One’s perspective on the passing of a year — or a decade, as we face now — really sits in the eye of the beholder.
You could be Alejandra Gutierrez, who shockingly beat Jason Dominguez for the District 1 seat on the Santa Barbara City Council, utilizing a grassroots campaign to win by eight votes.
Or you could be a first responder who traveled upward of 20 miles in the dark of night, hoping to be able to save one of the 34 people aboard the Conception — to no avail once flames fully engulfed the dive boat, making the mission one of recovery, not rescue.
As we inch toward the clock striking midnight tonight, ushering in a new decade — it’s important to take a look back on how 2019 affected our community, both in the moment and moving forward.
“Steeped in expressions of nativism and white nationalism.”
And so began a half-year of ongoing drama surrounding the Santa Barbara City College Board of Trustees, highlighted by protesters taking over a Jan. 24 board meeting, objecting to the return of an administrator after she used a racial slur at a meeting.
The students stood behind the board members with signs.
Others were infuriated that the board chose to no longer recite the Pledge of Allegiance prior to meetings, leading to the school making unwanted national headlines for its divisive decision to turn its back on American tradition.
On Feb. 15, the board voted to reinstitute the Pledge, although the meeting took a dark turn as a group of students spoke out against alleged racism on campus. The hours-long public comment section turned into a heated debate that saw the threat of multiple speakers being removed.
Amid the chaos, both sides seemingly agreed on one item — that board President Robert Miller should be removed from the board. The News-Press joined that movement with a front-page editorial on Feb. 27.
While Mr. Miller has remained in office, the rhetoric surrounding the board has slowly moved away from unilateral decisions to exclude the Pledge or ongoing issues with alleged racism, to how the school will deal with its multi-million dollar budget shortfall.
As interim SBCC President Dr. Helen Benjamin steps aside for the newly appointed Utpal K. Goswami, SBCC promises to continue to be a story worth monitoring, albeit for innovative ways to overcome dismal enrollment numbers, or finding a unified voice on campus that truly includes all voices.
“This has been 20 years in the making.”
After decades of fighting the movement that is Target, the South Coast didn’t just get one store — we got two.
In April, the galleria concept was launched near La Cumbre Plaza, with plenty of fanfare and concern over whether or not the facility could handle the parking demands.
And it has held up just fine, even ranking in the top two of stores its size in the country. The pent-up demand in Santa Barbara proved fruitful for the retailer.
Just a few months later, the big-box Target opened its doors in Goleta — replacing the eyesore that was the old Kmart building.
This Target created more than 300 jobs, taking five job fairs in order to staff properly heading into the holiday season.
It’s one thing to open a store during a “down time,” but store director Kelli Nassif was thrown the obstacle of taking on the holiday season with a staff that admittedly was learning on the job.
And, if the shelves are to be believed, the holiday rush has been good for Ms. Nassif’s store.
Could the success found with these two stores spur other big-box retailers to push themselves into the area, maybe at the growing open space at La Cumbre Plaza?
It’ll be interesting to see if competition for Target might be a few months away . . .
“We aren’t just a shopping center.”
As shopping centers around the United States continue to figure out ways to combat the ease of simply ordering groceries, clothes and games on a smartphone via Amazon or another online service, it is encouraging to see Paseo Nuevo not rest on its laurels, instead looking to reinvent itself with a renovation project that kicked off in April.
Also looking to be a trendsetter in the overall rethinking of downtown Santa Barbara, Paseo Nuevo has spent the past eight months giving the center a facelift, although not messing with tradition.
While who will take over the Ortega Building (where Macy’s once was) has yet to be determined, the new work has inspired Orangetheory to join the fray — a good sign that a trendy, lifestyle-based storefront wants to join in on the action. They’ll open in the first quarter, while the overall project is expected to be done around May.
It was unfortunate to see the Night Market suddenly announce that it would not return for the holidays, putting dozens of small businesses in limbo — all over what could be considered an unnecessary attraction in an ice-skating rink atop the Ortega Building.
Thankfully, those small businesses found a home in De la Guerra Plaza for the holidays, cozying up with 70 of their closest business friends in a huge tent and late-night live music.
“Because projects of that size don’t move that fast.”
Another year has gone by without the gates of Santa Barbara High’s Peabody Stadium being open to anyone but the contracting company that currently governs the grounds.
The $39 million project has seen three deadlines come and go this year, including the latest being today — with the track, nor the turf on the playing field having been installed whatsoever. This is not to mention the stands being unfinished, and landscaping still occurring.
Over the course of the year, two distinct camps have been created: one that has basically stated that the project will finish when it is finished (much like Superintendent Cary Matsuoka’s tone-deaf quote above; he has since announced his 2021 retirement), while the other is beginning to demand answers.
The project will now turn into its third calendar year, beginning to rival how long it has taken to build SoFi Stadium, the new home of the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers. Construction on that project, slated to house more than 70,000 fans, began in December 2016 and is set to open in July 2020.
Peabody construction began in August 2017 and will seat 2,300. Its grand opening date has yet to be determined.
Considering the school’s CIF finalist football squad already missed out on hosting the championship at home, and their standout soccer squads continue to play on the road, here’s to hoping that a third graduating class doesn’t have to go to the Santa Barbara Bowl this spring.
“Such beautiful strong souls loving life loving earth taken too soon.”
So many questions, so few answers.
Regardless of the cause of the devastating Conception boat fire, the loss of 34 souls will be something that this area will never forget.
Hearing the scanner calls of a neighboring boatsman desperate to get help to save the people aboard the Conception, to the long hours searching for answers that will simply take months to provide — this story wasn’t one that anyone wanted to tell.
Attending the community vigil at Chase Palm Park and staring at the 34 oxygen tanks that lined the stage took your breath away; watching the unbelievable strength of family members and loved ones attend the gathering, choking back tears and embracing one another as hundreds of people laid white carnations into baskets to honor the victims.
Most of the families really had no ties to Santa Barbara, only that their loved one had traveled here for a fun weekend of snorkeling and enjoying Santa Cruz Island.
But now they are all Santa Barbarans, embraced by a community that has seen too much tragedy in recent years, but has found the strength to endure it time and time again.
To Carol Adamic, Steve Salika, Tia Salika, Juha Pekka Ahopelto, Neal Baltz, Patricia Beitzinger, Vaidehi Campbell Williams, Raymond Scott Chan, Kendra Chan, Adrian Dahood-Fritz, Andrew Fritz, Justin Dignam, Berenice Felipe, Lisa Fiedler, Kristina “Kristy” Finstad, Dan Garcia, Yulia Krashennaya, Marybeth Guiney, Yuko Hatano, Alexandra “Allie” Kurtz, Xiang Lin, Caroline McLaughlin, Charles McIlvain, Kaustubh Nirmal, Sanjeeri DeoPujari, Angela Rose Quitasol, Evan Michel Quitasol, Nicole Storm Quitasol, Michael Quitasol, Fernisa Sison, Sumil Sandhu, Ted Strom, Kristian Takvam and Wei Tan, you are forever embedded in our hearts.
“We’ll be endangered. We feel endangered.”
In September, the Santa Barbara City Council finally made a decision on its preferred landing spot for the new police headquarters — the Cota Street commuter parking lot.
While some celebrated taking a step forward, Farmers Market organizers continue to be outspoken considering they will have to relocate from their normal Saturday location.
As farmers spoke out about the change, City Councilman Oscar Gutierrez was steadfast in his decision.
“What I am worried about is that your farmers, they are not residents of the city, they are not the ones calling 9-1-1 here,” said Mr. Gutierrez. “There’s a disconnect because there’s 90,000 people who live here that rely on this police force, so I don’t think it is appropriate for outside business owners to dictate how a city will support their police.”
The city has extended an olive branch to the Farmers Market, committing to putting together a subcommittee to help find a suitable replacement location, with De la Guerra Plaza remaining on that list.
The subcommittee is not a requirement, as most businesses that have to relocate are not supported by the city, but due to the optics and loud nature of this disagreement, the two parties will attempt to work together to find a solution.
Let’s hope they can find the logical step forward instead of fighting what has already happened.
“It’s also a win for my family. My whole entire family … an example of achieving the American dream.”
Plenty of folks in the Jason Dominguez camp were already celebrating after initial results returned on Election Night, showing him with a slight lead. Plenty of social media posts out there boasting about Mr. Dominguez serving on City Council again.
Only days later, he was conceding to upstart candidate Alejandra Gutierrez, who staged an eleventh-hour comeback to knock off the District 1 incumbent by a mere eight votes.
Ms. Gutierrez championed her family’s modest beginnings and her rise through attending school at SBCC and UCSB.
“I don’t come from a political background,” said Ms. Gutierrez, as her parents are from a town in the western Mexican state of Jalisco. “My dad worked in the fields, and my mom was cleaning houses. … They had to work for everything that they have. I wanted to basically stand up as a young Latina that was raised and born in the city of Santa Barbara and that came from a working class family.”
She also shifts the gender representation on the council, with three women (Kristen Sneddon, Maegan Harmon & Ms. Gutierrez) and three men (newcomer Mike Jordan, Oscar Gutierrez and Eric Friedman).
“I think it shows the movement and how women are empowered to take on these leadership roles,” said Ms. Gutierrez. “It’s a time with a lot of women in empowerment.”
“No life is worth waiting and seeing. All it needed was another gust of wind.”
With the mental scars of the Painted Cave Fire of the 1990s, the 2019 version showcased how far the area has come in responding to a potentially devastating event.
On the afternoon of Nov. 25, locals could be seen peering into the mountains, with a huge billow of smoke stemming from the Painted Cave area and flames clear as day up against the blue skies.
The smell of smoke became thick and the fire spread quickly. Thousands were evacuated as hundreds of firefighters descended on the area to try and find containment.
And then it jumped State Route 154, something that fire crews were hoping to avoid.
As the night wore on, updates showed 0% containment and expected high winds.
But then Mother Nature got involved, giving a glimmer of hope as the winds changed directions and the forecast called for some rain.
The rains did come, as did snow, which could be seen from Santa Barbara.
It allowed the throngs of firefighters to get a grip on the fire (which burned 3,126 acres), and for officials to lift the mandatory evacuations, just in time for Thanksgiving.
And, in that moment, our community took a collective sigh of relief, thankful that no one had been injured, that no homes had been seriously damaged — and most of all, thankful for the hundreds of firefighters who put themselves in harm’s way in order to keep us safe.
And that’s what our community is all about — lifting each other in the face of adversity, supporting each other in innovation and protecting each other in the name of our little paradise.