SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - A tough crackdown on one downtown city block in Santa Barbara has led to arrests and citations by police who have been called countless times to deal with a long list of problems.
Chief Cam Sanchez told the City Council, since March 10th, there have been eight felony arrests, 13 misdemeanor arrests, and 151 citations in the 600 block alone. This is located between Ortega St. and Cota St.
For months, business owners have complained about transients, and street squatters who frequently block the sidewalk, beg for money and sells trinkets displayed on the ground.
Sanchez said anyone using the benches or walking on the street can do so legally.
The problems arise when, what he called, "vagrants," congregate with their belongings and obstruct pedestrians. He also said some often lean into the dining areas of outside restaurants and ask customers for their leftover food.
The problems go further. Sanchez bluntly told city leaders, some of the offenders have "strong armed" people for money.
Police say 90 percent of those they have cited are from outside of California.
Sanchez also said he was up early in the morning last week to check on five known illegal homeless camps. There he found deplorable conditions, and evidence of drug use. He said some of the same people in the camps are the ones in trouble with police on State St. downtown.
The city has offered help and services for those who are transient and living on the streets, but Sanchez says there is a group that rejects the help and continues to hang out downtown.
Many business owners have strongly asked the city to take action where it can, legally.
A popular brick piece of artwork in the mid block area near Ortega St. which is a known hangout, has been encircled with yellow tape, indicating it is off limits.
A group nearby this afternoon included one person who was making an offensive hand gesture to the public while the popular Farmers Market was taking place.