Highway 101 car fire
Hot wheels on Highway 101. (Bill Macfadyen / Noozhawk photo via Instagram)

As bad as things are around the world, they could always be worse. Rob Manfred could be involved.

Major League Baseball may be looking like a long shot, but Noozhawk was delivering in the clutch with an audience of 103,614 readers this past week, according to our Google Analytics.

What follows is my recap of the Top 5 stories you were reading during the last seven days. But before we get started, keep in mind that this is my opinion column and not a news story.

1. Vehicle Engulfed by Flames Along Highway 101 in Santa Barbara

A spectacular car fire slowed traffic on Highway 101 near Las Positas Road the afternoon of Feb. 25. No one was hurt in the blaze, but the vehicle was a goner.

As our Tom Bolton first reported, the Volkswagen convertible caught fire just before 3 p.m. on the northbound shoulder of the freeway, just beyond the entrance ramp at Earl Warren Showgrounds.

Fortunately for the driver, an off-duty Santa Barbara firefighter who happened to be driving past helped the young woman get some of her belongings out of the car before things got out of control, Battalion Chief Jim McCoy told Tom.

And, boy, did things get out of control. Before firefighters could get there a few minutes later, the car was a raging fireball, with flames spreading to nearby eucalyptus trees and thick black smoke billowing high into the bright blue sky.

The ill-fated driver, a UC Santa Barbara student, had just bought the car a few days before, McCoy said. SBFD investigators were looking into the cause.

I was headed to Noozhawk World Headquarters and rolled past before the fire engines arrived. The lone firefighter on the scene was dwarfed by the flames and, even two lanes away, the heat from the fire was intense. I’m just glad the young woman was unhurt.

2. Santa Barbara Council to Consider Declaring Chick-fil-A a ‘Public Nuisance’


The City of Santa Barbara approved Chick-fil-A’s drive-through operation at 3707 State St., and now is demanding that the popular restaurant change it. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Chick-fil-A — easily Santa Barbara’s most popular fast-food restaurant — has the City Council fit to be fried.

After initially looking to declare the locally owned franchise to be “a public nuisance,” the council decided — after a grueling, four-hour meeting March 1 — that instead it would grant a 90-day reprieve before it makes a public nuisance pronouncement.

But first, let me back up. Which is the stated reason behind the controversy, although I suspect it’s not the only one driving the antagonism.

As Noozhawk has reported previously, Chick-fil-A draws as many as 2,500 customers a day — Monday through Saturday; it’s closed Sundays — to its location at 3707 State St.

The vast majority of those customers are using the drive-through lanes, which at certain times of the day sometimes back up into one of the street’s two eastbound lanes.

Chick-fil-A is not oblivious to the bottleneck, and has hired additional employees to take orders, added security guards to direct traffic, and posted signs warning that it’s illegal to block sidewalks or stop on the street.

Between Chick-fil-A and In-N-Out Burger, another high-profile, high-volume, drive-through business, it’s hard to say which is more efficient, but they both put the “fast” in fast food. And their food is delicious, but that’s not the point.

After nearly a decade of public and internal pressure, our Josh Molina reported, City of Santa Barbara staff made a new range of recommendations to the council, among them the unusual public nuisance charge, requiring the restaurant to alter its operations or even revoking the drive-through lifeline.

In a sign that Chick-fil-A is no poultry punching bag, its representatives hit back.

Joe Billings, an Allen & Kimbell LLP attorney representing the property owners, noted that the city has never given a notice to his clients, which he suggested could result in litigation over the oversight.

“The city has continued to fail to notify or include the owners in important discussions regarding the drive-through,” he said.

“For example, the city attorney’s office has not even mailed a notice of today’s hearing to one of the owners, an elderly woman, as required by its own resolution and the municipal code.”

Beth Collins, an attorney with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP representing Chick-fil-A, said a public nuisance declaration is a violation of the city’s own municipal code and California law.

“It unfairly targets one business, not on the basis of how that business is conducted, but rather on its customer popularity,” she wrote in a letter to the council.

“Should the City Council erroneously declare CFA’s drive-through to be a public nuisance and order the drive-through closed, such action would deprive countless Santa Barbara citizens of safe, contactless food service, and amount to an unconstitutional taking for which just compensation would be owed.”

Noting that the city — which approved Chick-fil-A’s drive-through in the first place, back in 2013 — had spurned previous remedies the company had proposed, Collins suggested that the council direct city staff to work with the restaurant for at least a 90-day period to develop a mutually agreeable solution.

The council blinked, voting 7-0 to accept Collins’ 90-day window. The issue will be revisited on June 7.

As part of the terms, however, Chick-fil-A must provide — by March 11 — a proposed plan for how it will be going with a new flow and make monthly progress reports to the city. Meanwhile, City Attorney Ariel Calonne will draft a public nuisance ordinance to batter Chick-fil-A with if it doesn’t work out.

“We owe it to the city, as well as everybody, for this time period to really try to find some solutions,” Mayor Randy Rowse said.

3. BizHawk: Brasil Arts Café Closing Its Doors as Starbucks Opens 11th Shop on South Coast

Daniel Yoshimi

Tchau from Daniel Yoshimi and Santa Barbara’s Brasil Arts Café. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Bowing to economic reality, Brasil Arts Café has raised the white flag over its downtown Santa Barbara location. It remains to be seen whether it will get a fresh start somewhere else.

As our Josh Molina first reported, the restaurant shut down Feb. 27 after nine years of blending authentic Brazilian food and drink with unique music and dance performances.

Daniel Yoshimi, a Sao Paolo native who owns the café with his wife, Jennifer, told Josh the decision was a hard one.

“It’s very heartbreaking, but we really enjoyed these nine years here,” he said.

The space at 1230 State St. included a 1,200-square-foot studio that hosted a range of dance companies, among them Vanessa Isaac’s Hip Brazil and Samba School, Panzumo, La Boheme Dance, Dance with Harout, West African Dance with Leida, Capoeira Sul da Bahia, Zumba with Brady Hill and others

Yoshimi said reopening in a more affordable location has not been ruled out, but there are no plans for that at the moment.

“We will see what the future holds,” he said.

Oh, and since the headline mentions Starbucks, so should I: A new Starbucks has opened in Santa Barbara at 3052 De la Vina St. at the intersection with State Street, where Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf once served.

4. Firefighters Battle 2-Alarm Fire at Single-Family Home West of Goleta

House fire

Fired up west of Goleta. (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk photo)

Two people and their two pets were displaced after a Feb. 26 fire at their home in the Rancho Embarcadero neighborhood west of Goleta.

As our Tom Bolton reported, the 7:25 p.m. two-alarm fire caused major damage to the two-story house in the 8400 block of Vereda del Padre, east of Farren Road.

“Crews encountered heavy fire upon arrival, and began an aggressive interior attack coordinated with ventilation,” Santa Barbara County fire Capt. Daniel Bertucelli said.

He said Santa Barbara firefighters joined the battle after a second alarm was called, and the combined force got the flames knocked down and the scene mopped up.

The residents and their pets escaped safely, Bertucelli said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

5. Suspect Sought in 2 Attempted Kidnappings in UCSB-Isla Vista Area

A series of creepily sinister encounters on Feb. 28 in Isla Vista has unnerved the densely populated community west of the main UC Santa Barbara campus. The incidents apparently involved the same suspect, who is still on the loose.

As our Tom Bolton was first to report, Santa Barbara County sheriff’s spokeswoman Raquel Zick said two attempted kidnappings occurred in the area as well as two “fondlings” and an indecent exposure incident.

Fortunately, none of the victims was physically harmed.

One attempted kidnapping was reported around 7 p.m., Zick said, but the time of the second wasn’t available for some reason.

Zick wasn’t able to provide the location of the attacks, but one apparently involved a woman who lives at the Santa Catalina Residence Hall, formerly Francisco Torres, at 6850 El Colegio Road.

But that’s not all.

“An indecent exposure was reported at approximately 5:05 p.m., and was followed in quick succession by similar incidents on the west side of Isla Vista,” Zick said.

She said a woman reported that she was near the intersection of Camino Del Sur and Sueno Road when she was approached by a man who fondled her breast while covering her mouth. He then jumped in a car and sped off.

At 8:30 p.m., UCSB police received a report of another nonconsensual fondling near West Campus Family Housing on Storke Road.

The suspect was described as a college-age male, approximately 5-foot-10, with a thin build and dark hair. The getaway car was described as a late-1990s gold Toyota Camry or a similar vintage Honda Civic.

Although sheriff’s deputies and other law enforcement officers, a K-9 team and a county helicopter scoured the area through the night, Zick said, nothing turned up.

During the search, residents were asked to remain indoors and to call 9-1-1 if there were any sightings of the suspect. They also were advised to not walk alone and to use the UCSB safety escorts service.

The Sheriff’s Department and UCSB police have since stepped up patrols in the area.

Anyone with information about the Isla Vista incidents is asked to contact the Sheriff’s Department at 805.681.4100, or click here to report an anonymous tip.

UCSB police can be contacted at 805.893.3446, or click here to report an anonymous tip.

•        •        •

Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? 2 Reported Injured in Rollover Crash on Highway 101 in Downtown Santa Barbara.

•        •        •

Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

What did we ever do before cell phones? Stonehenge May Have Served as an Ancient Solar Calendar.

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Best of Bill’s Instagram

I’ve missed you, Los(t) Alamos(t). A visit to @plentyonbell is always a good idea, and @sadiethealaskanmalamute agrees with me. They’re both in my Instagram feed this past week.

•        •        •

Americans Held Hostage: Day 186

It’s been 186 days — six months — since the United States abandoned thousands of U.S. citizens and green-card holders to the Taliban in Afghanistan. On March 1, President Joe Biden spoke to the nation for more than an hour, but none of his nearly 6,600 words could be spared to mention what he had called the “extraordinary success” of our decision to cut and run — or the 13 American troops killed while doing it.

•        •        •

Watch It

I’m not in a book club, but Best of Bill reader Cindy Smith assures me it’s accurate. Which one are you?

YouTube video

(Holderness Family Vlogs video)

•        •        •

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Yes, I’ll set up a monthly donation today!
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— Bill Macfadyen is Noozhawk’s founder and publisher. Contact him at wmacfadyen@noozhawk.com, follow him on Instagram: @bill.macfadyen, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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.