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I went for a bike ride this morning, what’s become something of a daily ritual to maintain my sanity during the ongoing shelter-in-place order. As I crested the 101 overpass at Los Carneros, I stopped for a moment, amazed at what I saw: dozens of cars per minute flowing out of, and more worryingly, into our community. Where are all these people going? Surely the entirety of the “essential” working population of our region doesn’t commute from elsewhere.
In these troubling times, the greater Santa Barbara area should have an ace up its sleeve when it comes to protecting its citizenry: geographic isolation. Hemmed between the mountains and the ocean, our narrow strip of land between Carpinteria and Goleta is accessible by just one major freeway (US-101) and two minor state roads (CA-154 and 150). Citizens are implored to stay in our homes in order to stem the spread of COVID-19, yet our elected officials allow these arteries to remain open, unchecked, allowing for continued flow of people and potentially pathogens into our region. I’m not sure if this is incompetence or some misguided demonstration of misguided statewide solidarity, but I, for one, believe that it is time we as a region look out for ourselves. Nationally, this crisis how shown that the more distantly the decision-making is removed from an affected community, the less effective that decision-making becomes at addressing unique local needs. It’s much more difficult to turn a cruise ship than a speed boat. And so I implore out local political leadership to take control of this situation and make the smart decision for the people they were elected to serve. Close the 154 and 150 as well as all of the exits along the 101 between Rincon and Cathedral Oaks to all but essential traffic.
This proposal is not heartless, but pragmatic. Just as we are not inviting even our closest friends into our homes, we should not be inviting our friends to the North and South into Santa Barbara. Limiting access to our community from outside would create a second layer of protection, beyond our personal isolation measures, which seem to be working thus far. As of Sunday afternoon, there are 57 confirmed COVID-19 cases in our area, up 20 from 37 a week ago. For context, the previous week saw a gain of 28 cases from 9 on 3/22 to 37 on 3/29. We may be rounding the top of the curve locally. It is time for our officials to step up and help ensure no new cases are being imported. The sooner they do, the sooner the citizens of the greater Santa Barbara area may be able to see a light at the end of this tunnel.