Methamphetamines and gambling were the primary focuses of yesterday’s County Board of Supervisors meeting.

In response to increasing public awareness of Santa Barbara’s growing methamphetamine problem, several guest speakers from throughout the county addressed the Board to discuss their encounters with the drug. The speakers – which included a local doctor, Santa Maria’s chief of police and a local mother recovering from long-term meth addiction – spoke about the negative impact of the drug on the community as well as its spike in use in recent years.

“To me this is one of the most critical problems in the county of Santa Barbara – the problem that we have in our families with methamphetamine,” Fourth District Supervisor Joni Gray said.

Dr. James Broderick, director of the county’s Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services Dept., made a presentation at the meeting calling for the Board to take immediate action to reduce methamphetamine abuse throughout the area, referencing the incalculable potential physical and mental destructiveness of the drug.

Broderick said action was required especially among young Santa Barbara County residents. During his presentation, he told the Supervisors that 78 percent of all drug-related bookings to juvenile hall in Santa Barbara County in 2005 were for methamphetamine.

The Board also held a hearing at yesterday’s meeting about potentially increasing the size of the local Chumash Casino, located in the Santa Ynez Valley.

The casino, which is operated by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, may soon become eligible for expansion if the state legislature approves a bill allowing several California Indian gambling casinos to begin increasing the size of their existing facilities.

Third District Supervisor Brooks Firestone said the Board held yesterday’s hearing not only to weigh the costs and benefits of a potential expansion, but because the possibility of expanding the casino is becoming a pressing issue among citizens living near the establishment. Firestone said many local residents are strongly opposed to expansion.

“This is a response to an overwhelming desire on the part of the community to hear this issue,” Firestone said.

During the hearing, the Board heard a summary of impacts of the Chumash Casino on different parts of the community.

According to the presentation, the Casino has had a substantial impact on public agencies and emergency services since it opened in 1994.

Presenters said that between 2000 and 2006, there has been a steady increase in the number of emergency calls from the both the reservation and gambling facility to local fire departments, the American Medical Response, the sheriff’s department, and the district attorney. The Supervisors agreed that an expansion of the Chumash casino would most likely lead to an even higher number of these emergency calls.

The board also discussed the positive impacts of expanding the casino – saying that it would generate more money for the county from taxes and tourism, in addition to increasing the number of jobs in the community.

If the legislature’s bill allowing for casino growth passes, the expansions would then be subject to approval as part of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2007-2008 budget. Supervisors at the meeting said Schwarzenegger is supporting the bill because expanding the casinos may bring in additional revenue to the state.