Editorial – Putting out fires

Channels Staff, Channels Staff, and Channels Staff

Ten students were condemned as the culprits behind the Tea Fire long before the District Attorney’s investigation was completed. Nine of them were enrolled at City College.

The court of pubic opinion did not wait to see evidence or hear arguments.

“Before the District Attorney’s Office received any investigative reports, there was a public perception that ten college-age students started the Tea Fire,” according to the DA’s statement prior to their names being released.

Comments and blogs on local news Web sites show that these until-recently-unnamed individuals were demonized for starting an ill-advised bonfire at the Tea Gardens the previous night.

However, the community’s attacks did not stop at these individuals, and the incident became a catalyst for resentment toward City College.

The long list of grievances that have been brought up among locals indicates that we are somehow a threat to their isolated, Central Coast paradise.

Our school has now been vilified, and in the wake of the Tea Fire destruction, it seems that any and all contributions to the community have disappeared. The vast number of accomplished people who started at City College seems to be forgotten.

We contribute to UCSB education, provide jobs for graduates and supply a steady stream of transfer students who call Santa Barbara home for four years or longer. Our professional programs provide affordable training for locals in diverse areas, from culinary arts to sound recording to marine diving technology.

Despite stereotypes regarding the student population in town, there are many ways that we support the local economy. As if rent alone isn’t enough, we also support local businesses by eating at restaurants and shopping on State Street.

We add to the otherwise non-existent night scene downtown every day of the week.

Many of the disgruntled curmudgeons crying wolf are torn between trying to be forensic fire experts or conspiracy theorists.

For the record, the bonfire fire in question was extinguished 14 hours prior to the Tea Fire.

As many as four-dozen tips reported suspicious activity in the interim period prior to the blaze. However, no evidence was found of another fire being started.

Not one of the six prosecutors from the DA’s office felt there was enough evidence to charge these individuals for starting the Tea Fire.

This is not a case of underage drinking. The DA reported that one bottle of rum was present, which only one person is known to have been swigging from. She also reported that no drugs were involved.

There is a massive student population in Santa Barbara. It extends from Montecito to Goleta, and while City College lies physically in the middle, it is by no means the only attraction for “out-of-towners.”

The great losses sustained by those whose homes burned, which includes City College students and faculty members, led to a renewed sense of community. Even when residents were forced to evacuate their homes, not knowing if they would ever return, they immediately reached out to help others.

No amount of scapegoating will bring back the homes that were destroyed.

Let us not forget, in the aftermath of this tragedy, the overwhelming spirit of togetherness that united Santa Barbara following the fire – for it was not the first, and will not be the last.

The people of Santa Barbara need to move on and look to the future. City College is not going anywhere, and will continue to have a positive impact on the greater Santa Barbara community as it continues to be an exemplary educational institution.