On February 15th, 2015, PODER organized a protest in an effort to focus attention on the dangers of the Milpas Community Association (MCA) and its proposed gentrification plans for the Eastside. The MCA’s Eastside business improvement district (E-BID) plan will make Milpas Street into a new State Street that will inevitably increase commercial and residential rents and drive out more locals from Santa Barbara.
The protest took place in the 100 block of north Milpas in front of Taqueria El Bajio restaurant. The owner of the restaurant, Santos Guzman, is an advocate for the E-BID, working against the wishes of the majority of Latino-owned businesses on Milpas Street. This owner has historically stood against Latino protestors including the BFI Waste union protest.
Spirited PODER activists waved signs, distributed literature, and spoke with interested restaurant patrons about the effects of gentrification on local communities. PODER members also spoke with Guzman about his perception of the E-BID. It was clear that Mr. Guzman does not fully understand the implications of gentrification and the harm his family business will suffer from in the long run under the proposed plan. The people most at risk are the residents and local business owners who would not be able to pay the increased fees and taxes since commercial and housing rents will inevitably rise if the E-BID is approved by city council.
Police called by MCA member Jarrett Gorin checked in with PODER demonstrators and concluded that PODER was conducting a lawful protest through the exercise of its first amendment right to free speech and peaceful assembly.. Gorrin is a developer at Vanguard Planning and is invested in the E-BID through his recent acquisition of the defunct Chevron station on the corner of Milpas and De La Guerra Street. His mix-use infill project will establish retail and residential rentals on the lot despite concerns of soil and groundwater contamination by underground fuel tanks on the site of the former gas station.
Accounts of the harassment and intimidation of local business owners by MCA members continues to grow and have been reported to city council members and local agencies. A seventy-year-old Latina businesswoman who has had her shop on Milpas for decades was intimidated by MCA members but was too afraid to report it. Another Latino business owner objected when a member of the MCA forcibly removed a sign displaying the owner’s opposition to the E-BID from his storefront window. Business owners who questioned the actions of the MCA were told they would lose business if they challenged their intentions (please see MCA emails).
PODER were not surprised when Gorin demonstrated his usual intimidiation tactics against opponents of the E-BID by calling in antagonizers to PODER’s protest who engaged in heated exchanges with peaceful PODER activists. Gorin and other MCA members arrived at the protest and made false allegations about protestors claiming protestors were shoving people, blocking entrance and harassing customers. All allegations were false as this was a peaceful demonstration to shed light to the bigger issue.
Since the MCA’s announcement of the E-BID at City Council last November, PODER and other activists have been engaged in dialog with local Eastside businesses and residents to assess their knowledge of the gentrification plan. PODER members have discovered that very few small businesses have been consulted by MCA officials despite paying regular dues to the organization.
PODER members are concerned that neighborhood residents, community churches, industrial businesses, and small locally owned shops on the Eastside would be driven out by the MCA’s gentrification plan in order to usher in big corporate conglomerates catering to wealthy tourists, big box stores, and Montecito elites.
PODER is one of many groups working to preserve our neighborhood’s affordability for small mom-and-pop shops and area residents. We do not believe that MCA’s gentrification plan is appropriate for our neighborhood and instead support community-based alternatives that reflect the authentic wishes and desires of our local businesses and residents.