current issue: August 25, 2005

Aug. 18-25, 2005
BY CATHY MURILLO, ETHAN STEWART and NICK WELSH,with Kimberly Maher and Chelsea Lindman

News shorts - citizens alert

Quote of the Week

‘This war is all about money and oil and elitist interests, and I think the worst is yet to come.’

News Briefs

SALAMANDER’S LAST STAND: A federal court ruled that Santa Barbara County’s tiger salamander population is “endangered” and should be protected accordingly—not downgraded to “threatened.” The court’s decision reverses a move by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service aimed at giving ranchers and farmers more freedom to work their land regardless of the salamander’s presence in vernal pools. No matter the designation, landowners have been restricted from disturbing the ground around the seasonal pools. UCSB herpetologist Sam Sweet, who serves on the salamander recovery team, blamed such political maneuvering—the Bush administration reportedly pressured Fish and Wildlife to “down-list” the salamander without scientific evidence to do so—for blocking development of a recovery plan protecting both salamanders and ranchers.

GOOD GURU, BAD GURU: Central Coast devotees of Sri Sathya Sai Baba, a powerful spiritual leader in India, met this weekend at the Marjorie Luke Theatre to honor their guru on his 80th birthday. A film program, His Universal Message, His Humanitarian Works: An Inspiration to Mankind, detailed Sai Baba’s accomplishments, such as building hospitals and water systems. Sai Baba’s critics, however, point to rumors and allegations of child molestation dating back to the 1970s; the BBC recently aired the story of a former Sai Baba follower who charged the holy man had molested him as a young boy. Sai Baba’s followers say they felt no need to defend the man they believe is a god on earth, preferring to focus on his achievements, rather than hearsay.

KILLER BOYFRIEND: Carlos Varela, 24, appeared in Santa Barbara Superior Court Monday to answer charges for the stabbing murder of his ex-girlfriend, Holly Lake, 29, an Oxnard resident whose body was dumped along East Camino Cielo and left undiscovered for two days. It was Varela—already in custody for a suicide attempt in Ventura County—who led detectives to Lake’s body after authorities connected his failed suicide effort with the missing persons report filed by Lake’s father. Sgt. Erik Raney of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department said detectives are convinced of Varela’s guilt; his arraignment hearing will resume September 6.

NOLETA NO MORE? The Committee for One and the West Santa Barbara Committee won an important victory in their efforts to cleave the eastern portion of Goleta Valley to the City of Santa Barbara rather than the City of Goleta. On Tuesday, the Santa Barbara City Council voted to support the committees’ joint application to have the city’s “sphere of influence” encompass the zip codes 93110 and 93111, and part of 93105. The sphere of influence refers to land the City may eventually annex—a crucial point for residents of mobile home parks, where rent control applies only as long as the territory is not officially annexed. The Santa Barbara wannabes, meanwhile, hope to retain S.B. street addresses and the various public-service perks to which they’re accustomed. Supervisor Susan Rose said she wants the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) to hold a community workshop to examine all the proposal’s implications. The real showdown will be the September 1 LAFCO meeting, where Goleta city officials are expected to say they want to extend their sphere of influence into the county land Santa Barbara is eyeing.

TAKE A TRAIN: The Santa Barbara City Council got on track Tuesday in an effort to establish railway improvements meant to increase ridership, revenue, reliability, and safety in a commuter rail system extending from Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo. Mayor Marty Blum and Councilmembers Helen Schneider and Roger Horton were appointed to a committee tasked with acquiring federal funds and identifying necessary Amtrak infrastructure alterations. The council recognized the urgency to complete the railway program before the 101 in Motion project begins in 2007 so that commuters will have alternative transportation during highway construction.

Old Principals, New Tricks: With summer vacation nearly over and the 2005-06 school year set to begin Monday, the Santa Barbara School Board announced two “new” principals this week. In a unanimous vote Tuesday night, Dr. Sally Kingston, former principal of Roosevelt Elementary, was named the new chief of Harding Elementary School. The appointment comes as a homecoming of sorts for the bilingual Kingston, who previously served as principal of the now defunct Franklin Primary Elementary School. Also Tuesday, Veronica Rogers was announced as the “probable” new principal at Goleta Valley Junior High, replacing Lito Garcia—assistant principal at La Colina Junior High—who appeared set to take over at Goleta Valley but opted out due to personal reasons. Rogers is expected to be officially announced early next month.

Preschool plus: McKinley Elementary School was given the green light this week to start a free preschool pilot program on its campus later this fall. With the vote of approval from the Santa Barbara School Board Tuesday night, McKinley will now provide toddlers in its enrollment area an educational head start. With an expected program size of about 80 students, the waiting list is already taking names. Low-income families will get priority, school officials say, though half the spaces will be reserved for middle- and upper-class children. Preschool classes are set to begin in late September, with students attending either morning or afternoon sessions. A majority of the program’s start-up funds—about $100,000—came from the Santa Barbara chapter of First 5, a nonprofit group that distributes proceeds from cigarette taxes.

NO PLACE LIKE HOUSE: Homeowners who want to enlarge their houses may have to adhere to new regulations as Santa Barbara city officials are developing policy to discourage big houses on small lots. The Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance aims to prevent out-of-character giant homes on streets of single-story houses. Current rules allow too many projects to avoid size-controlling scrutiny by the city’s Architectural Board of Review (ABR). On Tuesday, the council decided to hammer out an interim ordinance by October 1; a permanent ordinance will take more time. Beginning in October, project proposals that would result in two-story houses with a 50 percent bump in overall square footage will go to the ABR.

The Big Sleep: Dennis Lynds, the prolific mystery writer whose Dan Fortune sagas often took place against a vivid Santa Barbara backdrop, died last weekend. He was 81. Lynds, who wrote under the pseudonym Michael Collins, penned some 80 novels. Unlike many Santa Barbara-based mystery writers, Lynds made no attempt to disguise Santa Barbara’s identity in his books. On rare occasion, Lynds, the son of socialists, allowed his narrator Fortune to venture into outright political commentary. “Today this country is going through the most anti-democratic, anti-working man, anti-thinking man, anti-individual, anti-freedom, right-wing, empire-building era since the time of the robber barons, child labor, the 16-hour workday, and the rampant octopus of the railroads in the late 1800s,” wrote Lynds early this summer. “Sorry if I offended anyone, but I was asked, and I’ve always told it as it is and I’m not about to quit now.” Donations should be made to the Democratic Socialists of America in New York City or to the Dennis Lynds Collection at UCSB.

Montecito Manslaughter

Delayed two years already, court proceedings against Montecito real estate agent Maureen McDermut (pictured)—charged with felony hit-and-run—got off to a slow start Monday because of a “too knowledgeable” jury pool. One prospective juror after another was excused for having been exposed to news stories or rumors that McDermut was intoxicated when her SUV allegedly struck and killed Joseph Cohn in August of 2003. After attending the same charity event—where wine was served—Cohn walked along Hot Springs Road with his wife and two friends while McDermut drove home on the same road; Cohn was hit while walking on the shoulder. According to investigators, physical evidence on the hood of McDermut’s SUV was conclusive; Cohn was pronounced dead on the scene. McDermut’s insurance company settled with the Cohn family for $2.35 million in a 2004 civil suit, but she pleaded not guilty to charges of vehicular manslaughter and hit-and-run. McDermut, who failed to stop at the accident scene, said she didn’t realize she had hit anyone until the next morning, when she noticed damage to her car.


Avenging Angel

Javier Angel was seven years old when Julie Diaz—convicted of murder in 1979—struck the boy on the head with a hammer, strangled him, and stuffed him into three plastic garbage bags, where he suffocated. Twenty-two years may have passed but Javier’s older sister, Yolanda Angel, hasn’t forgotten; neither, she hopes, will the California Board of Prison Terms, whom Angel has petitioned to reject any consideration of parole for Diaz. In a letter to the parole board, signed by some 100 individuals, Angel wrote: “There are innocent children in this world who need to be protected from this type of person.”

Diaz, 22 at the time of her conviction, is up for a five-year review in September. Until recently, she denied any responsibility for the crime, instead pointing the finger at her ex-husband. Diaz now admits she kidnapped Javier in an effort to extort money from the boy’s parents, then owners of the successful Villareal Market on Haley Street. But it was Diaz’s cousin—unnamed and now deceased, according to Diaz—who killed the boy. Diaz said she would like to return to Santa Barbara so she might live with relatives and work in an optometrist’s shop. The chances of Diaz obtaining parole are extremely remote, said Assistant District Attorney Patrick McKinley. There’s not one single letter in support of her application, and her prison record, while not as bad as before, is hardly good. “There are murders and then there are murders,” said McKinley, “and this is one of the worst I’ve ever seen. She should stay in there forever.” Retired Santa Barbara police officer Robert Zapata, who found Angel’s body stuffed in garbage bags beneath Diaz’s bed, wrote, “She is an evil woman—I don’t believe she can ever be rehabilitated.”


Clearing Congestion

To the relief of alternative transportation advocates, public works directors, and local governments throughout Santa Barbara County, a recent survey revealed a majority of likely voters were in favor of a 30-year extension for the county’s half-cent sales tax surcharge—commonly known as Measure D—aimed at funding transportation solutions. And with a two-thirds voter majority needed for such an extension, the sighs of relief were not overblown.

Another surprise finding of the survey: respondents were equally enthusiastic in their support for both commuter rail and widening Highway 101. “This is great news,” said Gregg Hart of the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments. “It shows the people get it, that they consider transportation a pressing problem and they’re willing to spend money to fix it.” According to the survey of 1,140 likely voters countywide, traffic congestion ranked alongside housing prices and education as the most pressing concerns; 64 percent of respondents indicated they’d support a half-cent surcharge without hearing any supportive arguments. That number increased to 72 percent when they were informed Measure D was already in place. Support was strongest along the South Coast at 76 percent, weakest in Santa Maria (65 percent in favor). Support was strong even among older Republican males. Hart estimated the Measure D extension would generate as much as $2 billion over 30 years A draft plan may be ready this fall.

Citizens' Alert

Thu., Aug. 25
Permaculture Network: Lecture on ecovillages and intentional communities. 7-9pm. Faulkner Gallery, S.B. library. Call 962-2571.

Sat., Aug. 27
Girl Power: The Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center presents women’s self-defense training. 10am-2pm. Call 963-6832.

LGBT in the Sun: Pacific Pride Foundation hosts meet-and-greet BYO picnic. Noon-4pm. Hendry’s Beach. Call 963-3636.

Pro-Choice Coalition: Sponsors a letter writing campaign for reproductive freedom. 2-4pm. Center Stage Theater. Call 963-2445 x147.

Shape Up: Adventours Outdoor Excursions sponsors an all-day triathlon. Co-ed and women only courses held on Sunday. Go to

Sun., Aug. 28
Wild Horse Sanctuary: Provides wine, cheese, and a chance to walk among the herds. 2-4pm. 4115 Jalama Rd., Lompoc. Call 736-1897.

Mon., Aug. 29
Community Open House: Discuss Goleta housing strategies. 6:15pm. Council meeting room, Goleta City Hall. Call 961-7540.

Tue., Aug. 30
Weekly Vigil: Collect signatures and leaflet to abolish the death penalty. 5-6pm. State and Anapamu. Call 225-3873.

Grant Writing Workshop: Offered free for social justice groups by the Fund for Santa Barbara. 6-7:30 pm. Carpinteria Library. Call 962-9164.

Wed., Aug. 31
Garden Celebration: S.B Parks and Recreation staff and community gardeners commemorate recent renovations with garden tours and refreshments. 11am. Pilgrim Terrace Community Gardens, S.B. Call 963-7567.

I.V. PAC/GPAC: Meets to discuss bus stops, UCSB development, and other issues. 6:30pm. 777 Camino Pescadero, I.V. Call 884-8050.

Thu., Sept. 1
Santa Barbara County Parks Commission: Public Meeting on Goleta Beach restoration and development. 5-9pm. 5679 Hollister Ave., Goleta. Call 568-2461.

Setting Limits: S.B. Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) meets. 2pm. Board of Supervisors hearing room, S.B. Call 568-3391.

Backpack Drive: Donate school supplies to children in need by Aug. 29. Several drop-off sites at UCSB. Call 893-4296 or 893-8113.

Notices to; deadline is Fri. prior to publication date.


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