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Bill Macfadyen: Grading Project as Incomplete, UCSB Expels Melchiori Construction Co.

Best of Noozhawk 05.04.12 follows the buzz from the latest raids on pot shops, takes a Lieff out of the June election, logs a Tea Fire settlement and charts a real-estate rebound

What were you reading on Noozhawk this past week?

1. Melchiori Terminated from UCSB Project as General Contractor

Just a few weeks after Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper reported on Melchiori Construction Co.‘s disputes with subcontractors working on Santa Barbara County’s new Emergency Operations Center, the Santa Barbara contractor was removed from UCSB’s $6.5 million Ocean Sciences Education Building project. According to UCSB officials, Melchiori failed to complete the project by August 2011 as spelled out in the contract.

Melchiori attorney Kristine Mollenkampf says UCSB refused to mediate the conflicts between the two parties so the company issued its own termination letter and is pursuing breach of contract and wrongful termination claims.

2. Feds, Santa Barbara Police Serve More Warrants Related to Marijuana Operations

Federal authorities and Santa Barbara police served search warrants this week at Pacific Coast Collective, a medical marijuana dispensary at 331 N. Milpas St., and a city-approved grow house at 305 E. Haley St.

No arrests were made but the U.S. Attorney’s Office said it warned the landlords that asset-forfeiture laws would be pursued because the operations are illegal under state and federal law.

With neither shame nor guilt, Santa Barbara County and most other area communities have banned dispensaries. After an excruciating, drawn-out talkfest, however, the City of Santa Barbara approved a muddled ordinance that permits up to four medical marijuana dispensaries on the condition that they abide by strict operational standards and state law. But state law is less than clear on the entire issue of medical marijuana so look for the smoke from this joint undertaking to hang in the air for some time.

3. Carole Lieff Drops Out of Race for 1st District Santa Barbara County Supervisor

Since Noozhawk’s launch in 2007, veteran politicos and novices in many local races have been asked to participate in our popular Candidate Q&As. For the June 5 election, we decided to do the three Santa Barbara County supervisorial races in the 1st, 3rd and 4th districts. (We’ll be publishing them next week.)

We don’t think our questions are that hard, but if you’re going to ask your fellow citizens to elect you, the least you can do is be prepared to talk about the issues. Most candidates are grateful for the opportunity — or they tell me they are.

There’s now an exception. On April 30, Noozhawk intern Alex Choi was reminding candidates of our deadline when he instead got a scoop: 1st District candidate Carole Lieff was dropping out.

“I feel I have accomplished what I set out to accomplish in my run for supervisor,” Lieff said in an email to him.

She said she was frustrated by the “lack of alarm” over pension liabilities and government “trying to take the middle class down piece by piece,” had put her Montecito home on the market and had moved to Montana.

Ballots with Lieff’s name on them have already been printed, but as of now, 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal is technically unopposed in his re-election bid.

4. Tea Fire Burn Victims Reach $6 Million Settlement

Montecito residents Carla and Lance Hoffman suffered horrific burns while they were escaping the 2008 Tea Fire, which ignited pretty much in their backyard. The couple’s East Mountain Drive home was one of the first of 210 houses destroyed as the fire raged through the foothills above Montecito and Santa Barbara.

On May 1, the Hoffmans’ attorney announced they had reached a $6 million settlement with Mary K. Robinson and the Mary K. Robinson Living Trust, the owner of the nearby property where the fire started. The Hoffmans asserted in their lawsuit that Robinson should have known her Tea Garden property was being used by trespassers, and taken steps to prevent them from creating dangerous situations for neighbors.

Civil lawsuits are still pending against the 10 people, most of them SBCC students at the time, who were investigated in the case. Most pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of trespassing and having an illegal bonfire. None was charged with starting the fire.

5. Real Estate Sales Jump 41.6% in March in Santa Barbara County

Fueled by high-end sales, the South Coast real-estate market saw a nearly 42 percent increase in transactions in March. The North County also saw gains, but more on the lower end of the market.

What gives? Industry professionals are divided but agree that a turnaround with upscale properties is generally a good sign for the overall market.

“Prices have stabilized and will seemingly go up,” Prudential Realtor Jake Ralston told Noozhawk’s Alex Kacik. “That’s great news for rest of economy even if we don’t see incredible appreciation in the fourth quarter.”

According to Fidelity National Title & Chicago Title data, the South Coast recorded 171 transactions in March compared to 127 a year ago, with a median price of $640,000 in March versus $653,000 in 2011.

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Congratulations to Noozhawk intern Danna Wahlund, who graduates from Westmont College on May 5. And thank you to Danna and to SBCC intern Alexa Shapiro for jobs well done. Best wishes for the brightest of futures.

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