Newsmakers with JR
City's Reversal on Cacique Homeless a Big Win for Alejandra: "People Are Not Going to Take Any B.S."
Updated: Apr 30, 2020
Freshman City Council member Alejandra Gutierrez, new to politics and only three months into the job, describes herself as "very shy" -- but she's suddenly found her voice at Santa Barbara City Hall.
One week after calling out Mayor Cathy Murillo in public over plans for an economic development task force, District 1 representative Gutierrez scored a major victory this week, as city officials abruptly acceded to her demand to disband an encampment of homeless people under the Cacique Street bridge.
"I'm very shy," Alejandra told Newsmakers in an interview. "But I'm not going to stay quiet when I see something unjust."
Before Tuesday, the city's official policy was that the dozen or more people camped out with their belongings on the Cacique underpass should be allowed to stay there, in accordance with guidelines from the state and the Centers for Disease Control that to disperse the encampment posed a risk of disseminating the Covid-19 virus around town. The city brought in a portable toilet and a hand washing station to improve conditions.
This, despite intense lobbying by Gutierrez, along with business and other community advocates, that the unsheltered ensconced below the bridge posed a health and safety risk to Eastside residents who use the sidewalk to go back and forth to home, work and the beach.
"Parents were scared to take their kids," through the area, Alejandra said.
On Tuesday, the council approved a hastily drafted "emergency" order that extended SB's limited "sit-lie" camping prohibition to the underpass; city and other social workers had gone to the site to offer hotel rooms to the homeless people who had been staying there.
So abrupt was the city's flip-flop that not even Police Chief Lori Luhnow was informed, until after the area had been cleared. While the emergency order was being carried out, in fact, the chief set forth the CDC rationale for leaving the encampment intact in an interview with Newsmakers, and explained how SBPD patrol officers were checking in on it several times a day.
"The chief was not consulted as to the execution" of the order, department Public Information Officer Anthony Wagner told us.
In our interview with Gutierrez, she told us that "the Cacique situation shed light on (other) issues" of concern to residents on the Eastside who, she said, have suffered from being "disconnected" and neglected by City Hall.
Among other things, Alejandra said, the city was slow to communicate about public health guidelines for the pandemic to Spanish-speaking and immigrant residents, another issue on which she has been vocal in recent days.
"People are not going to take any B.S." she told us, crediting a host of other Eastside advocates for joining her in pressing City Hall to address district issues.
See our entire interview with Alejandra Gutierrez by clicking below. The podcast version is here.
Image: Alejandra Gutierrez (Noozhawk).