By: Elena Richardson, Grants Program Manager for The Fund for Santa Barbara
From Casa Magazine published July 24th, 2015.
Nearly fifteen years ago, thirty activists gathered in the home Dick & Mickey Flacks. What brought them together was desire: some of them had a passion for social justice; others were environmental activists. They sought a place where progressive activists in Santa Barbara County could plan, dream, and join social and environmental justice issues within one organization. “For example,” Dick Flacks remembers, “we wanted to work for affordable housing as a priority, and use a community planning process that both protected the natural environment while promoting people of all socio-economic classes.”
In that initial meeting of 2001, the group determined that if they could get 100 activists to commit $250 each toward this effort, they would launch an organization. By January 2002, they had exceeded their goal and moved forward with incorporation. SBCAN (Santa Barbara County Action Network) was founded in 2002 “to bring together environmental activism and social justice in Northern Santa Barbara County,” said Ken Hough, the current SBCAN Executive Director. The Fund for Santa Barbara has provided seed funding and ongoing support to the organization since 2002.
SBCAN serves as the progressive government watchdog in Northern Santa Barbara County and works countywide. “There is no shortage of issues,” says Joann Marmolejo, SBCAN Board Member, and Hough agrees. With his background in regional planning, Hough says a typical day might find him doing land use research, writing, attending planning meetings, and fundraising. The breadth of issues “is what I love about my job and what makes me crazy about my job,” laughs Ken. “One minute I’m researching the endangered California Tiger Salamander then it’s onto fighting oil trains along our coastline.”
Tackling complex policy issues—in ways that will both support working people and protect the precious natural resources of Santa Barbara County—is what SBCAN specializes in. The work is technical and engages activists with county officials and staff as well as business and development interests. But the rewards are sweet. Because of SBCAN, for example, agricultural workers in Guadalupe have increased and improved access to public transit; low-income seniors can stay on in manufactured (“mobile”) home parks, a last frontier for affordable housing in the county; and agricultural land in Northern Santa Barbara County has been conserved and protected against development.
Lawanda Lyons-Pruitt, on left, accepts the Social Justice Award from SBCAN during the North County “Looking Forward” Awards Dinner in Santa Maria on June 7, 2015, while dignitaries wait to present their own awards. From left, they are Joyce Howerton representing State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, Congresswoman Lois Capps, former SBCAN president Joann Marmolejo, Cory Bantilan representing County Supervisor Steve Lavagnino and County Supervisor Salud Carbajal. (Photo credit: Jeanne Sparks)
“We have some wins and we have some losses, but we always educate and mobilize the community throughout the process,” says Hough. He points to the monthly meetings that SBCAN holds in both the north and south ends of the county, called “HOT” (for Housing, Open Space, and Transportation) that keeps SBCAN community-centered. Hough says that they “help us keep our ear to the ground” so that the group can “meet the emerging environmental justice needs of Santa Barbara County while working in coalition with other agencies and organizations.”