Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara
We’re always looking for homeless housing options around these parts. Montecito’s Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara has plenty of vacancy for the foreseeable future. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

In case you missed it, Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli sent out a COVID-19 Update email earlier this week as she and our team continue to look ahead to the next phase of the coronavirus crisis.

Giana will be overseeing this weekly report, which is intended to keep readers in the loop and get all of Noozhawk’s important COVID-19 updates in one place.

We’re by no means dialing back our COVID-19 coverage, but we realize a weekly summary will be a convenient and helpful way to get you all of the vital information you need.

The weekly update is free and will be emailed each Wednesday. Click here to subscribe.

Noozhawk also has launched our annual Hawks Club spring membership drive.

Like you, we faced our share of challenges in 2020 but, thanks to your generosity, we were able to continue producing professional, trusted journalism that kept our community informed and connected during a chaotic and difficult year.

I’m proud of how Team Noozhawk continues to lead the way on the coronavirus, as well as all of the other hyperlocal news topics we cover, 24/7. But we need your continued support.

We know not everyone can make a financial contribution to help Noozhawk right now, but we’re grateful if you can. And if you’re already a Hawks Club member but want to increase your commitment, click here to let us know.

Will you stand up for our independent professional journalism and join our Hawks Club today?

Yes, I’ll become a member! >

Thank you for your enthusiasm and readership.

And on the subject of readers, Noozhawk had an audience of 151,927 of you this past week, according to our Google Analytics. What follows is my own take on the Top 5 stories you were reading during that period.

Please remember that this is an opinion column — my opinion. It is not a news story.

1. Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore in Santa Barbara Cancels All Bookings, Events Through 2022

For more than a decade, Montecito’s old Miramar Hotel sat abandoned and increasingly decrepit before billionaire Rick Caruso rolled into town and created the world-class Rosewood Miramar Beach Resort. The gleaming luxury property — with its luxury prices — has been open nearly the entire time during the COVID-19 crisis.

Just a mile down the beach to the west sits the historic Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara, owned by another billionaire, Ty Warner. The five-star resort had been the community’s premier hotel, and served as the elegant and iconic backdrop for scores of weddings each year and even more nonprofit benefits and society events.

The Biltmore and its Coral Casino Beach & Cabana Club have been closed since March 2020, ostensibly for renovations that may or may not be happening. The resort also had been shuttered for restoration in the aftermath of the 2018 flash flooding and debris flow that swept through the property at 1260 Channel Drive.

The lush and leafy campus is ringed by green construction fencing now, and locals have all but moved on. Evidently, so has the hotel, as several employees have told our Josh Molina that the Four Seasons has canceled all bookings and events through next year. That’s right, at least until the end of 2022!

Understandably, the employees are not happy, given that they were informed last November that the hotel would reopen in May.

Now, they say, the hotel casually announced in a social media post last week that general manager Aaron Ide is leaving April 16 after 13 years in the job.

“If the general manager is going away, it doesn’t look too positive,” one employee told Josh.

The closure has left around 450 employees jobless, and many of them are desperate.

Technically, the workers have been furloughed, not laid off. That gives them eligibility for fractional unemployment benefits but precludes them from receiving seniority-based severance pay if the hotel closes.

They told Josh they’re currently talking with an attorney about suing the company.

As usual, no one associated with the hotel has returned Josh’s calls for comment. Not even Coral Casino members, of which I am one, receive any useful or even regular communications — but at least we’re not being charged for not using the club. So there’s that.

In the meantime, the Rosewood Miramar Beach Resort is looking better and better. I’m sure it’s only too happy to fill the void.

2. Bill Macfadyen: Social Media Star Lee MacMillan’s Journey Reaches a Devastating End

Nothing new to report in the heartbreaking story of 28-year-old social media maven Lee MacMillan, who ended her life March 26 after a long struggle with depression and mental illness.

Friends established a GoFundMe account to raise money in her name for mental health awareness and to combat cyberbullying. As of April 9, more than $123,000 had been donated to the cause. Click here to make an online donation.

Funeral arrangements are still pending.

Click here for suicide prevention information and resources that are available 24/7.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available around the clock at 800.273.8255, as is the county’s 24/7 Behavioral Wellness Access Line at 888.868.1649.

3. 3 Arrested on Murder Charges in January Double Homicides on Santa Barbara’s Eastside

Law enforcement mobilization

Ready for anything in Carpinteria. (KEYT News photo)

On Jan. 3, two Santa Barbara High School students — 17-year-old Angel Castillo and 18-year-old Omar Montiel-Hernández — were gunned down outside a home on Santa Barbara’s Lower Eastside. Two other people were wounded in the shooting that Santa Barbara police described as gang related.

Omar Montiel-Hernández

Omar Montiel-Hernández

Angel Castillo

Angel Castillo

The next day, police spokesman Anthony Wagner announced that investigators were working “several leads” but no arrests had been made in the brazen attack in the 1200 block of Liberty Street, off South Canada Street between Hutash (formerly Indio Muerto) and Punta Gorda streets.

And that was about the last we heard about the case — from police, from the press, from the public, from pretty much anyone not somehow directly connected to the victims or the neighborhood.

Until early on April 8, when our Tom Bolton was tipped off that a “major law enforcement operation” was underway in Carpinteria and Summerland.

Beginning around 8:30 a.m., police Lt. Shawn Hill said, SBPD officers and Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies, SWAT and K-9 teams from both agencies, armored Bearcat vehicles and robots rolled into action.

The contingents converged on a residence in the 1000 block of Cramer Road off Carpinteria Avenue west of downtown Carpinteria and a house that was under construction in the 2300 block of Golden Gate Avenue in Summerland.

Hill said three Carpinteria men were arrested as suspects in the raids: 26-year-old Angel Eduardo Varela, 25-year-old Oscar Martin Trujillo-Gutierrez and 18-year-old Emilio Perez.

He said all three were booked — without bail — into County Jail on warrants alleging murder and attempted murder.

They’re also facing special-circumstance allegations of committing more than one homicide, criminal acts to further the activities of a street gang, use of a gun in association with a criminal street gang, and committing a felony in association with a criminal street gang, Hill added.

No injuries were reported in the raids but a shelter-in-place order was issued for the Cramer Road neighborhood as officers went door to door.

4. 2 Juvenile Suspects Arrested in Monday’s Fatal Shooting on Santa Barbara’s Eastside

Santa Barbara shooting scene

Santa Barbara’s Eucalyptus Hill Road crime scene on March 29. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

And speaking of Santa Barbara’s gang violence, what a difference not even a week makes.

In last week’s Best of Bill column, we were recapping Santa Barbara police hunting for two suspects involved in a March 29 Lower Eastside shooting of some kind.

The 5:20 p.m. incident in the 1400 block of Eucalyptus Hill Road left an “an out-of-county resident” with a “significant injury,” and the victim’s SUV crashed into a palm tree and on fire.

After a 5½-hour search, which included a fruitless stakeout of a backyard shed in the 200 block of South Salinas Street, police called it a night.

And that was the very last word on the subject until … just after 11 p.m. April 2 when police Lt. Shawn Hill dropped quite a bit of rather important new information.

Jesus Espinoza

Jesus Espinoza-Maldonado, 23, of Oxnard, is the latest victim of Santa Barbara’s alleged gang violence. (GoFundMe photo)

As our Giana Magnoli and Michelle Nelson first reported, Hill revealed that the victim — identified as 23-year-old Jesus Espinoza-Maldonado of Oxnard — had died of his injury March 31 at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

He also said that two juvenile suspects — aged 17 and 15 — had been arrested and booked into Santa Barbara County Juvenile Hall on charges of murder with special circumstances and gang felony use of a gun. Their identities were not disclosed because of their ages.

Hill said an adult — 39-year-old Irene Fernandez of Santa Barbara — was arrested on charges of being an accessory to a felony with special circumstances and gang murder with use of a firearm. She was booked into County Jail.

A GoFundMe account was established to help Espinoza’s family with his medical expenses. His brother, Jose Aguilar, said in a post that Espinoza was shot in the head and his organs were donated after his death.

Espinoza is survived by three young children. Click here to make an online donation.

5. Former Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Pleads Guilty to DUI Charges for Highway 154 Crash

Highway 154 wreck

The drunken driver who caused this 2019 three-vehicle wreck near Lake Cachuma is to be sentenced to six years in state prison next month. (Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

After initially pleading not guilty in a 2019 drunken-driving head-on collision on Highway 154 that sent a half-dozen people to the hospital, former Santa Barbara County sheriff’s Lt. Javier Jonathan Antunez has changed his plea to guilty.

As our Janene Scully first reported April 6, the 46-year-old Goleta resident is due back in Superior Court for sentencing on May 24.

Under terms of his agreement with the state Attorney General’s Office, Antunez will be spending six years in state prison for a felony charge of driving under the influence causing injury and a great bodily injury sentencing enhancement.

He had been looking at two felony charges — driving under the influence of alcohol and driving with a blood-alcohol content of .08 percent or more causing injury — in addition to an enhancement for causing great bodily injury to five other people. If convicted, he could have gotten 16-year prison sentences for each charge.

Janene has reported on the case since the three-vehicle wreck happened the night of Sept. 14, 2019, near Lake Cachuma.

Antunez, who worked in the sheriff’s Custody Operations Division, was driving east on Highway 154 in a BMW sedan belonging to his passenger, Esther Trejo, a county Probation Department employee. Both were off-duty at the time.

According to the California Highway Patrol investigation, Antunez crossed the double-yellow line and the car slammed into an oncoming Toyota Tacoma pickup truck, which was then hit from behind by a trailing Jeep.

Antunez and Trejo were transported to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital with major injuries, as were the pickup truck driver and two of his passengers.

A third passenger in the Toyota was injured so severely that she had to be airlifted to the hospital by a Calstar medical helicopter.

That victim turned out to be Judith Hall, an investigator with the District Attorney’s Office, which is why District Attorney Joyce Dudley turned over the prosecution of the case to the state.

After the crash, Antunez was placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation, and sheriff’s spokeswoman Raquel Zick told Janene that he retired from the department five months later, in February 2020.

Hall and another passenger, Evelia Dominguez, filed civil lawsuits against Antunez last year, and other victims are expected to sue him as well.

•        •        •

Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? Brian Goebel: California Substantially Flattened the COVID-19 Curve in March.

•        •        •

Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

Building a case brick by brick? French Police Are Investigating an Interlocking Ring of LEGO Thieves.

•        •        •

Best of Bill’s Instagram

#mailboxesofmontecito2021 have seen better days in my Instagram feed this past week.

•        •        •

Watch It

The defense may be squirrelly, but these varmints aren’t rattled by at least one predator.

(PBS video)

•        •        •

How You Can Help Noozhawk

Noozhawk is proud to be the go-to source of news for locals like yourself. You trust and rely on us to provide timely, relevant and thorough coverage of the issues that shape Santa Barbara County.

And we get up early — and stay up late — excited to report what’s going on in our community so we can keep you informed and engaged.

While most of Noozhawk’s revenue comes from advertising and sponsorships, we believe that reader contributions are a vital source of support — financially and fundamentally. We believe that if we ask our readers to contribute what you think we’re worth, we can build a sustainable business model for local news.

If you value dependable local reporting, will you support Noozhawk today?
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!
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!
Yes, I’ll set up a monthly donation today!
Yes, I’ll set up a monthly donation today!

Your loyalty membership helps us continue to provide you with unmatched local news and in-depth reporting on the issues that you care about.

Please note that personal contributions to Noozhawk are not deductible as charitable donations.

Thank you for your support.

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