For several months, activist Anna Marie Gott has made a name for herself at the town hall of Santa Barbara.
About 5 feet 8 inches tall, with a searing voice and a sense of urgency in everything she does, Gott has stacked advice on vacation rentals, high density housing and qualifications of Cathy Murillo to serve as mayor.
Not your usual City Hall gadfly, Gott does in-depth, surgical research into the topics she brings up and doesn’t criticize anyone she thinks isn’t doing their job at City Hall.
She has spoken out loudly against vacation rental conversions, saying they are consuming Santa Barbara’s affordable housing stock, while blowing up the city’s high-density housing ordinance, saying homes don’t serve those who need them most.
Almost on her own, she organized a successful candidate forum for residents of District 3 Westside, which drew about 75 people to the Harding University Partnership Library.
But now she’s been in the crosshairs of the city council and the city attorney, since the date of a vacation rental call.
The bubbling contempt for Gott erupted at City Hall last week.
In a bizarre exchange at a public council meeting, some of the council members accused her of asking for “large public files,” to force a delay.
City Councilor Randy Rowse compared her to someone who “abuses IRS”. He said the advice was “taken”.
City attorney Ariel Calonne showed open disgust for Gott, rolling his eyes and turning away from the microphone.
City Councilor Jason Dominguez said the council had lost its “dignity” with the way it responded to Gott’s attempt to delay a hearing date.
“To have everyone stack up on a party that came here with their best intention, to say that they are using this to delay a process is unprecedented for me, and I’m a little ashamed that we are doing that to a member.” of the public, who just want to spend their day in front of this board, ”said Dominguez.
The drama stems from Gott’s call for a proposal to convert a house into a vacation rental at 402 Anacapa St.
The Architectural Review Board approved the conversion on April 9. Gott appealed the conversion and, in the process, requested documents and emails related to the project.
The city provided Gott with some documents, but not the full amount she requested.
She wants to review the documents before the appeal and has requested an appeal date of August 7 or 14. However, the owner of the house said July 10 was the last date the plaintiff was willing to wait.
In addition to not having the documents, Gott said she was supposed to help her mother at USC with medical appointments. Gott said her mother suffered from stage IV melanoma and had been treated for 28 brain tumors.
The day before the July date, Gott’s mother is due to see an oncologist and have MRIs, CT scans, and blood tests. Gott said she was her mother’s sole caregiver and advocate and needed to be there for her during and after dates.
“I don’t believe this is how public inquiries are supposed to be handled,” Gott said. “I have not received some of the documents that I think are necessary for this appeal. I will not even be in the city of Santa Barbara at this meeting.
As she received communications from the city lately she said, “Not an email. Not a phone call. Complete and absolute silence.
Santa Barbara City Clerk Sarah Gormon said, “Ms. Gott has filed several voluminous California Public Records Act applications.
“Many of them have been filled and some of them are still awaiting review and production by staff,” Gormon said.
She added that the applications are “large and also require review by regular staff and city attorney staff before production.”
Calonne jumped into the fray, first saying, “Frankly, the identity of the caller has nothing to do with what’s going on here,” then lambasted the California Public Records Request Act for being a warrant. not funded.
“I am not in a position to feel very sorry for the time it takes to respond to public records,” Calonne said. “If the state didn’t care, it would let us see the true cost of producing these documents.”
Calonne bluntly accused Gott of deliberately delaying the project.
“I’m a little frustrated with this,” Calonne said. “I understand the situation. It is not an injustice. It’s closer to using a process to delay, frankly, and that’s why we approach it the way we do. “
Calonne expressed open disgust in response to Councilor Kristen Sneddon’s question about how long it would actually take to produce the records.
“It depends on when one of my employees can find half a week to spare, digging through emails, board member Sneddon,” Calonne said under his breath, rolling his eyes.
Later, after Dominguez, also a lawyer, suggested that staff postpone the hearing date to August 7 to accommodate Gott, Calonne backed out and then contradicted himself again.
“I want to apologize for my tone,” Calonne said. “People have the right to ask for records and that’s an important right. I understand that.”
Then he said, “I’ve been practicing law for 35 years as well, and discovery and interposition for delay is discovery and interposition for delay, so when I advise staff I’m not going to be stupid.” , Calonne said.
“So you hear my judgment. You don’t hear my disrespect for the public records law or the appellant or the plaintiff.
Rowse then stacked on top of Gott.
“To me, that’s exactly why people abuse RARs,” Rowse said. “It’s one of those things where, ‘I don’t like the project, I’m going to delay it.’ That’s what it is, I think we’re taken here.
Dominguez was upset with the way the city attorney and council members were treating Gott.
“I think it’s unfortunate; it seems our jury here has been plagued by comments and people are committed to prejudging the quality of a party’s arguments before us, ”Dominguez said. “The Public Records Act is a fundamental cornerstone of our American democracy. The sun is the best bleach to find out what your government is doing. The only way to find out is through a public records law request. “
Dominguez pushed again for August 7.
“I think if we want to try to get our dignity back here, why don’t we just put it on August 7th and if the applicant has a problem with that, we can just bring him back to this advice.”
Ultimately, however, the board was not swayed. He voted 4-2 to leave the appeal date July 10. Council members Dominguez and Sneddon voted in favor of Gott.
Gott has said she will have to cancel and reschedule her mother’s medical appointments, and will be at town hall on July 10, with or without the documents.
“This is something I have to do because city council gave me no other option,” Gott told Noozhawk.