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Bill Macfadyen: Noozhawk Readers Plug Smart Meter Story, Spark Spike in Forwards

Best of Noozhawk 03.02.12 tracks teacher layoffs, hospital noise, United Boys & Girls Clubs fundraising, and On Patrol with Santa Barbara PD

1. Southern California Edison to Start Installing Smart Meters in Santa Barbara Homes in March

Southern California Edison plans to begin installing SmartConnect meters on Santa Barbara County’s South Coast this month, but if Noozhawk traffic and story forwards are any indication, there’s a power surge of opposition to the idea.

So-called smart meters replace analog meters and will wirelessly transmit usage information to the utilities. The utilities say the smart meters are necessary to better monitor usage, encourage conservation, cut costs and prevent widespread outages.

It’s not clear whether consumers are buying that story, however, and questions and suspicions are still swirling about health, safety and privacy.

What’s more, while PG&E customers are allowed to opt out of the program, the state Public Utilities Commission has yet to give Edison customers the same opportunity — even as contractors are proceeding with the replacement devices.

Edison customers can request to delay installation and can call 1.800.810.2369 to do so.

Meanwhile, the meter continues to run on Noozhawk’s story, with nearly 2,000 reader forwards in just four days.

2. Santa Barbara School Board Approves Layoff Notices, Considers Furloughs and Bigger Classes

It’s become a cruel tradition but Santa Barbara Unified School District trustees voted Feb. 28 to issue layoff notices to teachers — this time to help close a $5.8 million gap in next year’s budget. Getting the bad news will be 60 certified teachers and all 64 of the district’s temporary teachers.

In the past, relatively few layoffs have gone through as SBUSD and Santa Barbara Teachers Association officials have usually managed to scrounge funds from somewhere. Their luck may have run out this year and parents are definitely going to notice.

The district has placed two parcel-tax renewal initiatives on the June ballot that, if passed by a two-thirds majority, will preserve vital classroom programs beginning with the 2013-2014 school year. For the beleaguered SBUSD, it can’t come soon enough.

3. Noise from Helicopter Landings at Cottage Hospital Has Some Neighbors Fuming

Only a month ago, Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital opened a new wing with state-of-the-art facilities and a helipad for the transportation of trauma patients. Right on cue, complaints about the helicopter noise began streaming in.

Several neighborhood residents attended the Feb. 28 Santa Barbara City Council meeting to voice their concerns about the helicopter flights. Between Feb. 3 and Feb. 25, there were 20 such flights, or one every 1.25 days — well below the volume of your average Kim Kardashian wedding but, obviously, 100 percent more than what residents are accustomed to.

Cottage Hospital officials acknowledge the number is higher than expected and they’ve scheduled neighborhood meetings in an attempt to keep the peace.

4. For United Boys & Girls Clubs, the Future Is Now with Urgent $300,000 Fundraising Drive

For a ridiculously low amount of money — around $700 — the United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County can provide its after-school programs to one child for a year. That figure is all the more impressive when you consider that 70 percent of the families served by the nonprofit organization’s four clubhouses are at or below the federal poverty level of $22,350 for a family of four.

To keep its programs running at full force in the face of diminished donations and cash-flow challenges, the United Boys & Girls Clubs has embarked on an urgent, 60-day fundraising campaign to generate $300,000. Noozhawk and KEYT are teaming up to help tell the Boys & Girls Clubs story and you’ll be hearing more from us later this month.

Click here to make a tax-deductible donation.

5. Producers of ‘On Patrol with Santa Barbara PD’ File $1.25 Million Damage Claim Against City

Say what you will about the Santa Barbara Police Department, but there is never a dull moment. In the last year, SBPD has weathered a crusade against one of its officers, all but ignored a case of alleged police brutality witnessed by a dozen bystanders, and seen a longtime business office supervisor arrested and charged with the alleged embezzlement of more than $200,000 in parking ticket revenue.

The latest episode is — literally — a made-for-television show involving On Patrol with Santa Barbara PD. Linda and Ira Distenfield, the owners of the production company that films what Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli called “the Cops-esque show,” have filed a $1.25 million damage claim against the city of Santa Barbara after the city abruptly halted filming in December.

The Distenfields say the city had extended their agreement to film the shows but then halted production without giving them a 90-day notice. They say they want to complete the fifth season of the series, which follows police officers on calls. City officials declined to comment.

Fortunately, fans of Santa Barbara law enforcement TV have an alternative. With impeccable timing, Psych returned to USA Network on Feb. 29. Thanks to the crime-solving antics of psychic detective Shawn Spencer and his partner, Burton “Gus” Guster, the streets of Santa Barbara/Vancouver are safe again.

                                                                  •        •        •

Tom Thomas retired March 2 after 42 years as a banker, most of them as a top executive with Santa Barbara Bank & Trust.

The consummate gentleman, Tom has been a true community beacon and a tireless advocate on behalf of education, drug abuse prevention and one of his favorite causes, the restoration of the historic Santa Barbara County Courthouse. It’s been a privilege of mine to serve beside him on the board of Santa Barbara Partners in Education but a cherished memory is the private tour of the Courthouse that he and architect Bill Mahan gave me. They’re hilarious together.

So what’s on Tom’s agenda beginning Monday? Golf, and waiting for Cal’s spring football practice to start next month. Go Bears!

                                                                  •        •        •

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