Permit Conditions Matter

I am a professional land use consultant, a resident of the Milpas area, and a board member of the Milpas Community Association (MCA). Our board is politically diverse, including moderates like myself, staunch conservatives, and “bleeding heart” liberals. We all share a common goal: the improvement of our neighborhood. This is why we are asking that the city compel the Casa Esperanza Homeless Center to comply with its existing Conditional Use Permit (CUP) requirements. Although a lot of other issues need to be addressed, we believe there could be real improvement if Casa Esperanza would simply do what it agreed to do in exchange for its license to operate in our neighborhood.

We delivered a copy of our CUP violation complaint to the city, and to Nick Welsh at the Santa Barbara Independent on July 2. Mr. Welsh has reported on it twice since then, although apparently he has not bothered to read it. Here’s a quick summary in plain English:

1. Casa Esperanza is out of compliance with two permit conditions:

a. Casa Esperanza is required to operate “neighborhood outreach” throughout a wide area and subject to specific requirements. It does not operate an outreach program consistent with the CUP requirements.

b. Casa Esperanza is required to operate a separate “neighborhood watch” throughout a wide area and “enforce a code of conduct.” It does not operate any form of neighborhood watch and claims that it cannot enforce a code of conduct outside its walls.

2. Casa Esperanza has added a “Jail Discharge Program” to its scope of operations. Simply put, Casa Esperanza operates as a halfway house for inmates released from the County Jail. This is not part of the scope allowed under its CUP. A modification to the CUP is required, and would be required of any other party in the city if they wanted to change the scope of their CUP.

3. Several of Casa Esperanza’s CUP conditions rely upon a bureaucratic swamp called the Milpas Action Task Force (MATF) in order to function. However MATF itself is totally dysfunctional and can’t even agree on things as simple as adopting meeting minutes, much less how to effectively address major problems that Casa Esperanza clients generate in the surrounding neighborhood.

Aside from Casa Esperanza’s failure to operate an outreach program as required by the CUP, Mr. Welsh’s July 19 article “Byrning the Candle at Both Ends” ignores the other three equally important issues identified in the MCA’s complaint. Instead he chooses to discuss issues related to Casa Esperanza’s “free lunch” program. While many terms and concepts are discussed in the MCA’s 5,852 word complaint, the words “free lunch” do not appear even once.

The MCA’s complaint is not about whether services should be provided to Santa Barbara’s homeless population. It is about whether the conditions that the city places on projects matter. In this case, the city was only able to approve operation of a major homeless shelter in the middle of a commercial and residential neighborhood because the Planning Commission relied upon conditional requirements for outreach and a neighborhood watch in order to determine that Casa Esperanza “..will not be materially detrimental to the public peace, health, safety, comfort and general welfare and will not materially affect property values in the particular neighborhood involved….”

It is critical that all “conditional uses” which require city approvals comply with conditions that the city places on their permits. More importantly, the city must hold Casa Esperanza to the same standard to which it holds all other parties: full compliance with city conditions. Instead, Casa Esperanza’s management asserts that they are subject to an unprecedented, unique, and arbitrary standard: “substantial compliance.” This isn’t a political issue, it’s a procedural issue.

Casa Esperanza appears to finally be making some effort to at least partially comply with its CUP conditions as a result of the MCA’s complaint. This has already generated limited positive impacts. However, a formal notice of violation should not be required to motivate the shelter to comply with its permit. We are optimistic the city will demand that Casa Esperanza comply with the conditions that its operators agreed to in exchange for their Conditional Use Permit, and that we will experience some improvement in the neighborhood as a result.


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