The Importance of Building Bridges

By Gwyn Lurie   |   April 16, 2020

Thank you to Montecito realtor, Cristal Clarke, for sponsoring this week’s MJ home delivery. Bringing the MJ to your doorstep (or at least your driveway) is one way we are working to meet the challenges of this moment. Thanks to Cristal Clarke’s support, we are once again able to deliver.

I’d also like to give a shout out to the Montecito Association and its leadership, including Executive Director Sharon Byrne, whose reporting on the County’s handling of this pandemic has been stellar. On behalf of the MA and its members, Byrne has attended every County press conference and aggregated all available information during this crisis in order to disseminate the information to all MA members. Sharon’s daily missives have been extremely informative and we are grateful that the MA leadership has agreed to allow us to share these communiques with the greater community via our main page: The Montecito Association has long been a major ingredient of the glue that holds together this amazing community. I urge every Montecito resident to learn more about the Montecito Association and what they do for our community: Or better yet, join.

Time to Put on a Bathing Suit

One of the things I appreciate about Santa Barbara, is that it’s small enough to feel intimate, but big enough to matter. However, being a journalist here has its challenges. I felt the same way as a school board member, in a gentle town where good manners and “neighborly” behavior counts. But it all got a little claustrophobic when, on the School Board, it came time to negotiate the salaries of the teachers who were my “friends” or worse, my child’s teacher, and as journalists, the responsibility to tell the truth, as we understand it, can be thankless in a town where elected and other government officials are folks you know, like, and often consider “friends.” That tricky balance definitely gets tested during elections, and pandemics.

Here’s my understanding of the truth:

Prior to March 2020 Santa Barbara had some serious relationship issues, which included a rickety, if not downright impassable, bridge between its city leaders and its struggling business community. In his March 5th MJ cover story “The Long Now,” writer Mitchell Kriegman explored the vision void at the center of State Street’s struggle for survival and how the lack of a productive partnership between local businesses and city leaders has created a psychic rift with real world implications.

That was before COVID-19. Suddenly the new crisis and increased need for cooperative relationships revealed a wide chasm of distrust and poor communication between city government and businesses that could impede if not significantly delay Santa Barbara’s economic recovery.

Why should Montecito be so concerned about the big moving parts of Santa Barbara when technically most of Montecito, save Coast Village Road, is not part of “the city”? The answer is Montecito and Santa Barbara are inextricably linked though commerce, non-profits, education, healthcare, infrastructure, and shared resources. The health and wellbeing of Santa Barbara’s businesses are vitally important to all of us, even if we don’t have a say in choosing Santa Barbara’s city officials. The fact is, Santa Barbara relies on the vitality of Montecito the same way Montecito relies on the vitality of Santa Barbara.

Since my family moved here full time in 2009, this is the fourth major disaster Santa Barbara has experienced. The Great Recession. The Thomas Fire. A catastrophic debris flow. And now this pandemic. That is a lot of interruption, if not downright devastation, for any business community to endure. But to do so in the absence of a cooperative relationship with its own city’s government or at least a legitimate process in place to work through challenges, seems like a gratuitous stacking of the deck against our entire local economy getting out of this alive.

In one of this week’s featured stories, which can in some way be seen as part two of “The Long Now,” Mitchell Kriegman looks into the apparent absence of a legitimate partnership between Santa Barbara’s city leadership and its business community. As of this paper’s printing, a once proposed “Mayor’s Economic Council,” consisting of business leaders, city leadership, and other important stakeholders, has not materialized. Nor has emerged, to the best of our knowledge, any much-needed trust building efforts between business leaders and Santa Barbara’s City Manager – the other important prong in the city’s bifurcated power structure.

Included in Kriegman’s look inside the City’s struggle to rise to the occasion is a conversation with Jason Harris, Santa Barbara’s newly hired Economic Development Manager (known for his EDM work on Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Prominade), brought in (pre-pandemic) to tackle Santa Barbara’s already monumental business challenges. Let us hope that this new kid on State Street has brought with him not only a fresh perspective, but the badly needed tools and skill set to help rebuild our badly needed bridges of trust.

Bottom line: our local businesses need partners, in all of us. But mostly they need a willing and open partner in local government to find ways to eventually re-open, to survive and thrive. Businesses need help navigating the SBA PPP process; the permitting processes need to be streamlined to help get businesses up and running faster and easier; businesses need help mitigating the complicated issues that arise out of the city’s handling of our homeless population. The list is long.

I’m not suggesting that the onus is solely on government to find solutions to these complex problems. But it is certainly in all of our best interest for our city government to meaningfully partner with our business community in a way that allows for flexible, out of the box thinking. Because, at the end of day, if people don’t want to go downtown, we all lose.

As we begin to navigate (or at least contemplate) the end of sheltering in place and (God willing) the end of the worst of this pandemic (in a way that doesn’t cause a second wave), the onus is on our local government to create an atmosphere where businesses can flourish while keeping citizens safe; which will certainly include the need for thorough, widespread COVID testing.

Some cities will do that well. Others will not. And I suspect the consequences for both will be profound. I also suspect that cities that come out of this in the strongest position are the ones that understand there is no replacement for transparency and creative collaborations amongst stakeholders. Which brings us back to need for building bridges.

It’s a beautiful day outside. But still, around our country, people continue to suffer silently from the ongoing pandemic. No one denies that many lives have been lost because the U.S. did not act fast enough. That does not have to be the case with our local economy.

Warren Buffett famously said: “You only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out.” Time is now to put on a bathing suit and act.


We are overwhelmed by the quantity and quality of short stories we received these past two weeks for the writing prompt: “I could not believe those words came out of my mouth.”

Congratulations to this week’s winners:

1st Place
$125 gift certificate from Tre Lune Ristorante to Christine Wilson for “Untitled”

2nd Place
$100 gift certificate from Tre Lune Ristorante to Raven Wylde for “Limits of Honesty”

3rd Place
$75 gift certificate from Tre Lune Ristorante to Juliana Aviani for “Missing School”

4th Place
$50 gift certificate from Pacific Health Foods to Nate Streeper for “Untitled”

5th Place
$40 gift certificate from Pacific Health Foods to Steve Pollock for “Untitled

6th Place
$30 gift certificate from Pacific Health Foods to Kaye Walters-Edwards for “Dead Teeth”

And Now for Something Completely Different

For our next contest let’s try a limerick about Santa Barbara, isolation, corona, or all three. For those who are not familiar with this form of writing, a limerick is a kind of humorous verse of five lines, in which the first, second, and fifth lines rhyme with each other, and the third and fourth lines, which are shorter, form a rhymed couplet.

You may have once heard a famous tale of a man from Nantucket. As a child, trying to find an excuse to play with foul language, that was one of my favorites.

Here is an example of one written by British poet Edward Lear:

There was an Old Man with a beard
Who said, “It is just as I feared!
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!”

Good luck! Stay safe! And happy writing!


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