The recently formed Milpas Community Association hit State Street with a citywide march that started at the Santa Barbara train station and ended with a rally at City Hall on October 30.
West Downtown activist and MCA member, Sharon Byrne, led the march of nearly 200 business owners, residents and community members while chanting, “Santa Barbara: it’s our town! What do we want? Safety now!”
The march attracted tourists, residents and store and restaurant owners out onto the sidewalks. Flyers calling for community action were distributed. Local police enforcement was present to ensure demonstrators reached City Hall safely.
“Thank you Santa Barbara police officers, we love you!” yelled one demonstrator. Over a megaphone, another demonstrator said, “We love our cops and we want more of them now.”
Upon reaching City Hall, Byrne took over the microphone. After thanking Santa Barbara City Council Members Dale Francisco and Michael Self for supporting their cause, Byrne kicked off the rally.
“You know [Santa Barbara] is not a safe city when you see business owners, residents and even out-of-uniform police officers gathering on a Saturday morning,” said Byrne. “That’s when you know we have a real problem.”
She reminded the crowd of recent bouts of crime that erupted in the Milpas area, such as the fatal beating of George Ied and the assault of Madam Lu Chinese Restaurant’s owner, who says that after being attacked, she feels unsafe in the neighborhood and wants to close her restaurant early each day.
Sergeant Mike McGrew was greeted by cheers when he took the mic. “We want to support you; we know how bad it is out there,” he said. “We’re doing our best, keeping you safe, but you’re right. We don’t have enough cops,” he added.
Alan Bleeker, head of the MCA, wielded a textbook-sized report that was to be presented to City Hall. “We’re fed up with too much violence,” he said. “We see this violence every day. We need more cops. It’s time for our city government to put their money where their mouth is,” he yelled.
Demonstrators voiced concerns about homelessness, crimes related to the homeless, Measure T and the abundance of marijuana dispensaries in the Milpas area. Many said that crime escalates around those dispensaries.
But it isn’t a full-on crusade against the homeless or Casa Esperanza. Lendell “Shopping Cart Ray” McDowell, who recently passed away, was mentioned in a positive light.
“He was a fixture in West Beach and the waterfront,” said one protestor. “He was a nice guy that didn’t seem to bother anyone. He reinforced my belief that we cannot classify all homeless into one category.”
The problem lies with “career homeless”: those who regularly break the law by trespassing, camping illegally, exposing themselves to children and in effect, drive customers away from local businesses.
John Dixon, co-owner of Tri-County Produce, reminded protestors and bystanders of the 472 percent increase in different types of crimes.
“Things need to change, not just on Milpas Street, but all over,” said Dixon. “Changes need to be made, first and foremost for public peace and safety, and for the general welfare and comfort of the neighborhood, residents and businesses on Milpas and other parts of Santa Barbara. We will also help those in need, but first and foremost our safety is most important,” he said.
MCA Vice President Sebastian Aldana and his wife Norma are also chiefly concerned with public peace and safety of the Eastside neighborhoods.
“We want to live in ‘the Santa Barbara’, where safety is apparent and my neighborhood is clean,” Norma Aldana said. “It’s like the Eastside is Santa Barbara’s adopted stepchild and we’re dumped with all the city’s problems. We’re the only ones with a shelter and kitchen for the homeless. If the other communities in Santa Barbara share the weight, it would be better,” she added.
“We’re going to take steps to make this right,” said Sebastian Aldana. “We do street clean ups as much as possible. In one year, I bet you we’ll have the cleanest neighborhood, or at least, most improved in all of Santa Barbara.”