Laura Knight
Laura Knight, owner of Pascucci at 509 State St. in downtown Santa Barbara, believes fresh air will do restaurants good as they struggle to survive the COVID-19 pandemic. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The pain and suffering from the global coronavirus outbreak may be ongoing, and almost certainly will be a fact of our lives for a long while yet, but Noozhawk is continuing to make a positive difference in our community in spite of it.

In last week’s Best of Bill column, I told you about managing editor Giana Magnoli successfully securing a Solutions Journalism Network grant to dig into district elections and her acceptance into the Poynter-Koch Media and Journalism Fellowship program at the Charles Koch Institute in Arlington, Virginia.

This week, I’m proud to announce that Noozhawk was awarded a Google News Initiative Journalism Emergency Relief Fund grant for a project that executive editor Tom Bolton will be leading. We’re not quite ready to provide details, but the grant will enable us to expand our coverage in a few of Santa Barbara County’s news deserts.

Next week, business vice president Kim Clark will be hosting a free wellness webinar series on the much more personal and emotional impacts of the coronavirus.

The first hour-long webinar, “Mental Wellness During the COVID-19 Crisis,” is at 1 p.m. May 27 with representatives of CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation), Domestic Violence Solutions and Sanctuary Centers Santa Barbara.

The second, “Learning Together Remotely: Navigating Education in the COVID Era,” is scheduled for 11 a.m. May 29. Sponsored by the Santa Barbara Education Foundation, the hour-long webinar features a panel discussion with local education professionals.

Click here to register for the May 27 webinar, and click here to register for the May 29 webinar.

I know you know how indispensible Noozhawk is for keeping you informed about what’s happening in Santa Barbara County — good, bad and otherwise. We’re professional, we’re trustworthy and report the truth, we’re nonpartisan, we’re reliable, and some of us never sleep.

But we also believe we have an obligation to use our platform and resources to strengthen our community and not just report on it. These grants, fellowships and webinars are all part of our commitment to do just that, and we’re as excited about that opportunity as we are about local news.

We do 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?

Yes, I’ll donate! >

Your contribution, at any amount, supports breaking news as well as in-depth local news that is accessible 24/7 and always paywall-free.

Thank you for your support.

And thank you for reading Noozhawk. According to our Google Analytics, we had an audience of 136,975 of you this past week. What follows is my own take on the Top 5 stories you were reading.

Please remember that this is my opinion column as Noozhawk’s publisher. It is not a news story.

1. Santa Barbara City Council Allows Sidewalk, Curbside Dining, Closes Two Blocks of State Street

Following the centuries-old lead of hamlets, towns and cities around the world, a unanimous Santa Barbara City Council voted to halt vehicle traffic on two blocks of State Street downtown and to allow restaurants to set up al fresco dining on the sidewalks — throughout the city.

How we got here was excruciating.

We can blame the coronavirus crisis if we must, but this discussion has been going on for, well, decades. It picked up steam over the last few years as more and longer stretches of downtown began to resemble a ghost town.

Until now, it’s just been talk. And talk. And talk.

COVID-19 forced the issue, exposing the lack of vision and accountability that has plagued the downtown district but presenting a wide-open opportunity for a refresh.

Considering Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order, now in its third month, and the social distancing required for restaurant protection and customer confidence, and the fact that outside appears to be safer than inside, sidewalk dining sounds like a logical next step.

To futher expand the experience, the city will be blocking cars and trucks from the 500 and 1200 blocks of State Street — at least temporarily — and elsewhere will permit the creation of curbside parking spots known as “parklets.”

“These solutions will bring people to the restaurants,” said Bob Stout, board president of Downtown Santa Barbara and the owner of Little Kitchen at 17 W. Ortega St. “What we are trying to do is bring Santa Barbara alive a little bit.”

Retired Santa Barbara Fire Chief Pat McElroy, board chairman of Common Table, an initiative of the Lois & Walter Capps Project, said the move was crucial for restaurants, many of which are teetering on financial ruin.

“What restaurants need is the ability for them to expand their footprint to adjacent outdoor areas so they can continue to serve customers in a safe environment without having to severely limit the number of patrons they serve,” he said.

After a spirited discussion at its May 19 meeting, our Josh Molina reported, the council voted 7-0 to approve the plan brought forward by City Administrator Paul Casey and new economic development manager Jason Harris.

“If we are hearing from the businesses themselves that there needs to be a first order of business to allow them to survive in the immediate, I think we really need to speak strongly that those actions need to be taken today,” Councilwoman Meagan Harmon said before the vote.

Councilman Mike Jordan said it was important for the public to embrace the concept.

“We’re not going to open up the downtown core, the businesses aren’t going to open up the downtown core,” he said. “It’s the customers who will open the downtown core, so any of these plans we make are reliant on me, you and other community members actually coming downtown.”

2. For 2nd Straight Day, Mountain Lion Reported at Santa Barbara Condo Complex

El Escorial Villas

Mountain lion’s gatehouse at El Escorial Villas in Santa Barbara. (Peter Hartmann / Noozhawk photo)

Located between East Beach and the Santa Barbara Zoo, tony El Escorial Villas is one of the city’s most desirable condominium complexes. It’s not typical hunting territory for the stealthy mountain lion but, hey, a puma’s gotta prowl, right?

And did I mention the zoo?

On two consecutive early mornings last weekend, a lone lion allegedly was seen skulking about the neatly kept village on Por La Mar Cirle.

As our Tom Bolton reported, Santa Barbara police and state Fish & Wildlife personnel responded to the scene, the latter with thermal-imaging equipment. They found nothing, however.

“There’s no indication that it is there now,” police Lt. Josh Morton told Tom at midmorning May 17, several hours after the 5 a.m. sighting by a delivery driver.

Although mountain lions generally don’t want to come face to face with humans any more than we want an encounter with them, neighborhood residents were advised to keep their pets inside at night.

That wasn’t the only warning some residents got. A friend on Cima Linda Lane, more than a mile away and above The Montecito Club golf course, told me that, at 4 a.m. May 16, he received two cell phone alerts — one in English, one in Spanish — along with a text message and a notification on his landline phone. He was not amused by the wakeup calls.

Meanwhile, let’s hope the big cat stays well away from the zoo, where Monty the Penguin has become a social media superstar with his walkabouts during the COVID-19 quarantine.

3. Santa Maria Man Fatally Injured in Collision on Highway 154 Near Lake Cachuma

Highway 154 crash

Highway 154’s weekly crash was a fatal one this time. (Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

A high-speed, head-on collision on Highway 154 near Lake Cachuma left both drivers with massive injuries May 16. One of them — a 21-year-old Santa Maria man — later died from the trauma.

According to the California Highway Patrol, a Honda Accord was reported to be traveling eastbound at a high rate of speed about 6 p.m., “making unsafe passing movements over double yellow lines.”

Just east of the Cachuma Lake Recreation Area entrance, the CHP said, the car crossed into the westbound lane and slammed into an oncoming Ford Fusion.

The Honda driver was trapped in the wreckage and required extensive extrication by Santa Barbara County firefighters who responded to the scene.

He was airlifted by a Calstar medical helicopter to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital but died of his injuries there.

Authorities say the Ford driver, a 40-year-old New Mexico woman whose name was not released, suffered major injuries in the crash and was rushed by an American Medical Response ambulance to Cottage Hospital.

A third person also was transported to Cottage Hospital with minor injuries.

On May 19, Santa Barbara County sheriff’s spokeswoman Racquel Zick identified the dead man as Daniel Anthony Andrade, who friends say had recently moved to Santa Maria from Bakersfield.

A GoFundMe account has been established to help Andrade’s family with funeral expenses, and had raised more than $9,000 by May 22. Click here to make an online donation.

The CHP is investigating the circumstances of the crash, but authorities say it is not known whether alcohol or drugs were a factor.

4. Bill Macfadyen: Nordstrom’s Loss Could Be Catalyst for Downtown Santa Barbara’s Gain

Ahhhh, Nordstrom’s future, downtown Santa Barbara’s void, the coronavirus and the Lompoc prison complex catastrophe, and even the weekly Highway 154 crash — some things never change.

Or are some of them about to? I’m not holding my breath, but I’m thinking about it,

5. Pilot Killed as Small Plane Crashes at Orcutt Elementary School

Plane crash

The pilot of this private plane was killed in the crash at Ralph Dunlap School in Orcutt. Thanks to the coronavirus shutdown, no students were on campus. (Patricia Martellotti / KCOY News photo)

The pilot of a small private plane was killed May 20 when his aircraft crashed on the playground of an Orcutt elementary school that, under normal circumstances, would have been filled with children playing at recess.

According to Santa Barbara County fire Capt. Daniel Bertucelli, the crash was reported at 10:45 a.m. at Ralph Dunlap School, 1220 Oak Knoll Road, a few blocks east of South Bradley Road.

He said the pilot, the single-engine plane’s only occupant, died in the fiery crash, which strewed wreckage across the campus’ basketball courts and ignited a loud explosion heard throughout the community.

Emergency dispatchers received multiple 9-1-1 calls about the incident.

“The first responding engine company was reporting heavy smoke from a significant distance away,” Bertucelli told our Tom Bolton.

The FlightRadar24 website identified the aircraft as a Cirrus SR20 registered in Newport Beach that had departed Van Nuys Airport at about 9:45 a.m. en route to the Santa Maria Public Airport.

On May 21, Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Racquel Zick said the pilot had been identified as 38-year-old Tigran Garabedyan of Burbank.

Garabedyan apparently was on approach to the airport at the time of the crash, which is under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.

There were no injuries on the ground. Although a steel storage container was singed by the fire, there was no damage to any of the school’s buildings.

Because of the ongoing statewide stay-at-home order, students were not on campus, but Orcutt Union School District Superintendent Deborah Blow said a handful of staff members were at the school.

“I’m very grateful that none of my staff were injured during this,” she said. “I guess this is a small silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, because we would have had children on campus when that occurred.”

Blow expressed her condolences to the pilot’s family and friends.

                                                                 •        •        •

Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? 1 Man in Custody, Another Hospitalized After Shooting in Downtown Santa Barbara.

                                                                 •        •        •

Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

How about we start flattening these curves? Lockdown Delays Cost at Least 36,000 Lives, Data Show.

                                                                 •        •        •

Best of Bill’s Instagram

@sadiethealaskanmalamute stole the show in my Instagram feed this past week — and hers.

                                                                 •        •        •

Watch It

These goats were in search of herd immunity after escaping from their weed abatement pen and butting into a nearby San José neighborhood.

                                                                 •        •        •

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 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.