ARE WE READY? The year 2011 dawned on Santa Barbara like a new Woody Allen movie. We’re not sure we’re gonna like it, but we can’t wait for the plot twists and sardonic epigrams. The globe may be going to hell in a handbasket, but Santa Barbara drifts into 2011 in a brave new world of hazy expectancy.

The Santa Barbara City Council absolutely must figure out a 21st-century way of filling a vacancy. It just went through a bizarre exercise that combined the thrills of a Chumash game of chance, a church raffle, and a Costco shopping spree.

Barney Brantingham

My ex-wife spent more care picking my Christmas present than these people did choosing a crucial swing vote, which turned out to be (surprise!) Randy Rowse, largely unknown to the electorate. You blinked, and ex-mayor Sheila Lodge and former councilmember Brian Barnwell — oh-so-close to getting that precious fourth vote — were thrown under an MTD bus while Randy was shocked to find himself in the city’s driver’s seat.

The Franciscans — followers of Council­member Dale Francisco — immediately claimed Randy as one of their own, but time will tell. In any case, within seconds of the deciding vote, “smart growth” liberals flew to their smart phones to start forming a slate to kick Randy out of office next November — should he decide to run. (Whether he aims to keep the seat or just help out for the remainder of the term remains one of the looming mysteries.) Councilmember Grant House is still in the doghouse for his pro-Rowse vote.

The elephant in the room, of course, was the upcoming General Plan Update. The stakes: high density, status quo, or some compromise that will probably satisfy no one.

In a community that views with some suspicion anyone lusting for higher office, there’s also some resentment about Das Williams’s moving up from the council to the Assembly, leaving this pot of political scrambled eggs behind. It’s unfair criticism, but there it is.

If all this sounds like something only a handful of area activists can get excited about, you’re probably right. But it’s the best this isolated and insulated town can muster for now. It’s a town that scandal forgot.

We just don’t have people like Christine (“I am not a witch”) O’Donnell, Tea Party candidate for the Senate from Delaware. (She lost.) Her only means of support in recent years seems to be running often for public office, and losing, but living off campaign donations, according to allegations. Feds are investigating.

Nor are we burdened with anti-immigrant, pro-death penalty, ex-Dem, now-Republican Susana Martinez, just elected governor of New Mexico. She’s fighting for the state to start killing people as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the Senate ethics committee (yes, there actually is one) dismissed a complaint that Dem Senator Christopher Dodd bought a cottage in Ireland at such a ridiculously low price, from real estate man Edward “Bucky” Kessinger, that it amounted to a gift.

Russia’s Mikhail Khodorkovsky will not be wintering in Santa Barbara, if he ever contemplated doing so, until something like the year 2020. In Russia, you do not cross Strongman-for-Life Vladimir Putin — as ex-tycoon Mr. K did — and expect to get away with it. He just got nailed with another jolt in one of Russia’s comfy prisons on clearly trumped-up embezzlement and money-laundering charges.

And Santa Barbara fortunately does not have anyone like Anders Hogstrom, a Swede. He instigated the theft of the notorious “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work Sets You Free”) sign from the former Auschwitz death camp. Hoggy has been sentenced to two years and eight months in Sweden but not, unfortunately, at hard labor at a Russian prison camp.

Our hotels fortunately do not have security guards and VIP hosts who sell cocaine and ecstasy to patrons and let them use private nightclub bathrooms for sex and drugs. The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas just agreed to pay $650,000 to state officials to settle such a complaint.

Nor do we live in foreclosure meccas like Vegas and Phoenix. I know people in Scottsdale who desperately want to move to California but can’t sell their condos.

But how many cities have residents like Ty Warner who fly around in a jetliner the size of a World War II bomber? I see that actress/producer Drew Barrymore has bought a six-bedroom Montecito mansion. If many more Hollywood people move here, we may see the Flying A Studio of the 1920s reopen.

Is this a great city, or what? You can buy medical marijuana in one upper State Street shop, take a few tokes, walk next door to a bar, get bombed, then get in your car and drive home (risking a DUI, natch).

I was hoping to wind this piece up without rotten news from Chicago, but then I found this: Jon Burge — a decorated former police lieutenant accused of suffocating, shocking, and beating confessions out of scores of suspects — has been convicted of federal perjury and obstruction-of-justice charges for lying about the torture.

Maybe Burge could serve the sentence in Russia, or better yet, China.

My apologies to the Prince of Peace for 2010. May the human race endeavor to make 2011 a better year. It starts with each of us.


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