Paseo Nuevo
Paseo Nuevo has a new lease on life in downtown Santa Barbara, but it’s not likely to include housing in the abandoned Macy’s building at the intersection of State and West Ortega streets. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

It’s May 1. Happy birthday to my beautiful wife, Missy.

Before April got away, however, the month ended the way it usually begins — coronavirus permitting. That is, with an elaborate April Fools’ Day joke.

In this case, the punchline should be Gov. Gavin Newsom, who finally appears to have overplayed the hand he’s been bluffing with almost since the pandemic panic began more than two months ago.

To recap: With COVID-19 cases beginning to pile up throughout much of California, the first-term governor issued a statewide stay-at-home order on March 19. The intention, it bears repeating, was not to achieve the impossible by eradicating the coronavirus, but to flatten the infection curve before our hospital capacity could be overwhelmed.

As columnist Brian Goebel has been chronicling on Noozhawk, California largely achieved that goal weeks ago — with the glaring exception being the apparently radioactive U.S. Penitentiary complex in Lompoc, run with such disgrace by the shockingly incompetent federal Bureau of Prisons.

While I haven’t faulted Newsom for taking decisive action in the interest of public health, I have said and written repeatedly that the threat we face is as much an economic disaster as a medical crisis.

By willfully turning off the economy — federal, state and Santa Barbara County — we have unleashed furies that almost certainly will have a longer lasting and much more profound impact than anything this batshit-crazy coronavirus dishes out.

Poverty, food insecurity, health and mental wellness issues, educational access and achievement gaps, economic inequality, homelessness, bankruptcies … pick your poison, because it’s all headed our way.

As our Brooke Holland reported April 29, a staggering 22,000 jobs have been lost in Santa Barbara County in just the last two months. That’s not quite half the number of residents of Goleta.

Nationally, in the last six weeks, more than 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment — nearly a quarter of the U.S. workforce and the equivalent of three out of every four Californians.

It’s increasingly clear that Newsom is out of ideas. Two weeks ago, he announced “six indicators” that he said would put the state on a glidepath to reopening. In reality, they’re loaded with ambiguity and contradiction.

This past week, he suggested that schools could start the next academic year a month early, in July. The public school establishment was highly dubious, and said so.

Even more controversial was a late-night April 29 leak from Sacramento that foretold purported plans to close all beaches and state parks, beginning May 1, in response to a reported lack of social distancing during the previous weekend’s extreme heat wave. It came as news to Santa Barbara County officials who had given their blessing for locals to hit the beach.

After a storm of overnight blowback, Newsom came out with a plan to only close Orange County beaches. Evidently, the rest of us were compliant enough to earn his favor.

Perhaps Newsom’s missteps will awaken those of us for whom the overreach and authoritarianism of his emergency declarations doesn’t quite sit right, constitutionally speaking.

As an entrepreneur and an employer, I’m not comfortable with government closing private business, restricting commerce, and infringing on our rights and liberties. In our American Republic, it is not the responsibility of an employer or an employee to prove that his or her job is “essential.” Rather, it is the government that must prove it is not.

The public health catastrophe triggered in Wuhan, China, cannot be de-linked from the economic disaster we created ourselves. They are equal threats and they have dangerously exposed the most vulnerable among us — and quite a few who weren’t as impervious as we thought.

Both threats should have been tackled simultaneously. Since they were not, we the people must step up the pressure on our elected representatives to get out of the way and allow America to get back to work — with the voluntary precautions that have made such a huge difference, like social distancing, the widespead use of masks and avoiding large crowds.

But we are rapidly approaching the point of no return, and Santa Barbara County in particular can’t afford to dawdle.

The gutty little Noozhawks have not been immune to the strain of covering the COVID-19 crisis pretty much around the clock. I’m enormously proud of the work they’re doing under extraordinary circumstances, but I’m just as aware that stamina usually has an expiration date.

In budgeting for 2020, my partners — executive editor Tom Bolton and business development vice president Kim Clark — and I had plans to expand our team in the fourth quarter. Now we’re weighing the risks of moving up our timetable.

Given the uncertainty and unknowns, this would not seem to be an ideal time to add staff. But we know our community needs us now more than ever so the counterintuitive call may turn out to be the right course of action for the greater good.

We need your help, though. While not everyone can afford to invest in local journalism right now, we also can’t afford to lose it. Can we count on you?

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Your contribution, at any amount, will help us continue to provide you with trusted, timely reporting on the news you need to know. Thank you for your support.

Thank you, too, for your readership. According to our Google Analytics, Noozhawk had an audience of 163,369 of you this past week.

What follows is my take on the Top 5 stories you were reading over the last seven days. In case you haven’t figured it out by now, this is my opinion column.

And it’s been a pretty grim week, to be honest. But if you stick with me to the end, I promise there is Some Good News.

1. City of Santa Barbara Ready to Enter Big Deal With Paseo Nuevo

The City of Santa Barbara and Paseo Nuevo Owners LLC have reached an agreement on a 46-year partnership with downtown’s landmark open-air mall, Paseo Nuevo.

And we all lived happily ever after.

OK, there’s more to it than that.

As our Josh Molina reported April 27, under terms of the lease deal, Paseo Nuevo Owners would invest at least $20 million in renovations, with $14 million committed to capital projects and another $6 million for tenant improvements.

The city would collect another $300,000 annually, related in part to the private parking garage the mall operates, and the LLC would pony up $200,000 to assist the city with “homeless solutions.”

“We believe we are the center of the downtown,” Paseo Nuevo marketing manager Mary Lynn Harms-Romo told Josh. “We are trying to create an urban park atmosphere.”

She’s not wrong, but in a downtown that is 15 blocks long and all of two blocks wide, city officials will need a lot more than Paseo Nuevo to revitalize the neighborhood.

“The city, all it is doing from my standpoint, is kicking the can down the road,” said Jim Knell, chairman of Sima Corp., a major downtown property owner and landlord, and a longtime city critic.

“They are allowing things to take place that they don’t have to be responsible for, and they are hoping that by giving these people an extension, they will reposition the mall and come up with something that it is not right now.”

City Councilman Mike Jordan is cautiously optimistic, and says the agreement should create an opportunity to reconfigure, re-engage and reset after the downtown retail environment’s collapse.

Just don’t expect the long-closed Macy’s department store to be converted to housing — which is what so many of us would like to see.

“Due to the way the building is constructed and the infrastructure, it would be easier to knock the whole thing down and build housing,” Jordan said.

Although he supports downtown housing, he noted that such a scenario is highly unlikely.

“It is going to be key for the city to participate in whatever fix that mall management brings and minimize the hurdles,” Jordan said.

“We have to recognize that many of our barriers that have been going on forever don’t reflect two things: They don’t reflect the recovery going on from the (coronavirus) pandemic and they don’t reflect what has been going on with retail in the past years.”

2. Goleta Man Arrested on Suspicion of DUI for Fatal Hit-Run Bicyclist Crash

A woman riding a bicycle in far western Goleta the night of April 26 was run over by an SUV, which then raced away. The woman suffered gruesome injuries in the collision and was declared dead at the scene.

Nicholas Baker

Nicholas Baker allegedly ran, but he could not hide. (Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department photo)

The crash occurred just before 10 p.m. on Calle Real at Violet Lane in El Encanto Heights, a half-mile west of Glen Annie Road.

As our Tom Bolton was first to report, Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies quickly began following a fluid trail left by the suspect vehicle as the driver headed south on Storke Road and into Isla Vista. The SUV was found abandoned in the 900 block of Camino del Sur.

“The suspect left the area prior to deputies’ arrival and did not call for help or render aid to the victim,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Raquel Zick said.

There were other clues, however, and Zick said deputies later arrested 20-year-old Nicholas Todd Baker of Goleta on felony charges of hit and run causing injury or death, involuntary vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence causing injury.

Baker was booked into County Jail with bail set at $1 million. He is expected to be arraigned May 1.

On April 30, Zick identified the victim as 59-year-old Katherine Stewart Peden of Goleta.

While deputies were investigating the Calle Real crash scene, a parked patrol unit was hit by another vehicle. There were no injuries in that collision, and the incident is being investigated by the California Highway Patrol.

3. Los Olivos Vintner Larry Saarloos Dies After Horse-Riding Accident

Linda and Larry Saarloos

Larry Saarloos, with wife Linda at a Santa Ynez Valley roundup, was an accomplished horseman, just as comfortable in the saddle as he was in the vineyard. (Saarloos family photo via Facebook)

Ten days after a tragic horseback-riding fall at Hollister Ranch, the family of Los Olivos vintner Larry “Big Lar” Saarloos announced April 24 that he had died of his injuries, which reportedly included a broken neck.

The 68-year-old Santa Ynez Valley cattleman, founder of Saarloos & Sons winery, and all-around good guy was severely injured when he fell from his horse and tumbled down an arroyo at Hollister Ranch on the Gaviota coast. A Santa Barbara County helicopter was called in to hoist him up and airlift him to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

From there, he was transferred to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, where he underwent a five-hour surgery.

Keith Saarloos, one of his sons, reported his dad’s death in an emotional video posted on social media.

“They say you are a soul and you happen to have a body,” the younger Saarloos said. “My dad was done with his body.

“We will live to honor him … We will move forward each day and we will live in a way that makes him proud of who we are and what we do with our lives. He will never be forgotten by anyone.”

Continuing a decades-old Los Olivos tradition, the close-knit community held a public procession along Grand Avenue the evening of April 26, then joined in singing hymns at the town’s historic, center-of-the-street flag pole. The flag had been lowered to half-staff in Saarloos’ honor.

Saarloos is survived by his wife, Linda, and their sons, Keith and Kirk; daughters-in-law; grandchildren; and other family members.

A celebration of life will be held at a later date.

4. Authorities Release Name of Woman Struck, Killed by Train in Montecito

The woman struck and killed by an Amtrak passenger train in Montecito on April 25 has been identified as Victoria Vaccarello, a 37-year-old Santa Barbara resident. Tragically, she may have been trying to catch her loose dog when she was hit.

As our Tom Bolton reported, authorities say Vaccarello was struck by the northbound Coast Starlight around 12:25 p.m. near Fernald Point in eastern Montecito. She was declared dead at the scene.

Santa Barbara County sheriff’s spokeswoman Raquel Zick confirmed Vaccarello’s identity after her family was notified.

Vaccarello was a popular hair stylist at Salon Montecito and, before that, at Red Studio.

Friends told Noozhawk that she may have been trying to catch her dog, which reportedly had darted onto the railroad tracks. Although a dog was spotted in the area after the collision, it wasn’t known if it was recovered.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

5. Governor Reportedly Planning to Close All California Beaches as Part of COVID-19 Battle

As mentioned previously, an impulsive plan to close all of California’s beaches and state parks lasted not much longer than a sand castle built below the mean high tide line.

“Let’s go surfin’ now
Everybody’s learning how
Come on and safari with me …”

The Beach Boys

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Brent Daniels R.I.P.

My friend, Brent Daniels, died recently after a long, difficult and valiant battle against Gerstmann-Sträussler-Scheinker disease, an extremely rare neurodegenerative brain disorder.

Brent Daniels

Brent Daniels always had a plan. (Daniels family photo)

A city planner in Santa Barbara County for almost his entire career, Brent was my first-choice source for anything related to housing, development, planning and land use.

No matter how obtuse my questions, he would patiently explain what I needed to know, going out of his way to provide examples to make it easier. His part of the conversation usually was delivered in a deadpan tone frequently interrupted with wisecracks.

Brent and his family — wife Lisa and their two beautiful daughters, Karisa and Anjali — were longtime residents of Goleta, where he served as a city planning commissioner for some seven years. In 2015, he was honored by the Goleta Chamber of Commerce as the Goleta’s Finest Public Servant of the Year.

As Brent’s disease began to consume more and more of his body, he and Lisa bought a brand-new, fully accessible house in Nipomo, where he was able to receive complete in-home care for the final two years of his life.

He died March 31 at the too-young age of 59.

Memorial contributions may be made to the hospice music program at Wilshire Health & Community Services in San Luis Obispo, UC San Francisco’s Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease clinical research led by Dr. Michael Geschwind, or to your favorite charity.

So long, Brent. Thank you for everything.

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Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? Missing Gaviota Man Found Dead at Hollister Ranch Road Crash Site.

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Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

Who needs the Dewey Decimal System anyway, right? Overzealous British Library Cleaner Rearranges Books by Size.

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Best of Bill’s Instagram

My Instagram feed was clouded by my judgments this past week. You’re welcome.

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Watch It

John Krasinski often made me laugh until I cried as Jim Halbert on The Office. Not even Jack Ryan could successfully fight back tears over his latest endeavor: Bringing us Some Good News in the darkest days of the coronavirus crisis. You’ll need a whole ream of Dunder Mifflin paper to use as tissues if you try to binge-watch all five of his weekly SGN episodes so far. Well played, sir.

YouTube video

(Some Good News video)

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Yes, I’ll set up a monthly donation today!
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Yes, I’ll set up a monthly donation today!
If you value dependable local reporting, will you support Noozhawk today?
Yes, I’ll set up a monthly donation today!
Yes, I’ll set up a monthly donation today!
Yes, I’ll set up a monthly donation today!
Yes, I’ll set up a monthly donation today!
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— Bill Macfadyen is Noozhawk’s founder and publisher. Contact him at, follow him on Twitter: @noozhawk and 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, and follow him on Instagram: @bill.macfadyen. The opinions expressed are his own.