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Learning Ally Returns to Santa Barbara

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150There was a time, some years ago, when the organization known as Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic was one of the most popular non-profits in town, their annual Record-A-Thon one of the coolest ways to volunteer, and the annual luncheon one of the hottest tickets in town.

Changes in technology, the economy and the service model led the national organization to change its name and its approach to providing audiobooks to those who struggle to read the written word.

Today, the organization is known as Learning Ally—retooled, modernized and refocused—as a friend to all who depend on easy access to audiobooks, recorded textbooks, novels and other printed materials.

learning ally sb flyerMaterials recorded by Learning Ally feature human voices, not computer-generated ones, which helps listeners develop fluency and understanding. And access to this valuable service has been proven to improve critical skills, comprehension, and to introduce individuals to materials they might not be able to access in print, but can successfully deal with using their auditory skills.

Learning Ally will be presenting information about their new partnership with Santa Barbara Unified School District at the monthly Dyslexia Dialogue, Wednesday May 13 at the Central Public Library, from 5-6:30 p.m. This is a unique opportunity to meet with principals of Learning Ally and of the grassroots organization, Decoding Dyslexia-California, who will be leading the discussion and group activities.

I’ve written frequently about the issue of dyslexia—difficulty in accessing the printed word—that affects 1 in 5 individuals. I am so encouraged about this new development: Learning Ally offers so many resources and so much information for students, educators, parents and community members, it is a big step forward for Santa Barbara to once again have access to this valued friend, Learning Ally.


Newsman Makes News: Rob Kuznia, Former Santa Barbara Journalist wins Pulitzer Prize

By Cheri Rae

EzpbtQQlCongratulations to reporter Rob Kuznia, who won the Pulitzer Prize for local reporting, along with his colleagues, Rebecca Kimitch and Frank Suraci at the Torrance Daily Breeze. It is the first Pulitzer ever for the newspaper, for a series of investigative reports about excessive financial rewards for the former superintendent at the Centinela Valley Union High School District.

After Kuznia was one of the many reporters fired in the News-Press “meltdown,” he covered school district issues here in Santa Barbara for the online publication Noozhawk. His notable series of articles there shined a light on problems in the district’s special education department, and led to the hiring of an outside agency to investigate and analyze ways to improve services.

I had the pleasure of working with Kuznia briefly at a local magazine, where both of us landed—along with a few other disenfranchised reporters—during those difficult days of local journalistic upheaval. He was soft-spoken, conscientious, thorough, and most of all, fair in his approach to his subjects.

We often used our lunchtimes to walk around the neighborhood near the office, always talking about writing, research and responsibilities to the reader. How wonderful it is to learn this news about a genuinely nice person and fine journalist who suffered personally and professionally at the hand of amateurs in the publishing business. His rise to the top of his profession is proof of the old phrase, “you can’t keep a good man down.”

Congratulations, Rob Kuznia, for this great honor based on your good work.


Opening Day: Reflections of a Santa Barbara Baseball Mom

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150They say that diamonds are a girl’s best friend. For me, the diamonds I like most have nothing to do with jewelry and everything to do with beautiful green fields, a scoreboard, base-paths and home plate.

Opening Day 2015 has special meaning for me, as the mother of a high school senior who has played baseball most of his life, now midway through his last season in Santa Barbara. I’m imagining that most of those MLB players we cheer for started out playing in the same ways my son did, and watching them play is a celebration of a special way of life.

Looking back, I wish I’d saved that first pair of cleats, the ones I had to lace up and tie for my little boy so many years ago. I never imagined that signing him up for a youth baseball team would affect our lives so much, for so long.

His first experience was on a City Rec T-ball team with several of his friends from his first-grade class—and they were all thrilled when their enthusiastic teacher came to watch them play at the old field at Franklin School. Other than the camaraderie of playing on the team, the game of T-ball had no appeal for my active little guy who could already hit a ball when pitched, who thought it boring and silly to hit a stationary one.

T-ball soon gave way to real baseball in PONY League play. PONY stands for “Protect Our Nation’s Youth,” the program at MacKenzie Park. There on those Mustang and Bronco fields of dreams, generations of young Santa Barbarans have learned to play America’s Game. And their parents have learned to become sports parents while spending countless hours in the bleachers at those fields—inning after inning of watching, waiting, hoping, praying, cheering, some yelling, arguing, stressing about every play, every call, every game.

In those years we chauffeured and car-pooled kids from school to practice fields; became acquainted with a wide new circle of families and spent days, weeks, months, seasons as volunteers working together to benefit the program that meant so much to our children—and ourselves.

While mostly dads coached, maneuvered to draft winning teams, and taught valuable skills and drills, moms flipped burgers, grilled hot dogs, sold snacks and learned how to get grass stains out of baseball uniforms. (Hint to the uninitiated: scrub and soak with bars of Zote Soap!) We took care of the homeless population at the park and gave them plenty to eat whenever we barbecued. We became a team of supporters—of our sons and each other.

Those early days of coach-pitch and wobbly plays gave way to the development of skilled players who learned the game, stole bases, and hit, pitched and caught the ball, playing with a competitive spirit. The regular season rolled into All-Stars, where little boys proudly represented their hometown, wearing jerseys with “Santa Barbara” emblazoned across their chests.

Back in those days, equipment was everything, and my husband and his dad would often sneak off together to buy the newest bat for their favorite little player, three generations of males enjoying the sport for all ages. Once I found one of those pricey new bats tucked under the covers next to my sleeping son, dreams of home runs surely floating though his head.

Those young players got a taste of winning, and they liked it—moving up from Mustang to the big Bronco field to playing even more competitive club baseball. They traveled together to “Big League Dreams” fields around Southern California—commercial establishments built to resemble classic stadiums—and they played in tournaments in Arizona, Colorado, and best of all, in Cooperstown, N.Y. –the home of the baseball Hall of Fame. My own son even had the opportunity to travel with a local team to play in Nicaragua, a life-changing experience. He caught a huge fish that fed his whole team for the evening, gave away a prize bat, and worked with local kids during that eye-opening adventure that helped him appreciate his luck at growing up with comparative privilege.

Along the way, some players came and went, but a solid core of Santa Barbara players continued to play together year after year, one level to the next. Today, that group of little boys who first played All-Stars together on the Mustang and Bronco fields—whose names and accomplishments are on display on boards at the MacKenzie fields—now comprise seven of the starters on the Santa Barbara High School Dons Varsity baseball team. They are young men now, highly skilled and playing at a level that have people other than their parents taking notice of their abilities in the high-stakes world of competitive baseball. This impressive group of boys who have grown up together still have many more games to play together, and their bond of shared experiences will remain with them as they move on to pursue their winning ways on and off the field.

Now they’re planning their lives after graduation. Some players have been scouted regularly; at least one is a top pro prospect, and several others expect to play college ball in prestigious programs. Others are still are weighing their intriguing academic offers and opportunities near and far. Whether they play into the big leagues or never step foot on the field again, their parents couldn’t be prouder of them and their accomplishments that go far beyond all the trophies and medals they’ve collected.

Our boys’ lives have played out on the baseball diamond. It seems to have passed in a flash, all those balls and strikes and drama-filled moments all run together in one big wonderful All-American game. They started out chewing bubble gum, in the back seats of mom’s car, and now they’re expertly spitting seeds before they climb in their own drivers’ seats, ready to take on the world.

This timeless game has been a backdrop for a great group of kids as they’ve grow up, one that has taught them the value of competition and cooperation, of individual achievement and working together as a team, and most of all, the character-building benefits that come with forging strong relationships over time.

All those teams, all those games, tournaments and travels gave a rhythm to our lives, a sense of belonging. Baseball players have been called the boys of summer, but ours have been players for all seasons. There were times it may have seemed like too much, but right now it seems like hardly enough.

As these baseball days grow shorter, the memories seem to stretch back forever. And one thing for sure, baseball has been so much more than a game for our boys, it’s been a solid foundation for their lives. And right about now, I’d be happy if it went into extra innings.

Broncos
Growing up Together. Before they were 2015 Varsity Dons starters: Kevin Gowdy (pitcher) on the ground Right to left: Daniel McKinney (RF), Bryce Morison (SS), Trevor Moropoulos (1sr Base), Cristian Loza (Catcher), Dalton Schroeder (CF), John Jensen (3rd Base)


Ice Ace: The Clear Vision of John Rodrigues

“Sculpture is the art of the intelligence.” –Pablo Picasso

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150Take one 7,200-pound block of ice, add an assortment of power tools—including a chain saw and a drill—put them in the hands of one uniquely talented individual and you’ve got art. Ice Art. Crystal-clear and freezing cold, it lasts only until the sun comes out.

John Rodrigues just returned from competing in the World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks, Alaska, where he worked for days on a massive chunk of ice, turning into two large and graceful swans featuring intricately feathered wings.

ice art birdsThat experience is just another chapter in the interesting life of this author/teacher/artist/high-school dropout/college graduate/inspirational speaker. One more interesting aspects about Rodrigues: like 1 in 5 people, he has dyslexia and it’s anything but a disability.

Rodrigues struggled in the classroom—so much so that he dropped out of high school, but not before he learned the skill of ice sculpting in a special Culinary Arts program. As a teenager with this unique talent, he landed a job on a cruise ship making thousands of dollars a month as he traveled to exotic ports of call around the world. Despite all that money and all that travel, the desire to earn a college education burned within him. And he decided to return to school. “Ironically, the key to getting into college was not in trying to change my dyslexia,” he noted, “but in embracing how I learned to its maximum potential.”

from high school to harvardHe started taking classes at his local community college, eventually transferred to University of California, Berkeley, and studied at Harvard University. Today, he teaches high school math in Hemet, CA.

As part of the Santa Barbara Unified School District’s regular “Dyslexia Dialogues,” Rodrigues, author of “High School Dropout to Harvard: My Life with Dyslexia,” will be speaking at the Santa Barbara High School Auditorium on Thursday, March 26 at 7 p.m. He will share the story about his uniquely inspired pathway to success, and his recent competition in the World Ice Art Championships in Alaska. The event is free and Spanish interpretation will be available.

“John Rodrigues is an uplifting, rebellious voice who will strike a chord with anyone who has ever had a hard time marching in step in a culture of

conformity. His book is not just about how John found personal success after growing up with severe learning differences (Dyslexia and ADHD), it’s the story of his journey to accept himself by finding others labeled ‘disabled” or “not normal” who survived and even triumphed.” -Entertainment Weekly


The Last Word: Comments after Attending the Single Family Design Board Hearing

by Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150I have a book titled, “The Place You Loved is Gone.” More and more it feels like that’s what’s happening in Santa Barbara these days.

In this City, the birthplace of Earth Day, we are supposed to be environmentally aware and sensitive. We can’t even get a plastic bag in the city, and “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is supposed to be our mantra. This is a place where sustainability, smart growth, affordable housing and small, efficient housing is all that’s been talked about for years.

209 east islayBut if you want to demolish a perfectly good house and replace it with one that’s bigger, better, and way more expensive, go right ahead.

Just one of those oddities about Santa Barbara.

The demolition of the old house at 209 E. Islay will happen. And it will be replaced by the property owners’ beautiful new dream home, a Craftsman-style mansion more than twice its size.

The property owners get to build exactly what they want, and have the money to do so. Lucky for the Upper East neighbors that they don’t want to build an ultra-modern structure, but as members of the Single Family Design Board pointed out, they probably could.

What’s ironic to me is that I live in a 1912 Craftsman home in “Bungalow Haven.” It’s not nearly as grand, as large or located in as nice a neighborhood as 209 E. Islay, but it’s not in and danger of demolition, even though it’s on an R-3 lot, because we neighbors have worked together—and with the City—as good stewards, we will likely keep the historic working-class neighborhood intact. Our homes are a century old, in fine repair and lovely to live in and look at.

Money talks these days, and McMansions are big business everywhere, including the Upper East Side of Santa Barbara, coming soon.


Waiting for the Wrecking Ball: Demolition Planned for Classic 1904 Upper East Craftsman

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150When does a piece of property become more important than the home that’s built upon it?

Decades ago when visionary Santa Barbara leader Bernhard Hoffman spoke of our “community mosaic,” he knew that every piece was part of the whole. Last week, we discussed how a traditional Santa Barbara cottage was replaced by a starkly modern structure, and how it violates the artful cohesiveness of a lovely Westside neighborhood.

209 east islay 2Now let’s turn our attention to the east side of town, and a grand old Craftsman home about to be demolished and replaced by a super-sized mansion at odds with the character of that neighborhood.

It’s just a matter of time.

On March 23rd, the Single Family Design Board is scheduled to give final approval to this project that begins with the demolition of a graceful old home at 209 East Islay Street. Built in 1904, it stands on a bit more than a half-acre lot in the heart of the Upper East.

This old house is an enormous one: a 5-bedroom, 4-bathroom 3,817-square-foot gem with the kind of original details you don’t find anymore: elegant woodwork, stained glass, old-growth redwood and fir; decks and porches, an outdoor stone fireplace, plenty of open space surrounding it. It’s been lovingly cared for and is in fine shape.

209 east islayBut the new owners don’t want the house, only the piece of property on which it stands. And they want to replace it with a new one more than twice the size.

Current plans call for 5,792-square feet of house above ground, a 2,843-square-foot habitable basement, and a 719-square-foot 3-car garage. Plus a pool and pool building.

Total it all up, and the project’s 9,379-square-feet of new development exceeds the City’s maximum floor-to-area ratio by 123 percent. That’s Planner-Speak for way too much building even on that half-acre lot.

And the City approves. Out with the old, in with the new.

According to the Historic Structures Report, the City Historian, and the Historic Landmarks Commission, there’s nothing historic or worth saving about an original Craftsman-era home that has sheltered several generations of fine Santa Barbara families. And no one sufficiently famous lived here to consider preserving it.

The last time this home was up for sale (in late 2012) it was described on Zillow: “Situated In Prime Upper East, This Charming 1900’s Craftsman Rests On A Rare 1/2 Acre Lot. Secluded & Set Back From The St. W/Lush Landscaping & Stone Walls This Wonderful Home Features An Outdoor Fireplace & Brick Pathways. Historic Features In This 5 Bed, 4 Bath Home Include Leaded Glass Windows, Sun Porches & Classic Woodwork. Formal Dining, Parlor, Office And Remodeled Kitchen W/Large Breakfast Area.”

But there was this additional line that may have sealed the deal and the fate of this home: “The lot itself is reasoned to be worth $1.4 million. Consider some of the stellar homes on the street, imagine the potential of this property…”

Just imagine.

Or just imagine NOT demolishing a stately 11-room house and a Santa Barbara family living happily-ever-after in a classic home, in a classic neighborhood.

But that kind of imagination is in short supply in modern-day Santa Barbara.


Modern Day Santa Barbara

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150Last week I attended a meeting at La Cumbre Junior High, situated in a neighborhood I don’t often visit anymore. When my children were much younger, they had many friends who lived in the quaint little homes on and around Gillespie Street, but the day is long past when they’ve needed me to drive them anywhere.

modern house 3So it came as a bit of a shock to see the house at the corner at Gillespie and Mission, a sleek and ultra contemporary structure that resembles nothing else in the neighborhood—or in much of the city either. Then I remembered this is the one that was the subject of so much contention a while back.

Seeing this building reminded me of the opposition of neighbors as the project wended its way through the city’s approval process. And how it somehow got the approval of the Architectural Board of Review and the City Council when the ABR approval was appealed. And there was a complaint filed and a $5000 fine levied against the architect by the Fair Political Practices Commission.

Time was when I—and many other neighborhood advocates—monitored these kinds of incompatible developments. We spoke at hearings, wrote letters, shared strategies and information. Back then, I could have told you line and verse just about everything that was going with a particular development in a particular neighborhood—especially my own. We sometimes even had some success, some effect on scaling back some projects. But as mere volunteers, we were simply overwhelmed by the coterie professionals who make their living pushing projects.

modern house 2Individual citizens became exhausted and disillusioned from the time, effort and feeling of futility of opposing the inevitable go-go development that has taken hold. And as a result, the once-active organizations that had a moderating influence in keeping inappropriate development in check—such as Citizens Planning Association and Allied Neighborhood Association—have seen their days of power and influence wane.

At the same time, the powers-that-be in the city have grown stronger, more powerful and more determined to take the city in a direction that just doesn’t feel like much like it respects our town’s legacy of graceful architecture and citizen involvement.

Assuring architectural neighborhood compatibility or appropriate size, bulk and scale, adhering to zoning regulations, heeding the concerns of residents—none of this seems to be too important anymore.

Doesn’t much matter, what happened in the public hearings downtown—the reality is that the fight is over, and the building is now a reality. And it will be here for a long, long time.

No doubt it will be used as an example for other architects to emulate in the future. The sweet little cottages with the pitched roofs and graceful curves located across the street and throughout the area will disappear from here and from our memory—just like the lovely old home that once stood here is long-gone, with this hard-edged, boxy, post-industrial design that now takes its place.

I suppose some call this progress.

I just don’t know what to call it. Santa Monica chic, maybe. “Modern Cottage” is what the architect terms it. And he’s doing work all over town. Whatever it is, it’s not the Santa Barbara I know and love.
modern house 1


Take Me out to the Ball Game

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150It’s Spring Training in the MLB, and here in Santa Barbara, our PONY, Little League and high school baseball teams are ready to hear those two simple words that mean so much: “Play Ball!”

On the high school baseball field, as play begins, some prayers are answered, others cruelly ignored. It’s the place where hope stays alive, year after year as the individual players change jerseys and move on, but the team continues to play the game and carry on the rituals of the wonderful sport of baseball.

It’s the continuity, the tradition, the character instilled that really matters for the boys who arrive as untested freshman and who grow into disciplined young men by their senior year under the tutelage of a group of coaches who are solid as they come.

Year after year, our baseball players represent the values of teamwork, hard work, and good work—on the field and in the classroom. As the old saying goes, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” This is their time, their year to put it all together for their moment to shine brightly, to play for pride, for tradition, for the love of the game.

Play Ball!
1915 dons
Above Photo: The 1915 Santa Barbara Dons baseball team. Their team motto: “Good Sportsmanship and Team Ball.”


Keeping Santa Barbara Santa Barbara

By Cheri Rae
imageI wrote to the Santa Barbara Beautiful to figure out how to make this right—for Gilda Radner and her memory. I received a very nice note back from Jacqueline S. Dyson, VP-Public Relations for the organization.

She advised that the plaque has been there for quite some time, and that typically the original donor requests a Replacement Plaque and assumes the costs to do so.

gildaIn this case, the original donor is unknown, so it’s to a third-party to initiate a Request for Plaque Replacement and payment of related costs, which are approximately $100 for the new concrete base and metal marker.

It’s not often it takes just $100 to do something special in Santa Barbara.

Usually we’re talking many times that for consultants, surveys and reports. So here’s our chance, Santa Barbara Viewers, to initiate a Replacement Request Application and make a positive response to a negative act.

Editor’s Note: If you’d like to help us fund a replacement plaque, below is PayPal donation button where any amount is accepted, and all funds will go to the plaque. We want it to read, dedicated to Gilda by unknown donor, and replaced by the readers of Santa Barbara View. Thank you for helping keep Santa Barbara Santa Barbara!





Gilda Radner and Santa Barbara

As Roseanne Rosannadanna said, “It’s always something.”

There was a time when just about everyone I knew remembered every line uttered by the huge-haired and long-winded “Saturday Night Live” character played by Gilda Radner.

Last week’s 40th anniversary show honoring “Saturday Night Live” included a tribute to the talented Radner by actress Emma Stone—who did her best, but couldn’t come close to the original.

It was a reminder of a uniquely talented entertainer who died at the age of 42. Gilda Radner has a star on Hollywood Boulevard, and a tree dedicated to her on State Street. I remember being delighted and intrigued years ago when I spotted the commemorative tree and Santa Barbara Beautiful plaque with her name on it. I always wondered about why it was there, and thought maybe now it was time to find out.

I took a stroll over to the spot near the Arlington Theatre, and my heart dropped to see that the plaque has been vandalized and defaced. If you didn’t already know it was originally inscribed with her name, you wouldn’t likely be able to figure it out.

This seemed so wrong; just when the loopy silliness of Saturday Night Live was on full display, and presented like an early historical treasure, the Santa Barbara connection felt like a sad and disrespectful downer.
gilda