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Local News

Making (the) Nooz

If all goes as planned, an Amtrak Surfliner train will soon begin rolling through Ventura, Santa Barbara and Goleta, above, during peak morning commuter times. Click to view larger
If all goes as planned, an Amtrak Surfliner train will soon begin rolling through Ventura, Santa Barbara and Goleta, above, during peak morning commuter times. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Making the Nooz, Week Ending Feb. 17, 2018: This Time We’re the Bearer of Good News

We have one heartwarming feel-good story along with a record-setting dining experience that may have left the champion not feeling so good

In what seems like a rare treat these days, there were some good news items in Noozhawk over the last week, including a business owner’s decision to take a chance on an employee who used to sleep on the bench across the street, a Goleta man who broke the record for the fastest time to eat three very, very, very hot peppers, and plans for commuter train service finally coming together.

Noozhawk talked to Game Seeker owner Lisa Gerr; her daughter, Emily; and employee Amos Reed, who was formerly homeless and now earns enough to rent a room and go back to school in hopes of earning his high school diploma.

Readers responded with a lot of love for Gerr and Reed, and commented on Facebook that they were excited to support the store and buy some more games.

“Hooray for a business owner who is willing to take a step to change a person’s life,” Pam Glass wrote.

Competitive eating veteran Matthew Bitter set the Guinness World Record for the fastest time to eat three Carolina Reapers, which are dubbed the hottest peppers in the world.

“I’ve been practicing, but you can’t practice with the peppers because they will kill you,” he said. “It’s what they make pepper spray out of.”

After years of talking about it, Goleta officials said a pilot commuter rail program is in the works to start in April.

Trains would run from Ventura to Santa Barbara and Goleta in the mornings, and head back in the afternoons.

“This is exciting!” Lisa Landru Howell wrote on Noozhawk’s Facebook page. “The closure of (Highway) 101 due to the floods drove home the dire need of such.”

Thousands of commuters had to find alternate transportation options when the freeway was closed for nearly two weeks following the Jan. 9 Montecito flash flooding and debris flows, including crowded Amtrak Pacific Surfliner trains and ferries between Ventura and Santa Barbara harbors.

Noozhawk readers on Facebook suggested adding a second northbound morning train, in case someone missed the first one, creating incentives for van pools or other carpooling options, and widening Highway 101.

A Caltrans and Santa Barbara County Association of Governments project to widen Highway 101 is underway, with interchange improvements in Carpinteria under construction, and plans to add a third lane between Santa Barbara and Carpinteria in both directions. The widening through Montecito is the last phase, and the most contentious.

Noozhawk Asks

How could the City of Santa Barbara possibly have lost so much bed tax revenue when “we all had to stay in a hotel?” a reader wrote through Noozhawk Asks.

Santa Barbara estimated that it will lose $1.5 million in sales and transient occupancy tax (bed tax) revenues due to the Thomas Fire, and those lost revenues are not recoverable from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), while most disaster response costs are reimbursed.

Hotels, motels and other businesses pay TOT, and even though some evacuated residents and first responders stayed in hotels during December and January, many of them paid reduced rates and tourist traffic was down.

It seems many more locals stayed in hotels in January after the debris flows than in December, during the Thomas Fire. January’s tax revenue numbers are not yet finalized.

The December numbers the city was talking about included the TOT, which had a 26.8-percent drop from the previous year, with $844,068.

“This month’s decline in hotel receipts can largely be attributed to the effects of the Thomas Fire and corresponding air quality conditions throughout the month,” the city said in a news release announcing the tax revenue totals.

City staff said the hit to those tax revenues were probably a one-time impact that would be leveled out with money from the reserve fund, but it’s unclear what the long-term economic impacts of the wildfire and the Jan. 9 debris flows will be — including changes to property tax assessments.

The disasters will have a large impact on TOT and sales tax revenues for Santa Barbara County, too, particularly with the long-term closures of the Four Seasons Resort-The Biltmore Santa Barbara and San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito, which contribute the majority of TOT revenues in unincorporated areas and about 12 percent of the countywide total (with $59 million in room sales in the 2016-2017 fiscal year).

“TOT for the county’s unincorporated area is all driven by the Biltmore,” former county Auditor-Controller Bob Geis said in 2014.

Noozhawk Asks

The Santa Barbara City Council voted to spend revenues from the Measure C increased sales tax rate on road improvements and a feasibility study for the new police station headquarters, which may not be built on the current site at 215 E. Figueroa St.

Readers asked about the Measure C citizens oversight committee, which will be formed to give community members a chance to review municipal spending decisions.

The committee has not been created yet and won't be until midyear, according to the city.

Spokeswoman Nina Johnson said the city will interview applicants and appoint members to the committee in June, as part of the recruitment process for all boards and commissions.

Residents can apply through the City Clerk’s Office through May 1, she said.

Another reader question was why there is no signage yet to tell people about Santa Barbara’s ban on smoking in public that went into effect last September.

Smoking signage is still being designed and will be posted in the spring, according to the city. Click here for FAQs on the new rules.

Facebook Comments

Residents were disappointed with the news that Santa Barbara has decided to demolish Franceschi House, and surprised at the price tag to build an “interpretive pavilion” on the site of the dilapidated, historical home.

“Unfortunately, the city is a poor place to donate property,” Frank Paolino wrote on Noozhawk’s Facebook page. “This does not fit into their abilities to manage. An empty park, they can care for, but a building that does not have a clear use? Not so much. Now it is too late to save the building.”

Carol Patterson wrote, “What a crime. Allowing it to decay just to remove. It could have been a fabulous asset.”

One reader connected the dilapidated property to the Bellosguardo estate, which late heiress Huguette Clark gifted to a nonprofit arts foundation upon her death. The mansion, at 1407 E. Cabrillo Blvd., has not been lived in since the mid-20th century and reportedly has millions of dollars worth of deferred maintenance costs.

“I wonder if this is what will become of the Clark estate,” Eric Love wrote.

Other readers were hopeful that historical features of Franceschi House could be saved, even recycled into new buildings.

The city has not yet finalized its plan for demolition or the educational pavilion.

Reader Video

Hundreds of local volunteers have been helping homeowners dig out their Montecito homes, including groups organized by Habitat for Humanity and the Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade.

Click here to read a Feb. 3 story story about the Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade efforts, and click here (or scroll down) for a video of the day’s work from Larry Nimmer.

(Larry Nimmer video)

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

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