The sun sets on a Carpinteria beach (12/29/2013)
Geoff Minger

With at least one toe firmly into the New Year, we have been graced with the latest epistle from the Gospel of Wendy P. McCaw, owner most peculiar of the Santa Barbara News-Press. Say what you will about McCaw, she gives lie to the despairing thought that American journalism has been entirely taken over by cookie-cutter formulations. To date, no cookie cutter has been invented capable of encapsulating her nutty Ayn Rayndian weirdness.

Angry Poodle

In her customary New Year’s note to readers, McCaw accused certain unnamed local enviros of being “enviro-terrorists” because they insisted a Santa Maria onshore oil development — Santa Maria Energy’s — should be required to mitigate and otherwise limit its greenhouse gas emissions to 10,000 metric tons. Further, she excoriated them for insisting that holding the allegedly “unfounded” belief that carbon dioxide is, in fact, a pollutant. Without carbon dioxide, McCaw noted, “everything dies.” The scientific fact of the matter is that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, and where Planet Earth is concerned, carbon dioxide clearly fits that bill. With this screed, McCaw officially joins the ranks of climate change deniers.

I don’t know about you, but I take perverse comfort in knowing that the daily newspaper of the birthplace of the environmental movement has editorialized on behalf of carbon dioxide, one of the key causes of climate change. If nothing else, it proves anything is possible.

Santa Maria Energy has done an impressive job mobilizing supporters to cry outraged crocodile tears because the county supervisors voted 3-2 to require stiffer mitigation measures than the company wanted. This point bears repeating. First, the additional mitigation measures will cost the mega-million-dollar company only $500,000 to comply with, which in the great scheme of things is chicken feed. Secondly, the company was allowed to drill for seven years — as a test project — without any mitigating any of its greenhouse emissions at all. They should learn to take “yes” for an answer and quit whining.

When it comes to wacky science, I am no stranger myself. For the past umpteen years, I have been pointing out how people afflicted with the first, last, or middle name Lee — or any variant — should be regarded as prima facie sociopaths, driven by a cruel destiny to commit acts either illegal, destructive, or just plain mean. As if to prove my point, authorities in the Northern California town of Eureka just arrested a 43-year-old male named Gary Lee Bullock for beating to death a popular priest named Eric Freed. To date, there’s no shred of evidence that Bullock even knew Freed or why he did what he allegedly did. Likewise — in case you’re wondering — there’s no evidence suggesting that Freed had ever been implicated in the slightest in the Church’s ongoing sex-abuse meltdown.

Next Tuesday will be Santa Barbara Councilmember Grant House’s last farewell. House, who served two terms on the council and what seems like a few decades before that on the Planning Commission, was forced by the city’s term-limits ordinance to step down. Politically, House occupied the left-end of the dais, supporting things like alternative transit, roundabouts, bulb-outs, commuter rail, buses, bike lanes, traffic calming, and various and sundry higher density affordable housing projects. He is most famous, however, for always and forever “appreciating” everyone and everybody in sight whether or not such appreciations were, in fact, justified. This Tuesday, the rest of the council will give House one last collective appreciation, whether they really mean it or not.

House will forever be forced to live down his defining political blooper, in which he voted for more conservative-minded Randy Rowse to fill the vacancy created when Das Williams left the council to take his seat in the Assembly. House said he voted for Rowse with the expectation and understanding that he would seek only to fill out the rest of Williams’s term. Whatever understanding House had was not shared by Rowse, who in fact quickly made it clear he would run for election. The global significance of all this inside baseball is that Rowse gave the council a bona fide conservative majority — whatever the hell that means — for the first time in about 35 years. That majority lasted for about two years and disappeared with the election of Cathy Murillo a couple years ago. It was a lunkheaded move, but far from the dumbest thing in the universe.

Regardless, House should be given pretty much full and total credit for the council’s decision to finally pass a plastic bag ban this past year. The proposed ban had been bottled up in various committees for the better part of seven years where it was so talked to death it achieved quasi-zombie status. When it became clear that an environmental impact report was required, which would have cost City Hall something like $70,000 during the worst of the recession, it looked like the ban was toast. But House, who sits on some multi-governmental agency dedicated to the preservation of beach sand, got that agency to foot the bill for the environmental study. The price tag to City Hall weighed in around $10,000, and the proposed ban moved forward. So when you look out at the beach and don’t see a plastic bag, take private moment to “appreciate” Grant House.

Taking Grant’s place on the council dais is former councilmember Gregg Hart, and Hart’s addition to the team could engender more than a few sparks to fly with Mayor Helene Schneider over Caltrans’s plans to widen Highway 101 from Montecito to the Ventura County line. More like Mt. Vesuvius going off. Hart and Schneider differ profoundly and fundamentally over Caltrans’s freeway-widening plan and how tough and threatening the City of Santa Barbara should be if it doesn’t get satisfaction.

Complicating matters intensely are two basic facts. Gregg Hart works by day for the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG) as its public spokesperson and its political strategist. Crops would wither and die overnight on the vine if they had to sustain themselves on the amount of daylight between Caltrans and SBCAG. They are one and the same. Not only has Schneider objected that Hart would have a conflict of interest when the City Council deals with these issues, but in the recent elections she threw her weight behind an anti-Hart candidate, David Landecker. Landecker lost; Hart won. If Hart and Schneider weren’t such consummate professionals, things could get awkward.

Making matters even more awkward and conflicted is that Schneider’s longtime political adviser, confidant, and campaign manager — Jeremy Lindaman — also happens to be hired by Common Sense 101, the group of Montecito agitators leading the charge against Caltrans’s plans. Common Sense 101 has argued that the left-lane on- and off-ramps by Montecito should be retained because, they insist, it would make the widening project faster by two years to build, cheaper by $60 million to build, and every bit as safe as Caltrans says it should be. Caltrans, for the record, has rejected each and every one of these assertions. Four days before Christmas, Caltrans threw down the gauntlet, telling SBCAG to shit or get off the pot. Reading between the lines, Caltrans Pope Malcolm Dougherty threatened to take his ball and go home if SBCAG didn’t fall in line pronto.

As with everything related to this project, it’s all infinitely complicated, making a Rubik’s Cube look like tic-tac-toe. There is no shortage of conspiracy theories to go around. One holds that Schneider is motivated solely and exclusively by crass political considerations, that by carrying the water for her campaign manager’s well-heeled clients in Montecito, she’ll have made generous friends for the next time she runs for office. Whether that’s for county supervisor or Congress has yet to be determined, but one thing seems certain; relations between Schneider and 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal — who represents Montecito — have grown frosty enough to freeze Guinness Stout.

Carbajal has been openly salivating over the congressional district now occupied by Lois Capps and has made it clear he intends to run as soon as she vacates the premises. Under the normal scheme of things, Schneider would then run for Carbajal’s supervisorial seat, but according to reliable political lore, he declined to say he would support her in that eventuality. Relations between the two have always had a competitive edge, and Lindaman likes nothing better than to eat the face of anyone on the other side of his candidate. Certainly in waging war against Caltrans and its freeway-widening plans, Schneider has eaten Carbajal’s lunch and spit out the crumbs on his shoes.

Political calculations notwithstanding, the City of S.B. has a longstanding beef with SBCAG and Caltrans, one that Schneider wants addressed before she green-lights the freeway-widening plan. Unless the railroad bridge by the Bird Refuge is widened, traffic attempting to get on the freeway there will back up on Cabrillo Boulevard. This bridge expansion, Schneider argues, absolutely must be included in the freeway-widening project. Promises and other bland assurances, she said, simply won’t do; such promises have been made before, and City Hall won’t be fooled again.

This sentiment, for the record, is shared not just by Schneider and her political hatchet man, but by City Administrator Jim Armstrong, Assistant City Administrator Paul Casey, city traffic planner Rob Dayton, and all seven members of the city Planning Commission, several of whom have no love for Schneider. Likewise, the Planning Commission is pissed that the environmental document fails to note just how much congestion the freeway widening will cause in and around the City of Santa Barbara, and they’d very much like that acknowledged.

Hart, for the record, sees it all very differently. The bridge and other improvements can and will be taken care of down the road. To insist that they be included in the project description now, he said, will only set back construction even further, thus increasing costs. The City of Carpinteria had similar problems with Caltrans, he said, but they got taken care of. Yes, that’s true, but only after Carpinteria took out a gun, put it on the table, loaded it, and threatened to kill the project. And to date no funding has been identified, let alone secured, for the two bike lanes the City of Carpinteria was awarded as part of its the freeway mitigation.

All these weedy, wonky details have been the subject of high-stakes wrangling for quite some time — hey, it’s a half-a-billion-dollar project — but push comes to shove in the next 10 weeks. On January 16, the SBCAG board will hash it all out, and the next month, an actual vote will be taken. My sense is that the proverbial train has left the proverbial station and that there won’t be seven votes against the Caltrans project in February as there were in May. But what the hell do I know? I only work here. The point is that all this will be coming to a very intense boil just as Hart is sworn in on the City Council, thus replacing Grant House. I hope you all appreciate what a mess this is.


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