CITY’S EYE ON THE PRIZE: The sprawling Army Reserve center at State Street and Las Positas Road stands empty, waiting for the City of Santa Barbara and the State of California to work out a deal to make it city property.

“They started at $20 million and the city at $8 million,” and the two agencies are now “closer,” Mayor Marty Blum told me this week. The city hopes to pay “in the one-digit” range, Blum said. But right now, negotiations are on hold due to budget issues with both agencies.

On the Beat

“We’d probably have to pass a bond issue” to acquire the site adjoining MacKenzie Park, Blum said. (Could be a tough sell in view of the current economic picture.) Possible uses could include senior recreation, after-school activities, and PAL (Police Activities League), with outreach programs aimed at curbing youth gang violence. “I think it would be wonderful,” the mayor said.

The 425th Civil Affairs Battalion, now on active duty in Iraq, is being relocated to the San Fernando Valley. The state, which has jurisdiction over the Northside Santa Barbara property, is anxious to sell, according to Blum.

Through a quirk of history, part of the city parkland is under the reserve center’s parking lot, and part of a city structure is on reserve land, she said.

DUST IN THE WIND: As I watched, a guy with an illegal gas-powered dirt blower blew debris from the sidewalk outside the First Bank onto the street, which is illegal. The debris was blown into the path of cars at State Street and San Roque Road. (Cough, cough.) When I walked past 45 minutes later, the debris was still in the street, the whole operation having moved the dust a few feet after polluting the air, both dust-wise and noise-wise.

PARTYING AT UCSB: The University of California, Goleta-I mean, Santa Barbara-made another top 10 list. The Princeton Review ranked the surfside school No. 10 on its list of top party schools. Oddly, perhaps, no other UC school made the grade. No one has fun at Berserkly? Nor did Westmont make the list. Maybe next year, but I doubt it.

GUMMING UP FIESTA: With Old Spanish Days just around the rincon, attorney Des O’Neill reminded me of the 1935 movie La Fiesta de Santa Barbara, starring many Hollywood names and the Gumm Sisters. And who were they? Well, one went on to moviedom fame under the name of Judy Garland.

WACKINESS AT THE RANCH: You’re not likely to ever see anything as zany as what’s now being staged at the Circle Bar B Dinner Theatre. The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 has bodies aplenty but isn’t a musical comedy, just a comedy. Susie and David Couch, as usual, have come up with a crazy play, this one based on several movies, including The Cat and the Canary, one of Bob Hope’s first movies, in 1939. (And if you can find a DVD of the film, let me know.) Watch for what I take to be Hope’s role, Eddie McCuen, played with zest by Robert Langarica. Kudos to director Jim Cook.

PALIN IN 2012? It’s started. One friend reported seeing a (gasp!) “Palin in 2012” bumper sticker. Another spotted one that takes the campaign for the unemployed ex-Alaskan gov even further: “Don’t Blame Me. I voted for the Smart One. Palin 2012.”

RENAUD’S: Hottest eatery on Santa Barbara’s Northside is Renaud’s. A touch of France next to good old Harry’s Cafe. Lovely ambiance, excellent coffee and food. Reportedly will open a second place in Arlington Court, across from the Arlington.

HIGH HEAT IN VEGAS: When I gamboled around Las Vegas a few weeks ago, the weather was pleasantly warm. Since then, according to a friend just back from flirting with Lady Luck there, the mercury has hit 116. (“I lost $300, but it was great fun,” he reported.) Summer’s always a slow season in Vegas, but this year the laid back pace has been accentuated by the recession. So resorts like Wynn have been sending out letters to Santa Barbarans offering a free night if you book and pay for at least two. (Why go to Vegas when you can lose your paycheck to the Chumash?)

BURTON SLEPT HERE: Good news for Santa Barbarans heading to Puerto Vallarta, our Sister City: The restaurant at Hacienda San Angel, best hotel in downtown PV, is now open to the public. Until recently, dining in the hotel’s restaurant, Hacienda San Angel Gourmet, was restricted to guests. But now, Santa Barbarans tell me, they can climb the cobblestones to dig into Chef Eduardo Michaga Lucero’s Mexican-infused comidas. The colonial-style hacienda is made up of five historic villas filled with antiques, I hear, and one of the villas was once owned by actor Richard Burton. Twenty rooms and suites in all, with gardens, fountains, three pools, a rooftop terrace with a Jacuzzi, and even a romantic, domed wedding chapel. If anyone spots Bruce Rittenhouse-transplanted gadfly, former candidate for S.B. mayor (and, from what I hear, happy happy on the P.V. beach)-say hello.


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