The Nets: Fiscal irresponsibility and why it’s now the County’s turn!

By Jeff Giordano   |   September 5, 2023

Pat McElroy is the executive director of The Project for Resilient Communities(TPRC), and his recent MJ article was both moving and telling. It spoke to what intellectual curiosity, determination, and private citizens can do when they engage. Now, I don’t know Pat, but I do know co-founder Brett Matthews from another, more eastern-centric life, which is why I wasn’t all that surprised that it took just 16 months to move from concept to an installed debris flow solution – bravo! But now it’s the County’s turn to minimally step-up and here is where I’ll part ways with the County-deference that Pat’s article so graciously exhibited. Allow me to explain:

For those of us who care (and thankfully there are more than a few), we have become “enablers.” I don’t use this term loosely, but we need to begin asking why our 433,000-person county has 2,029 nonprofits while Monterey County, with the exact same population, has 85. WE think, WE act, WE give, and while that’s the reason we have a “Santa Barbara” Opera, Symphony, Zoo, Granada Theatre, Arts & Lectures, and Debris Nets, it unfortunately also gives the County an accountability-pass of sorts.

As some of you know, I rage against the fiscal mismanagement of our $1.48B County! Why couldn’t the County have hosted a Thought Conference to explore debris flow solutions? Or, why couldn’t the Board of Supervisors have used their specific “discretion” over $259.3M (June 2018 budget) to pay the $6M that TPRC raised? After all, most of it came from our property taxes! NEWS FLASH: Our County’s stated mission is to“provide quality public service to the PEOPLE in response to their need for a SAFE and healthy environment.” 

Between 2020 and 2023, our county’s population decreased yet over that same period, salaries for our now 4,636 County employees skyrocketed by 23 percent! Yes, a whopping $782M is spent each year just on salaries and benefits. And, as certain Santa Barbara County Supervisors applaud the idea of declining Montecito home values to the NY Times (Have you no shame,Mr. Williams?), salaries increased $50M this year alone, funded in-part by – you guessed it – a 10 percent increase in our property taxes, which now reach $293M. Oh, and in case you missed it, the $6M or so we receive in Cannabis taxes is more than off-set by the $8M (take my word!) it costs to collect it. So, when you write the County about the Debris Nets use some facts to talk about how the County chooses to spend OUR money.

What about our $456M Public Safety and $90M Custody budget, you ask? Well, our newly built $120M Northern Jail came in $42M over budget, with an annual operating cost of $25.4M, which is $8.1M ($8.1M!) over what was origianally approved, i.e., $2M more – EVERY YEAR – than the Debris Nets cost. Where is the accountability? Well, sadly, in a county without political competition or a platform that speaks truth to power, there is none. Instead, we give because for the lucky few giving is easier than asking the hard questions. And, in some cases, that’s OK because in our bucolic bubble we should never forget that Santa Barbara’s 15 percent Poverty Rate is well above the 11 percent national average. 

So, let’s continue to give where needed because without us – Santa Barbara would not be Santa Barbara. But let’s also know the facts about where our largesse should go and not shy away from asking the County to do more for “us” and less for “them.” Please, do as Pat asked and “raise your voice” to the Supervisors because now it’s the county’s turn.  

Jeff Giordano, 

Santa Barbara County Resident  


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