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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.

Shots: Knees, Vaccines and Points in Between

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150Modern medicine is amazing: There are all kind of treatment methods to repair injuries, reduce pain and turn back the hands of time.

The problem is getting access to the medical care that will put these methods into action. And then, of course, paying for them.

As I recounted on this site, I injured my knee in mid-December, and it took about six weeks before getting relief from the pain. The delay was due to a series of unfortunate events that included holiday time; vacation schedules of medical personnel; required approvals from Anthem-Blue Cross before an MRI could be scheduled.

The good news is that I was able to get the MRI just one day after it was approved, thanks to a cancellation in the schedule. I got an appointment with the physician’s assistant week later, and a consult with the orthopedic surgeon—thanks to another cancellation—the next morning.

The verdict was that all the years of use have worn down the cartilage in my kneecap. The injury simply aggravated the common condition.

The great news is that the orthopedic surgeon takes a very conservative approach; when he injected my knee with cortisone and prescribed anti-inflammatories, I could swear he performed a miracle. Immediately, my knee felt like it was supposed to—pain-free—like it hadn’t felt in far too long.

The only lingering pain came when I got the bill: after all that waiting for insurance permission that the doctor thought I needed, the mega-corporation—recently in the news for getting hacked—paid only 20 percent of the expensive procedure.

But enough about my knee; I was so sick of that small part of my body limiting my life for so long, so I amused myself by catching up with the news. Unfortunately, the biggest story was all about vaccine-preventable diseases on the rampage.

It’s something I’ve had quite a bit of experience with, since my then-8-year-old vaccinated son contracted whooping cough a decade ago—a disease that was nearly eradicated in America due to widespread immunizations in the past, but has returned with a vengeance.

My son recently told me that during the long days and nights with that incessant terrible cough, he had pretty much decided that he was going to die. “It took so long, and it was so awful, I didn’t think it was possible to ever get any better,” he said. It breaks my heart that my little boy was so scared and so sick, so helpless for no good reason—his health and well-being drastically affected by the choice of of others who decided not to vaccinate their kids.

I wrote about whooping cough back then, having educated myself about herd immunity and immunization rates; personal belief exemptions and the anti-vaxx movement. That story has been widely circulated and cited for the powerful first-person reality; it even appears on the website for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where noted pro-vaccine physician Dr. Paul Offit practices. And I’ve made several media appearances on the subject.

Whooping cough was bad enough, but who ever would have imagined that measles would return?

When I was a small child, the vaccine had not been created yet and I contracted measles. I still remember that the doctor made several house calls; my room was kept dark, and my Sicilian grandmother—who believed in many old world folk tales—sewed up a pair of red flannel pajamas that were supposed to draw out the redness. I wasn’t allowed to read or watch television, and I was as sick and scared as my own little boy was when he battled his own vaccine-preventable disease. I couldn’t imagine I would ever get better either.

Those diseases were once so common and their effects so devastating that parents gratefully waited in line to get their kids their shots, relieved that they had the opportunity to protect their children from dreaded diseases.

Not so long ago, vaccines were not thought of as government conspiracies or Big Pharma moneymakers. They were considered lifesaving scientific advancements.

And maybe because they worked so well when virtually everyone got them, the misery and deaths caused by them were largely forgotten. Lulled into a false sense of security, an alarming number of individuals—who no longer believe in science or in the existence of deadly viruses or bacteria—are willing to rely on magical thinking to protect them instead.

I understand that magical thinking: I got into it when I wanted to believe my knee would just get better on its own. It didn’t. And even though I’d do just about anything to avoid doctors, clinics, insurance companies and medical tests, sometimes it’s necessary to go that route.

Sometimes it takes a shot in the arm, or even one in the knee to allow a modern miracle to take place.

A Santa Barbara Valentine

Book Review: Old Spanish Days: Santa Barbara’s History Through Public Art By Erin Graffy de Garcia

Review by Cheri Rae

bookcover_t479How lucky we are in Santa Barbara to still have in our midst a cadre of intrepid individuals who care about our origins, who understand our underpinnings, and who are willing to dedicate their time, talent in treasure in telling the stories of this very special place.

Such is the case with the talented woman-about-town Erin Graffy de Garcia, who has recently released her newest book, Old Spanish Days: Santa Barbara’s History Through Public Art.

The prolific Santa Barbara author got to play “history detective,” as she terms it, in the creation of this book. She hunted down the backstories and did some impressive research about incredible art in our midst—that we may well take for granted in our daily lives.

The reader pages through in wonderment, with the realization of seeing these semi-familiar tiles, murals, medallions, friezes, sculptures and paintings that that reveal the rest of the story to the artistic sights depicting our city’s history that we see all around us—but may forget to notice. Each section is filled with the sense of “I’ve seen that, but never knew anything about it.”

Our historic public art is where you find it, and thanks to the author’s sleuthing, the reader is treated to views, as she writes, “where you least expect it: a public space, a restaurant, or even an office building is likely to blossom forth with some vestige of history preserved on a canvas, painted on a wall, flashed in a weathervane, captured in a tile, mural, or enshrined in a frieze on a courtyard eave.”

The combination of Graffy de Garcia’s sparkling writing style, the excellent photos by Fritz Olenberger, and the clean graphic design by Anna Lafferty allows the art to take center stage. It is complemented by history lessons, and even insights about the individual artists whose work decorate and commemorate our city and its unique past.

This labor of love is like a Valentine to Santa Barbara—and Santa Barbarans. Come to think of it, what a thoughtful and appropriate gift it would be on February 14 for all those who love Santa Barbara, its romance, beauty and historic legacy.

In Remembrance: Gwen Phillips

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150Above all it was those intense blue eyes that drew you in when you encountered Gwen Phillips. They sparkled with intelligence, twinkled with delight, rolled when encountering absurdity, and softened when imparting wisdom to children and their parents, as they did so often.

I am one of the countless lucky parents who sent her children to Open Alternative School, our amazing school of choice based on a progressive, child-centered model. It’s a school that’s been around for 40 years, thanks to the leadership and collaborative spirit of Gwen, who served as the Head Teacher for nearly all the years the school has been in existence.

In many ways, she was the essence of the school.

What makes Open Alternative School so special is its grounding in pedagogy that understands child development and the needs our wee ones have for a sense of community, accountability and connection to nature. Long before it was fashionable, teachers at OAS practiced differentiated teaching methods, with two grades of children in every class.

Every day, as the students settle in to their Core Group to share their cares and concerns, the skilled teachers lead students to hone their skills of communication, compassion and restorative approaches to problem-solving. And the kids at OAS have been working in the organic garden since the school began—and for years the produce grown there was used in the school’s kitchen.

There is a great embrace of diversity and creativity—from the plays that are largely student-written, set-designed and performed, to the annual Festival of Lights that showcases the winter holidays of cultures around the world, to the inclusion practices that have been the norm in the school from Day One.

The school is grounded in cherished traditions handed down over the years: the classes take on such outside-the-box activities as interviewing candidates for the School Board; taking faraway camping trips; a day at the beach a day in the park and local hiking adventures—all with carefully planned curriculum—and at the end of the year, a triathlon at Leadbetter Beach and a pancake breakfast on the last day of school.

And parents participate in this school community—in the classrooms, on the trips, teaching enrichment classes—helping support the school in any way possible. Over the years, my husband has led countless hikes, I have taught classes as diverse as magazine production and The Sixties, and driven on field trips near and far. And our son grew from being a sweet Little Buddy to a responsible Big Buddy, gaining great knowledge, self-confidence and accountability in the process.

And always knowing that Gwen Phillips was the heart and soul of the school—one who inspired others to follow in her footsteps. She had a strong commitment to keep alive an idealized vision of education that truly works. Students of Open Alternative School move on in their lives to become very accomplished, thoughtful and grounded people who give back to their community. Indeed, there are many second-generation students at OAS, guided back to the place where their parents set down roots and grew their wings.

Perhaps it was a distinctively Santa Barbara approach to education in the mid-Seventies when alternatives seemed endless and possible, an alternative school founded long before the charter school movement. It took a person of great strength and skill to successfully navigate an alternative school through the increasingly standardized approach to education.

And it wasn’t easy. I remember having many strategy sessions and philosophical talks with Gwen about the state of education today. There were rocky times that required the community to dig deep to understand what the school represents in theory and in practice, to examine its importance—and always realizing that it was well-worth the work to come to a place of agreement.

As the mother of a son with dyslexia who attended the school from K-8, most of the time with Gwen at the helm, I remain ever-grateful for her thoughtful understanding of the special gifts of each child—and her determination to protect them from becoming square pegs pounded into round holes. Her keen vision has enriched and enhanced the lives of so many, and we were lucky to have her in our midst for so long.

A gathering to honor and celebrate Gwen Phillips’s life and her legacy of 40 years at Open Alternative School will be held at Skofield Park on Saturday, February 21, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., with a gathering core group circle at noon. Bring a potluck dish to share.