Quit calling Santa Barbara “paradise.” Santa Barbara is not paradise; it’s our home. Especially now, after two major disasters that have caused death and massive destruction, Mother Nature has once again proved that she has no prejudice; every demographic has been impacted by the Thomas Fire and the Montecito mudslides.
Do events like this happen in paradise? I don’t think so. We have been enduring a prolonged drought that is killing off many trees throughout the community. Natural habitats, local species, and animals are all struggling to adjust. With the potential of more severe rain events, the continued drought, and the inevitability of a massive earthquake, Santa Barbara is quite vulnerable.
Surely, our natural beauty and breathtaking vistas remain attractive. However, over the last 35 years, Santa Barbara has worn the mantle of a golden paradise and tourist destination, resulting in a real estate market where prices are 70 percent greater than the national average; a deflated commercial corridor along State Street; congested streets, with a freeway that chugs in 30,000 commuters a day (so much for the environmental capital of the world); zero percent rental availability for working families, and a bustling homeless population. Is this really paradise?
As well, political participation in this town, like everywhere else in America, is horrible. Policies and ordinances have been approved by a social class of board and commission members who are linked to elected officials. City administrators stay in the background, orchestrating the bureaucracy that mostly benefits our local oligarchy.
In the face of our recent disasters and at the height of the iniquities across our community, good and decent people have stepped up to raise money, volunteer, provide food and shelter, and donate a variety of necessities so that those most affected can still call Santa Barbara home.
Being a resident with seven generations of ancestors who have called Santa Barbara home, I have an infinity of love and pride for this community. However, in recent decades, things have changed to the point where families can’t afford to live here, public schools are falling apart, and low- to moderate-income people have no to little quality of life. We have a new Latina mayor who promises change but has no plan to make it happen. So we have to be aware and hold to account our elected leadership like never before.
The marginalization of Santa Barbarans does not holistically fit with the idea that Santa Barbara is a paradise. Santa Barbara is just like any other town in America, with mom-and-pop shops, children walking and taking the bus to school, seniors looking for social outlets, and families looking for positive things to do. If we continue to treat Santa Barbara as this lofty paradise in order to attract tourists and be a playground for the wealthy, then we will continue to ignore the values and basic principles of what it means to live in a genuine American city. The recent events proved that Santa Barbara has to put its pants on like everybody else and that no source of money or ideology can save us from a natural disaster.
Santa Barbara is not paradise, folks. This is a town with working-class people and families that struggle alongside those who want to pretend they do not exist. Mother Nature, regrettably, has now evened the playing field a bit. She’s turned the idea of a paradise into a nightmare, also proving that we better recognize who we are as an entire community versus putting all our cards under an ever-present sun.