Housing proposal at Santa Barbara’s La Cumbre Plaza
According to a new housing proposal, this is Santa Barbara’s La Cumbre Plaza as you’ve never seen it before. Credit: The Cearnal Collective rendering

As Noozhawk begins a new year, we want to say thank you to you, our readers.

Thanks to the generosity and commitment of our Hawks Club members, we exceeded our year-end fundraising goal of $90,000.

An impressive 2,443 of you helped us raise more than $92,000 to invest directly in Noozhawk’s professional local journalism! 

We’re grateful, honored and inspired that so many readers chose to support our mission and vision.

And we’re excited to continue to bring Santa Barbara County the civic-minded reporting it deserves — and needs.

Of course, we can always use more Hawks Club members. Even a $5 contribution makes a difference.

Click here to make a financial contribution today!

Thank you again for your support.

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According to our Google Analytics, Noozhawk had an audience of 109,455 readers this past week.

What follows is my own take on the Top 5 stories you were reading. For new readers, that means I’m recapping those most-read stories and sometimes adding my own observations, or sarcasm. Or both.

This is not a news story and I am not a reporter. This is my opinion column, and I write it in my civic capacity as Noozhawk’s publisher.

Happy Epiphany.

1. Macy’s Will Be Out of La Cumbre Plaza by 2028 as Housing Plans Roil Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara’s La Cumbre Plaza is no longer the bustling shopping center many of us remember from yesteryear, but just a few years from now it may well be a literal thing of the past.

Our Josh Molina has been all over the recent burst of activity surrounding the sprawling, 31-acre site, which officially is located at 121 S. Hope Ave. but stretches between State Street and Calle Real.

He’s interviewed a long list of players and stakeholders, among them City of Santa Barbara officials and planners, Santa Barbara County Association of Governments members, developers, property owners, architects and commercial real estate professionals.

My point being that you won’t find more thorough reporting on the housing, commercial and retail impacts of La Cumbre Plaza’s future anywhere but Noozhawk. And he’s just getting started.

But enough about Josh.

Amid energized community interest, his latest article takes a closer look at the two most recent proposals:

» Santa Barbara’s so-far foiled hopes of creating a “specific plan” for the mall with an objective of building as many as 2,000 housing units

» The Taylor family’s plans to develop the half of the mall they own, which includes the landmark Macy’s building, the parking lot along State Street and additional parking on the western side of the property

Matthew Taylor, who owns the 15-acre parcel with his father, Jim, has submitted a comprehensive pre-application for a 685-unit, mixed-used project. Should the concept develop as intended, Macy’s could be replaced within five years.

The housing — studios and one- and two-bedroom apartments — would include 56 units for below-market renters and others reserved for seniors.

The Taylor project was submitted under state Senate Bill 330, also known as the Housing Crisis Act of 2019, which restricts design review and streamlines more of the local approval process.

City officials are not happy about the separate project, and maintain that the land’s overall potential must be considered.

Although City Councilman Eric Friedman, whose district includes the neighborhood, acknowledges “there is going to be redevelopment of La Cumbre Plaza,” he says a “comprehensive” plan is needed.

“I am not sure that having a specific plan for one portion of the mall is viable right now,” he told Josh. “Ideally, it would be for the entire 31 acres.”

But Matthew Taylor explained that his team is ready to go.

“We have been very explicit and clear with our issues with the specific plan,” he told Josh. “This is a daunting process. We do not believe it is necessary on this parcel.

“We don’t think it is preventing any other part of the specific plan.”

I don’t want to butcher any more of Josh’s story so I’ll stop here and urge you to read his article for yourself. It won’t be the last as the reader interest in this entire development has been extraordinary.

2. Flood Watch Issued for Santa Barbara County Ahead of Rainstorm

Waves surge over the rock revetment and onto the sidewalk near the Goleta Pier of Thursday.
Storm surge at Goleta Pier. Credit: Ray Ford / Noozhawk photo

Although Northern California has been absolutely hammered by a series of “offshore bomb cyclone” storm systems, Santa Barbara County’s experience so far has been, well, not that.

And bomb cyclone? I have no idea where these melodramatic descriptions come from, but that’s not what’s important today.

With as much as 5 inches of rain expected Jan. 5 as the latest storm headed down the coast, the National Weather Service on Jan. 3 issued a flood watch for the county.

“Significant flash flooding and debris flows are possible, especially in and below the Alisal (Fire) burn scar,” the weather service said.

The afternoon of Jan. 4, authorities issued an evacuation order for South Coast neighborhoods below recent burn areas, citing the risk of severe flooding and mud and debris flows.

The order affected the burn scars of the 2021 Alisal Fire (Refugio Canyon and the Gaviota coast), the 2019 Cave Fire (Highway 154 corridor on the Santa Barbara side) and the 2017 Thomas Fire (Montecito, Summerland and the Carpinteria Valley).

Unlike the tragic decision-making before the devastating Jan. 9, 2018, flash flooding and debris flows that killed 23 Montecito residents, this time the official evacuation order was vertical — roughly along and in the paths of creeks as they flow downhill — and not based on a horizontal wildfire evacuation map.

Fortunately, the evacuations ended up being an exercise in precaution and not much more. The storm arrived as expected in the wee hours of Jan. 5 but dropped less rain than forecast.

There was some flooding, the usual vehicle crashes, rock slides that closed Highway 154 over San Marcos Pass for several hours, street closures and downed trees.

No serious injuries were reported but a hiker had to be rescued from Montecito’s Hot Springs Trail.

The biggest damage apparently was caused not by rain, but by dangerous, unusually high surf.

One of the casualties was the former Beachside Bar-Café at Goleta Beach Park.

KEYT News reported that the soon-to-open Ellwood restaurant, which has been undergoing extensive renovations under its new owner, was slammed by large waves that “dunked construction plans, supplies, kitchen equipment and turned a dining room into a lake.”

3. Former Cabrillo High School Athletic Director Files Civil Lawsuit Against Student, Parents

Gary West, the former athletic director and interim football coach at Lompoc’s Cabrillo High School, is suing a family that accused him of physically assaulting a student.

As our Janene Scully reported, West filed the lawsuit in Santa Barbara County Superior Court, alleging defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The suit names as defendants the now-sophomore student, Benji Dunson Jr.; his parents, Julie and Benji Dunson Sr.; and 5o other people who are not identified in the filing.

The civil complaint cites allegations that West had choked and shoved the younger Dunson during a Feb. 1 football class. 

According to West, the altercation was never physical and he and the student were always 10 feet apart.

The Lompoc Unified School District placed West on administrative leave and terminated him in June after an investigation, the lawsuit states.

The suit adds that the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department conducted its own investigation and concluded the allegations “were not true.”

The Dunsons denied the lawsuit’s contentions through their attorney, Rebecca Martino of Coddington, Hicks & Danforth in Redwood City.

A case management conference is scheduled for March 6 in Judge James Rigali’s courtroom.

4. Bill Macfadyen: Renovated Hotel Ready for Check-In in Downtown Santa Barbara

Hotels and housing. Works every time for my Best of Bill columns.

5. Fire Chief Appeals County Decision to Award Ambulance Services Contract to AMR

Santa Barbara County fire Chief Mark Hartwig is still chasing the ambulance contract the county awarded to American Medical Response, formally filing an appeal of the decision after his initial protest went nowhere.

Fire Chief Mark Hartwig
Santa Barbara County fire Chief Mark Hartwig is fired up over the county’s ambulance contract.

As our Giana Magnoli has been reporting, a five-member county panel considered competing bids that AMR and SBCFD submitted for the multimillion-dollar contract, which takes effect next year.

The panel chose AMR to provide exclusive ambulance services throughout the county, including emergency response and transport, and inter-facility transfers. AMR has provided ambulance services for the county for the past 50 years.

Hartwig contends the county did not realistically evaluate the “fiscal adequacy” of the proposals or the economic benefits to taxpayers.

He dismisses the AMR proposal as nonresponsive and containing misleading statements.

After the county procurement officer rejected his protest, Hartwig filed a harshly worded appeal in late December.

“The denial was arbitrary, capricious, entirely lacking in evidentiary/factual support, contrary to established public policy, unlawful, and/or procedurally unfair,” he wrote.

According to a county Public Health Department spokeswoman, a secretive Protest Resolution Committee will consider Hartwig’s appeal.

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Good Reads

Here are a half-dozen more stories I recommend:

» 2 Dogs Rescued from Storm-Swollen San Jose Creek in Goleta — Executive editor Tom Bolton has a heart-warming rescue story of two dogs stuck in a creek.

» Storm Lacked Predicted Punch, but Provided Boost to Local Reservoirs — Staff writer Grace Kitayama is out and about, and finds that drought-depleted reservoirs are rising — rapidly. And one is even spilling.

» Santa Barbara Talks Podcast: Das Williams Says City Planners ‘Came With Nothing’ to La Cumbre Plaza Meeting — Staff writer Josh Molina grills Santa Barbara County Supervisor Das Williams on his Santa Barbara Talks podcast.

» 1-Year-Old Child Revived by Narcan After Exposure to Fentanyl; Parents Arrested — Really? When are we going to get serious about the fentanyl epidemic? North County editor Janene Scully reports on an inexcusable incident in Lompoc, which at least had a positive outcome for the innocent victim.

» Guadalupe Police Officer Won’t Be Charged for Fatal Shooting of Bystander — Janene also follows up on another innocent victim, this one a Guadalupe man just sitting in his car.

» Kelly Barsky Named Permanent Director of Athletics at UC Santa Barbara — Sports editor Barry Punzal keeps score with a historic hire for UC Santa Barbara Athletics.

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Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? Investigation Into Cate School Finds Decades of Alleged Sexual Misconduct by Teachers, Staff.

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Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

The U.S. government cut and ran from Afghanistan, and is still running from its responsibility today: Afghan Special-Forces Soldier Who Fought with Americans Held for Months in U.S. Detention.

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Best of Bill’s Instagram

It’s been a busy week, so you’ll have to make do with baby pictures, Alaskan malamutes and the storm in my Instagram feed this time.

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Watch It

Dam. This is why you don’t let a beaver live in your house.

(Holley Muraco video)
A dark-haired man in glasses with a beard and a mustache smiles at the camera

William M. Macfadyen, Noozhawk Publisher

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.