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Oligarchy in SB
updated: Apr 25, 2014, 3:30 PM

By Kathy Swift

Its official: The United States is an Oligarchy. A recent study by Princeton and Northwestern University revealed that economic elites dominate the laws and institutions of our U.S. government.

And nowhere is this Oligarchy more in evidence than here in sunny Santa Barbara. The recent decision of city council to pass the gang injunction over the objections of citizens had only two council members voting with the people: Cathy Murillo and Gregg Hart. The rest pontificated at some length on the problem of "Latino crime" before voting in favor of the measure. Perhaps the most revelatory remarks in this regard came from Dale Francisco and Frank Hotchkiss with the former impugning the character of the neighborhoods under question and the latter claiming to have suffered "racial profiling" himself by Latinos who had the effrontery to ask him had he ever suffered from discrimination.

So with the exception of the two aforementioned council members, all the rest insisted that the gang injunction did NOT constitute racial profiling, and in this way, implicitly maintained the prejudicial idea of the "innate criminality" of Latinos.

In its infinite wisdom, the Supreme Court recently upheld the constitutionality of money as protected speech in McCutcheon v. The Federal Election Commission, effectively eliminating limits on campaign spending to politicians and with it any public protection from the corruption of democracy by financial elites. Thanks to the Supremes, it is now easier to BUY a politician than it is to VOTE for one. Given this state of affairs, it is not unreasonable to ask: which dominant economic interests stand to benefit from a gang injunction in Santa Barbara?

Interestingly, the same city council members who voted for the gang injunction were not swayed by the objections of business and homeowners concerned about falling property values in the proposed injunction zones. The Santa Barbara Association of Realtors Board of Directors has come out against the injunction because of the state law requiring the disclosure of a "nuisance" condition to prospective buyers wishing to purchase land in these areas. This means that property values will fall significantly in the proposed "safety zones" at a time when declining property values have already hurt too many homeowners in Santa Barbara. Studies done in other cities with gang injunctions show that falling property values are its inevitable consequence. When that is taken into account with the epidemic of fraudulent foreclosures going on around Santa Barbara, it seems puzzling that these five council members are not more concerned with protecting the interests of local business and homeowners. After all, property taxes are the traditional revenue base of municipalities, right?

A look at the city's fiscal budget for 2012-13 is revealing. It states, "Property taxes have been flat over the last two fiscal years…[with] a projected growth of just .6%." But no worries: The city's budget planners go on to assert that, "After several years of general declines, two of the General Fund's key revenues - sales taxes and transient occupancy taxes - have posted strong gains." Fortunately for the city, they have made up for the shortfall in property taxes through increased revenues in sales and hotel taxes. That is to say, the city has built in a budget cushion for falling property values by finding new sources of revenue.

But the problem is that sales taxes are always regressive, meaning they hurt the poor and working-class the hardest, while the switch from property taxes to hotel taxes means that local communities are no longer as of great an importance for city revenues. This probably accounts for why at least five of the council members have expressed little interest in protecting stakeholders in the community - the business and homeowners of Santa Barbara. And maybe its worth noting, too, that these stakeholders include both property owners residing in the shadow of the proposed gang injunction as well as homeowners targeted for fraudulent foreclosures by big banks. The latter has reached such epidemic proportions that the continued negligence of city officials on the subject borders on nothing short of criminal.

We begin to see that the gang injunction, in tandem with the construction of the Santa Maria prison and ICE detention facility, is a political boondoggle (or top priority) that ensures the moneyed Montecito elites their continued travels down the garden path toward realizing their dreams of city-wide gentrification. The terms of the gang injunction will degrade property values so as to permit wealthy developers (i.e. carpetbaggers) to buy land on the cheap. This begins the inevitable process of redevelopment and in-filling that destroys local neighborhoods.

The consequence of such social engineering schemes is that they engender as much community polarization for the citizens as they do bottom-line profit for developers by fracturing our city along the seismic fault lines of race and class.



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