thursday, March 20, 2014
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Although Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez wasn’t actually wearing any gloves at this Tuesday’s City Council meeting, he took them off anyway as he declared his intent to eject the groups of younger belligerent street people who tend to cluster on the 600 block of State Street near or on the brick street sculpture — dubbed “Crescent Crossing” — designed to double as a bench and bus stop.

Although complaints about the vagabond “travelers,” as Sanchez referred to them, is nothing new, the number and intensity of such concerns has crescendoed in recent weeks. Business owners have taken their mounting frustration to City Hall, the Police Department, the Downtown Organization, and any arts commissioner or city councilmember they can get on the phone. Complaints include aggressive panhandling, rude and lewd remarks, intimidation, drug dealing, chalking sidewalks and storefronts, and threatening downtown workers.

The situation has grown so combustible that Urban Outfitters reportedly instructs its employees to take outdoor breaks only when accompanied by someone else. Many business owners have long contended the presence and behavior of these younger street people, often accompanied by their dogs, has done violence to their bottom line. Owners of the Habit, Blush, and Dargan’s met with the Downtown Organization’s Safety Committee in late February to express such concerns.

In early March, Sanchez himself toured the area as his officers issued citations. “It’s unacceptable,” Sanchez told the council. He said he was taking cops off other assignments and redeploying them to the 600 block of State Street as part of a three-week trial campaign. “We have to put out the fire where the fires are,” Sanchez said. In the first six days, Sanchez reported his officers issued 151 citations, eight felony arrests, and 13 misdemeanor arrests. All, he said, involved the so-called “travelers,” whom he took pains to distinguish from the homeless or the mentally ill.

<b>LAYING DOWN GAUNTLET:</b> Police Chief Cam Sanchez (center) — flanked by assistant chief Frank Mannix (right) and spokesperson Riley Harwood (left) — outlined steps his department is taking to combat the urban travelers.
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

LAYING DOWN GAUNTLET: Police Chief Cam Sanchez (center) — flanked by assistant chief Frank Mannix (right) and spokesperson Riley Harwood (left) — outlined steps his department is taking to combat the urban travelers.

Based on what he described as an “admittedly unscientific” survey, Sanchez said 90 percent of the travelers came from out of the state, not just out of town. Sanchez said he spent three hours last Friday “touring” five makeshift encampments located by freeway off-ramps beginning at 5:30 in the morning. He characterized 85 percent of the occupants he encountered as travelers. “Needles everywhere,” he exclaimed. He expressed astonishment at the technically sophisticated equipment the camps had, but even more, he said, he was struck by the filth and the squalor.

Sanchez informed the councilmembers that his department would initiate a campaign to root out such camps, working in conjunction with Caltrans and the Union Pacific Railroad company. He stressed, however, that the department would give all camp occupants 72-hour advance written notice before swooping down.

In the meantime, the artistically rendered street perch and bus stop has been bundled up in yellow tape, reminiscent of a crime scene, in preparation for steam cleaning and repair work on bricks that have been dinged and nicked over the years by airborne skateboarders. How long it will take to secure the necessary permits remains anyone’s guess.

In the meantime, a barrier will be erected around the sculpture. That, however, is a stop-gap solution. Last year, similar complaints prompted the police department to suggest the sculpture be relocated as part of a more permanent fix. But that idea was dropped in face of opposition from the Arts Commission and by the artist, Donald W. Davis, himself. Under the federal Visual Artists Rights Act, however, Davis’s work can’t be moved without his consent.

Police spokesperson Riley Harwood noted that the sculpture no longer functions as a bus stop because MTD — in response to the travelers’ emergence onto the scene many years ago — relocated its stop. He said the street art might do better in front of Cottage Hospital or by the city’s airport. The sculpture, he said, helps pinch in the sidewalk, bringing the panhandlers in closer proximity to passersby, as do the outdoor patios installed by some of the newer restaurants in the area. Throw in the paseo connecting State Street to Parking Lot 10, Harwood added, and you have a recipe for trouble that no amount of cops can cure. Besides, he added, not all objectionable behavior is illegal.

Harwood acknowledged there are plans to install a video monitor on the 600 block of State Street. Others have suggested that police issue citations to travelers who violate city ordinances banning smoking within 20 feet of an outdoor dining establishment or possessing an unlicensed dog. Others have proposed City Hall adopt an ordinance banning anyone from parking their backpacks on the sidewalk. But such citations are only as effective as City Hall’s ability to enforce them, and given the shortage of space in the County Jail, that’s not much.

Tuesday was the first day on the job for new City Attorney Ariel Calonne, who was peppered with constitutional questions from Councilmember Frank Hotchkiss, who wanted to know if it was legal for cops to demand identification from people with backpacks sitting on city benches. “There needs to be some cause,” Calonne replied. “Are you being intentionally vague?” shot back Hotchkiss, eager to provide city police maximum enforcement latitude. “I am,” the new city attorney replied.

No one from the public or the council spoke up on behalf of the travelers, not even councilmembers who typically voice concern for the homeless. Councilmember Cathy Murillo took Chief Sanchez to task for contributing to anti-pit-bull stereotypes by linking them with the travelers. “It’s the people who make the dogs behave in a bad way, not the dogs,” said Murillo, who owns and has rescued several pit bulls. Sanchez answered, “I apologize if I insulted you.”

Comments

Independent Discussion Guidelines

The city has also fenced of the area between the steps from lot 10 down to Dargan's. I was told by a city worker that a wrought iron fence would soon be installed on the wall between the staircases.

Carpreader (anonymous profile)
March 20, 2014 at 2:51 a.m. (Suggest removal)

For these "urban travelers", if you're going to be homeless, SB is certainly a nice place to be homeless.

Botany (anonymous profile)
March 20, 2014 at 6:28 a.m. (Suggest removal)

It’s unacceptable,” Sanchez told the council.

no chit captain obvious.

lawdy (anonymous profile)
March 20, 2014 at 7:54 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Thanks for the great article Nick!

I hear our community's frustration at the presence of so many young street people on lower State Street. Several media reports these last few days have created a massive buzz in the social media with dozens of people chiming in, usually sharing anecdotes of offensive behavior they have witnessed.

I do not doubt that there is a criminal element there that needs to be weeded out, but at the same time know that most of these street people are poor, innocent and harmless.

While "needle-infested" camps along the freeway need to be stopped, we must acknowledge an institutional context in which less than 400 shelter beds for over 1000 people creates a situation in which many good, honest and decent people are forced to sleep out doors each night.

We need someone to speak out in support of them and their rights. It feels like a "witchhunt" out there where anyone under the age of 25 with a large backpack risks being stopped and searched just for "looking homeless". And they are talking about making it a misdemeanor to park your backpack on a sidewalk!

The comparison of this issue with our supposed "gang problem" is instructive. Both are often based on hysterical "moral panics" which involve seeing our youth as crazed deviants destroying our communal fabric.

Ugly stereotypes, blatant misinformation and inappropriate labels circulate perpetuating an "us v. them" mentality. Both involve the "criminalization" of our youth, often because they are without resources.

"Vagabonds", "transients", "bums" are prejorative terms in my book.

Rather than mere arrests, we need outreach workers and the Restorative Policing teams to gather information about who really is out there and why.

Many of these young people are OUR children, our brothers and sisters. Many of these people are foster youth abused by our systems. Many of these people are victims of a bad economy, poor schools, and an inadequate safety net.

What would a compassionate approach to these issues look like? What would an approach based upon upholding these people's dignity and worth look like?

These young people are our neighbors.

WayneMellinger (anonymous profile)
March 20, 2014 at 8:41 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Since when has it been "illegal" for police to ask a person to identify themselves. If a person is violating an ordinance or code why not ask for ID? If they are loitering in an area or citizens are being disturbed by their behavior simply ask them to move along, cite them or arrest them. If the people committing the reported violations had been dealt with properly from the beginning I doubt there would have been the number of arrests/citations recently reported. Problem is, in order for the cops on the street to know what to do they must have leaders that know what to do and when to act. It appears the Chief and his staff lack leadership, experience and knowledge in how to address this problem as it should have been addressed right after the initial complaints. People are committing the reported violations because police are not monitoring their behavior and taking action against negative behavior.

whatsinsb (anonymous profile)
March 20, 2014 at 8:53 a.m. (Suggest removal)

While these urban travelers do have rights, the city should NOT reach out to them or do anything to make their lives here more compfortable. I'm sure the weather is much nicer here than the places they come from, but the reception from the city shouldn't be. The worst thing we can do (as individuals) is to give them money.

Botany (anonymous profile)
March 20, 2014 at 9:10 a.m. (Suggest removal)

"These young people are our neighbors."

No, they're really not except in the broadest possible definition of "neighbor."

Then again, there's also the concept of being a _good_ neighbor which these "urban travelers' who _choose_ this lifestyle are decidedly not.

Of course, the "homeless advocacy" crowd will see things differently.
Time to stop making excuses and enabling those who don't wish to be helped by the already existing means to do so.

zappa (anonymous profile)
March 20, 2014 at 9:45 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Many of these young people are foster kids who were turned out when they turned 18 or ran away from abusive, loveless situations. They find each other and form their own families where they are accepted by the other "rejects" on the street. They live as best they can but once in that situation, how can they get a job, a place to live, etc.? They can't be reunited with their former families because no one wants them. This is not a problem that Santa Barbara can solve. We need a (national?) program for young people where they can go to live, *work* and get whatever education they are willing and able to pursue. It would be cheaper for us in the long run -- and maybe also in the short run -- than policing, arresting, imprisoning, repeat, for the rest of their lives. These are Americans who had very a bad start in life and have endured crappy childhoods. If we can rescue GM ...

LaFleur (anonymous profile)
March 20, 2014 at 10 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Urban travelers? More like pseudo-anarchist Kerouac wannabes who feel every hard working, tax paying schmoe is obligated to enable their misadventures.
If you want to travel and stuff, fine, do it on YOUR OWN DIME like I did, but don't expect me to shell out the bucks to fund your experiment in social studies.
How long before everyone accepts the FACT that these layabouts ARE harming the area?

blahblahmoreblah (anonymous profile)
March 20, 2014 at 11:24 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Right on cue, Homeless Inc rides in to the rescue. "These are our neighbors! They are poor mistreated abandoned foster children! We must love them!" Interesting how the mistreated abandoned foster kids have iphones and laptops they can plug into city power. Suspect they're connected to Bank of Mom and Dad. Some Homeless inc'ers need to stop tweaking (you know who you are) and spewing online about how downtrodden everyone is, the answer is compassion, blah blah blah. If they get their vision of the world enacted, Santa Barbara will be one big playground for all the homeless to come and get 'loved'. Oh wait...

dogsnsand (anonymous profile)
March 20, 2014 at 11:55 a.m. (Suggest removal)

If there weren't any urban travelers here, then that is a sign this town is too boring and that I and many others would probably never have lived here in the first place.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
March 20, 2014 at 12:01 p.m. (Suggest removal)

weep some other place for these 'urban travelers'.

#firehoses.

lawdy (anonymous profile)
March 20, 2014 at 2:12 p.m. (Suggest removal)

You don't find the children of Ozzie and Harriet living this life. You find kids who never had a stable home life, or a person who cared about their welfare, or the opportunities that the kids you and I grew up with did.

LaFleur (anonymous profile)
March 20, 2014 at 2:27 p.m. (Suggest removal)

loon - if there weren't any urban travelers here it would be an indication the police department knew how to do its job by keeping them in check an not permitting them to do whatever they choose, wherever they choose. These people will migrate to an area that creates few problems for them.

whatsinsb (anonymous profile)
March 20, 2014 at 2:39 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Broken Hearts are for As#holes. http://youtu.be/U6hc6khQpSk

GluteousMaximus (anonymous profile)
March 20, 2014 at 4:01 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Cathy Murillo has pit bulls-
Her street cred continues to rise!

garfish (anonymous profile)
March 21, 2014 at 9:22 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The article concludes:
"Councilmember Cathy Murillo took Chief Sanchez to task for contributing to anti-pit-bull stereotypes by linking them with the travelers. “It’s the people who make the dogs behave in a bad way, not the dogs,” said Murillo, who owns and has rescued several pit bulls. Sanchez answered, “I apologize if I insulted you.”"

CHIEF SANCHEZ insulted far more people than Murillo.

John_Adams (anonymous profile)
March 21, 2014 at 9:29 a.m. (Suggest removal)

A bum is a bum. not to be confused with a homeless local person who lost their job or got kicked out of a facility and really needs help. "Urban Traveler" is just politspeak for "bum". Run 'em out of town.

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
March 21, 2014 at 9:33 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Urban Nomads.

If the Council doesn't listen to business, we're in a world of hurt.

DBS

drdan93109 (anonymous profile)
March 21, 2014 at 10:52 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Why dont they just put a SBPD kiosk there instead? Solves the problem and puts the cops closer to the people.

Sam_Tababa (anonymous profile)
March 21, 2014 at 12:39 p.m. (Suggest removal)

lawdy, I'm not weeping for them, I'm welcoming them here. Many of them are good people.

"loon - if there weren't any urban travelers here it would be an indication the police department knew how to do its job by keeping them in check an not permitting them to do whatever they choose, wherever they choose. These people will migrate to an area that creates few problems for them."

That is precisely why I advocate doing nothing.

The more cities and towns that crack down on homeless just means they become more concentrated in other towns. Right now WE are the "other town". I don't want to become like the towns that crack down on the homeless. And in fact, THEY are the problem. If other towns would stop cracking down on homeless then they wouldn't be so concentrated in other various places, like here, and instead they would be more spread out.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
March 21, 2014 at 1:09 p.m. (Suggest removal)

GluteousMaximus = ass, right?

LaFleur (anonymous profile)
March 21, 2014 at 2:52 p.m. (Suggest removal)

loon - I- suspect you will get your wish as it appears our brilliant police chief decided to "take the gloves off" just before a visit of the equally brilliant vice-president "bite me." Coincidence? We will have to wait and see how long this crackdown on the homeless continues after the VP visit. Sanchez committed to a "three week campaign" to see how things go and I suspect it will go back to homeless business as usual. This problem didn't just begin and it will be here well beyond the three week campaign and all through the summer. Sanchez appears to be clueless.

whatsinsb (anonymous profile)
March 21, 2014 at 4:20 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Dibs on the open sleeping spot when the bench is removed!

touristunfriendly (anonymous profile)
March 22, 2014 at 1:36 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Too bad funding for community oriented policing dried up once GW Bush was elected.

clintoneradem (anonymous profile)
March 22, 2014 at 4:39 p.m. (Suggest removal)

This has been a problem for YEARS. I first complained in 2007 about the noise, harassment, and petty crime I witnessed on a daily basis from my office at the Fithian building (629 State). I emailed many on the city council to no avail - to no response even. Only one council member felt enough civic duty, perhaps, to respond to my grievances. I met with said council member, now 7 years ago, and had my concerns not only as a citizen, but Downtown Association member, and Downtown employer finally heard and I led an impromptu guided tour of the deteriorating situation at the lawless enclave by Lot 10's back entrance. Yet nothing ever changed. It so shamefully has been allowed to proliferate, no wonder it is out of control.

This haven of illegal activity has been known to the SBPD, as in the many years since 2007, I have continually called to complain and to report the brazenly conspicuous criminal activity occurring on our most frequented of streets.

There's so much crime that occurs in the alleyway between Blush and Urban Outfitters, leading to the State St. entrance of Lot 10 that I've called the SBPD on countless occasions to report highly intoxicated "travelers" loitering on and around the steps leading into the lot, as well as to report the blatant drug use in full public view.

Upon leaving my office, which in the winter is sometimes as dark as the dead of night, I made many a nervous walk to my car in Lot 10, as I passed an enormous amount of drug use and possibly drunk but definitely disorderly "travelers". I have even called the SBPD to report an unresponsive man, who in all appearances was deceased or close thereto, on the steps leading to Lot 10. I have called the SBPD sometimes on a daily basis to report such illegal activity yet no action was ever taken. Out of concerns for personal safety, I began to take the less direct route around the Verizon store through the stairwell that never ceases to wreak of fresh human urine rather than to assume the personal risk of walking alone and in the dark through such lawlessness.

Considering the fact that there is a small army of motorcycle traffic cops who seemingly spend all day writing tickets in that particular lot, especially during the SBIFF, it's amazing that none seem to venture beyond its walls down to the conspicuously crime-infested refuge that lies at the bottom of Lot 10's westward steps.

I am both thankful that Cam is finally taking action on this ever-exacerbating issue but profoundly concerned that it takes such a ridiculously long time to address a known hotbed of crime in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara. Through inaction, this has been allowed to occur. It's almost as if community safety and crime prevention are secondary goals to the SBPD, second only to iron-fisted enforcement of jaywalking (really?!) and a barrage of minor traffic infractions so aggressively pursued in our city lots.

The SBPD has failed to properly react to the community at large.

ksba (anonymous profile)
March 24, 2014 at 7:58 p.m. (Suggest removal)

ksba - I agree with your comments and it is the Police Chief and his inexperienced staff (lack of leadership) that are failing our city. Was it only because Biden may have driven through this area that its problems were finally addressed? We will soon know. Will needed enforcement in the area continue or will the vagrants control this area?

whatsinsb (anonymous profile)
March 25, 2014 at 9:07 a.m. (Suggest removal)

We are experiencing the logical outcome of our societal behavior: parents too busy to raise children who grow up without a moral compass from their elders, corporations too greedy and stupid to pay a living wage, banks that cheated their clients out of their homes, a for profit medical industry for which pseudo "healthcare" is just the means to a financial end, school bureaucracies too ensconced to actually educate kids and universities too expensive for most, "celebrities" who endorse a reckless and irresponsible lifestyle, a corrupt government that has lost the faith of the people, and the disappearance of a free and independent press.
There is no reason to tolerate antisocial behavior from these "travelers", but why are we quietly acquiescing to all the other crap going on? These out of control kids are just the very tip of a very ugly iceberg.

blackpoodles (anonymous profile)
March 25, 2014 at 9:44 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Drugs, Alcohol, and Lib's... That's why I moved.

rycuff (anonymous profile)
March 25, 2014 at 7:46 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Drugs, Alcohol, and Lib's... That's why I moved.

rycuff (anonymous profile)
March 25, 2014 at 7:46 p.m.

...To, or from Santa Barbara?

billclausen (anonymous profile)
March 25, 2014 at 8:51 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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