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HBJ, Monique Erupt on Cascarone Crackdown


Santa Barbara’s Sacramento lawmakers demanded answers and chewed out bureaucrats on Friday, after state tax agents swept down State Street threatening people selling cascarones -- Fiesta party favor eggshells filled with confetti -- for a quarter apiece.

"They were way off the reservation, and they admit it," state Senator Hannah Beth Jackson told Newsmakers, shortly after she spoke with top officials overseeing and operating the Department of Tax and Fee Administration, which carried out the egg vendor shakedown on Wednesday.

"It was a screw-up and they will be announcing that shortly," Jackson added.

“I do not understand this at all,” Assemblymember Monique Limon, who'd ordered her staff to find out who, exactly, had ordered the aggressive action (and, more importantly, why) said in a telephone interview as she was getting ready for the horse parade. “I am shaking my head.”

At a time when the Trump Administration is conducting paramilitary ICE raids on Latino and immigrant communities across the nation, the spectacle of California’s state government piling on with a surprise operation to squeeze pennies from the hands of grandmas who collect a couple wrinkled dollar bills by selling egg shells they’ve painstakingly painted all year could be a Saturday Night Live skit – if it wasn’t so callous and cruel.

“Going after someone selling a 25-cent egg or running a lemonade stand is not where we want to be creating more fear right now,” Limon said.

"These are people trying to maybe make an extra $100 a year for a couple extra meals," Jackson added.

How the deal went down. The effort by the state Department of Tax and Fee Administration, which rolled out on Wednesday afternoon and evening, came to light when a spokesman for the SBPD put out a public statement about the affair. From Josh’s story on Noozhawk, which is here:

Seven enforcement agents swarmed downtown unexpectedly on Wednesday, according to Anthony Wagner, a spokesman for the Santa Barbara Police Department.

They approached ‘maybe hundreds’ of egg vendors, and informed them that they were breaking the law and facing stiff fines, potential misdemeanors and a seizure of the eggs.

A seizure of the eggs? Seriously?

The Indy’s report, by Jean Yamamura and Nancy Rodriguez, included several pitiful interviews with vendors, who were alternately confused and terrified after being braced by authorities while doing what people trying to take advantage of Fiesta’s crowds to scrape together a few bucks have been doing for decades:

They’d been told it wasn’t fair to the state for them to be working and not paying taxes. One had driven to Ventura to get a permit as the agents had told her to, after asking her daughter to look it up on her phone. The agents had also told them to call their agency; one woman said the phone went dead when she attempted to reach the Spanish-language line. Another had gone to the library on Wednesday for help, though online searches turned up no information. Yet another had visited the police department, where no one knew about the tax agents.

No one, including the cops.

Forget Trump's tax cut - let's get Fiesta. Anthony Wagner, spokesperson for the SBPD, said in a written statement on Thursday that after officers patrolling State Street came upon the tax agents hassling the vendors, they escorted them to City Hall, where a temporary truce was worked out, as the stateys agreed to back off for a year.

The agents were officially in Santa Barbara to conduct compliance checks and enforcement on a vendor list supplied to them by financial representatives from Old Spanish Days. Through most of Wednesday they made contact with many of the non-profit vendors with sanctioned booths authorized by Fiesta.

However, when the agents were unable to find localized parking, on a whim, they drove up State Street and noticed the proliferation of possibly non-permitted confetti egg vendors lining the 300 block though 1000 block of Lower State Street. (emphasis ours).

Limon said that she first heard of the affair at Thursday night’s Celebracion de los Dignatarios, when councilmember Eric Friedman told her what had occurred.

“I was sure I’d misheard him” she told us, ”I had to ask him to repeat it three times.”

After learning of the matter, Jackson rang up Marybel Batjer, Governor Brown’s Secretary of Operations, who oversees the tax agency. Batjer said it was the first she’d heard about the matter.

“What were they thinking?” Jackson said Batjer told her, promising to get to the bottom of the matter.

A few hours later, she connected with Nicolas Maduros, director of the agency. He was embarrassed about the incident, Jackson said. After explaining to him what a cascarone, um, was, and who the folks are who sell them, Maduros said, "they had no intention to roust these people," she told us.

A few hours later, a representative of the agency sent out an email saying, “It was not our intention to alarm anyone in Santa Barbara or to single out any community, and we apologize if the department’s actions caused any misunderstanding or apprehension."

Indeed.

Jean has the complete statement here.

The perqs of hassling poor people. Perhaps one reason for widespread confusion about the crackdown is that the Department of Tax and Fee Administration is a relatively new agency. It began operations just over a year ago, part of a widespread reorganization in which functions of the tax-collecting Board of Equalization were divided into three divisions, following a scandal involving members of that elected board.

According to budget documents on the state Department of Finance website, the tax and fee department employs 4,280 employees, whose salary and benefits costs total $4.7 million.

For those keeping track at home, that’s an average of more than $110,000 per employee in total compensation.

Hey, no wonder they got a couple extra guys to wander the streets of Santa Barbara terrorizing poor people scrounging a couple bucks for food and rent during our biggest summer celebration.

Viva la Fiesta.

JR

Images: Nice ladies selling cascarones on Friday; Hannah Beth Jackson; Cascarones stacked on State Street (Hotel Santa Barbara); Monique Limon; Nicolas Maduros.


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