Ka-bloom. (Mike Eliason photo)

For the last week and a half, I’ve been introducing you to Noozhawk’s expanded Hawks Club membership program and inviting you to join.

Over the next few weeks, my business partners — executive editor Tom Bolton and business development vice president Kim Clark — and I will be explaining in more detail why you should support us.

We think it’s important that you know more about our business model and the vital role that readers play in helping Noozhawk grow.

Since we launched in 2007, advertising and sponsorships have been our core revenue source. But it has been increasingly clear that we must broaden our financial support, and who better to get involved than those who count on our reporting of local news, pretty much 24/7?

So we’re asking, and you’ve been responding — with eye-popping enthusiasm. Thank you very much.

In upcoming months, we’ll be outlining our exciting growth plans for 2019 and beyond, and let me say right now that it’s ambitious. But it is also crucial for our community against a backdrop of alarming social media influence and news deserts.

We need more resources and reporters if we are to help you understand and make informed decisions about issues of local government, our schools, our communities and civic responsibility.

We won’t force you to pay for this public service through paywalls or story meters, but we are asking you to help support it by making a donation and becoming a part of the Hawks Club. Click here for our membership levels and benefits.

Thank you for your loyalty and support, and thank you for your Hawks Club membership.

Thank you, too, for reading Noozhawk so faithfully. According to our Google Analytics, we welcomed an audience of 137,352 of you this past week. What follows is my take on the Top 5 stories you were reading.

As I often do, I must warn you that this is my opinion column, not a news story. Unlike so many of my Best of Bill columns, there’s no March Madness in this one. OK, there may be one. You’ll find it.

1. Where to Find Wildflowers in Santa Barbara County as ‘Super Bloom’ Hits California

The combination of recent wildfires, above-average rainfall and cold winter temperatures has created a “super bloom” of vivid wildflowers blanketing Santa Barbara County and Southern California.

Along with your own landscaping, brightly colored fire poppies, golden ear drops, purple shooting stars, California goldfields, daisies, big flowered phacelia, scarlet Indian paintbrush and manzanita are among the blossoming beneficiaries of the optimal conditions.

“Many of California’s annual plants can exist as seeds in the soil for decades, waiting for the right conditions to germinate,” said Heather Schneider, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden’s rare plant biologist.

“The combination of wet conditions and recent burns gives us the potential to see things that haven’t been seen for a long time or even document new occurrences, especially in burn areas.”

The last major wildflower bloom in California happened two springs ago, in 2017, as parts of the state began to emerge from years of drought.

Flannery Hill, the Botanic Garden’s communications manager, told our Brooke Holland that the plants typically show abundantly following a fire, but will disappear within a few years as revegetation crowds them out.

Brooke’s story has an extensive list and links of where to go and how to see the super bloom on the Central Coast. Click here for her report.

But please be a responsible sightseer and don’t trample the flowers. Stick to existing trails or rock hop to get closer. We all want to Instagram them as much as you do.

2. Santa Barbara’s Jackson Gillies Gets ‘American Idol’ Opportunity of a Lifetime

Jackson Gillies

Jackson Gillies goes Hollywood. (American Idol photo)

Singer-songwriter Jackson Gillies has been a rising star in Santa Barbara, where he won the highly competitive Teen Star contest in 2016 and has performed with rock legends Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina.

Now, the 19-year-old San Marcos High School alumnus has landed on one of the biggest stages of all, ABC’s enduringly popular American Idol TV show.

On March 18, Gillies aced his audition with a rendition of Ed Sheeran’s “Make It Rain” and advanced to the Hollywood round. His performance earned accolades from the show’s superstar judges, Luke Bryan, Lionel Richie and Goleta’s own Katy Perry.

There’s no doubt about Gillies’ talent, but he’s also had to overcome — or come to terms with — lifelong health challenges, including hidradenitis suppurativa, a chronic and painful skin condition. Such adversities give the show added drama.

“Every once in a while God sends some reminders to all of us,” Richie said. “I had a couple things that bothered me this morning when I woke up, but I am going to go to bed now and I won’t have a care in the world.”

Perry, too, was touched.

“I am really proud of you,” she told him. “I want you to really dig in every time and make me proud and make our hometown proud.”

Gillies will next appear March 24 and 25 for Hollywood Week.

“This ticket is one step closer to my dream,” he said afterward. “After all I have been through, it’s amazing to see the judges acknowledge me like that.”

3. Suspect Rescued from Ocean in Goleta After Fleeing from Sheriff’s Deputies

Beach arrest

He took a crack at escape but was never going to get far. (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk photo)

It’s not that unusual for crime suspects to make a run for it when authorities give chase, and sometimes they even get away. Making a swim for it is another thing, and the suspects’ success rate is not great.

A Santa Barbara man apparently wasn’t thinking about that when he tried to elude Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies who were pursuing him the afternoon of March 16 in the vicinity of The Ritz-Carlton Bacara in Goleta.

When he got to Haskell’s Beach, east of the resort, he made like Aquaman and waded into the surf.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Kelly Hoover told our Tom Bolton that the alleged perpetrator was wanted in connection with a reported domestic-violence incident near the hotel. Deputies chased him across the Bacara campus and through the old Venoco oil-processing facility before he hit the beach and headed out to sea.

“The suspect jumped into the ocean and swam away from deputies,” she said.

And the deputies just let him go — sort of. There was no way he was going to make it to Santa Cruz Island, let alone Hawai’i, so they kept an eye on him from shore.

“After the suspect continued for a length of time to evade deputies by swimming in the water, deputies became concerned for his safety due to the temperature of the water,” Hoover said.

The county Fire Department’s water-rescue team was dispatched and firefighters, using a personal watercraft, retrieved and dragged his soggy ass to safety.

County fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni said the man “was quite exhausted” and, once back on the beach, limply gave himself up.

The suspect — identified as 47-year-old Michael Reardon — was suffering from hypothermia, and was taken by American Medical Response ambulance to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital for treatment.

Afterward, Hoover said, he was booked into County Jail on suspicion of criminal threats, violating a protective order and evading a peace officer. Bail was set at $50,000.

No one else was injured in the incident, and no further details were released about the initial response call.

4. Fire Causes Evacuations, Damage at Downtown Santa Barbara Commercial Building


Smoke alarm. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

Our Giana Magnoli was working at home the morning of March 11 when she heard sirens stop nearby. Walking outside, she saw a column of black smoke rising into the bright blue sky.

And sometimes that’s how a reporter gets her story.

It turns out the smoke was coming from an office building a block away at 1815 State St. Santa Barbara fire Capt. Mike Hoose told her the blaze was reported just before 11 a.m., and multiple engines were dispatched to the scene.

Crews made short work of the fire, which badly damaged the second floor and left the ground floor with water and smoke damage.

Investigators say the cause of the fire was accidental, but the ignition source has not yet been determined.

There were no injuries in the blaze, which caused an estimated $70,000 in damage.

5. John Dudley of Carpinteria, 1946-2019

John Dudley, a retired hyrdrogeologist and the husband of Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley, died March 15 after a stouthearted battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 72.

John Dudley

John Dudley, 1946-2019. #restinpeace (Dudley family photo)

Born Dec. 14, 1946, Dudley earned an undergraduate degree and two advanced degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in his hometown, served in the U.S. Army Reserve, and had a successful career helping protect America’s waterways and clean up Superfund hazardous waste sites in California.

Dudley was an avid outdoorsman and an accomplished scientist but his love of and devotion to family surpassed everything. One of the kindest souls I’ve known, his eyes and smile could light up a room when he talked about his wife, his sons, his daughters-in-law and his grandchildren.

He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the summer of 2016, and was in and out of hospitals for the next 2½ years. With his family at his bedside, he took his last breaths at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

Dudley is survived by his wife; sons Chris (Meg), Matt, Mike (Morgan) and Sam (Erica); and grandchildren Madison, Beau and Audrey. Another granddaughter is due in May.

Funeral services are pending, but memorial donations can be made to the Montecito Trails Foundation.

R.I.P., John, and prayers of peace to Clan Dudley.

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Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? Mandatory Evacuations Ordered Ahead of Strong Winter Storm in Santa Barbara County.

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Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

I’m late to the birthday party, but this is a timeless present: For Her Sweet 16th, Grandfather Gifts Journals of Handwritten Memories to Granddaughter.

                                                                 •        •        •

Best of Bill’s Instagram

@rodeohouston, Ol’ Son. That’s what’s in my Instagram feed this past week because #itsrodeotimeamerica. #yeeyee

                                                                 •        •        •

Watch It

Every dog has its day. This one has its way.

YouTube video

(Crufts video)

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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!

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