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INCOMING: The wild winter weather returned to the South Coast this week, ringing in the New Year with several inches of rain and winds gusting to 60 mph. According to the National Weather Service, Santa Barbara received 1.89 inches between Sunday morning and Monday evening, while Goleta and Montecito measured 2.8 and 3.5 inches respectively; San Marcos Pass reported a whopping 8.25 inches of rain during the same period of time. Emergency personnel logged reports of power outages, minor flooding, and traffic fender-benders, while three boats washed ashore along East Beach, near Stearns Wharf, early Monday morning.

DRUNK DRIVEN: Santa Barbara resident David Watkins, 24, was arrested for felony DUI last weekend after crashing his car into, and seriously injuring, a local couple. Watkins was traveling west on Calle Real at approximately 10:30 p.m. last Friday when his Honda Civic drifted onto the shoulder and collided with pedestrians Charles and Sheila Hickman. The Hickmans were transported to Cottage Hospital, where Charles is being treated for a broken neck and injuries to his spleen, left knee, and left shoulder; Sheila suffered a broken femur and laceration to her arm. Watkins was taken into custody at the scene.

SOLSTICE HQ: The City of Santa Barbara tentatively agreed to lease the former Community Environmental Council building to organizers of the annual Summer Solstice Parade. Though financial details remain to be hammered out prior to final approval by the City Council, Solstice planners are confident the property at 631 Garden Street will be theirs to call home for at least 15 years. Renamed the Community Arts Workshop, the building will be headquarters to Solstice preparation every May and June; other local arts groups – under the supervision of Solstice planners – will use the facility the rest of the year. Plans for the building also include a rehearsal room, costume department, office space, and a possible gallery.

MURDER FREE ZONE: For the second year in a row, no reported murders occurred within Santa Barbara’s city limits; during that time, 15 people committed suicide. The last known homicide in Santa Barbara occurred in April 2003. Some lawmakers and police credit California’s controversial Three Strikes legislation for keeping repeat offenders behind bars for lengthy sentences; others note violent crime and homicide rates are down throughout the state and the nation, even in areas without Three Strike laws. In 2004, nine people killed themselves in Santa Barbara; that number was six in 2005.

SLUDGE WAR: Santa Barbara’s sludge will go to Kern County even if residents there vote to approve a sludge-import ban this June. Santa Barbara solid waste czar Rebecca Bjork noted that while the proposed sludge ban would prohibit outside municipalities from depositing their bio-solids directly on Kern County fields, Santa Barbara’s wet sludge, some 10,000 tons per year, passes through a composting facility in Kern County before being spread on farm fields. The anti-sludge measure is expected to pass easily; Bjork foresaw no immediate impact on Santa Barbara.

MINIMUM BUMP: Governor Arnold Schwarze-negger proposed increasing the state’s minimum wage by $1, bumping the hourly rate from $6.75 an hour to $7.75. If approved, such a hike would mean a $2,000-a-year total pay increase – from $13,500 to $15,500 – for full-time workers earning the minimum. Last year, the average worker in Santa Barbara County earned $39,000.

HIGH LIFE: County supervisors sent a message to medical marijuana users last week: Membership comes with a high price. The user fee required to obtain a medical marijuana ID card – designed to help law enforcement distinguish recreational users from those doing so under a doctor’s care –will now cost $54 for people on MediCal. The fee increase was implemented to recoup $20,000 lost whe considerably fewer patients than expected signed up with the program last year. When the county launched its medical marijuana program last year, it anticipated 500 would enroll; instead slightly more than 300 did.

TRAFFIC FUNK: Seventy percent of County of Santa Barbara employees drive to work alone on most days; of these, some 54 percent described the solo drive as “the most appealing” way to commute. Carpooling was described as the most appealing alternative by 22 percent of respondents; riding a bike came in at 8.1 percent, while taking the bus received a meager 3.6 percent . Just 2.6 percent of county employees reported taking the bus regularly, while 3.7 percent ride their bikes.

HENCEFORTH: Dozens of new laws went into effect on January 1 - some of them more obscure and baffling than others. In no particular order: • Pocket bikes are banned from highways, bicycle paths, hiking paths, and off-road public lands open to other motor vehicles • drivers who have been licensed for less than a year may not carry passengers younger than 20 unless accompanied by a licensed driver older than 25 • it is unlawful to tattoo or pierce anybody under 18 without parental consent, except for ear piercing • applicants for driver’s licenses will be asked if they consent to be organ donors, with their consent to be shown on their license • landlords are no longer required to give tenants a 60-day notice to vacate, even those living in the same dwelling for more than a year • high school athletes must vow not to use steroids or the performance-enhancing nutritional supplements DHEA, synephrine, or ephedra • Californians may no longer hunt live animals via the Internet • foster parents may now hire babysitters for less than 24-hour periods without fingerprinting clearance • storesselling rechargeable batteries and/or cell phones must accept returned items for proper disposal or recycling • insurers must explain in writing when denying coverage to an individual or offering coverage at a rate that is higher than the standard • insurers may not deny coverage solely because a person has changed gender • registered domestic partners can inherit property without property-tax reassessment • the Unruh Civil Rights Act is amended to explicitly prohibit businesses from discriminating on the basis of marital status or sexual orientation • sexual assault against a family member younger than 14 will be punishable by prison instead of court-ordered counseling • violent games may not be rented or sold to minors without parental permission • sugary sodas are banned on high school campuses, and school meals must include more fresh fruits and vegetables • condo, mobile home, and gated subdivision dwellers will vote by secret ballot, and their associations’ procedural minutes and financial records must be open • rank and file employees may now donate leave, vacation, and holiday credits to supervisorial employees for catastrophic leave • large commercial trucks entering the country from Mexico must meet emissions standards • California National Guard members injured while on active duty will receive the same disability benefits as federal soldiers • large ships are banned from dumping sewage sludge or bilge water in marine sanctuaries and California ocean waters • email fraud will now carry penalties up to $2,500 • city councilmembers may not receive salaries greater than $300 a month in the smallest cities or $1,000 a month in the largest, nor shall they receive more than $150 a month to sit on commissions and committees • selling a puppy less than eight weeks old without veterinarian approval carries a $250 fine

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