A rendering of Munger Hall. | Credit: Courtesy

Since 1986, the Santa Barbara Independent has been required reading for the South Coast’s active and sophisticated population. Between breaking national news and reporting on-the-ground updates, our staff has had quite a year. We decided to mine the troves of 2021 to present a slice of the stories that resonated the most with our readers this year. According to Google Analytics, these were the posts that got the keyboards a-clacking. Thanks for caring, and have a Happy New Year.

1. Architect Resigns in Protest over UCSB Mega Dorm | October 28 | Tyler Hayden

A consulting architect on UCSB’s Design Review Committee quit his post in protest over the university’s proposed Munger Hall project, calling the mostly windowless dorm plan “unsupportable from my perspective as an architect, a parent, and a human being.” For the sake of avoiding repetition, we cut this Dormzilla story from the list.

2. Instagram Travel Influencer Lee MacMillan, 28, Killed by Train in Noleta | March 29 | Nick Welsh

In the wake of MacMillan’s death, friends expressed shock at her loss while praising her work as a mental health advocate.

3. Santa Barbara Coroner Concludes Anti-Vaxxer Brandy Vaughan Died of Natural Causes | February 18 | Nick Welsh

Police investigators determined there was no sign of foul play, but due to Vaughan’s notoriety in the anti-vax movement, Coroner’s officials opted to give her death more careful scrutiny to head off the potential proliferation of conspiracy theories.

4. Five Rare Fish Under the Sea | August 14 | David Thomas

The incredibly rare oarfish is infrequently seen off Santa Barbara; this one was found dead in Catalina waters in 2013. | Credit: CIMI

Looks like Santa Barbarans might not have to settle for firing up Animal Crossing to cross paths with an oarfish. ⁠David Thomas went off the deep end (of the California coast) in a Voice that exposed how the snorkeling grounds off Santa Barbara are home to rarer creatures, including many you are unlikely to find elsewhere in the world.⁠

5. Big Win for Cannabis Industry in Superior Court | May 27 | Melinda Burns

In a sweeping decision that puts a seal of approval on the county’s embrace of the fast-growing cannabis industry in rural areas, a Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge tossed out a citizens’ lawsuit that sought to shut down a 22-acre cannabis hoop-house operation on Highway 246. 

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6. Welcome to Santa Barbara’s First-Ever Burrito Week | September 23 | Indy Staff

You all wanted another food week, so we presented to you Burrito Week! It was seven days of $7 burritos at 16 participating restaurants … and it was so delectable, we’re bringing it back next year!

7. New Evacuation Warning Issued for Alisal Fire | October 12 | Nick Welsh & Jean Yamamura

The Alisal Fire was officially declared out in early December. But the fire that started October 11 ended up burning a total of 16,970 acres before then. Here’s the other Alisal story we trimmed from this list to avoid repetition. 

8. Michael J. Fox Lives in the Present | March 25 | Charles Donelan

Michael J. Fox | Credit: Mark Seliger

Recent Santa Barbara arrival Michael J. Fox reflected on the pandemic, mortality, and life in Montecito.

9. Billionaire Anchors Two Super-Yachts Off Santa Barbara Coast | August 30 | Ryan P. Cruz

Two massive superyachts appeared in the Santa Barbara Channel in August. According to the harbormaster, the two vessels were the 285-foot Lonian and its companion ship, owned by billionaire Lorenzo Fertitta, former CEO of the UFC.

10. Mural Expert Scott Haskins on Ortega Park Art Conservation | July 8 | Charles Donelan

On July 6, Scott Haskins, of Fine Art Conservation Laboratories in Santa Barbara, met with Mark Alvarado, a former city employee and the community organizer behind One Community Bridge Project. This meeting represents the introduction of a new level of expertise in the conservation, transport, and storage of fine art murals into the, at times, heated public discussions over the fate of the public art in Ortega Park.

Note: These were the rankings at the time of writing.

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