Think Before You Ink

Erasing Tattoos, Wiping Out Shareholders

ERASING TATTOOS: The room was crowded with teens and young adults, there to change their lives, get a second chance, and erase unwanted traces of the past.

I visited Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital’s Liberty Program clinic on Sunday, talking to some of those who quietly waited to have tattoos removed by laser, a process that they start lining up for as early at 6 a.m. Their motivation: to rid themselves of gang-related skin drawings and other problem tattoos so they can move on with their young lives, without stigma. “I’ve seen lives changed,” volunteer David Nageotte told me. “They’re successful

Barney Brantingham

“Think before you ink,” advised Nicholas of Santa Maria, 22, as he had his garish non-gang tattoos worked on by RN Lyda Martin. “I wished I would have thought about it more. You don’t realize it will be there forever.”

So why exactly is he having them removed? “I’m trying to clean up for better job opportunities,” he said. “Unforunately, society judges you.” He said he’s a band vocalist and a business major at Allan Hancock College.

Jessica, 20, of Santa Barbara, sat having a tattoo removed from her left breast. “It was a boyfriend’s name,” she explained. “He was in a gang. I’m not with him anymore. I was in a different state of mind.” It’s a matter of self-esteem, she said. “It’s not something I feel comfortable with now.” She faces six to eight more treatments.

A mother arrived with her slim, quiet, minor son. Even though one tattoo spelled his mother’s name, it, and his girlfriend’s name, must come off, the mother said. “First, it was done without my permission, and second, he understands that it would hurt his chances for a job. “He’s doing this willingly.”

The tattoos were done by his friend, using homemade instruments, a practice that carries a risk of infection and serious diseases due to non-sterile needles.

“I’m glad the program is offering this,” his mother told me, “so he’ll have a second chance.”

Patients I watched being treated by Martin, deftly using the laser instrument, said they felt little or no pain. That’s because, beforehand, skin around the tattoo had been numbed by lidocaine anesthetic injections. I watched RN Dee Kunin gently apply it to a teen girl’s back around the artfully drawn figure of a woman.

“I got it when I was 16,” the teen said. “Now people look at it and judge me by the tattoo,” thinking she’s in a gang.

There’s no charge for the treatments, which might cost $300 to $500 commercially, but patients must put in 10 hours of voluntary community service for each treatment. St. Francis Foundation provides the funding. For more information, call 563-9294.

WINNERS AND LOSERS: An angel from Dallas has apparently rescued the parent of Santa Barbara Bank & Trust from sure death, but its loyal shareholders find themselves in investor hell.

And U.S. taxpayers who kicked in $181 million two years ago to help the struggling bank will now lose around $145 million of it if the Texas deal announced last week is approved by feds.

The only apparent winners are the bank’s top officers, who presided over the mess and who continue to draw fat salaries (and who may be able to escape on golden parachutes), and Texas billionaire Gerald J. Ford, who made a bargain-basement deal to buy control of the faltering 50-year-old bank, paying $500 million for 91 percent of the shares.

Ford makes a practice of buying distressed banks, upgrading them, and selling at a profit. And he didn’t shell out that kind of money to keep losing $80 million a quarter, as SBB&T just reported for the first three months of 2010. How he intends to put the bank in black ink remains to be seen. The bank lost $421 million last year and reportedly is saddled with nearly $2.6 billion in toxic loans.

Observers expect Ford to shake it up, bring in top professional management, and, at some point, hand pink slips to CEO George Leis and other top officers.

The remaining stockholders will see their share in the company reduced from 100 percent to about 2 percent. Not only that, but they’ve watched stock prices fall from around $30 to less than $2 this week. “Shareholders get virtually wiped out, but are being given a right to buy Pacific Capital [Bancorp, the bank’s parent company] at 20 cents a share, the same price at which Ford would acquire his shares,” the Wall Street Journal said.

Irwin Pomerantz stood up at the board of director’s quarterly meeting on Thursday, April 29, where the sale was announced, to say that he was one of the original investors in the bank 50 years ago. “I blame management for making serious errors,” he said. “I love the company, but I’m saddened.”

One longtime Santa Barbara family I’m aware of has seen its stock value plunge from $300,000 to a small fraction of that today. “Management incompetence,” one family member fumed. Now, with Ford providing desperately needed capital in a deal signed at 3:45 a.m., just hours before the Thursday meeting, we wait for the other shoe (or shoes) to drop.


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