Tenants Cry, Supes Pound Chest

Mass Evictions Still Loom for I.V. Renters

by Nick Welsh

There was much hand-wringing and chest-thumping by the Santa
Barbara County Supervisors early Tuesday morning, but at the end of
the day, they concluded they lacked the legal authority to provide
the relief sought by the 55 low-income, Spanish-speaking families
now being evicted from the Cedarwood Apartments in Isla Vista. The
new owner, Conquest Student Housing, has made it clear it intends
to replace the families with student renters. Tenants were given
their 30-day notices about 40 days ago; thus far, however, the new
owners have not taken the necessary next steps to initiate eviction

Cedarwood tenants and social justice advocates associated with
PUEBLO — 22 in all — beseeched the supervisors to file legal
motions on their behalf on the grounds the evictions were illegal
because they targeted families for removal. (In California, it’s
against the law for landlords to discriminate against people with
children.) Such an action, they argued, would buy tenants — some of
whom had been living at Cedarwood for 14 years — time to find new
quarters and argue their case in court. “We’re the people who work
in the restaurants where the students eat,” said tenant Maria
Calzado. “We’re the ones who clean the bathrooms they use. We’re
the ones who clean their tables. We are not extra; we’re part of
the community.” Tenant Guadalupe Macias was so overcome with
emotion that she could not speak at all.

Third District Supervisor Brooks Firestone — who represents Isla
Vista — came under fire from some speakers who all but accused him
of doing too little. “Will you stand with the families or will you
stand with the people evicting them?” demanded UCSB student Joel
Rodriguez-Flores, who served as translator for many of the tenants
who addressed the board. Firestone noted with exasperation his
inability to determine the actual identities of the new owners, and
mentioned — with almost equal exasperation — that none of the
tenants had taken advantage of an offer tendered by the new owners’
attorney to give some tenants extra time based on need.

Supervisor Salud Carbajal — who praised Firestone for working
tirelessly behind the scenes — seemed especially eager that the
county do all it could for the families. “If 55 families were
displaced by a natural disaster, we’d be jumping through hoops,” he
said. Equally troubled was Supervisor Joe Centeno, who argued the
issue was not so much one of laws but of morals. Normally a staunch
defender of property rights, Centeno asked, “Is it really right to
take poor people who can’t afford to hire their own attorney and do
a mass eviction on them?” Supervisor Joni Gray called the evictions
“a travesty” and “a horrible thing,” but also took the occasion to
castigate slow-growthers and no-growthers in the Goleta Valley.
“Their vision of their community is no more housing,” she said.

Despite the supervisors’ strongly expressed feelings, County
Counsel Shane Stark was equally strong in his judgment that the
supervisors lacked the legal standing to petition the courts for
injunctive relief. If the supervisors thought the new owners were
involved in unfair business practices or guilty of discrimination,
he advised, they should work with the District Attorney to pursue
the matter. But, he cautioned, discrimination could not be legally
established until the current tenants had been evicted and
replaced. An exasperated Supervisor Susan Rose responded, “Are you
telling me that the threat of mass evictions doesn’t constitute an
act of discrimination?”

Rose’s passion won applause from the crowd, but did not sway
Stark. By the meeting’s end, Supervisor Carbajal could barely
contain himself, saying it was “ridiculous, ludicrous, and
shameful” that the property owners would not meet with county
representatives. “I’m personally going to drive to Los Angeles to
meet with whoever answers at Conquest Student Housing,” he vowed.
If he does, perhaps his experience will be better than that of the
team of 11 tenants and PUEBLO activists who tried the same journey
last Saturday. Once there, they encountered someone they thought to
be an owner in the Conquest Student Housing parking lot. They soon
found themselves surrounded by 15 Los Angeles police officers, at
which point the probable owner drove away.


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