A Few Fact Checks on Santa Barbara Homelessness

Nick Welsh is perhaps the only journalist left in town sympathetic to the homeless and the indigent, and I am hesitant to correct his story, but I think I should point out a couple of its errors.

(1) Nick makes me the center of the story. In point of fact, RV dwellers were well-organized and rebellious long before I came on the scene via an organization called Homes on Wheels, headed by Nancy McCraidie. The group I run, the Committee for Social Justice (CSJ), joined them back in 2005 in what was known as the HOW suit, and which resulted in a defeat for the city’s earliest attempt to bar RVs from the streets.

(2) Nick is therefore wrong to point to the futility of CSJ’s efforts. We succeeded back in 2007, when the suit was settled, and, we also back then, though everyone seems to have forgotten it, designed and brought into being the earliest version of the Safe Parking Program, which is still in existence today. We also had a hand in the development of the warming centers and, more recently, the hot weather cooling centers. Moreover, in 2009 we invited the ACLU into Santa Barbara to investigate the city’s treatment of the disabled, and this resulted in what was called the Ryden Agreement via which the city agreed to modify its behavior in relation to ticketing and housing. More important still, we seem to have recently succeeded in getting the city to modify its habit of towing RVs without prior warning at the drop of a prejudiced hat on the flimsiest of excuses — a policy that may yet, quite possibly, cost it a large sum of money should it be looked at unsympathetically by the left-leaning Ninth Circuit, where our suit has been filed.

(3) Mine has not at all been a private or lonely or solitary and heroic battle — I need to make that abundantly clear. Many of the plaintiffs in the present suit were organized not by me but a few years ago by a woman named Deb Barnes and — hold your hat — our present mayor, Cathy Murillo, who encouraged them all to appear before the council and, albeit unsuccessfully, plead their case for justice and decent treatment. The RVers were and are quite capable of speaking for themselves and, indeed, have often taken a harder line vis-à-vis the City Council than I have. Moreover, I am in this case one of about 15 plaintiffs who will determine together, in relation to their own attorney, and apart from anything I think, how to react to any settlement offered by the city or how to proceed in court.

Finally, I am not alone in anything I/we do. CSJ has a board of attorneys who confer with me and approve our activities; we years ago ran a Legal Project headed by Glen Mower, previously the head of the county’s Public Defender unit; and among my other allies in this fight were, for instance, Bob Hansen, Daniel Knapp, Don Hamilton, Ed Mannon, Will Hastings, Michele Wakin, Eve Fowler, Rob Rosenthal, Leo Federman, Joseph Allen, Roger Heroux, Ken Williams, James McGruder, Kit Tremaine, Chuck Blitz, Cath Webb, the Fund for Santa Barbara, and countless others, most of whom have moved on to higher ground (death, to be clear) or who have retired but are with me and the RVers in person or spirit, still.

(4) Nick quotes the city attorney as having said the Oversize Vehicle Ban we are contesting in court was drawn up with me in mind. My God! It should, of course, have been drawn up with the U.S. Constitution in mind as well as the federal government’s disability and property laws, but that, of course, is precisely the matter we — note, again, the word “we” — hope to have settled in the courts.

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