SBCAN’s Environmental and Social Justice Advocacy Impacted by COVID-19

Some Activities Canceled, Others Modified, but Dedicated Team Perseveres

SBCAN Associate Director Jeanne Sparks and SBCAN Executive Director Ken Hough | Credit: Courtesy

Santa Barbara County Action Network (SBCAN) has long played an important role in supporting environmental and social justice issues through its funding and organizing of advocacy and educational programs. Recently, it has helped support reporters covering such issues at this publication.

Created in 2002 by a group of 140 community activists and leaders, SBCAN has worked to bridge the gap between environmental and social justice issues and to help unify progressive activists and organizations, whose efforts were, at the time, fragmented.

As with so many organizations in Santa Barbara, COVID-19 has caused SBCAN to cancel or postpone some of its activities, though, according to its Executive Director Ken Hough, it will continue to soldier on with their pressing environmental and social justice projects. 

One casualty, however, might be SBCAN’s Youth Arts Alive Program, which offers free music, dance, and theater summer classes for youth in Santa Maria, though alternative plans are in the works. Also, the tremendously popular program Santa Maria Open Streets, which SBCAN helped organize as a way to bring people from all parts of the community together has, according to Hough, been postponed to the fall, though the pandemic makes that later date uncertain too.

One big change is how SBCAN participates in public rallies, which normally are held on downtown street corners. The last one was outside the Santa Maria City Council chambers, where people stayed in cars and honked horns while the Council was considering a moratorium on evictions of renters affected by the pandemic. The Council ended up adopting the moratorium for the duration of the pandemic.

Though SBCAN does not normally provide direct services to individuals, these are not normal times. When a nurse was asked to leave the room she was renting because other renters there were afraid she may be contagious, SBCAN issued an action alert. Several of its members responded to help her find housing. 

Despite the pandemic, SBCAN is continuing to work on restricting oil production in the county. It played a vital role in opposing the expansion of drilling in Cat Canyon, the restarting of ExxonMobil’s offshore operation, and the hauling of crude oil by tanker truck from Gaviota to points north. 
More recently, it is putting together a response to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service General Conservation Plan, which would make it easier for oil and gas projects to clear mitigation hurdles. Their efforts to promote wind and other alternative energy projects, to protect open space and farmland from urban development, and to develop affordable housing are also ongoing. For more info about SBCAN, go to sbcan.org.

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