Saturday, October 20 , 2018, 3:37 pm | Fair 85º

 
 
 
 

Bill Macfadyen: While Traffic Gins Up a Jam in Montecito, Tonic Nightclub Has Its Last Call

NoozWeek’s Top 5 issues an ominous warning about future flash floods, follows an armed robbery and a stabbing spree, and finally reveals what caused the Whittier Fire

Tonic Nightclub in downtown Santa Barbara appears to have lost its vim and vigor. Click to view larger
Tonic Nightclub in downtown Santa Barbara appears to have lost its vim and vigor. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Noozhawk’s traffic has been flowing freely this past week, with 160,445 readers over the last seven days, according to our Google Analytics.

The same can’t be said for Coast Village and San Ysidro roads, where officials have decided motorists can fend for themselves, or maybe use another more descriptive f-verb.

For most of the week, and especially during morning and evening commutes, traffic has been backed up for more than a mile as vehicles inch through four-way stops at the intersections of Middle, Olive Mill and San Ysidro roads, as well as every intersection in Summerland.

At certain times of the day, southbound Highway 101 essentially has been one lane beginning around Olive Mill Road as cars and trucks back up onto the freeway from the San Ysidro Road exit ramp, which also is at the mercy of multiple stop signs.

As mentioned previously, I’ve been told I’m no expert in emergency management, but I’ve spent enough time in the parking lots at Dodger Stadium and the Rose Bowl to know that traffic cops in intersections are far more efficient at moving large quantities of cars than four-way stop signs. A trained team of arm wavers is pretty good at getting 50,000-plus people on their merry way in 30-45 minutes. But that’s just my amateur observation.

While I find it inexcusable that the widening of Highway 101 — a key artery of the U.S. Highway System — has been held hostage for years locally, I’m not sure its two-lane bottleneck is entirely to blame for surface street congestion in the aftermath of the catastrophic Montecito flash flooding, mud and debris flows.

Aside from commuters, Montecito still has nearly 9,000 residents who need to get to and from their homes via just three access points as a result of condemned bridges on East Valley Road/Highway 192. Some authorities may resent the fact that those pesky residents are in the way, but we have a right to be.

To their credit, officials did fully reopen Olive Mill and Hot Springs roads on Feb. 7. They’re still subject to alternating traffic while debris removal efforts are focused around the Montecito Creek bridge, but those backups are short-lived.

They’re also being handled by professional traffic management crews, so it’s not like the City of Santa Barbara or Santa Barbara County is entirely unfamiliar with the concept.

Interestingly, after this column was posted Feb. 9, the California Highway Patrol had two officers directing traffic at North Jameson Lane and San Ysidro Road. While still backed up, vehicles were moving through the intersection a dozen a time, and the queue was progressing at a crisp pace. Just sayin’.

It’s about here that I’ll likely be accused of being insufficiently sensitive to our community’s loss and recovery. I reject that. I can multitask; most of us can. Government must be able to multitask, too.

But let’s move on, shall we? I’m tired of jamming on traffic and, besides, it’s about time for baseball to begin again. The future is always brightest in spring training.

What follows is my take on the Top Five stories you were reading during this past week. As you may have noticed already, this Best of Bill feature is my opinion column. I riff on the news, but I’m not reporting on it. Enjoy.

1. Tonic Nightclub Closes in Downtown Santa Barbara

Tonic Nightclub apparently has had its last call, abruptly closing its doors after more than 12 years in business in downtown Santa Barbara.

According to Joel Cummings, a bartender and club promoter, the outfit at 634 State St. closed Jan. 28.

“They told us on Jan. 30 that we would be expecting our last paycheck, and it’s closing down for good under new ownership and management,” he told our Brooke Holland.

Lease signs have been posted on the front entrance of the club, which Cummings said employed more than 30 people.

Tonic’s ownership could not be reached for comment, and its website makes no mention of anything amiss.

2. Risk of More Montecito Flood Devastation Is Just a Downpour Away

This may not be as bad as it gets. Click to view larger
This may not be as bad as it gets. (Ray Ford / Noozhawk photo)

Montecito has been reeling from the massive Thomas Fire that raged across the foothills on Dec. 16 and the deadly flash flooding and mud flows that followed a torrential rain on Jan. 9. But the worst is behind us now, right?

Wrong.

The wildfire, the largest in California’s recorded history, denuded 3,200-foot Montecito Peak and the mountainsides flanking it, leaving behind a menacing hulk of unstable dirt, boulders and debris. A staggering amount of it swept through neighborhoods in the middle of the night, killing 23 people and destroying or damaging hundreds of homes.

Yet there’s plenty more where that came from.

“Unfortunately, the risk will be greater than it was before the storm,” Rob Lewin, director of the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management, told our Tom Bolton.

“The drainages are still chock-full of debris and rocks. The debris basins that protect us are full and can’t take any more. Creek channels have been disrupted and they have choke points.”

He said Montecito — and Carpinteria, which also suffered serious damage — must remain in a state of storm readiness over the next few years..

“It’s going to take that long for this to heal,” Lewin said. “Until then, we have a threat.”

Tom’s story was one of the first we’ll be publishing as part of a year-long Emergency Preparedness 2018 series we’re undertaking in partnership with Cottage Health and Montecito Bank & Trust.

The series will be addressing an extensive list of issues and topics, including wildfires, flooding, earthquakes, landslides and mud flows, power blackouts, evacuations, insurance, communications, access and navigation, along with emergency lists, contacts and resources.

In the past, we’ve tackled disaster readiness as a “one-time project” that we’ve posted over the course of about six weeks. After the last two months, we realize we — Noozhawk and our community — need to seriously step up our game and make this a part of our ongoing consciousness and conversations. Emergencies are a year-round threat, and we all need to start preparing for them with that in mind.

Click here for our new Emergency Preparedness 2018 section. Click here to contact business development vice president Kim Clark about sponsorship opportunities.

3. 3 Men Stabbed, Including 2 Passersby, in Suspected Gang-Related Attack in Downtown Santa Barbara

People were stabbed on State Street in downtown Santa Barbara on a Saturday night. It’s believed to be gang-related.

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Oh, you’re waiting for more details?

According to Santa Barbara police, a confrontation at a bar in the 500 block of State Street led to an altercation in the 600 block of State Street just before 11 p.m. Feb. 3. From there, all roads led to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

Juan Rios, Thing Two. Click to view larger
Juan Rios, Thing Two. (Santa Barbara Police Department photo)
Daniel Medina, Thing One. Click to view larger
Daniel Medina, Thing One. (Santa Barbara Police Department photo)

Police spokesman Anthony Wagner said a 35-year-old man and his 26-year-old niece were at a bar when the man got into an argument with a suspected local gang member.

“Fearing for their safety, the man and his niece immediately left the bar and began walking north on State Street,” Wagner said. “Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough to defuse the situation, and several members of the group followed them, challenging them to fight.”

He said one suspect punched the woman in the face, knocking her to the ground, and then attacked the man, who was stabbed multiple times.

“Two nearby citizens witnessed this attack and rushed to the aid of the two victims,” Wagner said, adding that the good Samaritans themselves were stabbed while repelling the attackers.

The first two victims were transported to the hospital by an American Medical Response ambulance, while their rescuers were driven by friends. Their names and details about their medical conditions were not disclosed.

While searching the area, officers found a bloodied, 21-year-old man with head and shoulder injuries near City Parking Lot 10 behind World Market, at 610 State St. The man, described by police as a known gang member, had not been stabbed.

Wagner said police quickly put two and two together and obtained warrants for the arrest of Daniel Medina, 23, and Juan Rios, 21, both of Santa Barbara. They were taken into custody Feb. 6 without incident, and booked into County Jail.

He said Medina has been charged with assault with a deadly weapon, and participation in a criminal street gang, while Rios was charged with attempted murder and participation in a criminal street gang.

4. Vehicle Driven by Juvenile Confirmed as Cause of 18,340-Acre Whittier Fire

What’s left of Rancho Alegre Boy Scout Camp smolders near Lake Cachuma after the Whittier Fire swept through in July. Confirmation of the wildfire’s cause had been smoldering ever since. Click to view larger
What’s left of Rancho Alegre Boy Scout Camp smolders near Lake Cachuma after the Whittier Fire swept through in July. Confirmation of the wildfire’s cause had been smoldering ever since. (Ray Ford / Noozhawk photo)

Seven months after the Whittier Fire burned 18,430 acres in the Santa Ynez Mountains, the U.S. Forest Service has confirmed its cause. No surprise, it was a vehicle fire — just as emergency radio traffic reported within minutes of the blaze sparking July 8.

“The investigation determined that a passenger vehicle driving through tall grass on the hillside above Camp Whittier ignited the fire,” the Forest Service said in a statement.

“Due to the age of the driver, no additional details of the investigation will be made public at this time.”

And by “age of the driver,” the statement means a juvenile.

No criminal charges have been filed, and Los Padres National Forest spokesman Andrew Madsen told our Tom Bolton that no decision has been made about a possible civil lawsuit.

The wildfire raged for more than two weeks between Lake Cachuma along Highway 154 and into the foothills above western Goleta, before it finally confined itself to remote, inaccessible canyons. It actually wasn’t declared fully contained until Oct. 5.

No one died in the fire, but 16 homes were destroyed. Rancho Alegre Boy Scout Camp and The Outdoor School at Rancho Alegre were pretty much burned to the ground, while Camp Whittier and Circle V Ranch Camp were badly damaged.

A small army of first-responders protected 124 children and counselors trapped at Circle V Ranch Camp in the early hours of the blaze before they were able to pull off a dramatic escape to safety.

5. 4 People Arrested After Armed Robbery in Downtown Santa Barbara

Two armed robbers thought everything was going their way ... until they left the Sprint store in downtown Santa Barbara. Click to view larger
Two armed robbers thought everything was going their way ... until they left the Sprint store in downtown Santa Barbara. (Zack Warburg / Noozhawk photo)

Vaafato Matvia and Tafilele Puaauli may be as dumb as a bag of hammers but you have to give them credit for ambition. Fancying themselves as criminal masterminds, the duo allegedly hatched a plot to rob a Sprint store in downtown Santa Barbara.

According to police spokesman Anthony Wagner, the pair approached the store, at 1101 State St., around 4 p.m. Feb. 6. For some reason, it was closed but they cleverly used a ruse to get themselves inside.

Clockwise from top left, Vaafato Matvia, Tafilele Puaauli, Crystal Viramontes and Mianuel Bringas think different now. Click to view larger
Clockwise from top left, Vaafato Matvia, Tafilele Puaauli, Crystal Viramontes and Mianuel Bringas think different now. (Santa Barbara Police Department photos)

“Once inside the business, they brandished a firearm and locked the two lone employees inside a bathroom,” Wagner said. “The suspects retrieved a number of Apple products valued at approximately $130,000 and left out the back door to a city parking lot, where a car was waiting for them.”

As far as they knew, things were going exactly as planned.

What the suspects didn’t know, however, is that witnesses were helpfully providing detectives with detailed descriptions of them, including an alleged accomplice in the getaway car, the vehicle and the license plate number.

Police didn’t need to wait long before the California Highway Patrol spotted the car — stuck in southbound rush-hour traffic on Highway 101 in Carpinteria. In hindsight, one of these geniuses probably should have been assigned to check Waze.

I, too, was stuck in that logjam, although a few miles behind the three stooges. To the delight — and howls — of Riley the Wonder Malamute, who was riding in the backseat with her head out the driver’s side window, our “Montecito crawl” was disrupted by a succession of about a dozen patrol cars hauling ass along the median shoulder with their sirens blaring.

Apparently realizing they were being chased, the alleged perps took the Carpinteria Avenue exit, got out of the car and fled on foot ... into the Carpinteria Salt Marsh, Wagner said.

One suspect got away, a second surrendered and the third thought he could win a fight with an SBPD K-9 team. News flash: The dog won.

Matvia, 34, and Puaauli, 45, were arrested, and investigators later determined two other suspects were involved. The B Team — identified by Wagner as Mianuel Bringas, 27, and Crystal Viramontes, 29 — was arrested by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies and returned to Santa Barbara.

Wagner said all four were booked into County Jail on charges of robbery, kidnapping and conspiracy.

                                                                 •        •        •

Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? 22-Year-Old UCSB Graduate Dies of Injuries After Falling From Isla Vista Balcony.

                                                                 •        •        •

Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

This probably won’t be a problem in Montecito for a while: The Country Running Out of Space for Its Millionaires.

                                                                 •        •        •

Best of Bill’s Instagram

Yes, I’ve been known to roam Montecito, and you can see my photographs even if you’re not on Instagram: Click here for my feed. And in some cases, my food.

                                                                 •        •        •

Watch It

I rely on all of these moves. Well, except for No. 5. That one’s new to me. Language warning.

(Daniel Koren video)

                                                                 •        •        •

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

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