ASK NOT FOR WHOM THE COW MOOS: City cops are steadfastly refusing to investigate what really happened to Bossie the Cow. They don’t want to know. Actually, they already know. They just don’t want us to know. Cops are sentimental that way.
Bossie was the life-sized plaster cow that for 80 years sat perched atop a pedestal affixed to the roof of the former headquarters of McConnell’s Ice Cream, that improbably cool white building at the corner of Milpas and Canon Perdido streets, its walls punctuated with even cooler glass bricks. Architects like to call such buildings “Streamline Moderne.”
Last week, the county coroner grimly reported that Bossie had taken a fatal fall from her pedestal. What was left of her mortal coil lay splintered and splattered, but a green face mask was found dutifully covering Bossie’s face.
The question, of course, was whether Bossie had been tipped — the victim of foul play — or had succumbed to natural causes.
It’s an important determination. As the city’s single most playfully interactive architectural icon, Bossie had given joy to thousands of high-school pranksters, who over the decades painted her countless times, repainted her countless times, kidnapped her more than once, and — according to one totally unconfirmed source — hid her out in the deep end of a swimming pool. In the hyperventilated rivalry between Santa Barbara and San Marcos high schools, Bossie conferred upon the victor ultimate bragging rights.
Bossie, it turns out, did herself in. She leapt. Things have gotten so bad that not even a plaster cow could take it anymore. The note said it all: “‘Twas despair that killed the cow.”
Think about it. When Bossie went up in the late 1930s, Santa Barbara and the United States were in the depths of a depression so bad that it’s spelled with a capital D. Back then, the guy in the White House scooted around in a wheelchair, but he got stuff done. Minimum wage. Social security. To name just a few. In today’s dollars, Santa Barbara got half a billion bucks’ worth of federal assistance. That built the Post Office, the Los Baños Pool, the first six miles of Highway 101, the downtown Armory, what used to be Laguna Stadium, an addition to City Hall, a maritime museum, and a TB wing for what was then the General Hospital. By contrast, today we have a guy in the White House who is nothing but a rubber crutch, a fact that’s rubbed in our faces on an hourly basis.
Right now, 40 million unemployed Americans are facing the credible threat of eviction because COVID has left them without jobs. Almost five million of these people live in California.
Three weeks ago, the federal unemployment assistance expired — a $600-a-week emergency stipend that kept the economy from tanking, the steel-plated umbrella that kept the sky from falling. The Democrats had a plan in place months in advance that would have both protected tenants from eviction and given the landlords the mortgage relief they need from the banks. To the extent the Republicans had a plan, it protected neither.
President Donald Trump, absent without leave throughout these so-called negotiations, tossed in a last-minute package of executive orders that’s all faux front. At the very best, they’re merely unconstitutional. The eviction protection Trump purports to provide is, in reality, only a suggestion that the head of Health and Human Services “shall consider” whether eviction protection would help during the pandemic and find the funds necessary to further study the matter. The unemployment stipend would be $400 a week, not $600, but only if states pick up 25 percent of the tab.
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For California, that’s $700 million a week it does not have. States — unlike the federal government — are not empowered to print money or spend money they don’t have. Economists reckon there’s enough money in Trump’s piggy bank — authorized initially to provide hurricane relief — to last maybe one week. As for the payroll relief, that’s smoke and mirrors too. For employees, it would generate $46 in deduction savings for a $1,000 paycheck, not enough to do any real good, but just enough to torpedo Social Security, from which the payments will be short stopped.
Santa Barbara County, last I checked, had 27,400 recipients of the expanded unemployment benefits. Without it, a lot of people can’t pay their rent. A lot of smaller landlords won’t be able to pay their mortgages. The state, city, and county have emergency measures in place preventing evictions through September 30, but the real brick wall protecting tenants has been the edict issued by the California Judicial Council stating that no courts in California can process unlawful detainers. But that brick wall comes down on Friday, August 14, unless there’s a reprieve.
Locally, most landlords have moved heaven and earth to work with their tenants. And tenants have reciprocated. But we’re coming to the tipping point.
In August, 79.3 percent of tenants paid rent. The year before, the number was 81.2 percent. But according to the Census Bureau, 4.3 million California tenants are now expressing little or no confidence they can pay next month’s rent. In June, that number was 3.7 million.
And as helpful as most landlords have been, not all are. Alex Lambrous of the Legal Aid Society said he used to get one or two cases a year involving “self-help” evictions, in which landlords deploy extra-legal means to get rid of their tenants; now, he’s getting that same number every week. In these instances, he said, landlords turn off the utilities, conduct multiple unannounced inspections, schedule fumigations, and in one instance, broke into a tenant’s apartment and hid her laptop.
It’s nut-cutting time; push came to shove three weeks ago.
In response, Santa Barbara’s Assemblymember Monique Limón — also head of the Banking Committee — is co-sponsoring a bill (AB 1436) that would extend the eviction moratorium on tenants who can’t pay because of COVID through next April. But it would also provide much-needed mortgage relief to landlords, especially the smaller mom-and-pops who find themselves caught between a rock and hard place: between their banks and their tenants.
It turns out 58 percent of the California tenants who experienced job loss since February rent from mom-and-pop landlords. About one quarter of these landlords report having been forced to take out a loan since March just to keep the lights on. AB 1436 would give smaller landlords (defined as owning one to four units) 12 months of mortgage relief. Not forgiveness, but relief. Larger landlords would get six months. It would be up to the banks and the landlords to work it out. But among the options not allowed under this bill are any lump-sum balloon payments in which all back payments would become due.
This measure goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee later this week, where it’s expected to pass. Its eventual passage, however, is anything but assured. Limón had introduced a one-size-fits-all bill earlier in the year that would also have offered mortgage relief to landlords, but it also offered relief on car loans and predatory pay day loans.
In June, this bill — AB 2501 — came within one vote of getting out of committee. But two dozen lobbyists hired by the banking industry, the large apartment owners, car dealerships, and the Repo Man industry — yes, even repo men have lobbyists in Sacramento — came unglued. Despite Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon turning over every rock for votes, AB 2501 went down to bruising defeat.
This week, I have listened yet again to Santa Barbara’s apartment owners and tenant activists square off over how much rental assistance landlords will have to provide pay-the-rent-on-time tenants who are being effectively evicted through no fault of their own. I would like to offer a modest proposal.
Both sides should declare a truce and work together on behalf of Limón’s bill AB 1436. I’ve heard enough mom-and-pops tell me how the Big Institutionalized Investor Property Companies — the REITs — are intentionally exploiting this crisis by scooping up distressed properties that smaller landlords have been forced to sell, unable to pay for their mortgages. As harsh as Santa Barbara’s rental market currently is, it will get infinitely worse if this scenario is allowed to play out.
So maybe for two months, everybody now arguing about the details of Just Cause eviction can please shut up — a moratorium if you will — and start lobbying together to get AB 1436 passed.
In so suggesting, I recognize I’m pissing up a very long rope. But frankly, I don’t know what the alternative is.
If this keeps on keeping on, it won’t just be the plaster cow jumping. But whatever you do, be sure to wear a mask.
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