Santa Barbara police have arrested four suspects in connection with the murder of 52-year-old Camarillo resident Rob Gutierrez — an “innocent bystander” who was gunned down near Stearns Wharf six weeks ago.
Would more of an everyday police presence in Santa Barbara neighborhoods lessen the need for scenes like this? Credit: KEYT News photo

Thank you to the more than 100 Noozhawk readers who have emailed, written and texted me about my last three Best of Bill columns addressing the murder of Rob Gutierrez:

I may not have responded to each message yet, but I’ve read them all — including the pain-filled and heartfelt three- and four-pagers.

As encouraging as your notes are, the ongoing official silence from the City of Santa Barbara’s leadership is disappointing but, sadly, not surprising.

City officials seem to be counting on their ability to stonewall the public into losing interest in the atrocity to deflect scrutiny about the case’s peculiar timeline.

I suspect they also realize they can’t legitimately defend their failure to disclose a couple of key details that the public has every right to know — regardless of a police investigation.

One of those details, of course, is that Gutierrez died of his wounds on Dec. 20, 11 days after the Camarillo tourist was basically — and randomly — selected for assassination by alleged Westside gang members near Stearns Wharf.

That tidbit went unconfirmed all the way until the Jan. 19 arrests of four suspects, which were only revealed to the public in a 373-word, detail-less statement.

Other than a Jan. 27 declaration she issued about a completely unrelated murder in Memphis, police Chief Kelly Ann Gordon has been missing in action. City Administrator Rebecca Bjork? Crickets. The seven elected members of the City Council? Mum’s the word.

That’s not to say I haven’t heard from a couple of city officials — off the record, of course.

One called what happened to Gutierrez and his family “a tragic one-off.” Another suggested that I “stay in your lane” and “offer something constructive instead of hyperbole.”

So I thought about it and decided that, if city officials aren’t going to do their jobs, I’ll give them something constructive to think about that the public can get behind.

In that moment of epiphany, Noozhawk columnist and longtime Westside resident Dan McCaslin emailed to remind me that the Santa Barbara Police Department once had a substation near the Foodland Market at the corner of San Andres and West Micheltorena streets.

He noted that the constant police presence sure seemed to make a positive impact in the neighborhood, and that he and other residents objected mightily when it was removed.

I vaguely recall a similar police post on the Eastside, but I’m less confident in that memory.

The precinct concept, I believe, was part of a community policing initiative begun under the late police Chief Rick Breza in the 1980s and ’90s. Is it hyperbolic to ask why we aren’t doing that today?

If gangs on the East and West sides of Santa Barbara are the problem, why are we ceding any ground to them? Why are law-abiding residents paying the price for living in “their” territory instead of the other way around?

I contacted a couple of friends — one in commercial property management and the other a retired high-ranking Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department official — to try to ballpark some requirements and costs.

Using the sheriff’s tiny precinct office in Goleta’s clean, safe and bustling Camino Real Marketplace as an example, we determined that a similar outpost with tenant improvements and non-negotiable police stuff probably could be leased and built-out for under $200,000.

Staffing was trickier, and far more expensive, but my SBCSD source thought two SBPD precincts might run around $600,000 annually.

Mind you, I’m just trying to be constructive with my two cents, not put together an actual budget and a precise operations plan. If the City Council wants me to do that, it’s going to cost them dearly. But they seem to love expensive consultants so let’s talk.

In the meantime, I’m curious what our readers think about what I’m calling the Noozhawk precinct proposal, as well as other suggestions you have to increase public safety — to increase your safety in Santa Barbara.

Like a lot of you, I don’t understand how or when Santa Barbara ended up with such a leadership vacuum, but it’s manifesting itself in the tenor of our crime.

This is our town and we have the power to change its course. Who is stopping us?

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According to our Google Analytics, Noozhawk had an audience of 102,184 readers this past week.

You should know by now that these Best of Bill columns are my weekly commentary recapping the Top 5 most-read stories of the period.

The opinions expressed are my own, and published in my civic capacity as Noozhawk’s publisher.

Whether you agree or disagree, click here to submit a letter to the editor.

1. BizHawk: Brass Bear Brewing Roars Into Uptown Santa Barbara

Seth Anderson of Brass Bear Brewing Co.
Seth Anderson and Brass Bear Brewing have ventured up to Uptown Santa Barbara with a second location of their Funk Zone operation. Credit: Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo

Brass Bear Brewing has opened a second den in Santa Barbara, this one at the former uptown home of Le Café Stella with sweeping views of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

As our Josh Molina reported, the longtime Funk Zone brewery has taken over the spacious space at 3302 McCaw Ave. off Las Positas Road.

“I love the location and the layout and the neighborhood it was in,” Seth Anderson, who owns Brass Bear Brewing with his wife, Lyndsay, told Josh.

“We plan to cater to the neighborhood and also host a lot of bridal showers, wedding parties and rehearsal dinners.”

The “comfy” new open-air venue — above Loreto Plaza and below the Santa Barbara Golf Club — features a larger kitchen with more grill space and a walk-in refrigerator.

Brass Bear’s beer is brewed elsewhere.

The Andersons opened the original Brass Bear Brewing in 2016 at 28 Anacapa St., Suite E.

2. Man on Death Row for 1980 Killing of Isla Vista Boy Found Dead in Prison Cell

Death finally came for a “condemned” inmate from Santa Barbara County convicted in the heinous 1980 murder of a 6-year-old Isla Vista boy.

Death Row inmate Malcolm Joseph Robbins, seen in younger days and recently
The face of evil at any age. Credit: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation photos

It’s not what you think: 63-year-old Malcolm Joseph Robbins died of natural causes in prison.

Robbins’ victim, Christopher Finney, was walking home from his dad’s Isla Vista store when he disappeared on June 15, 1980.

Christopher’s remains were found three months later near the UC Santa Barbara lagoon. The medical examiner determined he had died of a snapped neck.

Robbins was arrested in New Jersey in an unrelated incident later that year and confessed to sodomizing, strangling and killing the little boy — among other young boys he said he did the same thing to all over the country.

He was extradited to Santa Barbara, where he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in 1983.

Although Christoper Finney was given no mercy, Robbins got the reprieve of his life in 2019 when Gov. Gavin Newsom banned the death penalty in California.

As our Tom Bolton reported, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said Robbins was found dead in his cell at Corcoran State Prison on Jan. 27.

Rest in hell.

3. Injured Man Rescued from Steep Hillside in Mountains Above Santa Barbara

A county helicopter lowers a rescuer to an injured man below North San Marcos Road in the mountains above Santa Barbara.
Help is on the way. Credit: Peter Hartmann / Noozhawk photo

Santa Barbara County emergency personnel — including helicopter crews — were busy this past week, with two dramatic rescues in the mountains above Santa Barbara.

As our Tom Bolton was first to report Jan. 29, teams of first responders converged on the 2000 block of North San Marcos Road around 11:25 a.m. after an injured man was discovered stranded in rugged terrain about 180 feet below the winding roadway south of Highway 154.

County fire Engineer Mike Gray said a sheriff’s helicopter lowered a rescuer down to the victim while crews set up a rope system to reach him.

He said the man, whose identity was withheld, suffered minor injuries and was flown to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital for treatment.

The morning of Feb. 1, a county Fire Department helicopter was called in to rescue an injured paraglider who had crashed about 300 feet off Gibraltar Road.

SBCFD spokesman Mike Eliason told Tom that the victim, a 42-year-old man whose identity was not disclosed, suffered nonlife-threatening chest and leg injuries.

After being hoisted into the helicopter, he, too, was flown to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

4. Suspect Jailed on Attempted-Murder Charges in Stabbing at Santa Barbara City Hall

Santa Barbara Police officers on scene of a stabbing early Sunday that sent the victim to the hospital.
Well, this is an awkward location for an attempted-murder scene. Credit: Peter Hartmann / Noozhawk photo

Keep this on the down-low but a man was stabbed outside Santa Barbara City Hall on Jan. 29.

Police were dispatched around 6:30 a.m. to the garden behind City Hall at Anacapa and East De la Guerra streets, where officers found a middle-aged man bleeding from a stab wound to the neck, Lt. Kasi Corbett eventually confirmed for our Tom Bolton.

She said the man, believed to be a transient, was transported to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

His identity and medical condition were not disclosed.

Corbett said a suspect — 27-year-old Mitchell Grant Grote — was identified and later located on Milpas Street, where he was arrested on suspicion of attempted homicide.

Grote was booked into County Jail with bail set at $1.07 million. As of Feb. 2, he’s still there.

5. Santa Barbara Police Converge on Westside After Man Found Seriously Wounded

Santa Barbara Police investigate Monday night after a man was found seriously wounded on the city's Westside, likely the victim of a shooting or stabbing.
On the trail of evidence on Santa Barbara’s Westside. Credit: Peter Hartmann / Noozhawk photo

Santa Barbara police responding to reports of a violent incident on the Westside followed a trail of blood to a gunshot victim officers found near Bohnett Park the night of Jan. 30.

As our Tom Bolton first reported, police and emergency personnel were dispatched around 7:30 p.m. to the 500 block of West Anapamu Street, between San Pascual Street and the Union Pacific railroad tracks.

They eventually located the victim around the corner, in the 1200 block of San Pascual Street near the Westside Boys & Girls Club on the corner of San Pascual and West Anapamu streets.

“It appears to be a single gunshot wound,” Lt. Kasi Corbett told Tom later that night.

The man, whose identity was not released, was treated by Santa Barbara firefighters and paramedics for the wound to his abdomen, then taken by American Medical Response ambulance to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

The next day, Sgt. Ethan Ragsdale told Tom that the victim was hospitalized in critical condition.

No information was provided about a suspect or suspects, but police did roll out the old blanket reassurance:

“Based on the preliminary investigation, this shooting appears to be an isolated incident and currently there is no threat to the public.”

In other words … “a tragic one-off.” If you live in the vicinity, is that reassuring to you?

•        •        •

Good Reads

Don’t miss these six stories before you go:

» Ray Ford: Recent Storms Wreak Havoc on Santa Barbara Backcountry — Noozhawk columnist Ray Ford has a grim roundup of local trail and road conditions following January’s powerful storms.

» 37% of Goleta Elementary Students Not Yet Reading at Grade Level, Testing Data Show — Staff writer Grace Kitayama has a fresh read on Goleta Union School District test scores, and it’s not a pretty picture.

» Santa Barbara Design Panel OKs 36-Unit Carless Housing Project on Garden Street — Staff writer Josh Molina assures me he’s not pulling my leg with his report that a proposed Santa Barbara housing project will have zero parking for residents.

» Foodbank Expanding Its Storage Capacity with Large ‘Sharehouse’ in Goleta — Grace explores what soon will become the roomy new home of the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County.

» ‘Critical Failure’ of Dust Mitigation Plan Forces Closure Again of Santa Barbara Central Library — Staff writer Serena Guentz plays the library card and checks out the latest in a series of unfortunate events at the Santa Barbara Central Library.

» After Delays, SpaceX Rocket Blasts Off from Vandenberg Space Force Base — North County editor Janene Scully’s patience pays off when the latest SpaceX rocket finally launches from Vandenberg Space Force Base.

•        •        •

Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? Miss Daisy’s Consignment and Auction House Moving Into La Cumbre Plaza’s Sears Building.

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Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

Who cares if an endangered species is gone with the wind? Why Environmentalists May Make This Whale Species Extinct.

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Best of Bill’s Instagram

Sunsets, selfies and Sadie are in my Instagram feed this past week.

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Watch It

The City of Santa Barbara parades out a new promotional video. Just kidding.

YouTube video
(JTK Studios video)

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