Murder, Museums, and Media Blackouts

Not to Mention How Avoid Electrocuting Yourself

Mexican Mafia and Murder: Last Wednesday, in what was a case of chilling timing, Tony Rafael, author of just released The Mexican Mafia (Encounter Books, July 2007) spoke to the Channel City Club about gang violence. His talk, to an audience of nearly 200, came only hours after what was suspected to be the gang-related murder of a 16-year-old Westside youth.

Rafael, a Los Angeles investigative reporter, spent five years researching his book by talking to current and past gang members and riding LAPD surveillances. He said the control of California prison gangs has permeated into Hispanic neighborhoods throughout southern California. “In 1992, it went from purely a prison gang into a fully vertically integrated organization, with 100,000 soldiers on the street.” he said.

Rafael explained that prison gang control is so extensive and widespread that intelligence reaches “the people that need to know” in almost real time. “A little gang-banger on the street is given an order, and if he refuses he goes into ‘down status.’ If he ever goes to prison, and he believes he will, he is at the mercy of the Mexican mafia – this is how they exert control,” Rafael said. “It is more than a fight between two guys; the loyalty is irrational and there is a willingness to die for the gang.

Rafael told the audience, including a large contingency from Montecito, that, given the loyalty and longevity of Hispanic gangs, prevention is not easy to come by. “It is preventable – mainly on the front lines, through Hispanics, and probably through family,” he offered. But he tempered that solution by noting that gang membership is often multigenerational. “Sometimes it goes one for two or three generations – some families have been in a gang since the 1910’s or 1920’s.” He said it is important to get public officials involved, and while local concern has been well documented, Montage could not spot a single Santa Barbara city or county official in the audience on hand to hear this timely current event talk of such local interest.

Montecito resident Joan Rocco buys an autographed copy of <em>The Mexican Mafia</em> from Tony Rafael.
J'Amy Brown

Made in Santa Barbara: In a convergence of all good-things-local, last Thursday’s Santa Barbara Art Museum’s yet-again mobbed “Nights” event was dedicated to “Things Made in Santa Barbara.”

Giving it a “Made in Montecito” spin was the one-night-only display of gemstone art from Silverhorn Jewelers. A number of the store’s handcrafted jewels were showcased alongside the museum’s current photographic exhibit of more than 100 images from 45 Santa Barbara-based photographers.

The photo exhibit runs through October 7, but Silverhorn’s colorful gems went home Thursday night with stores CEO and president, Carole Ridding. Almost as well known for their local philanthropic support as for their jewels, Carole and Michael Ridding have been gem-collecting business since 1976 and opened their Montecito gallery in 1984. “I just knew this is where we belonged,” Carole said.

Carole Ridding of Montecito's Silverhorn Jewelers.
J'Amy Brown

Chainsaw Become Electric: Community activist, “Chainsaw” Don Miller who has recently gained attention for mowing down some pedestrian-blocking-bushes on State Highway 192 and, then, for demanding easy fire escape exits out of Montecito, has momentarily traded chainsaw and cheek for a seat in a civil-defense training classroom.

In the hopes other might join in this important community emergency volunteer corps, Miller allowed Montage to chart his course as he goes through the Montecito Emergency Response and Recovery Action Group (MERRAG) training. Getting more citizens trained in emergency protocols is a top priority for MERRAG and for Montecito Fire District as well. “In a large-scale emergency, there will not be enough fire district staff to handle everything and everybody,” said MFD’s Chief Kevin Wallace. “People must know how to help themselves, and trained MERRAG members will be key to helping us and the community.”

Don’s first class focused on the danger of electric power when it becomes the enemy. A few hair-raising facts:

– The worst burns are electric burns, because it doesn’t just involve the skin. Currents go through the body, often creating damage to the brain or spinal column, and then the currents find a way out, creating an exit wound that can burn right through clothes

– Always assume a fallen line is energized and stay at least 30 feet away

– You cannot tell if a line is energized just by its appearance. Some live lines will be silent and not arcing.

– If you are in a car and a line is down, stay put until help arrives. Do not get out of the car unless instructed to do so by emergency personnel.

– Given Montecito’s high winds and broken tree limbs, be particularly watchful for electric lines at night or in high vegetation-a live line can be very difficult to see and be as small as a coat hanger.

– A metal ladder or fence can conduct electricity, and even a wood ladder that is wet or not clean can be as dangerous as a wire itself.

– Never cut wire and, in all cases, keep people away from fallen lines.

– If it involves downed lines, dial 911 and Edison, because, as the training film noted, if you touch a live electric wire, it may be the last thing you touch!

“I came away learning that I’ll have to be much more careful with my good ole chainsaw, especially during the hidden dangers of wind storms-with fallen trees and concealed electrical wires,” Miller said. “I can certainly say my first MERRAG class was an electrifying experience.”

The next MERRAGE training, “Disaster Psychology” will be held August 2 a 3:15 p.m. at the Montecito Fire Station, 595 San Ysidro Road. Beginners are welcome, call MERRAG trainer Geri Simmons Ventura at, and call 969-2537 for information.

MERRAG Training Class, with Geri Ventura, trainer.
J'Amy Brown

Summer Shorts: A quick spin around Montecito reveals the following spot news of interest:

Miramar: Montecito Board of Architectural Review will take its first official look at Caruso Affiliates Miramar Project on Monday, July 30 at 3 p.m. in the County Engineering Building at 123 Anapamu.

Rick Caruso
J'Amy Brown

Largura: Prior to the Caruso hearing MBAR will make a 1 p.m. site visit to see the story poles installed at the Largura project in the Montecito foothills at 2480 Bella Vista Drive. The story poles are currently installed and will remain up until at least after Monday’s hearing, which is scheduled for 2 p.m. on July 30 at the Engineering Building hearing room.

Maxwell: Jack Maxwell’s lawsuit over the 2005 conditions imposed by the Montecito Planning commission on his High Road Conditional Certificates of Compliance hit the courtroom on Tuesday. The trial is being heard in Santa Maria and the judge is expected to rule shortly.

Heal the Ocean: On July 13, Heal the Ocean received a $333,435 state grant from Clean Beaches Initiative to study the Montecito Sanitary District’s shallow water outfall. The outfall is located at a depth of 35 feet, off Butterfly Beach. Nearby Hammonds Beach has been closed several times over the past few years due to bacterial contamination and this scientific study is proposing to determine the source. Several months ago the Board of the Sanitary District agreed to work with Heal the Ocean to facilitate the project. They said at that time they that they were confident that MSD outfall does not cause risk to human or environmental health.

Hillary Hauser of Heal the Ocean.

Coral Casino: The scheduled August 1 opening of the Coral Casino has been delayed. Greg Rice, with Ty Warner Hotels and Resorts, says the opening date has been pushed back due to delayed stone deliveries. Look for pool area to open by August 20, with the remainder of the club expected to be ready next January.

Nancy Pelosi: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was in Hope Ranch last Friday and Montecito turned out in full. Montage attended and expected to report-but there is a media embargo on the event and specifically denying Montage privilege of press. While Montage is always willing to scrap for news, taking on the first female Speaker of the house is too big a bite. Former Supervisor Susan Rose attended the event and said she thought Pelosi symbolized what the Democrats can do and will continue to do. However, Montage fears that few will know what the Dems can do if Demo-Central blocks positive local news.


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