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Monday, August 18, 2008

Tourism Good for the Good Land?

Silvia Uribe Surveys Goletanos on the Coming Hotels

By Silvia Uribe

This week, I got out into the open as I try to do every week, exercising a little and enjoying a lot. In my wandering, I found myself at the Goleta Bluffs, an area that I have cherished during the decade that I have lived here. After living many years of my life in Mexico City's forest of concrete, Goleta represents an oasis of open space, ocean, and emerald green views of the hills and the mountains.

In fact, many times I choose to take Cathedral Oaks Road instead of the freeway or Hollister, just to get closer to the orchards. Like many other "Goletanos," I am no planner and no environmentalist, but I appreciate the quality of life that these open spaces offer. They represent to me a peaceful feeling of freedom.

Click to enlarge photo

However, the bluffs look quite different now that a multi-million housing development interrupts the vastness of nature, cutting it by half, thus leaving to the public two practically inaccessible, useless areas.

Meanwhile, a couple of crude oil tanks can be found about two miles down from the Bacara Resort and Spa, making for an ironic blend of pricey expansion and dirty industry.

Since I was feeling so passionately about these threats to the quality of life in Goleta, and frankly upset that we have let these things happen, I wondered how much residents know about permit issuance. So I took my pen, and a notebook, and placed myself at the Goleta Marketplace to ask people about these things. Here is my very informal, nonscientific survey:

The Method: I asked two questions of 20 people from different age, gender, social, and racial groups, all Goleta residents. My little survey included whites, Latinos, Asians, and African Americans. The youngest individual was 10 years old, and the oldest was 68. Education levels ranged from grammar school to graduate school. I spoke with business owners, workers, students, and stay-at-home moms.

This is what I asked them: 1) Do you know that a hotel will be built on the corner of Storke Road and Hollister Avenue?

Results: None of them knew about it. Of the respondents, 12 were surprised by the location selected for a hotel, 14 were concerned about the traffic impact that the project might have, and four people liked the idea considering the number of jobs that the hotel will bring to the area, thus building our economy.

Four people disagreed with the decision completely, saying that if we are to build anything, it should be affordable housing units, not hotels. Two people emphatically disagreed with the idea of new view-blocking buildings altogether.

2) Do you know that the Goleta Planning Commission is studying a plan for another hotel across from the airport on Hollister Avenue?

Results: None of them knew about this either. In the beginning, 17 out of 20 didn't understand that if this second one is approved, two different hotels will be built. They thought that it was one or the other, and in that case the one across from the airport made more sense. When they realized that both hotels may be approved, only three people supported both projects--considering them a good idea based on the jobs that would be created--but 17 thought it would be too much for our city.

Interesting facts: Only one person showed interest about the number of rooms and the height of these projects. (One respondent, a contractor, hinted that a hotel of 112 rooms would be at least three-stories tall.) The best and most inspiring thing I found was that the youths, ages 10-15 years old, had strong opinions and were as vocal as the grownups (in favor or against, whatever the case may be). Sadly, the group that seemed most indifferent were the young adults ages 18 25, who provided very little or no feedback.

I thoroughly enjoyed asking these questions of my neighbors, and hearing what they had to say about important things that affect us all. After chatting with them, I was left with one question (please excuse my ignorance): Does the Planning Commission have approval limits per year or per type of project?

UPDATE ON POLITICS: Yes, there is a Republican candidate running against Democratic incumbent Representative Lois Capps. Interestingly enough, it was none other than Lois Capps's office (not the challenger himself) that corrected me on this, which I appreciate. The Republican's name is Matt T. Kokkonen, a financial planner and resident of San Luis Obispo. Kokkonen ran in 2004 for the California State Assembly, District 33, and according to the Project Vote Smart Web site was a member of the Budget Advisory Committee for the San Luis Coastal Unified School District.

Regarding my question about what the future might hold, politically speaking, for Lois Capps, her press secretary, Emily Kryder, declined to comment and said that, for the time being, Capps is concentrated on winning the 23rd Congressional District race again on November 4.

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at the

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Doing Small Things

By Silvia Uribe

The recent fire in the Goleta hills and the community meetings that have touched on volunteerism made me think that volunteering and helping others is something that doesn't always come naturally. This emergency reminded me of a past experience that changed me forever.

It was September of 1985, when a devastating, deadly earthquake hit Mexico City. Tens of thousands of people died, most of them were buried beneath their collapsed home, office, or hospital. My family and I were physically untouched. We were one of the few lucky ones who did not have a relative die, either. After the 8.3 shake we lost the power, we couldn't drink the contaminated water due to ruptured pipes, and all we could hear were the sirens of ambulances day and night amplified by an otherwise eerie silence; no cars or buses were out on the streets, and no people were walking around going about their life. Nothing but the smell of death and suffering permeated my beloved city.

Around the area where I was living no buildings suffered any damage, but it was one of the very few neighborhoods that didn't. When, after many hours, we got the power back, we could see that people were confused, desperate for help, food, and water. Some simply needed company and a shoulder to cry on. It was painful and traumatic to see their pain and their tears, to hear them crying, screaming and begging for firefighters and other rescue teams to dig up their loved ones, always hoping to find them alive. The simple thought of those trapped underneath, wounded for sure, and knowing that these lives were slipping away in hopelessness, was unbearable to me. The TV images showed shelters full with people who looked like zombies, walking around with no direction after loosing their hope and their soul after seeing the lifeless, covered body of their son, husband, sister, wife, mother or father. I couldn't deal with all that pain.

I wanted to do something to help, but what? It was too much pain to deal with, and I thought I lacked the skills needed in such a massive disaster, so I decided that getting away was the only way to escape from others' pain and my own. It was after the 6.5 after shock the next day when I couldn't handle it anymore. I practically dragged my husband to my parent's home outside the city. Like an ostrich with its head in the dirt, I stopped watching TV, listening to the radio, and reading newspapers on a daily basis. I would do it twice a week only hoping every time things would be back to normal. But every time, they were anything but normal.

When we finally went back to our own home in the city, some of the everyday normalcy had come back - people working, some traffic, no more sirens constantly screaming death - but I continued to feel helpless. The more time passed, the worse I felt, and the notion that I did nothing became terribly unsettling. However, taking action was never an option for me at the time, even though the need for help was still present everywhere. I kept repeating to myself that I was incapable of doing anything that would help mitigate the profound pains of the broken spirits. My encapsulation in my no less than "perfect" world had me immobilized, trapped in an invisible, yet unbreakable cage. I had a great husband who had a great job, a set of loving parents, I was about to become a mother, I had a lovely house in a nice and safe neighborhood, and a business of my own. Yes, it is true that I also had a few hiccups in my lifetime, nothing real big, but life went back to normal rather quickly every time.

I didn't know how to react to not perfect, hurtful, and plain unmanageable situations like the one I and almost 20 million others were going through; I didn't realize that I had every possibility to go out and help had I just put my feelings into action. With time, and little by little, I realized that I could have gone to the shelters and volunteered and kept company to those lonely ones. Or I could have helped dig up on the streets, or bring meals to the rescuers. It was too late by then. I realized that anything that I would have done, would have been of great help, and would have made a difference, but I was more self-absorbed in my own pain than thinking about other human beings.

This was a hard wake up call. I was ashamed of myself for months. I went from sadness to enragement, and from quietness to random explosions of anger, until I made a decision: This would never happen to me again. I would never overlook others' pain or needs, on a daily basis, and I would act to mitigate it to the full extent of my possibilities. I felt happy immediately (which was no less random.) I felt liberated when I realized, and accepted that we don't have to do any heroic things; that we only need to be there whenever a person needs us, no (not when it is most convenient for us) and offer the help that's needed, no strings attached. I abruptly realized that my well-known, predictable, "perfect" world instantaneously had become too small, too unreal, and too uncomfortable for me.

As a woman, mother, wife, and as a citizen of the world, I felt it was my duty to raise my children to be open to the world - as is - not as we want it to be, aware of its contrasts, its injustices, and its pains. Intuitively I knew that, by example, I could teach them to care about others, and offer their extended hand when needed.

And there I was, me. The pampered only-child being born again in my 20's, and thus having a new outlook in life! As weird as this sounds, it felt just fine. It took me a while to learn to do it right, though, at least to a point where I found a good balance between the needs of others and my own needs (I'm no saint, you know?). I made lots of mistakes in my quest to learn; giving too much (this too can be problematic at times,) or too little; helping in an untimely manner, letting people down, or being indiscrete when offering the help. After all these years, have I finally gotten it right? Maybe, or perhaps I still need to learn a lot more. I have the distinct feeling that this might be both a journey and a way of living. I only know that a peaceful feeling is present, that the whole experience is much more rewarding, and that I like living in the here and the now, being aware of others needs and being a resource whenever possible.

Wait. Isn't this for what spiritual leaders, from the past and the present, have constantly advocated? It took me 20+ years plus a large and devastating natural disaster to understand the message, but the good news is, I got it!

"Do small things with great love" - Mother Teresa

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.

Cross-posted at

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Second Generation of Columnists Take Over

Goleta Grapevine Enters the Second Phase of Its Evolution, With a Weekly Rotation of Writers

By Silvia Uribe

Today is what we can call my "debut" as a part of the "second generation" of your Goleta Grapevine. I have to say that I was thrilled when I was approached to partake in what, up to now, was mostly Margaret Connell's column. Now that she has decided to run for Goleta's City Council, she will be 100 percent committed to her campaign. So, here I am, excited for the opportunity to communicate with all of you, and ready to write about the stories relevant to our community's interests, politics, sports, and social life in general.

To do this right - even though my contacts in the community keep me well informed - I will appreciate your leads in advance on anything interesting, important, or plain curious that you think is worth sharing with others. I encourage you to write to me and tell me what you have in mind. After all, this column is called Goleta Grapevine, right?

As for my background, I was born and raised in Mexico City, where I studied philosophy and Spanish literature, got married, and formed a family. Fifteen years ago, my family and I arrived in Santa Barbara, and a few years later, we moved to Goleta. I am the founder and owner of Transil-Pro, a translation and interpreting company based in Goleta, which has allowed me to collaborate with nonprofit organizations, county and city governments, and corporations alike. I also am a freelance writer for both English and Spanish language publications. I love everything I do, but writing is my passion.

TALKIN' POLITICS: We have to talk politics on the Grapevine, especially in the very effervescent time just before the elections. The political race is about to start - motors are warming up, plans are being made, strategies are being created, and politicians stand at the starting line already knowing the path that they want to take: one that would whoosh them to the final line as winners on November 4.

Many of the Democratic campaigns headquarters are housed together in one office, at 430 Chapala Street, which seems a fiscally responsible solution to me, notwithstanding its practicality. Volunteers are not only welcomed but truly needed during campaign time. If you have a little time to invest in helping your candidates, just swing by.

A politician not housing her campaign headquarters there is Lois Capps, which is quite surprising. Was this decision based on the fact that she's unopposed, which could mean no need for such collaboration, or could it be that she perceives this coming term as her last one, thus no need for her party's support in the future?

NO GOOD LAND FIESTA: No Fiesta in the Good Land:again? After living in Goleta for the last 10 years, and craving some Fiesta action in my town, I was very disappointed to see that nothing is really going on.

2008's Spirit of Fiesta Jessica Marquez (left) and Junior Spirit Ashley Almada
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Margaret Connell

2008's Spirit of Fiesta Jessica Marquez (left) and Junior Spirit Ashley Almada

Yes, I am aware that there was an event on June 4, at Rancho La Patera and Stow House, called "Fiesta Ranchera." Although I applaud the effort and the initiative, I truly believe that this event missed the mark.

Please, someone tell me, is it so difficult to organize something related to Fiesta during Fiesta? At least a couple of events that would allow us, Goletians - or in Spanish, "Goletanos" - to avoid the big crowds in Santa Barbara, and at the same time, enjoy such this wonderful tradition. How about having the flamenco and Mexican dancers, and the singers at Girsh Park for our own "Noches de Ronda?"

It would not be a huge expense for our city to get a wood platform and a P.A. system rented. Maybe someone in the community might donate it, or if we collaborate with the Old Spanish Days organization, we might get it loaned to us. Who knows? The point is to bring family entertainment to our city that would allow us to partake in such a historical event in our laid back style.

GANGS IN GOLETA: Last week, I heard a very simple and interesting question: Is Goleta immune to gangs?

The question is timely and relevant because of the increased gang activity in Santa Barbara. Yes, we do hear of things here and there about graffiti, fights at Dos Pueblos and San Marcos, and some people complaining in the Isla Vista area about youth been harassed and pressured by older gang members, but nothing compared to the recent stabbings that we've all heard about.

One of the possible reasons for this suppression of violence may be that the Sheriff's Department has done a good job in keeping its fingers on the pulse of the town, and acting before things get out of control. Here's a formula that always work when problems are in sight: Attention + action = Prevention.

OUR NEIGHBOR MICHAEL JORDAN? It was heard on the Grapevine that Michael Jordan (he was back in town for the youth basketball camp that he does every year) has been looking for a home right here in Goleta. If he chooses to be our neighbor, it will be a proof of his good taste, and his appreciation for our still lovely town, and its people.

Have a good week, and enjoy life.

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at the