Notebook: Gina Out of District 6 Race

This just in: Gina Fischer, warp speed Dem activist and county supe’s aide, has made it official: she’s not running for the SB city council District 6 seat now held by appointed incumbent Meagan Harmon. “Dear friends and loved ones, it pains me to write this email, but I want to let you know that I’ve decided to suspend my campaign for Santa Barbara City Council and will not pursue elected office this November,” Fischer e-blasted this week. “I want to thank everyone who supported me in this endeavor - perhaps Brene Brown has best encapsulated what this experience has felt like, ‘If you’re brave with your life and choose to live in the arena, you’re going to get your ass kicked.'" The distric

Six Takeaways from the MAD Saga

We hear that outgoing MAD Academy Director Dan Williams was not on campus Wednesday, one day after the Santa Barbara school board ordered their lawyers to bar him for what’s left of the school year. Although the decision does not end the controversy that’s plagued the academy for several months – besides law enforcement’s examination of the matter, there’s the search for a replacement to step into Williams’s post, not to mention the considerable political fallout from the affair – it does provide a break in the action after several weeks of fast-moving developments and non-stop conflict. Here are six key takeaways from the story to date. What’s the future for academies? In a recent newspaper

MAD: SB Board Wants Williams Off Campus

In a surprise move, Santa Barbara’s school board last night ordered its lawyers to alter the terms of the district’s settlement agreement with embattled MAD Academy Director Dan Williams to force his “immediate removal from campus.” The board’s action, announced as they emerged from closed session, followed an eruption of angry, impassioned and heartfelt public comments and complaints from a parade of parents and their community supporters, several of whom called for the firing of Superintendent Cary Matsuoka. Amid the scandal that has swirled around the leadership of the Multimedia Arts & Design Academy, it was at least a partial victory for parents who have accused district administrators

Where is Roadmap to the City's Future?

(Editor's note: Today Newsmakers presents an op-ed by former Santa Barbara Council member and Mayor Hal Conklin outlining a community-based, strategic approach to economic development that recognizes the crucial importance of cultivating and nurturing the city's future business tax base. Newsmakers welcomes fact-based opinion pieces about local issues from all political perspectives). I am often asked, “What is the city doing about State Street? When I respond with a counter question - “What do you want to happen to State Street?” - I get one confusing answer after another. Most of the time, people just want to know, what is the City’s PLAN for the future of the downtown. My answer is alway

Breaking: Cops Get SBUSD's Secret Report

Newsmakers has learned that in the past 24 hours the Police Department received a copy of a private investigator’s report prepared for the Santa Barbara Unified School District about the MAD Academy controversy and now will look into the information it contains. “The contents of the document will be reviewed by our Investigations Division,” SBPD Public Information Officer Anthony Wagner told us Monday morning. Wagner confirmed that the department received the report on Sunday. An attorney for the school district declined to comment on this story. The surprise finding caps a three-day roller coaster of news about the MAD affair that began late Friday and which has focused on official confiden

Cops, DA: No MAD Academy Investigations

Neither the Santa Barbara Police Department nor the District Attorney’s office is investigating parent and student allegations of wrongdoing at the MAD Academy -- nor has either agency received a private investigator’s report commissioned by the school district on the matter, law enforcement officials said. “I was contacted by the school district’s attorney,” District Attorney Joyce Dudley told Newsmakers. “They wanted to turn their investigation over to SBPD. I referred them to SBPD.” At the police department, Public Information Officer Anthony Wagner said that, “We are aware that the school district has conducted an internal personnel investigation." “However,” Wagner added, “at this point

SBUSD Notifies SBPD & DA of MAD Probe

The Santa Barbara school district has informed the police department and district attorney's office that it has conducted its own investigation of alleged improprieties by leaders at the MAD Academy, Superintendent Cary Matsuoka said late Friday. “The investigation is continuing and we have reported our activities to the Santa Barbara Police Department and the District Attorney and offered to work with them to the fullest degree possible," he said in a written, emailed statement. Following several weeks of controversy within Santa Barbara’s schools community – which we've covered here, here and here – Matsuoka’s 250 word statement is the first official word about public accusations made by p

Pot-Avocado Spray Deal Collapses in Carp

The Oxnard pest control companies that spray avocados in the Carpinteria Valley have pulled out of a proposed agreement with cannabis greenhouse operators. The sprayers say they can’t risk contaminating the marijuana crop. Under the deal, cannabis growers in the valley would have agreed not to sue the commercial sprayers during the weeks they normally spray in the spring. The companies would have been able to use pesticides that work well on avocados but are on the state’s “red list” as contaminantsfor cannabis. “We’re all disappointed, but we’re just not going to do it,” said Rob Scherzinger, the founder and manager of Aspen Helicopters, Inc., one of four Oxnard pest control companies that

MAD: Top Sex Abuse Law Firm is Retained - Board Members Seek Distance from Scandal

A nationally prominent law firm that represents victims of sexual abuse confirmed on Wednesday they have been contracted in connection with allegations of improper conduct by leaders of Santa Barbara High School's Multimedia Arts & Design Academy. “We have been retained,” attorney Stu Mollrich told Newsmakers, speaking for the Irvine-based firm of Manly, Stewart and Finaldi. “We have not yet filed an action.” Their entry into the local controversy now swirling around the acclaimed MAD Academy raises the stakes in the affair, which escalated last week, when parents of a former student publicly accused Pablo Sweeney, the program’s ousted operations director, of sexual “predation” towards their

How SBUSD Beat Behrens' Reinstatement Bid

In the end, the lawsuit by Ed Behrens to regain his job as principal of San Marcos High School was doomed by one simple but stubborn legal fact: Behrens was an “at will” employee of the Santa Barbara Unified School District – so Superintendent Cary Matsuoka and the school board ultimately didn’t need any special reason to can him. That is the gist of a 12-page, redacted ruling that SB Superior Court Judge Pauline Maxwell issued on May 9, apparently capping a 16-month cause célèbre saga of controversy over his ouster. “The procedure for removing a principal is simple,” Judge Maxwell wrote. “It does not require a finding of cause and may be based upon no more than a personality conflict, and d

What's Behind the MAD Academy Mess

In an emotional and explosive public statement, two parents told Santa Barbara’s school board Tuesday night that nothing was done after their son presented evidence of sexual “predation” to his teacher at the Multimedia Arts and Design Academy more than a year ago. They pleaded for “action in the case,” which has stirred community controversy over Santa Barbara High School’s celebrated MAD Academy. “We stand before you today to implore you to take further action in the case concerning unfitting behavior by the MAD Academy leadership,” testified Mark Sherman, father of two students from the program, one of whom graduated last year. “Unfortunately, we are…intimately aware of the inappropriate

KEYT Scoops on MAD Academy Party Video

On Monday night, Tracy Lehr reported about a social media video that purportedly shows the embattled director of Santa Barbara High School’s Multimedia Arts and Design Academy partying with students. The story, first aired on KEYT’s 6:30 p.m. newscast, is certain to fuel a simmering controversy over the tenure and job status of MAD Academy director Dan Williams, a volatile personnel issue which the Santa Barbara Unified School District board is scheduled to hear about on Tuesday night in closed session. Before they do, however, the board also may get an earful on the matter from at least one MAD Academy parent: Justin Tuttle, who found the video on Instagram and provided it to Lehr and other

New TV: All the SB Local News that Fits

Laura Capps, Tyler Hayden, Josh Molina and Nick Welsh are on the panel for a round-the-horn roundup and analysis of a busy week in Santa Barbara news. Laura leads off with an insider look at some of the controversies that have emerged in recent weeks at the Santa Barbara school board, including the district administration’s failed bid to spike the GATE program at Washington Elementary, and a head-scratching divided vote on Capps’ effort to hire a sustainability officer to improve environmental standards and lower energy costs in the schools. Then Tyler takes a look at the big jobs-vs.-environment fight over ExxonMobil’s application for a new permit to transport offshore oil from platforms th

Why Pols are Pushing Pot for Pets

A bill moving through the Legislature would allow California veterinarians to use cannabis legally to treat Duke, Tigger, and Snowball for hip pain, bad breath, and thunderstorm anxiety, among other afflictions. The measure by State Senator Cathleen Galgiani, a San Joaquin Valley Democrat, also would likely expand California’s market for cannabis-derived products, which has been ever-expanding since voters legalized recreational weed in 2016. “Pets Are the Hot New Cannabis Customer,” trumpeted a headline on the website of the financial cable channel CNBC, above a recent story reporting that “Sales of CBD pet products quadrupled last year to $32 million from $8 million in 2017.” “The market c

It's Ganja vs. Guacamole in Carp Valley

Scott Van Der Kar, an avocado grower in the Carpinteria foothills, thought he was immune to the cannabis controversy that has roiled neighborhoods closer to town. Van Der Kar’s 50 acres on Shepard Mesa Road, where he also has lemons and cherimoyas, have been unaffected by the skunk-like stench from cannabis greenhouses and the semi-trailer truck traffic that has triggered a barrage of opposition in the valley below. Even as the Carpinteria Valley became a mecca for commercial cannabis cultivation, the 70-year-old avocado industry was conducting business as usual … until now. “The cannabis industry has forced significant impacts on the community and expected the community to adjust,” Van Der

Awards: Gott Wins, SBUSD a Loser Again

The latest Best and Worse political performances in Santa Barbara: Winner: Anna Marie Gott. Every City Hall in America needs a character like Anna Marie - an intelligent, easily offended and tightly wound private citizen who simmers with indignation at the hubris, disdain and ineptitude of those living at the public trough, and possesses not only the stubborn persistence, obsessive interest and free time to dig through the legalese and documentary minutiae cloaking official proceedings, but also the grit and guts to confront pols face-to-face. These unsung public heroes can bang too heavy on the keys, get high scores on the annoying crankiness scale and cry conspiracy before ruling out incom

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