MINDING YOUR P’s and S’s: It may well be the case that money can’t buy love — or even happiness — but in the field of politics, it can be counted on to secure the next best thing: elections. As reporter Lyz Hoffman chronicles elsewhere in this issue, the fight over Measure P — the anti-steam-injection oil-drilling ballot measure — has set new land speed records when it comes to campaign spending. If area obscenity laws still had any teeth, California’s oil industry would have been found guilty of pornography a long time ago, having shelled out nearly $8 million thus far in a relentless campaign exaggeration, misinformation, and other variants of the wet-your-pants hysteria. The Oil Industry insists that Measure P is part of a creeping global conspiracy to shut down all oil production everywhere, starting right here in Santa Barbara. If only that were true. Sadly, it ain’t. The Big Irony is that if the Oil Industry had agreed to spend even a small fraction of its anti-P campaign budget to mitigate and offset the greenshouse gases produced — in alarming profusion — by cyclic steam injection wells, there would never have been a Measure P. When you cast your ballot, keep in mind that cyclic steaming generates about four times the volume of greenhouse gases that traditional oil-extraction technologies do. That’s why the Climate Change crowd is so up in arms. But in the first test case, Santa Maria Energy — that’s the company with the honeycomb corporate logo whose muckety-mucks liken the energy-intensive technology to popping one’s honey into the microwave so it can be smoothly spread onto one’s toast — had unleashed a fecal firestorm of Biblical proportions when county supervisors required such mitigations take place. The total cost of such offsets, if I recall, was a few hundred thousand bucks. In the context of the massive industrial operations envisioned by Santa Maria Energy, that doesn’t qualify even as chump change. If Pratt et al really want to squawk about paying a marginal amount for cleaner air, then maybe he shouldn’t produce honey so hard it has to be nuked first. If Measure P loses as prognosticators predict, proponents should figure out what they could have done better, lick their wounds, and then prepare to do battle two years hence when the presidential contest will bring to the polls vast numbers of environmentally minded voters.
The other ballot measure giving me fits is Measure S, a $288 million construction bond for City College. In a more perfect world, The College — as it’s known — would have waited two years before unleashing this on South Coast voters. In that time, Lori Gaskin — the whirling dervish running The College — would have made a much clearer case how that money will be spent, why it’s needed, and far more importantly, how she and The College will be reaching out to the surrounding neighborhoods to address the serious negative impacts the school’s dramatic growth is inflicting. Measure S, I am told, will probably pass. City College is, after all, a genuinely awesome educational operation, and Gaskin is likewise a genuinely awesome administrator seized by a genuine zeal for City College’s educational mission. I worry, however, she’s only just beginning to genuinely understand the hardships her college is causing. Gaskin is to be applauded for restarting the Neighborhood Task Force to explore these issues. But given the serious magnitude of the problems involved, the public rollout should have been a much grander production, more on the scale of a full symphony orchestra on speed rather than a few folky hipster street musicians playing for spare change. Hey, it’s a start. In the meantime, owners of apartment complexes near The College wake up every day having just won the lottery. Where the norm used to be two tenants sharing a room, each paying about $500, the new reality is now three beds to a room at $750 per bed. Ka-Ching! With a vacancy rate hovering at 0.6 percent, that’s a serious ouch. That a number of large rental complexes on the lower West Side have been taken over entirely by international students enrolled at the Kaplan foreign language school, which, it turns out, pays City College $600,000 for campus space, only exacerbates the town-n-gown tensions. According to Task Force member Beebe Longstreet, police reported 160 calls for service from one of these complexes in the past 18 months. Most involved late-night loud parties. The noise ordinance in San Luis Obispo carries fines as high as $350. Maybe Santa Barbara should follow suit. Maybe it’s also time, as longtime housing agitator Mickey Flacks suggested, that City Hall require landlords to pay relocation assistance for tenants forced to move because of escalating rents. When Longstreet asked a couple of City College students living next door to cool it with the free-flowing profanity when grandkids were around, they reportedly dropped the C-bomb on her. Not good. Not good, either, when Task Force member Mark Taylor came home one night to discover that a City College student living down Oceano Avenue from him had chucked a rock through his front window. The student, it turns out, was miffed because he’d been braced earlier that day by other neighbors pissed about his reckless driving. Having to get to class on time, the student didn’t have time for a throw down. So he came back later armed for bear. Turns out he thought the person confronting him about his driving lived in Taylor’s home. Oops. Wrong House. Hey, to err is human, right? Clearly, City College can’t fix everything alone. But Gaskin needs to be as passionate about finding shared solutions as she is about her school’s mission. I’d suggest she use some of the $288 million in Measure S Prize Patrol Money to launch a major Reach Out campaign. For starters, she should hire a big hall somewhere downtown and invite everyone to a Big League gripe fest. If nothing else, it could be a helluva party. Maybe there’d be so much noise we’d have to call the cops. In the meantime, see you on Election Day, and don’t forget to vote.