Column: Measure S needs tweaking before ballot return

Kyle Rokes, Mental health facilities should be focus

Measure S, the one that would’ve authorized a half-cent sales tax to raise money for a new jail, did not go over well in Santa Barbara.

By the end of the night, 61 percent of voters said ‘no thanks.’

However, local sheriff Bill Brown promised to carry on what he sees as the good fight against crime by making sure the measure returns next time around.

But the various agencies tasked with helping regular, everyday folks with some of life’s challenges are 900-pound gorillas roaming lazily about, and not enough voters are holding those agencies accountable.

Santa Barbara police and sheriffs represent the fraternity of law enforcement admirably.

In short, they do their job.

These “gorillas” do not. You can blame Ronald Reagan.

One of his legacies, besides spearheading the Board of Governors fee waiver and the free tuition so many of us enjoy, was shutting down the state’s mental health services and hospitals.

These facilities catered to a wide range of needs, from people with chemical dependency to serious mental problems. Unfortunately, the facilities themselves had many systemic problems and suffered from a lack of compassion.

But many taxpayers were driven crazy by having to pay to help the mentally ill. Such treatments are best left to the private—and lucrative—practitioners, they complained.

In turn, the state did the only sane thing it could think of to save money: it closed the controversial hospitals.

But it’s 2010. We’re an older and wiser, if not kinder, California.

Yes, we’re in debt. And yes, if we weren’t, and the powers behind the sheriff still wanted that new prison built, it’d get built.

But the Golden State has been hemorrhaging money for who knows how long. The only way pro-jail supporters could raise cash was with a teeny tiny half-cent tax increase.

Who would complain? If they emphasized law and order, who would say no?

58,242 voters on Tuesday, apparently.

The county offers services for those who can’t afford private and pricey therapy. But the county’s offering is sub-par. “What do you expect?” the bureaucrats ask defensively. “We don’t have any money.”

But there are still those struggling with problems to no fault of their own.

How do these things contribute to crime?

Sheriff Brown, as you conduct a post mortem on Measure S, please pay specific attention to the root causes of the problem, and not just the symptoms.

What might be nice is if a new half-cent tax were proposed to overhaul the county’s mental health “gorilla.” Don’t think of it as being soft on crime. Think about it as making extra room at the jail for the crimes to be collared come next huge gang bust.

The sheriff would simply be helping those who can’t help themselves.