Well, that’s not something you see every day on San Marcos Pass. Credit: Mike Eliason photo / Santa Barbara County Fire Department

By the time you read this, parts of Santa Barbara County may well resemble the highest elevations of the Sierra Nevada. So I’ll get right to it.

According to our Google Analytics, there were 100,157 of you reading Noozhawk this past week.

What follows is my weekly recap of the Top 5 most-read stories during the last seven days.

Lest you think I’m trying to snow you, this is my opinion column and not a news story. And I write it in my civic capacity as Noozhawk’s publisher. I am not a reporter.

1. Flood Watches, Blizzard Warning Issued Throughout Santa Barbara County

A fierce, cold storm brought snow, rain and freezing temperatures to Santa Barbara County on Feb. 23, and things are only expected to get worse for the weekend.

As our Serena Guentz reported, locals woke up to a light dusting of snow across the Santa Ynez Mountains.

But snow accumulation and ice on Highway 154 over San Marcos Pass forced Caltrans to close the roadway for several hours while snowplows cleared the way for stranded cars and trucks.

The storm system is forecast to bring rain, thunderstorms, hail, snow and winds of 30 to 50 mph over the next two days.

National Weather Service meteorologist Lisa Phillips told Serena that 2 to 5 inches of rain are possible throughout the county through Feb. 25, with lighter rainfall likely along the coast.

Flood watches are in effect through 6 p.m. Feb. 25.

Even wilder, a blizzard warning has been declared for Santa Barbara County mountains through late afternoon on Feb. 25.

Phillips said 2 to 5 feet of snow could fall at elevations above 4,000 feet with as much as a foot as low as 2,500 feet.

The snow level could drop to 1,500 feet in interior mountains, she added.

2. SpaceX Sends 51 Starlink Satellites into Orbit from Vandenberg Space Force Base

YouTube video
(SciNews video)

Heralded by a rumble throughout Santa Barbara County, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Vandenberg Space Force Base the morning of Feb. 17, carrying 51 more Starlink satellites into orbit.

As our Janene Scully first reported, but you probably heard and felt yourself, the rocket launched at 11:12 a.m. from Space Launch Complex-4 on South Base. Unfortunately, a thin layer of haze clouded the view for many avid rocket watchers.

The satellites were deployed about 15 minutes later, and the first stage booster successfully reversed course and landed on a drone ship waiting out in the Pacific Ocean.

The Starlink constellation is made up of thousands of small satellites in low-Earth orbit and provides high-speed internet access for remote and rural areas across the globe.

The launch was SpaceX’s 11th from Vandenberg this year and was part of a busy day for the company. Several hours later, a SpaceX rocket carried a European communications satellite into orbit from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

3. Man Breaks into Santa Maria Court Complex, Sets Fire

Santa Maria firefighters help with mop-up operations after an intentionally set fire led to significant water damage in a courtroom at the Santa Maria Court Complex on Saturday night.
Disorder in the court. Credit: Santa Barbara County Superior Court photo

A 31-year-old Nipomo man facing a misdemeanor vandalism charge upgraded himself to two felony charges after he allegedly broke into the Santa Barbara County Superior Court complex in Santa Maria and set it on fire.

As our Janene Scully first reported, authorities say Eric Wolfgang Spies showed up at the complex at 312 E. Cook St. the night of Feb. 18, ostensibly to check out where he needed to appear next month in a criminal case.

Spies was summoned to face a charge of misdemeanor vandalism exceeding $400 stemming from a Sept. 9 incident involving a window at the county Social Services Department at the Betteravia Government Center, 2125 Centerpointe Parkway.

In the new case, authorities told Janene, Spies proceeded to ignore a security guard’s order to leave and instead broke the two glass doors at the entrance to Building G, where criminal cases are heard, forced his way through the locked wooden doors to the Department 8 courtroom and started a fire.

A Superior Court spokesman said the fire started on a chair, spread to a table and the carpet, and burned so hot that it melted the lights in the ceiling.

Of course, the flames triggered the sprinkler system and the entire courtroom suffered significant water damage.

Spies was arrested and charged with felony arson of a structure and felony second-degree burglary, according to the criminal complaint filed by the county District Attorney’s Office.

Sentencing enhancements are also pending for aggravating factors.

As of Feb. 24, Spies remains in the Northern Branch Jail with bail set at $77,500.

4. 3 More Arrests Made in Fatal Shooting of Tourist on Santa Barbara’s Stearns Wharf

It’s now been five weeks since Santa Barbara police announced the arrests of four suspects in the Dec. 9 “gang-related” shooting of Camarillo tourist Rob Gutierrez on Stearns Wharf and disclosed that he had died of his wounds on Dec. 20.

Reader interest in Gutierrez’s murder remains sky high, but for the first time there have been no new developments since three additional arrests were made last week, police Chief Kelly Gordon shared more details with our Tom Bolton, and some of the defendants appeared in Superior Court.

Actually, there was one development: Mayor Randy Rowse finally found the words to comment on the case. He emailed them to me on Feb. 18.

Meanwhile, many of you have asked what you can do. For one thing, citizens need to start holding elected officials accountable for the condition of our community.

If what you can see with your own eyes is not acceptable to you, you have the power to change the status quo. Use it.

For our part, Noozhawk is working on a public safety awareness project that we expect to announce in early March. Based on what I’ve been hearing from hundreds of you over the last month, it will be of broad interest throughout Santa Barbara County.

A more immediate need is the GoFundMe account that was established to help Gutierrez’s widow, Gerallie, and their daughters, Ariana and Carisa. So far, it has raised just $46,000.

We can do better. Click here to make an online donation.

Related Columns and Commentary

5. Weapons-Related Student Incidents on Rise at Santa Barbara Schools

Santa Barbara City Councilman Oscar Gutierrez, outside the Westside Boys & Girls Club adjacent to Bohnett Park, notes that he’s also felt the impact of recent crime incidents in the city. “It feels dire in certain parts of town,” he says. “It is eye opening for me because it reminds me that I need to work more with these families to address the needs they have.”
Youth safety has the attention of Santa Barbara City Councilman Oscar Gutierrez, who is trying to arrange a joint discussion between officials from the city and the Santa Barbara Unified School District. Credit: Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo

As Noozhawk reporters have begun digging into local crime data, our Josh Molina uncovered an alarming increase in weapons-related incidents on junior high and high school campuses in the Santa Barbara Unified School District.

Superintendent Hilda Maldonado shared statistics that revealed 119 fights or “forceful contact” so far this school year, up from 103 in the last school year.

She also told Josh that 64 “dangerous objects” — including knives, box cutters and air-soft plastic pellet guns — have been confiscated, up from 52 last year.

“Our goal is to make our campuses safe places and respond appropriately when situations happen,” Maldonado said, adding that anyone with information about “a potential safety threat” should report it to school site officials immediately.

City Councilman Oscar Gutierrez told Josh that he’s making youth safety a priority and has called for a joint meeting between the city and the school district to discuss it.

He has also asked the district to keep schools open after-hours so students can stay on campus.

“I have been asking them to reopen the campuses so the community has a place to spend time in (them),” he said. “I remember when I grew up the campuses were open after school.”

Gutierrez, who represents a Westside council district, talked to Josh at Bohnett Park outside the Westside Boys & Girls Club at 602 W. Anapamu St.

“It feels dire in certain parts of town,” he acknowledged. “It is eye opening for me because it reminds me that I need to work more with these families to address the needs they have.”

On Jan. 30, not 40 yards away from where Gutierrez was speaking, police found a man who had been shot in the stomach and left a trail of blood as he staggered two blocks through the residential neighborhood.

The man was treated at the scene and transported to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, where he was said to be in critical condition.

Police have released no further information about the case.

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Good Reads

Here are a half-dozen other stories that are worth reading:

» Santa Barbara’s Neighborhood Markets Store Up Local History — Copy editor Marcia Heller takes a trip down memory lane for Santa Barbara old-timers with a delightful report on once-ubiquitous neighborhood markets. HT to her husband, P.J. Heller, for his accompanying photography.

» Father Launches ‘Justice for Diego’ as Son’s Killer Seeks Lighter Sentence — North County editor Janene Scully has the heartbreaking story of a Lompoc man’s ongoing and frustrating quest for justice in the 2009 murder of his 4-year-old son, Diego.

» County Supervisor Steve Lavagnino Reflects Back, Looks Ahead After Saying He Won’t Seek Fifth Term — Janene has a long talk with Santa Barbara County Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino about his time on the Board of Supervisors.

» Carpinteria’s Bob George and Canine Partner Help with Earthquake Recovery Effort in Turkey — New contributing writer Karin Hill catches up with a Carpinteria search-and-rescue dog team on their mission to help with Turkey’s earthquake recovery.

» Goleta Council Expresses Preference for County Fire to Get Ambulance Services Contract — Staff writer Serena Guentz follows the City of Goleta’s flashing lights over Santa Barbara County’s ambulance services contract.

» Laurie Jervis: Peasants FEAST & Deli Owners Open Arcade, Relish Michelin Bib Honor — Columnist Laurie Jervis drops by my favorite Solvang restaurant, which has declared game on with its newest addition.

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Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? Highway 101 Shut Down in Carpinteria Due to Fire Under Freeway.

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Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

What’s it take to “sink” a train? An American submariner’s ingenuity, that’s what: That Time a U.S. Navy Submarine Got a Confirmed Kill on a Train During World War II.

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Best of Bill’s Instagram

My Instagram feed is on blizzard watch — just like everyone else around here.

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Watch It

It’s eggs-citing times for the Big Bear Bald Eagle Cam. It’s also snow cold, but bald eagles actually are well-equipped for that kind of climate.

YouTube video
(Friends of Big Bear Valley video)

Bill Macfadyen is Noozhawk’s founder and publisher. Contact him at wmacfadyen@noozhawk.com, and follow him on Instagram: @bill.macfadyen. The opinions expressed are his own.