THE OTHER WHITE MEAT: I caught up with Lori Gaskin, Santa Barbara City College’s Major Domo Numero Uno, shortly after her $288 college construction bond measure — a k a Measure S — went down to stinging defeat two weeks ago. Understandably, she was not happy. Of the 11 community college bond measures on the ballot statewide this November, eight passed. Hers, conspicuously, was not among them. Cuesta College up in San Luis Obispo had asked voters there for even more money than Gaskin had, and S.L.O. residents — all of them wearing shorts, sandals, and white socks — happily trudged off to the polls to vote a resounding yes. If Gaskin has a chicken bone perpetually stuck in her throat on the question of Measure S, there’s reason. “The electorate has spoken,” she said several times. Yes, but what the voters meant exactly — and what language they were speaking — remains up for grabs. Gaskin, who got her PhD in the geology of fluvial morphology, protested she lacked the professional chops necessary to interpret the decidedly angry results.
But I, having earned a BA in history — though just barely — feel no such reticence. In hindsight, Measure S was undoubtedly doomed from the start. For starters, 2014 was precisely the year not to ask voters for anything. Given the utter lack of compelling showdowns — the governor’s race was a slam dunk, the rest were who-cares — only the most knee-jerk, die-hard voters showed up. And they are a notoriously grumpy, churlish, and perverse bunch. Imagine a mix between restless leg syndrome and rigor mortis, and you get the vibe. It’s worth noting that Santa Barbara voters overwhelmingly rejected a bed-tax increase in unincorporated areas that would have generated $1.5 million a year from the pockets of out-of-town visitors. That’s pain-free, soak-the-tourist dollars! Two years ago, by contrast, four similar measures were overwhelmingly approved.
Certainly, Measure P — the anti-fracking measure — didn’t help. Not only did P get overwhelmingly creamed, but it brought out the sort of truculent just-say-no conservative crowd that normally doesn’t vote for fear of getting called up later for jury duty. But you can only blame Measure P for so much. Gaskin and SBCC got seriously Elliot Rodgered. That’s the psycho creep who hit the streets of Isla Vista, this May, locked and loaded after having stabbed his roommates close to 100 times each. Rodger would function as the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back when it came to Isla Vista’s expanding dark side. Rodger made it impossible to pretend I.V. was just kids being kids. This time around, the post-mortem hand-wringing would include SBCC, too. In seriously big numbers, SBCC students have been moving to I.V. in search of the notoriously cramped unsafe housing for which Isla Vista has long been infamous. The screaming success of SBCC — it will forever be known as the best city college in the country — has also become its curse. The growing number of out-of-state and out-of-country students moving to Santa Barbara to attend SBCC has taken a serious toll on the area housing market. City Hall is getting its ear seriously bent about the Isla Vistification of the Mesa and Lower Westside. And with intense housing demand — fueled by city college enrollments — chasing limited supply, Santa Barbara rents are spiking even more dramatically than the stock market. That it took the local Democratic Party three tries before its embarrassed leadership could secure an endorsement of Measure S speaks volumes.
All this is of broad interest and impact. From here on out, what we talk about when we think we’re arguing about politics will pretty much be education funding. How many people will really be affected when former friends and lib-Dem allies Helene Schneider, Das Williams, and Salud Carbajal go after each other with sharpened knives in the political food fight of the century? Not nearly as many as those with a stake in the outcome the $360 million bond measure the Santa Barbara school district intends to drop on voters next year.
As widely reported, Governor Jerry Brown just cake-walked his way to a historic fourth term without breaking a sweat. But even so, the world is decidedly not Brown’s oyster. UC president Janet Napolitano — former head of Homeland Security, former Arizona governor, and certified 800-pound gorilla in her own right — threw down on Brown just one day after the election, announcing she was jacking tuition for UC students 5 percent a year for five years. Brown, a notorious tightwad, had pledged to increase spending for the UC system 4 percent a year for two years, but only if tuition were kept the same. Napolitano has called Brown’s bluff, demanding Brown cough up an extra $100 million if he wants her to go away. For Santa Barbara, this showdown has a big trickle-down effect. The higher UC tuitions go, the more students SBCC will have. Why spend $12,000-$15,000 a year (that’s just tuition) for the first two years at a UC school when you can attend SBCC for $1,200? For those already up in arms about the community-wide impacts of SBCC, this translates to more migraines for Gaskin. And the Brown-Napolitano face-off has already inflicted collateral damage on UCSB chancellor Henry Yang. Yang, it turns out, was one of four chancellors that Napolitano and the regents quietly gave a 20 percent pay hike to late this September. This brought Yang’s pay up from $324,000 — admittedly paltry by UC standards — to $400,000. Given that the size of this increase is more than most people make in a year, Napolitano did Yang few favors in the PR department. Perhaps Yang can deflect the rage by pointing out how UCLA football coach Jim Mora makes $3.5 million a year and $1 million more on top of that if the Bruins have a winning season. Hey, if UCLA beats USC this weekend, it will all be worth it. But the greatest damage Napolitano inflicted was to herself. When Brown and Napolitano hit the proverbial mattresses, all the liberal Dem opportunist-populist-poseurs (okay, that’s a little harsh) lining up behind Brown will be waving the bloody shirt of the chancellors’ 20 percent pay increase. And guess what? They won’t be wrong.
Education — it’s the other white meat.