SILLY SEASON: As usual in Santa Barbara, the fight is about water. This time, it’s about how high the seawater will rise if and when Greenland’s vast prehistoric ice sheets melt as a result of global warming. A group of well-intentioned eco-agitators has decided the best way to get the public’s attention about global warming is to paint a light blue line-1,000 feet long-on Santa Barbara’s downtown streets and sidewalks showing exactly where the new shoreline would be if the water level were to increase by the projected 20 feet.
For those who haven’t seen the Light Blue Line map yet, it paints a pretty spooky picture. Time to invest in scuba gear and inflatable rafts. Given the current green-n-groovy tilt of City Hall, the mayor and City Council jumped on board by committing as much as $12,000 to get the job done. The money was to come out of the city’s public art piggy bank, which gets about $1.5 million per year. That was three weeks ago. But given the yelping from the News-Press, you’d have thought Mayor Marty Blum and the rest of the council had allowed billboards and oil derricks on State Street. The News-Press opposition should come as little surprise. We all know Santa Barbara’s only paid daily has been in a fevered state since last July, and that its editorials are propelled by a fierce personal vendetta against Mayor Marty and Councilmember Brian Barnwell. But the sense of indignation extends beyond the poisoned pages of the NP, and that surprises me.
For starters, there’s the grievance that City Hall is squandering our hard-earned tax dollars. Okay, guilty as charged. But $12,000? Compared to what City Hall wastes on other things, that’s a drop in the bucket. Where were the howls of indignation a few years back when the council decided to give the waterfront Maritime Museum an extra $500,000? Or, more recently, when the council decided to meet behind closed doors to give that failing museum a rent subsidy that not even Santa Claus could hope to match? Given that there were people warning the whole deal was a white elephant from the get-go, I’ve been perplexed by the stunning silence of the I-told-you-so choir.
What about the $100,000 contract City Hall made with political consultant John Davies to determine how downtown workers get to work? After many false starts and methodological disputes, Davies finally came up with a report that discovered half of all downtown workers took the bus, carpooled, walked, or rode their bikes to work. If these findings were actually true, Santa Barbara workers would have become the poster children for alternative transportation throughout the state. However, in actuality, the vast majority of our downtown employees drive alone to work, just like workers everywhere throughout the state. And if people want to get indignant about paying too much for services rendered, what about the green waste cans we were supposed to get for free from BFI-according to its contract with City Hall-but for which we were charged? Like a lot of other people in town, I’m still waiting for my refund.
How about the $25 million we spent on a downtown parking garage we didn’t need, which opened 18 months ago and still is only half full? And does it really make dollars and cents to spend $77.17 per night to lock up homeless and crazy people in the county jail? And that figure doesn’t count the $115 booking fee cities pay the jail just to get the inmates in the door, fingerprinted, and processed. I’m not saying there’s not a lot of money being wasted, but the $12,000 City Hall has committed for the Light Blue Line seems like the least of our problems. In fact, I’d stretch the point to argue the Light Blue Line is actually a great deal for City Hall.
The instigators behind the plan-lead by crypto-Christo, social-anthropologist Bruce Caron-are providing all the paint. They’re also providing all the labor. In fact, they’re doing 98 percent of everything. The $12,000 is to pay the costs of having city Public Works employees oversee the operation and, in a few instances, to actually set foot into dangerous intersections and apply paint brush to concrete. In the world where recycling containers are $1,350 each-with the cigarette butlers attached-and specially designed, homeless-proof park benches cost $2,500, this seems like a real steal.
What really makes the Light Blue Line the focus of such public ire is that it’s public art. Santa Barbarans love nothing better than to get their underwear in a wad over publicly funded exhibitions of visual aesthetics. If we put the “Mona Lisa” on State Street, some people would grumble that Leonardo couldn’t draw women. And who can forget last summer’s hubbub over the anti-McDonald’s sculpture deposited on State Street? The lamentations on behalf of poor Herb Peterson, Santa Barbara’s generous McDonald’s franchisee, were so long and loud that the man could bathe in all the tears. But I’ll bet you dollars to Big Macs that the downtown MickyD’s never did such brisk business. In retrospect, Herb and his buddies should have thanked City Hall for all the free advertising.
On the subject of global warming, I’d say we need all the help we can get. If some people want to paint 1,000 feet of blue line to bring home a point most of us would rather avoid, let them. New studies indicate human behavior is probably more to blame than previously imagined and that global warming is responsible for the increased number and ferocity of Atlantic hurricanes. Closer to home, we can expect to have more and more forest fires, like the 35,000 flaming acres with which firefighters are now grappling in our backcountry. And Santa Barbara’s waters have grown so suspiciously and wonderfully warm; all of a sudden, we’re seeing creatures off our coast that we’ve never seen here before, like giant squid.
Since Hollywood has yet to exploit global warming as a plot device for sensational summer blockbusters about man-eating giant squid off the coast of some quaint, self-indulgent, coastal tourist town, then I suppose we’ll have to make do with more earnest expressions of concern. Like painting a blue strip 1,000 feet long showing where Santa Barbara residents will soon park their boats. When that happens, the $12,000 price tag will seem like the least of our worries.