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Water Is Life

On May 19th, 2017, members of Deep Green Resistance Santa Barbara attended the Water Is Life: Standing With Standing Rock conference hosted at UC Santa Barbara.  This conference was presented by the Carsey-Wolf Center, the American Indian & Indigenous Collective, the American Indian Student Association, the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation, the Division of Humanities and Fine Arts, the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center, and Red Lightning, in addition to receiving support from many other co-sponsoring organizations.

The conference commenced with welcomes from members of the Chumash Nation and conference co-organizers.  The history of environmental activism in Santa Barbara was mentioned, being catalyzed by two large oil spills in the Santa Barbara region.  Despite environmentalists’ efforts, fossil fuel production has only expanded in the region, most recently with three large oil & gas projects proposed in the past few years.  The conference co-organizers expressed their gratitude to the Standing Rock water protectors who traveled to the university to speak, and recognized that we have a lot to learn from them about how to protect the water and land here in Santa Barbara.  After the introduction, there were three panels centering around different themes.

The first panel, entitled “Protecting the Land and the Water,” was moderated by Margaret McMurtrey, a doctoral student in the Department of Religious Studies with an emphasis in Native American Studies.  Participants included Mark Tilsen, Jasilyn Charger, and Joye Braun.  Tilsen is an Oglala Lakota poet, and he served as a nonviolent direct action trainer and police liaison at Standing Rock.  He shared his experiences with security at Standing Rock, noting that the water protectors were aware that there were many malicious infiltrators, in addition to well-meaning “visitors” in the camps.  Their presence made adhering to security culture paramount because of the risk of these infiltrators spreading news to law enforcement or others.  Tilsen now focuses on helping communities to divest from the pipeline, criticizing the “extractive economy” of the dominant culture.  Jasilyn Charger and Joye Braun are both members of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe, and two of the first people to camp at Standing Rock in resistance against the Dakota Access Pipeline.  Charger helped found the International Indigenous Youth Council, and stated that she became a water protector after hearing the Earth telling her to help.  She reminded the audience that the entire Earth is connected, and that “we need water…[but] we don’t need iPhones.”  That may sound like common sense (and it is probably completely rational to anyone not infected with the wétiko virus), but it is a profound statement in a world where members of the dominant culture have perpetually destroyed the very land and water on which they depend.  Braun spoke of the universal values that united people from many difference backgrounds at the camp, including generosity, honesty, respect, and compassion.  She emphasized that hierarchical social systems like the dominant culture don’t work–those hierarchies are what have gotten us to where we are now–so we need to throw them away and decolonize in order to establish a sustainable way of living.

Panel 1: Protecting the Land and the Water.  From left to right: Margaret McMurtrey,  Joye Braun, Jasilyn Charger, Mark Tilsen.  Photo by Charlie Mountain.

After Tilsen had to leave because of a prior engagement, the conversation turned to the role of women in leadership.  Charger encouraged women in the audience to disobey the traditional feminine gender role: to be brave, powerful, and outspoken, and not to care about being pretty.  She believes women are sacred and have a spiritual connection to the Earth because they can create life.  But patriarchy has caused women to forget that they are sacred because they are so disrespected, especially native women who suffer much higher rates of abuse than the general population and are raped in “man camps” that accompany large extractive projects.  Braun agreed with Charger, and added that the western, civilized, patriarchal point of view has distorted relationships between native women and men by introducing the male supremacist power dynamic.  Patriarchy was enforced in indigenous communities through the Christian church & boarding schools, and the destruction of traditional indigenous knowledge, spiritualities, and cultures.

The second panel focused on media at Standing Rock.  Independent filmmaker Todd Darling, who spent several months at Standing Rock documenting the struggle against DAPL, moderated.  John Bigelow, Paula Antoine, and Myron Dewey spoke about their experiences as part of the media team.  Bigelow, a Hunkpapa Lakota, created the Oceti Sakowin Camp website and media team to send communications from the camp to the outside world.  He spoke of how he lost his “journalistic objectivity” after seeing the way the police abused the water protectors at Standing Rock; he also emphasized the importance of freedom of speech, especially under the current White House administration.  Antoine, a Sicangu Lakota and grandmother, co-founded the Rosebud Spirit Camp in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline.  She served the role of cultural adviser for various tribes at Standing Rock.  Dewey is from the Walker River Paiute Tribe, and founded Digital Smoke Images.  He mentioned the Water Protector Legal Collective, which is providing legal assistance to 814 people arrested at Standing Rock.  Antoine added that about 20% of those cases have been dismissed due to lack of evidence.

Panel 2: Media.  From left to right: Todd Darling, John Bigelow, Paula Antoine, Myron Dewey.  Photo by Charlie Mountain.

Dewey echoed Bigelow’s concerns about freedom of speech and the importance of independent media, as the mainstream media largely ignored the events at Standing Rock.  He live-streamed video footage from the camps on Facebook many times, providing one example when law enforcement was harassing him.  Dewey believes that had he not had his camera rolling at that time, his life may have been taken.  The morally reprehensible behavior of law enforcement towards the nonviolent water protectors was a constant theme throughout the struggle against DAPL, and drawing media attention to these events helps to garner public sympathy.  Corporations and governments know this, which is why they attempt to intimidate journalists and curtail freedom of the press.

The third and final panel of this conference was titled “Decolonization and Indigenous-Centered Leadership,” moderated by Paula Antoine.  Terrell Iron Shell, one of the founders of the Indigenous Youth Council, Michael Cordero, an elder of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation, and Joye Braun participated in the panel.  Iron Shell, an Oglala Lakota and Eastern Band Cherokee, conducted nonviolent direct action trainings at Standing Rock.  He believes that the youth must be the spark to light a fire in the next generation, and we must take our power back from those who are currently in charge.  He asked the audience, “How long are you going to let someone else make decisions for you?”  Cordero helped to found the Santa Barbara Standing Rock Coalition and to write the resolution in support of Standing Rock, which was passed by the Santa Barbara City Council in November 2016.  He drew parallels between the struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Chumash’s struggle against a proposed LNG plant at Point Conception in the 1980s.  He believes that one of the most important messages he learned from Standing Rock was that alliances must be formed, especially between native peoples, in order for movements to be successful.  Braun shared the story of the day that the Treaty Camp was established on land that the pipeline was meant to cross, but had never been legally ceded by the tribe.  She described the experience as freeing, and encouraged us all to think outside of the box like she and her comrades did that day.

Panel 3: Decolonization and Indigenous-Centered Leadership.  From left to right: Paula Antoine,  Joye Braun, Michael Cordero, Terrell Iron Shell.  Photo by Charlie Mountain.

Extraction Economy

Oil pipelines are everywhere, and they affect everyone.  If you are white enough, rich enough, and/or lucky enough, the pipelines might not be built in your backyard, but no matter who you are, they contaminate the water, air, and land upon which you depend for your life.  The distance does not keep you safe, it only delays alarm.  There are no safe places to hide from a culture and economy based on extraction, drawdown, theft, genocide, and ecocide; this culture eats beautiful forested lands, rich seas, and clear skies and leaves behind deserts, toxic dead zones, and, possibly in the near future, an inhabitable planet.  If it doesn’t seem like this culture and its economy steals wealth of all sorts for the benefit of a few, it’s very likely that you live in an exclusion zone rather than a sacrifice zone.  The exclusion zones are where resources are sent, where power is concentrated, where the in-group is nourished.  Sacrifice zones are where resources are extracted, where power is enforced to maintain subjugation, where the out-group is impoverished.  Even if you recognize the material problems this culture produces, its strong tradition of silencing dissent, erasing indigenous cultures and knowledge, and spreading self-serving disinformation obscure the root cause of these problems.  For thousands of years, the dynamic of the haves and the have-nots has been at the core of an evolving culture that dominates and erases other cultures.  It has taken many forms, including city-states, empires, kingdoms, feudalism, mercantilism, colonialism, white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and fascism.  The common denominator is a selfish urge to profit at the expense of others, beginning about 10,000 years ago with the advent of agriculture and male subjugation of women.  This developed into various socioeconomic structures that depend on and thus facilitate the destruction of life.  The dominant culture abuses the earth just as it abuses women.

People who live in the Santa Barbara area know firsthand what oil infrastructure means.  Whether the infrastructure takes the form of offshore oil platforms, oil pipelines, or something else, spills are almost a guarantee.  In 1969, an estimated 3 million gallons of oil spilled from Union Oil’s Platform A into the Santa Barbara Channel; the spill continued at over 1,000 gallons an hour for about a month.  This was the largest oil spill that had ever occurred in US waters, and is considered by many to have catalyzed the modern environmental movement.  Stretching over 35 miles long, the oil slick covered beaches, birds, and marine life, the blowout was caused by inadequate safety measures taken by Union Oil (aka Unocal), similar to how the more recent spill from the Plains All American Pipeline in May of 2015 was caused by inadequate maintenance.  When approximately 143,000 gallons of oil are spilled into the ocean, someone should be held accountable for his actions. Plains All American, the company responsible for the pipeline, is still under investigation for their disastrous operational record of the pipeline.  Since the spill in 2015, the pipeline has not been in operation.  This has recently forced Venoco, an oil company who operated an offshore oil platform in the Santa Barbara Channel as well as onshore facilities, to file for bankruptcy, leaving the decommissioning bill to the State Lands Commission.  The global economy is based on the unsustainable extraction of natural resources.  The top decision-makers of corporations, mostly white men, take what they can and try to sell as much of it as soon as possible.  When some of the real, non-financial costs come to light, these rapacious entities move out and leave the clean-up to somebody else.  There is no justice under business as usual.

Oil surrounds the feet of local resident Morgan Miller as he patrols the beach for oiled wildlife on May 19, 2015 north of Goleta, California.  Photo by David McNew/Getty Images.

Resisting Ecocide

How do we effectively resist something that is powerful enough to eliminate entire species and cultures from our world, colonize and enslave many lands and populations, pollute and scar our homes, and even drastically change the global climate?  Effective resistance begins with properly identifying a few key points: the problem, our goal, and a strategy, i.e., a path to achieving said goal.  The problem we face is immense and complex.  It is a global network of systems that consolidate power by taking it from others.  It is huge and powerful, but it is vulnerable.  We can’t sit idly by out of fear, incompetence, or naive hopefulness.  We must act.  As Tilsen said at the Water Is Life conference, “We need incredibly brave, unreasonable people to step up… and we need to follow them.”  If we don’t, civilization will eat our planet until there is no life left.

But what does it meant to resist?  Speakers at the event discussed the decision that water protectors made in differentiating themselves from protesters.  For many people who spoke at the conference, the distinction is dedicating your life to protect the water, rather than  committing a one-time act that accomplishes no material change.  Resistance isn’t a fad, it is a state of living.  It is not a lifestyle choice, it is a life-changing choice.  We must stand collectively against fossil fuel and other key infrastructure that maintain the global industrial complex.  The tactics we employ must be specific to our goals, but we also must be wary of the unintended consequences of our actions.  Michael Cordero advised that in order to be successful as a movement, we each need to look at the material impacts of the status quo and understand what it will take to resist, what are the specific challenges we face, and who are these challenges going to affect; this is necessary to consolidate smaller, more individualized efforts into a more effective collective effort and helps to create an effective long-term strategy.  The easiest way to form an effective strategy is to look at what worked in the past.  When a nearby sacred place known as Point Conception was threatened by the construction of an LNG plant, local Chumash and their allies used similar tactics as were employed at Standing Rock to ensure it was never built.  But victories like this will only be temporary as long as corporations still have the power to steamroll local communities.  And no matter how peaceful the resistance is, the backlash will be extremely violent.

Indigenous peoples on this continent have been resisting the dominant culture for centuries.  Photo by Orlando Begay.

Restoring Indigenous Cultures

Contrary to what most “environmentalists” say, there is no sustainable future with solar panels and wind turbines or some other “green” energy.  Do you ever wonder why the question is: how do we keep the power flowing and growing? instead of: how do we improve our landbase? how do we enter into mutually beneficial relationships with those around us, both humans and non-humans?

Instead, we should look to those who have continued traditions that have lasted for thousands of years.  We need to listen to indigenous voices for many reasons, and self-preservation is just one.  Restoring relationships between people is another.  Healing the land is yet another.  Civilization has been destroying landbases for thousands of years.  Contemporary environmental destruction is so starkly “destructive” only because it is industrialized and mechanized.  In the US, specifically, the governments have been committing ecocide and genocide since their arrival.  The attack on indigenous peoples has not stopped, the tactics have just shifted.  We can’t keep trying to reform the global culture of colonial imperialism.  We need a serious resistance movement to create biophilic human communities, for the sake of life on Earth.  And to figure out what that means today, we can start by listening to those who have been fighting this fight for generations.

     by Kyle Lee / Deep Green Resistance Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is in a housing crisis, like many other cities in the United States. However, conditions are unique here because Santa Barbara is a popular vacation destination for people from all over the world, and it operates under a controlled growth scheme that puts a strain on the housing market, particularly on renters, who make up 60.2% of the residential population. Furthermore, the gross lack of regulation and accountability of rental property owners and minimal protections for tenants allows for the exploitation and manipulation of renters, particularly non-white families with children. In 2014, the number of homeless children in Santa Barbara’s K-12 school system was 2,215. The gentrification of the city and surrounding areas is evident in recurring mass evictions of predominantly Latino families being replaced with younger, white middle-class tenants who can more easily cope with the volatile housing market that has only a 0.5% vacancy rate. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development considers a 5% vacancy rate sufficient to provide choice and mobility.

Ivy Apartment Homes, owned by Ventura Investment Co., a Camarillo-based real estate company, has been aggressively acquiring properties on the Westside, evicting many working-class immigrant families who have lived there for decades, and remodeling and remarketing the properties to attract “students and executives” to these now “upscale”, “premium” apartments. Barton Stern, the president of Ventura Investment Co., has been profiting off targeted gentrification since the 1990s. Another big name many local residents are familiar with is the slumlord Dario Pini, who is currently facing another series of investigations into the appalling conditions in which his tenants, half of whom are children, have to live. After local police and City Attorney, Ariel Colonne, issued Judge Jean Dandona’s warrant to search hundreds of units owned by Pini, Colonne had this to say, “When the public sees what the inspectors saw it will shock the conscience of the community.” If the local governments are unwilling to acknowledge tenants’ voices and produce material gains for tenants’ rights, it is time for the community to collectively stand together and demand positive change.

Ivy Apartment Homes is just the newest iteration in a history of mass evictions in Santa Barbara where predominantly working-class immigrant families are pushed to the side to make way for a bigger bottom line. Photo by Paul Wellman at The Independent.

The current housing market is heavily in favor of property owners at the increasing expense of tenants: over the last decade, the average cost of rent has risen by 30% while income has increased by only 1%. This quote from a November 2016 investigation was included by the City Attorney’s Office in a staff report just released on March 21, 2017 titled Potential Strategies For Residential Tenant Protection Measures: “With Santa Barbara’s vacancy rate hovering at a historically low 0.5 percent, rent prices —already some of the highest in the country—have spiked another 20 percent. Over the past year, the average Santa Barbara studio rent increased from $1,090 to $1,391, the average one-bedroom jumped from $1,500 to $1,728, and the average two-bedroom went from $2,000 to $2,373, according to Steve Golis at the annual Radius Real Estate and Economic Forecast gathering late last month.”

The average price of rent for a two bedroom apartment is about 47% of the median household income. While it is often advised that no more than 30% of a household’s income should be spent on rent, over half of all Santa Barbara renters have to pay more than that, with 30% of local residents spending over half of their income on rent alone. Even if Santa Barbara had tenant protection laws criminalizing the eviction of tenants without just cause—called “no cause” evictions—the lack of regulation to control rent increases allows property owners to effectively choose when they want to evict their current residents and replace them with someone willing to pay more.

Also, because property owners don’t have to offer one-year leases or lease renewals to their tenants, many tenants have to worry every month if they are going to be evicted for any unjust reason—for example, the landlord wants to find a tenant who won’t complain about habitability issues in the apartment. Many people, including families with children who are in K-12 and younger, have to live in their cars, motels, or with friends or family while they try to figure out a very difficult situation that has suddenly been forced upon them. There is not enough subsidized housing; thousands of people on a waiting list that is often an estimated wait of up to 12 years. Obviously, this needs to be addressed a lot sooner than the current pace of affairs.

The Rental Housing Round Table (RHR) is a collective of many community organizations and individuals actively working to improve the material reality of the Santa Barbara community of renters. After mobilizing in 2008 to address the mass eviction of 37 families from Hillshore Gardens apartments, the group aided the passing of “County Wide Ordinance 4444, providing relocation assistance to tenants evicted due to renovation, rezoning, code violations and demolitions,” an ordinance that evicted families have successfully used to gain compensation. The RHR continues to “protect and encourage a diverse, inclusive and representative community of very-low to moderate income renters and the development of healthy and vital communities to ensure the expansion of the local and regional sustainable economy and improve the well-being of present and future generations.”

Learn more about the Rental Housing Round Table and sign their support card for tenants’ rights!

The RHR’s principles revolve around securing housing as a human right, protecting the diversity, economic stability, and health of the local and regional communities, building a vibrant collective of individuals, public entities, and private entities who are collectively responsible for their community, and seeking out the cooperation of government, landowners and property managers, major employers, educational institutions, and other entities to make it all a sustainable reality. From 2011-2012, the RHR had to help fight to keep the Rental Housing Mediation Task Force, which helps mediate issues between tenants and their landlords. According to the City Attorney’s staff report, “In Fiscal Year 2015-2016, the RHMP reported that it handled nearly 1,500 cases, 84% of which were initiated by tenants. Termination of tenancy was by far the predominant complaint, followed by habitability and repair, deposits and rent increases.” Between 2011 and 2015, the RHR developed a curriculum to educate tenants about their rights, which is continued by the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE).

Starting in 2015, a spike of evictions, especially on the West Side, has reignited the RHR to action. The group hosted a renters’ rights forum on July 21, 2016 at the Santa Barbara Central Library, which is where I first heard of them. Members of Deep Green Resistance Santa Barbara, including myself, have attended several of the RHR meetings since then. They also organized an event on September 22nd, 2016 at De La Guerra Plaza in coordination with the National Renters Day of Action to try to garner support for a tenants’ rights ordinance. Just a few days ago, on March 21st, 2017, tenants rights were on the agenda at the 6PM City Council meeting.

Local organizers associated with RHR and their allies put a lot of work into informing, mobilizing, and organizing tenants to share their stories and voices of support, particularly those most vulnerable, and all that work materialized into a crowd of dozens of tenants. The Council Chamber was overflowing to the point where many supporters had to huddle close around an overhead speaker or a TV broadcast to observe the meeting, where we waited for our turn to speak. The City Attorney presented the report he prepared as a neutral insight to inform the City Council on the background of the housing crisis as well as 5 possible measures to protect tenants’ rights: enhanced mediation, mandatory leases, multi-family rental unit inspections, “just cause” eviction, and rent control. The floor was then opened for public comments before the City Council would make any decisions.

Supporters of a city tenants’ rights ordinance crowded around a TV in the lobby of City Hall to watch the City Council meeting. Photo by Charlie Mountain.

Enhanced mediation is basically just an option that enhances what already exists, but does little to proactively address any of the problems. Mandatory leases are when landlords are required to offer a one-year lease to tenants to offer stability, but without a fixed rent price over the course of that lease, this measure is an opportunity for landlords to entrap tenants. The inspection of multi-family homes is absolutely necessary to ensure that tenants don’t have to settle for unsanitary, unsafe living conditions, and would reduce the cases where tenants are evicted for speaking out about uninhabitable rental units. Although the inspections come at a price for landlords, the City Attorney estimated these costs at $2 to $5 per unit per month, a negligible amount compared to the sky-high rent these landlords receive every month. “Just cause” eviction is a regulation that limits the allowable reasons a landlord can evict a tenant to a list of “just causes.” This prevents landlords from evicting at will, as they currently do, but still allows landlords to evict tenants for reasons such as violating the lease, criminal activity, failure to pay rent, and other valid reasons, but “just cause” eviction without a limit on how high landlords can increase rent means tenants can still effectively, if not technically, face eviction by being priced out of their home. That issue would be regulated with rent control, placing a limit on how much a landlord can increase the cost of rent by a certain percentage. Currently, any rent control legislation has to abide by the California Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which, even though it is up for repeal, still actively limits the flexibility of local governments to pass effective rent control legislation for their particular needs.

Depending on who you ask, Santa Barbara has very different needs. During the March 21st City Council meeting, Council Members asked and this is what Santa Barbara had to say:

The rental property owners all claimed to be “one of the good landlords” who never does anything wrong, yet furiously demanded less government regulation that inhibits them of doing such things as evicting tenants for whatever reason they choose, maintaining their units to whatever condition of habitability they please, and raising rent every month without limit, because government getting in the way of the “equal,” “symbiotic” tenant-landlord relationship “destroys communities” and is “unconstitutional.” Property owners said such things as, “keep your hands off my property,” and, “I don’t like to be told what to do,” even refusing to give up the microphone, and repeatedly being told to leave the podium. I was shocked and disgusted at this behavior, which gave a clear depiction of the entitlement and greed these property owners have, as you would expect from wealthy capitalists. They also claimed the data included in the City Attorney’s report that showed the need for legislation of tenants’ rights was incorrect, “it can’t be true,” and continued to make bold, unchecked claims and lies in self-defense. One landlord seriously expected the City Council to believe that she got into the rental business “not for money,” but because she “just loves houses.” The childish reactions and disingenuous rhetoric espoused by many of the landlords who showed up solidified my knowledge that there are far too many incapable, unethical, selfish landlords in Santa Barbara.

The realtors, investors and developers also used fear-mongering rhetoric to attack the proposals, spread disinformation, and said we need less regulation getting in the way of the “free market” and housing expansion because the only problem with housing in Santa Barbara is with supply. Lawyers and economists claimed the cost of city inspections at “$2 to $5 per unit per month, or more,” to be outrageous, the probable cost associated with tenants suing landlords after these ordinances give them more protections unreasonable, and of course that the “free market” to be fully capable of solving these problems on its own, even though minimally regulating the housing market is exactly what got us here. The good conduct of a few does not excuse the absence of accountability for all. Also, by their reasoning, if raw sewage went untreated and dumped in our waterways or poisoned water comes out the tap instead of potable water because the water treatment system had no regulations, I guess we should just let the market fix it and not let government get in the way of the private sector. Housing is a human right. Shelter is a basic need. The economy is not more important than our quality of life.

The Santa Barbara City College Board of Trustees declared their support for the tenants’ rights ordinance, particularly the “just cause” eviction ordinance, because they acknowledged their experience witnessing the mass evictions of tenants on the West Side by rental property owners who seek to replace them with higher paying, higher density housing marketed to students. The Santa Barbara League of Women Voters commended the City Attorney for putting the report together in order to better protect tenants’ rights and declared their support for all 5 options in the report. Representatives from other local organizations like the California Democratic Party and United Way spoke in support of all 5 options and gave specific reasons why they would benefit Santa Barbara, especially the working-class communities who are being pushed out of their homes. Local residents who work in public service spoke of the difficulties the disabled community has securing rental properties.

Many tenants spoke of their particular experiences living in Santa Barbara, which varied from atrocious to alright. One single father described having to live in an apartment where the manager refused to do anything about black mold in his bathroom except paint over it. A single mother described her experience having to move 6 times in 10 years while putting her daughter through school; through her work with released prisoners in recovery, she knows people who would rather go back to jail than be homeless in Santa Barbara because they cannot afford to live anywhere. Unfortunately, because the meeting lasted late into the night, many of the tenants who showed up did not have a chance to speak because they had to leave before it was their turn.

Although most of the few tenants who disapproved of the proposed ordinances were also landlords themselves, there were a couple who were not landlords that either said they did not like the inspection ordinance for privacy reasons or did not approve of any of the ordinances because they did not personally feel at risk and have no sense of collective responsibility as part of a community. There were, however, multiple tenants who admitted that while they themselves are not facing a difficult housing situation, they empathize with those that are struggling, and that is why they support tenants’ rights. One man acknowledged the fact that even though he faces hardship, as a white man, his hardship is different from that of a Latino person in Santa Barbara, and though it isn’t his position to speak for them, brown people in Santa Barbara face a struggle that white people do not. On the other hand, many landlords became outraged and overly self-defensive when a tenants’ rights supporter in the audience held up a sign that read: “Stop Racism in the Housing Market.”

Our communities are being ripped apart and suppressed by our landlords, and many families are being forced into homelessness or pushed out of Santa Barbara altogether, yet the landlords who attended the meeting spoke as if we are one big happy family. There is already a clear split on this issue despite the words of realtors, rental property owners, and other capitalists that Santa Barbara is at risk of being polarized on this issue due to tenants seeking legislative protections. The polarization is already present because of the inherent disparity in the relationship between landlord and tenant, not because of people demanding to be treated like full human beings worthy of respect. The critical differences between landlords and tenants are an issue of property, financial independence, accountability, and privilege in many forms. One of the first discernible differences between the landlords and tenants that spoke during the meeting was that most of the landlords and other anti-tenants’ rights advocates spoke first because they either don’t have a day job or can get off early whereas most of the tenants could only sign up to speak after they got off work and therefore had to wait hours for their turn. Quite a few who did sign up had to wait so long they had to leave for various reasons before it was their turn, and many more didn’t even have the time to come and show their support, even though they desperately need these sort of protections against being exploited by their landlords.

Although renters make up the majority of residents, our voices pale in comparison to those with much more free time and money: the rental property owners, realtors, developers, economists and others who profit most from a system that inherently requires a hierarchical system of ownership and tenancy, of privilege and necessity, of power and homelessness. The intersecting class distinctions between landlords and tenants became clear throughout the public comment period: the landlords were mainly older, richer, white property owners who own multiple properties, who never once proposed a solution to hold their disgraceful peers accountable for what they are doing to communities in Santa Barbara, and who spent their wealth of free time to deny tenants their rights by reiterating inflammatory rhetoric and praising the sanctity of the “free market.” The tenants were mostly younger, poorer people predominantly of color who continue the struggle to find a safe, long-term place to live without fear of uninhabitable living conditions, being priced out of their homes, or being evicted outright. These tenants shared many different perspectives, including why the proposed ordinances are necessary to improve the housing situation they deal with firsthand, how and in what ways other cities have dealt with similar struggles, and why still more needs to be done in addition to these ordinances.

At around 11pm, the City Council shared their thoughts and passed two motions. The first motion was to start a staff investigation into the enhanced mediation option. The second motion, proposed by Gregg Hart, eliminated rent control as an option and put forward plans to create a task force comprised of property owners, tenants, and possibly a City Council Member to investigate the possible outcomes of a mandatory lease ordinance, “just cause” ordinance, and a multi-family unit inspection ordinance. I doubt that the task force will accurately represent the interests of those involved because of the constant “equality” rhetoric that got thrown around. The City Council Members, except for Cathy Murillo and Mayor Helene Schneider, stated that they are most concerned with the lack of housing supply and questioned whether local government should really get involved with the private sector. Murillo expressed disappointment with the removal of rent control from the discussion and the reluctance of the other Council Members to do anything besides put this issue off for later. For me, the most disappointing thing about the meeting is the fact that just getting the City Council to discuss these issues and address material solutions is actually considered a victory. It took a lot of hard work by community organizers to achieve it, but as it stands, our fate rests in the hands of 7 people, the majority of whom are just like most of the rental property owners: old, white men who have better things to do than to listen to your problems, talk about real solutions, and least of all interfere with their sacred “free market.”

At the meeting on March 21st, City Council Member Cathy Murillo called her colleagues to action saying, “Right here, right now is our chance.” But they did not share her expedience. “It seemed like we were right on the edge of doing the right thing.” Photo by Paul Wellman at The Independent.

Sources:

https://sites.google.com/a/causenow.org/rhr/the-sb-tenant-story

https://sites.google.com/a/causenow.org/rhr/home-1

https://sites.google.com/a/causenow.org/rhr/ivy-apartments

https://www.noozhawk.com/article/santa_barbara_city_council_task_force_tenant_protection_measures

http://services.santabarbaraca.gov/CAP/MG138508/AS138548/AS138554/AS138556/AI141741/DO141742/DO_141742.pdf

http://www.independent.com/news/2016/dec/15/dario-pini-slumlord-or-savior/

http://www.santabarbaraca.gov/gov/cityhall/council/meetings/videos.asp

     by Charlie Mountain / Deep Green Resistance Santa Barbara

The Environmental Status Quo

Mainstream environmental organizations have largely praised the Obama administration as environmentally friendly.  Ed Chen, the national communications director for the National Resources Defense Council, described Obama as “the greatest climate change-fighting president in history.”  The Environmental Defense Fund hailed Obama as “a leader committed to clean energy, climate progress, and protecting our natural heritage” who “leaves a better, cleaner, more sustainable world for all of our kids.”

Examples of Obama’s environmental legacy include: the Clean Power Plan, Paris Agreement, the promotion of “renewable energy,” and enhanced fuel efficiency standards for vehicles.  Most people already know that the Clean Power Plan is not ambitious enough to keep total planetary warming below even the alarming 2 °C mark.  The Paris Climate Agreement has the same shortfall, in addition to the fact that the emissions reductions outlined in the document are not legally binding.

Even increased energy production from renewable technologies and higher fuel efficiency standards, which may sound like positive achievements, are not all they’re cracked up to be.  There’s a phenomenon known as the Jevons Paradox, which explains why increased energy efficiency paradoxically does not lead to lower emissions, because the higher efficiency is offset by an increased usage of energy due to the lower cost of energy.  Renewable energy technologies can also lead to the same kind of situation where a larger total amount of energy means that all the energy is consumed, rather than renewable energy displacing energy produced by fossil fuels.  The worst effect of producing renewable technologies is the pollution that comes from mining, manufacturing, and discarding of the hazardous waste, which is so harmful that no sane person can argue these technologies are beneficial to the planet.  On the contrary, mainstream “environmentalists” view renewable energy as the means by which we will be able to continue this destructive way of life.

Obama’s true legacy is one of imperialism, capitalism, and extractivismHe boasted that “more oil [was] produced at home than we buy from the rest of world” in 2014, “the first time that’s happened in nearly twenty years,” while opening up more US land for oil and gas drilling.  Any of the Obama administration’s “claimed [greenhouse gas emissions] reductions are attributable mostly to a weak economy.”  And the fact remains that the United States had its biggest increase in oil production in history during Obama’s terms.  While many liberals’ rallying cry under the new administration is to “protect Obama’s legacy,” radical environmentalists are opposed to all ecocidal policies, regardless of who is behind them.  Obama’s policies would lead to a planet no less dead than if Trump’s agenda is enacted.

 

Liberals’ Responses to Trump

As many other leftists have stated, Obama’s threat to the planet (and human rights) was largely ignored by liberals, likely because of his “feel-good rhetoric.”  In stark contrast, Trump is openly ecocidal (and misogynistic, racist, and so on) which makes it easier for large numbers of Americans to realize how insane his policies are.  Trump’s all-around vileness has led to increased resistance from the general public to the new administration, taking the form of the Women’s Marches on January 21st, demonstrations at airports, protests against cabinet picks, and more.

Mainstream environmental organizations openly hold Trump in contempt and vow to fight him.  I’ve received emails from Sierra Club California with tips to “help the resistance to Trump’s policies,” which include how to contact your representatives and get involved in local protests & other events.  After the election, the Center for Biological Diversity launched a nationwide #Earth2Trump campaign demonstrating the extent of the country’s resistance to Trump’s agenda.  They plan to participate in a variety of legal methods to fight environmental destruction and uphold the rights of oppressed groups.  The People’s Climate Movement is organizing a “march for jobs, justice and the climate” on April 29th in DC.

 

Radical Environmental Organizing in the Era of Trump

In many ways, Trump is continuing Obama’s legacy of extractivism—one important example is the Dakota Access Pipeline.  Construction of the pipeline began under Obama’s watch, and water protectors were being attacked with tear gas and water cannons in freezing temperatures before Trump took office.  The most Obama did to stop the construction was ordering an environmental review, which probably wouldn’t have made a difference even if Trump hadn’t allowed construction to continue without the review.

Photo from Veterans For Standing Rock showing the militarized police forces invading Standing Rock.

Because the opposition to Trump is so large and widespread, it is easy for radicals to find groups and individuals to ally with in the fight against his policies, unlike how it was under the Obama administration.  It’s very important for us to take advantage of this fact.  In a general sense, mainstream liberal activists are fighting on the same side as us—and we should be building alliances where we can, for there is strength in numbers.  We must also show that Democrats are just as threatening to life on this planet as Republicans are, and encourage others to fight against Trump outside the paradigm of the two-party system.

Leftist organizations like the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) are opposing Trump in this way by protesting his policies directly and presenting an alternative to the dominant system of capitalism.  Refuse Fascism also calls for mass resistance against the Trump administration’s agenda “for the future of humanity and the planet,” without encouraging collaboration with the Democratic Party.

Kshama Sawant, who sits on Seattle’s city council and is a member of Socialist Alternative, recently helped to pass a bill in Seattle that would completely divest the city from Wells Fargo, one of the banks financing the Dakota Access Pipeline.  Following Seattle’s legislation, the City of Davis also voted unanimously to move their banking services from Wells Fargo elsewhere by the end of the year.  Santa Monica made the same decision last month.

The unique political and environmental analysis put forward by Deep Green Resistance (DGR) is resonating with more people in these scary times, with the organization seeing an influx of new member and volunteer applications.  When asked how she found DGR, one volunteer wrote that she “searched what I can do to stop Trump from hurting the environment.”  The silver lining in Trump’s rise to power can certainly be to radicalize people who could not see the ecocidal state for what it is until such a deplorable man was elected to rule it.  DGR’s apt response to the November election was that “we’re left with direct action.  Those of us serious about protecting present and future life on the planet must leverage our small numbers to shut down fossil fuels, polluting industries, and nature-destroying machines.”

A wonderful example of this kind of direct action is the Valve Turners, part of “the biggest coordinated move on US energy infrastructure ever undertaken by environmental protesters.”  Five activists shut down pipelines carrying tar sands oil into the US in Washington, Minnesota, Montana, and North Dakota in October 2016.  The first trial for one of the valve turners, Ken Ward, was recently declared a mistrial, a surprising victory in the age of Trump.  Ward encourages others to participate in similar actions: “it is the obligation of every thinking person to find a way to stave off climate cataclysm, and there is no effective, legal alternative to personal direct action.”  Successes from groups like the Movement for the Emancipation for the Niger Delta (MEND) and the Indian Naxalites show Ward’s words to be true.

Photo of a PSL protest sign reading “Trump is the symptom Capitalism is the disease Socialism is the cure.”

I agree with PSL’s assertion of Trump as just a symptom of the larger problem.  This is exactly what liberals have yet to understand, and we need to help them get there.  Capitalism, industrialism, racism, and misogyny are all diseases than can only be cured by a global revolution.  Radical environmentalists must do the work of bringing in activists from all across the political spectrum to fight for a common goal—a living planet.