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Bill Macfadyen: Fatal Paragliding Crash a Tragic End to Ex-Adams School Principal’s Return Visit

NoozWeek’s Top 5 can’t get enough of me, wonders whether a Goleta hotel is out of place, prepares to pay the piper at Lake Cachuma and awaits a cornerstone project in downtown Santa Barbara

From a Thanksgiving Day staging area on East Camino Cielo, Santa Barbara County Search & Rescue Team members prepare for a recovery operation near La Cumbre Peak instead of a rescue. Click to view larger
From a Thanksgiving Day staging area on East Camino Cielo, Santa Barbara County Search & Rescue Team members prepare for a recovery operation near La Cumbre Peak instead of a rescue. (Urban Hikers / Noozhawk photo)

There were 85,626 people who read Noozhawk this past week, according to our Google Analytics.

Here’s my take on your top five stories, pending a vote of the Electoral College:

1. Downed Female Paraglider Found Dead Near La Cumbre Peak

A Thanksgiving Day group paragliding excursion ended in tragedy Nov. 24 when one member of the contingent — a veteran hang-gliding and paragliding instructor — died in a mountainside crash below La Cumbre Peak above Santa Barbara.

Marge Variano was a former Santa Barbara resident and Adams School principal. (Facebook photo)
Marge Variano was a former Santa Barbara resident and Adams School principal. (Facebook photo)

Authorities identified the woman as Marge Variano, 56, a former Adams School principal who had moved to Cornelius, N.C., north of Charlotte.

“When she did not arrive to the pre-designated landing area, several of the paragliders in the group began an aerial search,” said Kelly Hoover, spokeswoman for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.

“One of the paragliders spotted what appeared to be a downed paraglider ... down from La Cumbre Peak at the bottom of a cliff and called 9-1-1.”

Personnel from the sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team, the county Fire Department, American Medical Response, the U.S. Forest Service and the county Sheriff/Fire Air Support Unit were dispatched to the area.

They eventually located the crash site in the late afternoon, about 1,500 feet below the peak.

“Given the steep terrain and fading light, it was determined the recovery effort would be too hazardous for the flight crew and SBCSAR members, and a plan was coordinated for the following morning,” Hoover said.

The next day, crews spent more than five hours trying to reach and recover Variano’s body, using a complex rope system, technical rescue gear and a county helicopter.

Hoover said the sheriff’s Coroner’s Office is investigating the cause and manner of death, but the review would not encompass technical matters relating to the paragliding equipment or procedures.

Variano was principal at Adams School, 2701 Las Positas Road, from 2007 until 2009, when she was terminated by the Santa Barbara Unified School District. She later sued the district, alleging she was fired because of her ongoing complaints that special-education students’ rights were being violated.

The district contested the lawsuit, saying her termination was because of poor performance.

In 2011, a federal jury ruled unanimously for the district, finding that administrators’ conduct was not retaliatory against Variano.

2. Bill Macfadyen: Details May Be Scant in Bicyclist’s Death, But Reader Interest Isn’t

It must have been a holiday week if my column was our second most-read story. Thanks for all the clicks, Mom.

But readers are still following the story of the dead bicyclist, who has been identified as Edward “Eddie” Gonzalez, 55, of Santa Barbara.

Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Kelly Hoover told our Giana Magnoli that the death remains under investigation. She said preliminary indications are that it was related to a medical condition and not some kind of a crash.

Upon further review ... try try again. (Stanton Architecture illustration)
Upon further review ... try try again. (Stanton Architecture illustration)

3. Goleta Design Review Board Discusses 3-Story Hotel on Calle Real

Conceptual plans for a three-story hotel adjacent to Zodo’s Bowling & Beyond in Goleta were back before the city’s Design Review Board on Nov. 29. And, yeah.

The proposed 148-room hotel would be located at 5955 Calle Real, alongside Highway 101 between the bowling alley and Fairview Car Wash. The site was once home to the cavernous and long-closed Good Earth Restaurant.

The project, first brought to the design board in August, was filed by David Watson of Watson Planning Consultants of Pismo Beach on behalf of the property owner, Peninsular Investments Inc. As you can see from the nearby illustration, the design is right out of South San Francisco — which just happens to be Peninsular Investments’ home.

The proposed 16,074-square-foot hotel would include an outdoor swimming pool and 164 parking spaces, 24 of them underground.

Architect Michael Stanton of San Francisco-based Stanton Architecture presented a revised plan that includes entrance and landscaping updates, pedestrian and parking access, relocation of the pool and before-and-after images of surrounding views of the site.

No decisions are made during the courtesy review, which is an opportunity for design board members to offer feedback.

Several speakers also weighed in, expressing concerns about traffic congestion, building heights and blocked views. Noozhawk readers have added some amusing feedback of their own in the comments section.

(SaveWaterSB video)

4. Funds Approved for Engineering Work on Cachuma Permanent Pipeline

With Lake Cachuma on the verge of useless, the Cachuma Operation and Maintenance Board is moving forward with plans for a permanent pipeline project for the drought-depleted reservoir.

Water authorities say what once was a 3,100-acre lake will be virtually empty by the end of the month. At that point, the only water being delivered to the South Coast will be from the allotment pumped in by the Central Coast Water Authority pipeline.

That pipe, located near Bradbury Dam on the west end of the lake, carries water from the State Water Project and that purchased from supplemental sources.

But because the lake levels are so low, a floating barge was built to transfer water into the Tecolote Tunnel intake tower on the other end of the lake so it can get to the South Coast.

For nearly two years, officials have been talking about building a pipeline to bypass the reservoir and the jury-rigged distribution system. On Nov. 28, COMB voted to fund initial engineering work on a permanent pipe to make South Coast deliveries more reliable as well as reduce evaporation.

The 3-1 vote gave Omaha, Neb.-based HDR Engineering Inc. the green light and $108,000 to start initial work on what is expected to be a $6.67 million project.

Lauren Hanson of the Goleta Water District dissented. Kevin Walsh of the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District was absent.

Looks good to me. (The Cearnal Collective illustration)
Looks good to me. (The Cearnal Collective illustration)

5. New Retail Buildings Proposed for Former Santa Barbara Greyhound Station Site

If you ask me, the only charming quality of the abandoned Greyhound bus station at the corner of Carrillo and Chapala streets in downtown Santa Barbara was the retro neon Greyhound sign.

But the company took the sign with it when it moved its operation to 224 Chapala St. near the Amtrak train station in 2012.

Since then, the imposing, nearly windowless building with too-narrow sidewalks has sat in shabby isolation on one of the city’s most prominent intersections.

A different look may be in store for the site at 32 W. Carrillo St., however, with plans afoot for a new retail and office space.

On Nov. 30, architect Brian Cearnal of The Cearnal Collective took a proposed project to the city’s Historic Landmarks Commission for a second conceptual review.

“This is basically designed to be a flexible retail office use,” he said of the plans for a two-story, 10,300-square-foot building alongside a separate, single-story, 990-square-foot building.

Also on the drawing board are a narrower Chapala Street driveway, outdoor patios, wider sidewalks, more trees and actual landscaping.

The project concept, which received favorable reviews from commissioners, still must make its way through the Planning Commission.

                                                                 •        •        •

Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? Albertsons, Sprouts Taking Over Former Santa Barbara County Haggen Locations.

                                                                 •        •        •

Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

Sit. Read. Dogs Do as You Do, Not as You Say.

                                                                 •        •        •

Watch It

Viva Cuba Libre!

(polo paulding video)

                                                                  •        •        •

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— Bill Macfadyen is Noozhawk’s founder and publisher. Contact him at [email protected], follow him on Twitter: @noozhawk, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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