Black bear
Cele-bear-ity sighting at Birnam Wood Golf Club in Montecito. (Birnam Wood Golf Club photo)

What kind of dirt do the Houston Astros have on Major League Baseball?

Once again, league officials have intervened to protect the Asterisks, perpetrators of the biggest cheating scandal in any sport’s history.

The league still refuses to do the right thing and vacate Houston’s fraudulent 2017 World Series “title,” it chose not to discipline a single player in the intricate sign-stealing scheme, and it doled out only slaps on the wrist to the franchise’s owner and management.

MLB had no problem, however, in swiftly and preposterously lowering the boom on Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Joe Kelly, who has proven time and again that he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a baseball thrown from 60 feet, 6 inches.

True to form, Kelly had a couple of close calls with two Houston hitters the night of July 28, then made a face at the second one as he walked off the field. That playground gesture evidently prompted a benches-clearing … gathering, during which no physical contact was made and no one was thrown out of the game.

The next day, Kelly was suspended by the league for a ridiculous eight games, in a 60-game season, even though he hit no one and had not been ejected by the game umpires.

Kelly is now a folk hero in Los Angeles, and throughout baseball, while witless MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has further proven how pathetic his stewardship of the sport has been. The sooner he’s gone, the better.

There was far less drama on Noozhawk this past week, although four of our Top 5 stories had major-league theatrics.

According to our Google Analytics, Noozhawk had an audience of 100,643 readers over the last seven days. What follows is my take on what you were reading the most. As you bear down, please remember that this is my opinion column and not a news story.

1. Black Bear Spotted Roaming Through Montecito Neighborhoods

It wasn’t your typical exercise enthusiast getting in steps, but a black bear amassed quite a few as it strolled through Montecito early on July 27.

To the surprise of several witnesses, the “good-sized adolescent” bear was spotted outside the front gate of Birnam Wood Golf Club at 1941 East Valley Road, near the Ennisbrook Trail at the south end of East Valley Lane about a half-mile to the west, on the adjacent estate of media mogul Oprah Winfrey and in the backyard of at least one other nearby property.

As our Jade Martinez-Pogue first reported, bear sightings were called in to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, which alerted the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Capt. Patrick Foy told Jade that the state agency opted not to dispatch personnel because the bear didn’t appear to be lingering.

“We had a conversation with the sheriff, but the bear was moving the whole time,” he said. “This situation doesn’t necessitate a response because the bear was on the move.”

A guest of Winfrey’s, CBS This Morning co-host Gayle King, posted a video on her Instagram account of a security guard describing the animal as a “good-sized adolescent” and advising her to “stay inside.”

The bear eventually vanished, likely returning back up the mountain through a creek bed.

2. After Heated Exchanges About Masks, Santa Barbara Council Votes to Educate Not Enforce

Downtown Santa Barbara

In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a Scold War going on. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

2020 has exposed a kajillion divisions in the country, but few flashpoints seem to be bigger — or more tiresome — than that of wearing masks around other people.

Although public health officials have not always been on the same page about their effectiveness in blunting the coronavirus, the value proposition of masks is really quite simple — as anyone who endured the thick, choking ash from the 2017 Thomas Fire should remember.

If face coverings could help protect us from that China-level pollution, and they did, can we all agree that they also will help disrupt the transmission of an invisible contagion?

And it’s actually not a question of constitutional rights, but one of common courtesy.

All of those raw, emotional triggers were on display on July 28 when the Santa Barbara City Council weighed the enforcement of a public mask mandate versus education and awareness to coax the community into doing the right thing.

As our Josh Molina reported, the debate was contentious and personal, but in the end the council voted unanimously to go with the carrot and not the stick. At least for now, the city will encourage people to wear masks and to do targeted enforcement — meaning ticketing and fines — only with groups that are flagrantly disregarding the concept of social distancing.

Rob Dayton, the city’s transportation and parking planning manager, told the council that weekend observers estimated that “about 90 percent” of people were wearing masks in and around the State Street promenade downtown.

That’s a very good thing, and it’s a testament to the voluntary commitment most of us have been willing to make without having to be hectored into compliance. I suspect there would be even more acceptance if there were less scolding and virtue signaling.

It looks like we’ll be living with COVID-19 for a long time to come. Few of us have the ability to alter that course, but all of us can keep our distance, wash our hands, stay home if we’re compromised or feeling sick, and wear masks responsibly.

3. 2 High-Speed Chases End in Arrest of Juvenile, Search for 2nd Suspect in Santa Barbara

Stolen car

This stolen SUV was not sitting idly by in Santa Barbara. (Peter Hartmann / Noozhawk photo)

A couple of high-speed chases involving the same stolen SUV on back-to-back days resulted in the catch-and-release arrest of one juvenile, but it took Santa Barbara police a few more days to capture the alleged driver.

Lt. Aaron Baker told our Tom Bolton that an officer patrolling the Lower Westside the afternoon of July 24 spotted an Infiniti SUV that had been reported stolen the day before.

With the officer in pursuit, he said, the driver sped away from Marilla Avenue, a two-block-long street at the far southern end of San Andres Street, raced up San Andres and turned right on West Carrillo Street toward downtown.

Carlos Rivera Buenrostro

Carlos Rivera Buenrostro is no longer in the driver’s seat. (Santa Barbara Police Department photo)

At the Highway 101 overcrossing, Baker said, the driver tried to go the wrong way up the southbound exit ramp but was blocked by oncoming traffic.

He said the driver and a passenger jumped out of the still-moving SUV and ran off, and the vehicle ended up colliding with another car.

The passenger — a juvenile — was quickly arrested in nearby Mission Creek. Baker said the boy, whose identity was withheld because of his age, was cited for resisting arrest and released to his parents.

The same SUV apparently was used in a harrowing, high-speed police chase through another congested Westside neighborhood the day before. That pursuit reached speeds of 80 mph as it tore along West Micheltorena, State and West Mission streets.

Police called off the chase after the suspect ran red lights at De la Vina and Bath streets. The getaway driver definitely benefited from last year’s extensive West Mission Street repair project. Had the deep dips not been replaced at each intersection, the chassis of the SUV might have met a violent end.

Somehow, there were no injuries in either incident.

Police figured out the identity of the driver in both chases, and they finally caught up with him on July 30.

Baker said 18-year-old Carlos Rivera Buenrostro was arrested outside a residence in the 1800 block of Castillo Street and booked into Santa Barbara County Jail on suspicion of auto burglary, grand theft and driving a stolen vehicle.

He said when police arrived with a search warrant, Buenrostro tried to flee out a back window.

“Officers had planned for that possibility, and Buenrostro was taken into custody,” Baker said. “In his bedroom was a key for a stolen car that he had used in a pursuit.”

4. Pair Facing Felony Charges in Attempted Robbery, Beating at Goleta Hotel

Kelly Espinoza and John Chavez-Hernandez

You’d best not turn your back on Kelly Espinoza of Pico Rivera and John Chavez-Hernandez of Covina. (Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department photos)

A Goleta hotel guest was beaten inside his room in a brazen robbery attempt the morning of July 26. The victim was able to escape and call for help, and the two suspects — both from Los Angeles County — were apprehended not far away.

As our Tom Bolton was first to report, Santa Barbara County sheriff’s spokeswoman Raquel Zick said the victim told deputies that a man and a woman had followed him to his room at the hotel in the 6800 block of Hollister Avenue. As he opened his door, they forced their way in behind him and demanded his car keys.

“The victim refused to give the suspects his keys as one of the suspects battered him with a replica firearm,” Zick said. “The victim was able to force his way out of his hotel room, and ran to the parking lot area, where witnesses called 9-1-1.”

She said deputies arrived within minutes and spotted the suspects a block away as they were attempting to run off.

“Deputies searched the area and located a hidden replica Glock pellet gun and luggage taken from the hotel room,” Zick said.

She identified the suspects as Kelly Espinoza, 43, of Pico Rivera, and John Chavez-Hernandez, 20, of Covina.

Espinoza was booked into County Jail on suspicion of false imprisonment, burglary, conspiracy and robbery, all felonies.

Chavez-Hernandez was booked on suspicion of burglary, conspiracy, robbery and assault with a firearm, also all felonies.

Bail was set at $50,000 each, and Chavez-Hernandez has since been released.

The victim was not seriously hurt, and declined medical treatment.

5. Santa Barbara Housing Authority Proposes 103 Apartments on Downtown Parcel

400 W. Carrillo St.

Let’s try try again at 400 W. Carrillo St. in Santa Barbara. (The Cearnal Collective rendering)

After a dud of a proposal for homeless housing on a gateway corner of downtown, the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara has returned with an attractive project intended for the beleaguered middle class.

The new plan would convert the commuter parking lot at 400 W. Carrillo St. into 103 rental apartments for the “missing middle,” meaning locals who can’t afford market-rate apartments but earn too much for a housing subsidy.

Skip Szymanski, the Housing Authority’s deputy executive director and chief operating officer, acknowledged the struggle to assist that often-overlooked demographic.

“We have done an admirable job with providing low-income affordable housing, but we do have a need for that missing middle,” he said during a July 27 virtual meeting.

Calling them “the backbone of Santa Barbara’s workforce,” Szymanski noted they are “our teachers, construction workers, mail carriers, medical assistants, hospitality and service industry employees, and our office workers.”

As our Josh Molina first reported, rents for the development are projected at $1,600 a month for one of the 66 studio units; $1,900 for one of the 26 one-bedroom units; and $2,200 for one of the 11 two-bedroom units.

Market rents for those same units would be up to $3,300, $4,125 and $5,175, respectively, without price restrictions.

Designed by the Cearnal Collective, the mostly three-story, Spanish-style project would include 52 parking spaces and retention of the trees that help screen the property from Mission Creek and the northbound Highway 101 entrance ramp.

The site is across the Castillo Street intersection from Casa de las Fuentes, another Housing Authority complex that I think is one of the most charming in Santa Barbara.

In late 2018, the Housing Authority proposed taking the commuter lot and building 40 tiny homes to be used as short-term housing for the homeless. That plan ran into a buzz saw of community opposition and ridicule, but the scheme was abandoned when state funding fell through.

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Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? Consultant’s Report Confirms Woes About Downtown Santa Barbara.

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Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

I’m in favor of in-street dining. My wife? Not so much. But I hope she gets the joke: Los Angeles Designates Open-Air Dining Areas Along 101 Freeway Median.

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Best of Bill’s Instagram

Hours after being spayed, @sadiethealaskanmalamute was creating a hissing fit in a cone-frontation out in our orchard. It’s in my Instagram feed, and there’s more in hers.

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Watch It

This could never happen, right? Certainly not this year!

YouTube video

(What If video)

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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.