By Raiza Giorgi

Citing fiscal concerns and diminishing duties was the main reasons for giving a 90-day termination notice to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Community Service Resource Deputy (CRD) Charlie Uhrig during the Feb. 10 Solvang City Council meeting. Then the council got an earful at their next regularly scheduled meeting on Feb. 24 from residents and Uhrig himself on the importance of the position. 

At the Solvang City Council meeting on Feb. 10, the contract for the CRD was brought up by staff with City Manager Xenia Bradford stating rising costs in contract services with the Sheriff’s Department in eliminating the position. Bradford also said the city was projecting just over $2 million dollars for the Sheriff’s contract. 

Bradford added that over time changes of scopes of services were reviewed and the need for the CRD is diminishing. Since hiring IDK Events, Bradford continued they will be managing events and the need to work with the CRD has diminished. Since the city has been getting requests for more traffic enforcement, it could be better served with that position instead. 

The only speaker for the Feb. 10 meeting was Mary Conway of the Santa Ynez Valley Youth Coalition. 

“I work to help prevent youth substance abuse, and not an expert of everything Charlie has done in the past, but it’s been so great to have CRD in our community,” Conway said. “He goes way beyond any officer would go to connect with kids and be a mentor. He is at school dances to keep them safe. We need to have him here full time. To replace a resource with traffic there will be a huge void for our kids.”

According to the staff report, the CRD costs to the city was estimated at $225,221 for fiscal year 2019-20; however, there was no mention of the COPS for Community Oriented Policing Services grant the city gets to subsidize a majority if not all of the costs for Uhrig’s position. Since fiscal year 2015-16, the city hasn’t spent more than $55,000 on the CRD, and in the past two fiscal years there was only $27,000 spent with no cost for the CRD in 2018-19, according to past city budget documents. 

COPS is the component of the U.S. Department of Justice responsible for advancing the practice of community policing by the nation’s state, local, territorial, and tribal law enforcement agencies through information and grant resources.

When the topic was brought back to council, Councilman Daniel Johnson said $250,000 for a CRD was egregious and he didn’t know the scope of work for this position, and added that if it’s just for parades and traffic control, IDK was hired for that. 

Councilman Chris Djernaes agreed with Johnson that the city paying way too much for scope of services. 

“There are a few important things, but the rest not necessary in my opinion,” Djernaes said. 

The vote to terminate the CRD position on Feb. 10 was 3-2, with Mayor Pro Tem Robert Clarke and Councilwoman Karen Waite dissenting. 

During public comment for the Feb. 24 meeting, Solvang resident Hank Homburg was the only voice aligning with the council citing fiscal concerns and wanting a part-time motorcycle cop. 

“I heard at the last council meeting it would be bad for tourists for traffic officer,” Homburg said. “It’s mostly the people who live in Buellton who take Chalk Hill, Fredensborg and Alisal, people know how to get around the valley without using Highway 246.” 

Uhrig then stood up and confronted the council saying they were told misinformation by Bradford. 

“I am your lame duck menu item CRD. I am here to correct misinformation you were given,” he said. “I was not talked to before that meeting. The great thing about the CRD, they can do almost anything needed for the city, and yes traffic enforcement is one of those. I do more than just event traffic, I do citations, code enforcement, deal with homelessness, panhandlers and recreation events. There was no mention of the grants that offset the cost of this position, and are still there.

“I don’t know what next year will cost, but I do know it won’t be $200,000 because of those grants, Uhrig added. “When I retired at the age of 46 and attended law enforcement academy my dream was to work here in Solvang in this job. I have been fortunate to work alongside many upstanding city employees and community members.” 

Uhrig got emotional when he went on to say that he helped create some of the many programs residents enjoy today like Movies in the Park, Concerts in the Park, Rec n’ Roll, teen classes, shred day, the Sheriff’s volunteer program and youth activities programs among some. 

“This council has said over and over about transparency and communication, but no one except a select few are told what is going on in this city,” Uhrig concluded. “Please before you consider terminating city positions you weigh and evaluate the person, talk to and not at employees. Don’t just make change for change sake.”

There was a loud applause in council chambers and Clarke quieted the audience. Mayor Ryan Toussaint was absent from the Feb. 24 meeting as he was in Copenhagen. 

Solvang resident Rikka Rasmussen also spoke out in support of the CRD position.

“I feel the decision is short-sighted, and losing the CRD will hurt actual citizens in Solvang as well as the tourists. A lot of people don’t realize it’s not just the adults, but the kids in the community.” 

Former councilman Ed Skytt spoke in favor of maintaining a CRD position as he brought up that the city in the past had averaged $85,000 for a city attorney, and the current city attorney is close to $380,000 by his calculations, for billing. 

“If we can come up with that for him (referring to Chip Wullbrandt), we can come up with costs for a CRD,” Skytt said. 

Resident and business owner Aaron Petersen said his experience in government is that it’s a zero-sum game, and the city shouldn’t be here to make money, and they need to listen to public input. 

“We can have a CRD officer and I would love to see a motorcycle cop, why can’t we do both?,” Petersen said. “We need to get along and make our city better.”

When Uhrig was asked where he is going next, he said he wasn’t sure yet. 

Bradford said after public comment that city staff will be negotiating with the Sheriff’s Department and coming back with many options for the council. 

To watch the council meeting visit and search City of Solvang.