Signs, Signs, Everywhere There’s (No) Signs

Anti-Dispensary Activists Cry Foul over Theft of Political Lawn Ornaments

Sharon Byrne, second from left, speaks during the press conference yesterday with councilmembers Michael Self and Dale Francisco looking on.
Tyler Hayden

At the rate they’re disappearing, any remaining “Yes on T” signs will become collectors’ items, joked Santa Barbara City Councilmember Dale Francisco.

Claiming that 90 percent of their anti-dispensary placards have been stolen — and pointing to the fact that yet another has been defaced — a group of activists and elected officials held a press conference yesterday to denounce the “marijuana evangelists” who they say are so recklessly pilfering property in an attempt to defeat Measure T, the ballot initiative that would ban all medical cannabis stores in the city.

The anti-pot shop contingent gathered in front of Sebastian Aldana’s East Cota home where, according to community activist Sharon Byrne, three of his “Yes on T” signs were recently yanked out of the ground. Describing his house’s location as “Ground Zero of the Eastside’s dispensary zone” because of its close proximity to three storefronts, Byrne said Aldana is one of the brave Santa Barbara souls who won’t be intimidated by the criminals who blew into our seaside hamlet when city councilmembers passed regulation allowing dispensaries to exist.

Sharon Byrne, center, speaks during the press conference yesterday held in front of the home of Sebastian Aldana, far right.
Tyler Hayden

Aldana said he’s already replaced his signs. Mari Mender, who held her own press conference two weeks ago on the same topic and attended this one, said she quickly put hers back up as well. She even tried to tie one down with rope, but it was gone again the next morning. The most recently vandalized sign on display yesterday, planted in the yard of a house at the corner of Hollister Avenue and Puente Drive, had its “Yes” filled in with red pen and the word “No” written over it in black. “We are not going to be silent while our signs are stolen, set on fire, and defaced,” promised Byrne.

Byrne said she and the campaign team are exasperated by the number of signs they’ve had to replace, claiming that nine out of 10 distributed placards have disappeared and that only three houses that have “Yes on T” signs have not asked for replacements. Representatives, though, could only point to 20 specific lost signs, saying no formal tallies have been conducted. Of the 200 signs that were initially printed (at $4 a pop), more than half were distributed within a week, said Byrne. But they’ve had to keep churning them out, sometimes replacing the same sign as many as six times. No more will be printed, however, as the November 2 election date is so near.

According to Byrne and Mender, people have more than once spotted the perpetrators in the act. They’ve allegedly become so brazen as to carry out their mischief during daylight hours because, as Mender explained, some residents have taken to hiding their signs indoors at night. There’s not one demographic that can be blamed, said Byrne, as “two Latinos” on West Cota Street have been spotted stealing signs and a “middle-aged woman” has been seen running around on East Canon Perdido Street snatching them up as well.

Oftentimes, elaborated Mender, the perps will put their car in neutral as they approach a house, a person will jump out and grab a sign, and they’ll then fire the car back up and speed off without skipping a beat. No one has been caught or prosecuted, said police spokesperson Lt. Paul McCaffrey, as there aren’t a lot of leads as far as identification.

Mari Mender at the press conference held two weeks ago after two of her signs were burned.
Tyler Hayden (file)

Reiterating much of what he said during the press conference held in the wake the the Mender sign-burning incident, Councilmember Francisco said it’s no surprise something like this is happening, as dispensaries inevitably bring with them a criminal element that is out to terrorize everyday citizens. And it’s the Regular Joe, he said, who is fighting for a ban but suffering the consequences. “Yes on Measure T folks are the ordinary folks of Santa Barbara,” he said. “They’re parents, they’re teachers — they’re just normal people. The other side,” he went on, “are marijuana evangelists and marijuana entrepreneurs.”

Byrne concurred, explaining that contributions put toward the effort to ban dispensaries citywide have come from “average citizens” who really don’t want marijuana in the city. On the flip side, she said, the opposition’s money has come from “Marijuana Inc. — the marijuana stores here in town that want to keep making money,” she said. So far, those against Measure T have raised $11,260; supporters have raised $6,750.

Also in attendance yesterday were Councilmembers Michael Self and Frank Hotchkiss. The fact that they showed up to support their constituents, said Byrne, says a lot about their character and dedication to the issue and that the decision to come was in no way self-serving. “There’s no benefit for [them],” she said. “They’re getting tomatoes thrown at them for [attending press conferences like these]. They don’t look like heroes for this.”

Self recounted a conversation she had with Superintendent Brian Sarvis, who purportedly told her that teachers, more and more, are finding kids smoking weed on campus during school hours. “Now, the people on council and others who are supporting marijuana would have triple backflips if the kids were smoking cigarettes,” she said. “There’s a disconnect there.”

Byrne also spoke about the issue of young pupils smoking pot. She referenced a report recently presented to the Board of Supervisors by members of the Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse that stated high-schoolers in Santa Barbara use marijuana at a rate 50 percent higher than their peers in the rest of California. She also claimed to have seen two girls under the age of 18 leaving a dispensary the other day.

“What is behind that?” Byrne asked rhetorically. “Could it possibly be that by having dispensaries, by having the marijuana culture going on here, that kids are getting the message it’s okay and permissible and they should do more of it?”

The city has strayed far from what voters intended when they passed the Compassionate Use Act 14 years ago, argued Byrne, as dispensaries have only promoted youth drug use and not helped sick people safely obtain their medicine. If someone is indeed sick, has a permit, and benefits from the effects of ingesting marijuana, Byrne said, they should either grow the weed themselves, have their caregiver do it, or join a collective and obtain their prescription that way. Anything beyond that, she went on, is illegal and shouldn’t be allowed.

“If we’re the only ones allowing marijuana stores, what are we attracting to the city?” she asked, referencing the fact that Santa Barbara is the only city between Thousand Oaks and Santa Cruz that has medical marijuana dispensaries. “All you need to do to answer that question is go on where out-of-towners write reviews of our dispensaries, and the highs they got, and how great it is now that they’re on the highway back home,” Byrne said.

“That is, again, not something that we want to encourage.”


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