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News Briefs

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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