By Joe Payne
The Santa Maria city budget is under scrutiny, but for divergent reasons. Two local groups plan to rally outside City Hall on Tuesday, June 16, just before a budget hearing to call for changes they want to see.
The Santa Maria City Council proposed cutting services and staffing after a massive drain on revenues to the general fund caused by lack of sales tax after the economic fallout from the coronavirus crisis. The newly renovated Paul Nelson Aquatics Center pool may stay closed until April of 2021, which has the Santa Maria Swim Club organizing to influence the council to reopen the facility sooner.
“Your City pool gets closed tomorrow at City Council if you don’t act TODAY,” the Santa Maria Swim Club posted on its Facebook page, along with a flier that denotes the time of the rally and information on the programs the club use the pool to provide.
Other departments may see budget cuts and closures as well, including the Santa Maria Public Library, which could stay closed until September of 2020. Cuts to staffing at the Recreation and Parks Department are proposed as well. Full disclosure: The author works part-time for Recreation and Parks as a music instructor.
Another group in town, not a club like Santa Maria Swim, but a newly formed activist coalition, is more concerned with the amount of funding for a specific department.
A flier shared online by members of the Santa Maria Youth Abolitionists calls for cuts to the Santa Maria Police Department (SMPD) budget instead of the facilities and services altered in the proposed budget. A rally is scheduled for 5 p.m. at City Hall by the activist group, which asks locals to “bring your signs, energy, and make your voice heard!”
“Call for the defunding of the SMPD as we work as a community towards the end of policing!” the flier reads. “We demand a community review of the budget before it’s voted on!”
Calls to “defund” or “abolish” the police have been voiced by progressive groups as the Black Lives Matter movement resurged into the national spotlight following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Dereck Chauvin in May. In Minneapolis, Minnesota, where Floyd was killed, the City Council has agreed to disband the current police department and replace it with a community-led model of law enforcement.
With national polling showing that a majority of Americans support police reform after the death of George Floyd, activists and abolitionists have pointed to the outsized amount of municipal budgets that police departments enjoy. Santa Maria is no exception.
According to the City Council’s proposed budget, the Police Department is slated to receive 42 percent of the city budget. The Fire Department would receive 20 percent, putting the city’s entire public safety funds at more than 60 percent. The Recreation and Parks Department, which includes the Paul Nelson Aquatics Center, will see 11 percent of the budget. The Santa Maria Public Library will receive just 0.8 percent of the proposed budget.
Two Black Lives Matter rallies have centered at the Santa Maria City Hall already, with one on May 31 that was followed by unrest and some destruction of property and another entirely peaceful protest on June 4 organized by the local NAACP branch, but neither demonstration called for defunding or cutting funding to the city’s police department. The two rallies scheduled around Santa Maria’s budget hearings may have differing inspirations, but could be able to make a case together in cutting funding to the SMPD and pushing it towards services and opening facilities like the pool.
Whether the Santa Maria City Council, which leans more conservative with only one progressive member, will heed the call of either group remains to be seen. Fiscal responsibility has long been a characterizing trait of Santa Maria’s city government, as well as strong support for the police department.
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