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Bill Macfadyen: Santa Ynez Valley High School Flunks Teachable Moment with Principal DUI Case

NoozWeek’s Top 5 discovers a fatal wreck, congratulates Santa Barbara Mayor-Elect Cathy Murillo, suspects a DUI angle in rollover crash, and hangs out in the Funk Zone

To the military men and women who served and sacrificed for our freedoms and liberty, and to those who are defending us today, thank you. One day is not enough.

Over the past seven, however, Noozhawk ​drew 123,679 readers, according to our Google Analytics. Here’s my take on your Top 5 stories of the week. Please note that this is an opinion column — my opinion.

1. Santa Ynez Valley High School Principal Arrested on DUI Charges

High school kids, amirite?

Every school year you can pretty much count on a couple of teenagers making stupid decisions and getting themselves arrested on DUI charges or something. So it was no surprise when ... wait, what?

This time it’s not a newbie driver but a 50-year-old veteran high school principal?! Talk about a teachable moment.

Will you be joining us at the next meeting of the Santa Ynez Valley Union High School Safe & Sober Grad Night Committee, Mr. Swanitz? Click to view larger
Will you be joining us at the next meeting of the Santa Ynez Valley Union High School Safe & Sober Grad Night Committee, Mr. Swanitz? (California Highway Patrol photo)

As our Janene Scully first reported Nov. 3, Santa Ynez Valley Union High School Principal Mark Swanitz was arrested after an Oct. 21 — yes, Oct. 21 — fender bender on Highway 246, west of Skytt Mesa Drive in Solvang.

According to the California Highway Patrol, Swanitz was driving down the highway about 4:20 p.m. that Saturday when another motorist — identified as Rafael Ramos, 45, of San Juan, Puerto Rico — pulled out of a driveway and collided with him.

There were no injuries in the crash, and the CHP determined that Ramos was at fault.

But CHP Officer Joel Asmussen said investigators found Swanitz to be driving under the influence of alcohol. He was arrested at the scene.

In a criminal complaint filed in Santa Barbara County Superior Court, Swanitz was charged with misdemeanor driving under the influence of alcohol, and driving with a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher. The complaint listed it at .12 percent.

As noted, this was late on a Saturday afternoon — before dinner, and not following a night of hearty partying after a Pirates victory. It also wasn’t some backroad buzz business, but occurred on the valley’s busiest thoroughfare.

A Nov. 20 arraignment has been scheduled.

Swanitz has been principal at Santa Ynez High, his alma mater, since 2010. Prior to that, he spent four years as principal of Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta.

When reached by Noozhawk, he declined to comment on his situation, claiming it was a personal matter.

“Mr. Swanitz is an employee in very good standing and is highly regarded by the staff,” Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District Superintendent Scott Cory told Janene in an email, answering a question that wasn’t asked.

“This incident has no connection to his employment in any way.”

Apparently not, since Swanitz was not placed on administrative leave and the district had maintained radio silence until Noozhawk started poking around on a confidential tip from a reader.

“He is alleged to have made a bad mistake and is now paying the price for it,” Cory added. “No one should drink and drive.”

Which reminds me of an old math joke.

“If I have five bottles in one hand and six in the other hand, what do I have?” the high school teacher asks.

“A drinking problem,” a student replies.

Legally, Swanitz is entitled to due process just like the rest of us, even, say, a student at his school. But a misdemeanor is still a crime and, ethically, I would have thought that the Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District would expect far greater standards of behavior from its top administrator.

Noozhawk has reported on numerous high-profile — and catastrophic — drunken-driving crashes in the Santa Ynez Valley, many of them involving teenagers. I’m glad this wasn’t one of them, but the circumstances don’t make it right.

2. Human Remains Found at Scene of Gibraltar Road Wreck Near Santa Barbara

Grim discovery. Click to view larger
Grim discovery. (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk photo)

Early on Nov. 3, a wrecked vehicle was discovered over the side of Gibraltar Road in the mountains way above Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara County firefighters, sheriff’s deputies, California Highway Patrol officers and Search and Rescue volunteers responded to the report, which was called in at 9:15 a.m. from the 3000 block of Gibraltar near East Camino Cielo.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Brad Welch said that when rescue personnel managed to make it down the rugged mountainside to the crash scene, they found the vehicle upside down on its roof. Nearby were human remains.

As tragic as that is, the truly sad part of this story is that the vehicle apparently is connected to a missing persons case. From 2015.

“The sheriff’s Coroner’s Office ... is in the process of making a positive identification,” Welch said. “No additional information will be released at this time ... due to the active investigation and until next of kin is notified.”

As of Nov. 9, gleaning an identity from badly decomposed remains was still proving elusive, sheriff’s spokeswoman Kelly Hoover told me.

The CHP is handling the investigation, and it has not yet been determined just when the crash happened.

Prayers to the victim’s family. R.I.P.

3. Cathy Murillo Headed to Victory in Race to Become Santa Barbara’s Next Mayor

After a hard-fought election, it’s Murillo Time. Click to view larger
After a hard-fought election, it’s Murillo Time. (J.C. Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara City Councilwoman Cathy Murillo coasted to victory in the Nov. 7 mayoral campaign. The race, which had been projected to be a relatively close affair among five top-tier candidates, in the end was not much of a nail-biter once the mail-in ballot envelopes were opened.

As of Nov. 8, Murillo had won 28.1 percent, or 6,059 votes, followed by Councilman Frank Hotchkiss with 21.6 percent, or 4,669 votes; retired CEO Angel Martinez at 19.5 percent, or 4,213 votes; and Hal Conklin, a former mayor, ex-councilman and half of Noozhawk’s Cinema in Focus column-writing team, at 19.4 percent, or 4,196 votes.

The afterthought was Councilman Bendy White, the only mayoral hopeful to ignore Noozhawk’s candidate Q&As invitation until the others had been published. He finished dead last at 11.3 percent, with a paltry 2,447 votes. I’ll leave it to my friend, Jerry Roberts, to determine if there was a link, which is my shameless attempt to be mentioned in his Newsmakers with Jerry Roberts blog.

But enough about me. What’s the deal with Murillo?

“It’s such an honor to stand here as your next mayor of Santa Barbara,” she exclaimed at her election night victory party at Casa Blanca. “It’s such an honor to win the trust of the public as well. They had a lot of choices out there, and we went door to door and we said to them, ‘I care about your family. I care about your neighborhood. I care about your prosperity.’

“I meant it when I said I would work to create jobs and housing opportunities for the people and the young people.”

Murillo, a 56-year-old Westside resident and two-term councilwoman, becomes the first Latina to serve as mayor of the 230-year-old city. That’s a cool distinction, but history will determine if she’s up to the task.

Santa Barbara is facing a cascade of complex, critical multiple choices to solve — among other things — its looming pension crisis, its growing homeless identity, its affordable housing crunch, its infrastructure needs, and the challenges associated with State Street and downtown.

It’s a tall order, although Noozhawk stands ready to do our part with our heavily read Reimagine: Santa Barbara series. We are confident our readers will be able to help us provide her with a powerful blueprint around the first of the year.

With her election, Murillo will relinquish her District Three council seat. The City Council will appoint a replacement to finish out the remaining two years of her term, and City Attorney Ariel Calonne told our Josh Molina that he’ll provide some selection process options at the council’s Nov. 14 meeting.

Meanwhile, incumbent Gregg Hart was re-elected to the council, where he’ll be joined by newcomers Eric Friedman and Kristen Sneddon.

The Measure C sales-tax hike was approved handily with nearly 56 percent of the vote. The initiative increases the tax to 8.75 percent from 7.75 percent, and is expected to bring in an estimated $22 million a year.

Although tax-hike proponents pinky-swear that the money will be used only for infrastructure, including a replacement police station, Police Chief Lori Luhnow would be wise not to let her officers start picking paint samples. I suspect the council will find other “unexpected” priorities for those dollars.

4. Driver Arrested on DUI Charges After Crash Shuts Down Northbound Highway 101 in Santa Barbara

Two people were injured in a rollover wreck on Highway 101 in Santa Barbara the night of Nov. 7. The driver was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, and a witness reported that the car had been racing another when it crashed.

The California Highway Patrol said the crash occurred about 9:30 p.m. on the northbound side of the freeway, just south of Las Positas Road. Traffic was diverted off the roadway at Pueblo Street for about a half-hour while emergency personnel tended to the injured and crews cleared the mess.

CHP Officer Jonathan Gutierrez said the driver — identified as Harrison Schell, 21, of Santa Barbara — was arrested on suspicion of DUI.

A witness told Noozhawk that he had observed two cars racing at 100 mph before one driver lost control and flipped over.

The injuries were described as moderate, but additional details were not immediately available.

5. In Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone, Creative Destruction Paves Millennial Hotspot

Won’t you take me to Funkytown ... Click to view larger
Won’t you take me to Funkytown ... (Zack Warburg / Noozhawk photo)

For the last month, Noozhawk’s reporters have been rolling out our Reimagine: Santa Barbara project, diving into the challenges and opportunities of downtown, specifically along State Street.

We’ve traced the historical evolution and, before we shift to looking at other communities and engaging our readers with our Noozhawk Asks platform, we’re exploring the contemporary issues that have been catalysts for a deeper conversation. Or should be.

One of Santa Barbara’s fascinating success stories has been the Funk Zone, the eclectic, gritty neighborhood east of Lower State Street below Highway 101. With little to no city involvement, the hub for wine-tasting, dining and shopping has emerged as a popular destination for locals and tourists alike.

“It’s a nationwide trend of people wanting to shop and drink wine in an industrial warehouse-type of building,” said Ray Mahboob, who owns property in the Funk Zone as well as on State Street.

“The key is local government not nitpicking it and letting the community embrace it.”

Jaime Dietenhofer, president and co-founder of Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. at 137-F Anacapa St., was one of the early adopters.

“I remember standing on the patio the day we opened hoping people would eventually make it down to the Funk Zone,” he told our Josh Molina.

“Lo and behold, they did. It is great to see a beautiful area that used to not have foot traffic and a lot of vacancies turn into a thriving local business community. I do hope that there remains a commitment to keep a good mix of business and use types in the area like J7 Surfboards, The Arts Fund and other places that create and manufacture.”

It’s not all rainbows and unicorns down there; a dearth of on-site parking is a drawback, for instance. But perhaps the neighborhood’s unique identity and the charming experience will generate ideas for parts of beleaguered State Street.

Click here for the complete series index for Reimagine: Santa Barbara.

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Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? Santa Barbara-Area High School Students Walk Out to Protest Trump Presidential Victory.

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Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

In other words, the correct way: Why Do Southern Californians Say “The” Before Freeway Numbers?

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Watch It

I hate to be cold, but now I want to go to Iceland.

(designboom 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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