Mayor Cathy Murillo | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

The Santa Barbara City Council kicked off the New Year with two back-to-back marathon sessions — one regarding policing, the other on greenhouse gases.

The first one ran four hours and was spent interviewing about 30 of the 80 candidates who would like to serve on the committee that will determine the powers and focus of the civilian review board the Santa Barbara Police Department might soon have. The push for the board emerged from local Black Lives Matter protests that erupted this spring in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

The new committee — dubbed the Local Formation Commission — is expected to meet monthly over the next year. After interviewing all the applicants, the council will select 13 to serve on the commission and two others as alternatives if any of the 13 must bow out during the year. Testifying this Tuesday was a diverse group from the community. Many boasted long histories of community involvement, some as activists and others as nonprofit functionaries. A few had run for city council before; at least two of the 80 had been elected.

For the council, the final selection process in February will be a deliberation on diversity. Councilmembers asked applicants what their own experiences with law enforcement had been. When one applicant — who’d been arrested and jailed multiple times for public intoxication — reported law enforcement had treated him with respect, Mayor Cathy Murillo asked if he thought that was because he was white. He had wondered the same thing and said he hoped not.

Councilmember Alejandra Gutierrez asked candidates to define social justice. Councilmember Meagan Harmon asked what personal skills they brought to group endeavors. Councilmember Kristen Sneddon asked what cross sections of the community the committee should include. Councilmember Eric Friedman asked simply what they understood to be the charge of the new commission.

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Most said it was to evaluate other communities’ civilian review boards and determine what met the needs of Santa Barbara and its police department. But for the political urgency created by Black Lives Matter — now locally known as Healing Justice — it’s doubtful any discussion of a civilian review board would have seen the light of day in the City of Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara Police Chief Lori Luhnow. (December 2, 2019) | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

Many of the applicants spoke of strengthening the trust between the department and the community. Several spoke glowingly of the community policing philosophy embraced by Chief Lori Luhnow and her predecessor Cam Sanchez. The council will devote the better part of another meeting to interview the rest of the applicants and then get down to what many councilmembers have described as the hard work of selecting 15.

The council’s second bite off a very big apple this week involved greenlighting a proposal to effectively ban natural gas from new development built within city limits. Building structures account for roughly 40 percent of the greenhouse gases emitted within city limits. Natural gas, used for cooking and heating systems, contains large quantities of methane, which is especially volatile when it comes to climate change.

Alelia Parenteau, the city’s energy and climate manager | Credit: Nick Welsh

Southern California Gas Company and the Pipefitters Union not surprisingly opposed the idea. The Sierra Club, by the Community Environmental Council, favored it. The council got a long and loud earful from both sides Tuesday night, but Alelia Parenteau, the city’s Energy and Climate czar, argued forcefully in favor of the changes, stressing that all existing structures, businesses, or dwellings would be allowed to keep the natural gas systems they currently have and would not be required to swap out their natural gas systems for ones powered by electricity. This would only affect buildings not yet built. Electricity, she noted is increasingly reliant upon alternate energy sources like wind and solar.

Ultimately, the council voted in favor of exploring new policies that will require electricity-powered water heating, cooking, and heating systems for new developments. No final policy, however, was voted upon.

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