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The Main Event

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150At 5 in the morning, there was a great underground rumbling and just 100 feet from our front door, a water main broke, and immediately water spewed forth through multiple fissures in the street. Suddenly there was a creek coursing down Salsipuedes Street, flowing across Anapamu Street, all the way down to Santa Barbara High School.

A neighbor called 911, and soon a worker turned off the water in the neighborhood. Hours later, a crew began jackhammering the street in order to locate the ruptured pipes.

My bungalow was built in 1912; the previous owner upgraded the entire plumbing system, and we later updated the entire electrical system. Most of our neighbors have also upgraded their utilities in their historic homes.

No such luck, though, with our public—and equally historic—infrastructure that breaks down with alarming regularity, since regular maintenance is apparently not part of the budget or one of the priorities of our city government. Instead, we have emergency repairs of our utilities on a regular basis around here: Two weeks ago we were unexpectedly without electrical power for most of a day, and on Sunday, without water from early morning until about 2:00 in the afternoon.

Pipe Break 1

To be clear: That hardworking city crew on a hot day earned every dollar they were paid—likely a high price on a Sunday when they had to leave their homes and families instead of enjoying their weekend off. But wouldn’t it be more cost efficient if the work could be planned, instead of dealt with in an emergency? Wouldn’t preventative maintenance be better than emergency response?

Ahh, life in Paradise.

Virtually every time it rains a pipe breaks in this old neighborhood—one of the real architectural gems of the community with its intact blocks of charming bungalows. It’s a place where homeowners proactively care for their property, but where the city has failed to prioritize much-needed infrastructure repairs. These old cast iron water pipes are deteriorated far beyond their life expectancy, and they predictably break under stress.

Pipe Break 2

The Godzilla El Nino predicted for this winter will likely be the time when the predicted floodwaters will expose the decades of neighborhood negligence by the City of Santa Barbara—and we’ll see crews out here on a regular basis.

It’s not just ancient water pipes, and overloaded electrical lines, it’s broken sidewalks, crumbling curbs, cracked asphalt streets and the City’s absolute refusal to install the Salsipuedes storm drain that was planned-for years ago.

Certainly it’s not just my neighborhood with these problems. There was a major break in San Roque last week, and a sinkhole due to a broken pipe across from the absurd new 7-Eleven on State Street a couple of weeks ago. Which makes any tax-paying resident ask: After public safety, isn’t infrastructure maintenance and repair the most important priority of a City government?

Apparently not, since city leaders seem to have other priorities that have nothing to do with the quality of life of longtime residents. Deliberating the color of news-racks, packing the city with ever-more subsidized “affordable” units and endlessly promoting tourism to “America’s Rivera” all take precedence over residents’ basic needs for running water and reliable electricity.

Only in an emergency—or at election time—are residents important enough to deal with at all.

Book Review: “Marry, Kiss, Kill”

By Cheri Rae

Marry Kiss Kill ImageCan you judge a book by its cover? If so, “Marry, Kiss, Kill,” (Prospect Park Books, 2015) by Anne Flett-Giordano with its clever cover design created by local graphic designer John Roshell, ought to be a good one. But reading the cover blurbs might be a bit more informative, since they’re written by writers and actors commonly associated with television—reviewers who are obviously friends of the author.

Don’t get me wrong, I like David Hyde Pierce and Jane Leeves from “Frasier,” but I’m not sure how their acting talent translates to recognizing the merits of a novel.

The novel introduces the “tall, tan and born-again blond” (not for her religion, but for her relationship with L’Oreal) Nola MacIntire. She staves off her “maudlin fear of middle age” by driving a black convertible Thunderbird, and wearing orange-and-red Kate Spade slingbacks, an eleven hundred dollar Michael Kors peasant blouse and micro-minis on the job. She cleverly chose Elvis Costello’s “Watching the Detectives” as her ringtone, and had a long-ago affair with her handsome detective-partner of 15 years. She is Deputy Chief of Detectives with the Santa Barbara Police Department, initially solving a murder of a character, Charles Beaufort, obviously based on the late Santa Barbara street singer, Mason B. Mason.

Part-time local resident Flett-Giordano—who refers to Santa Barbara as “truly heaven on earth” in her introductory notes—sets the scene against the backdrop of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and refers to locales from the Arlington to the Courthouse and the Fiesta Five, to Carlito’s and Dargan’s in the first three pages alone.

She can turn a phrase: “She reached into the pocket of her old gray cardigan. It was drab and shapeless and amazingly comfortable. She only put it on when she was home alone, and even then it was always with the silent prayer that she wouldn’t choke on an almond or something and literally be caught dead in it.” But too often she uses gimmicky wordplay, substituting contrived schtick for stylish substance.

And she drops in flip popular culture references that are supposed to make the reader warm up to the work. But phrases like “AARPathetic,” and “all Bluetooth and no bite” that are supposed to be clever seem clunky, and naming every product from the detective’s MAC lipstick to her mock-Chanel tote and another character’s Ana Khouri gold cuff bracelets.

I bought this book as a birthday gift for my husband, who is a sucker for murder-mysteries, particularly when they’re set in Southern California. But two-thirds through, he literally threw the book across the room and declared, “I cannot read any more of this crap.”

I thought he was overreacting and being too picky. I really wanted to like this debut novel that starts out with some promise, with the fun of knowing the locations where the action takes place. Solving the single murder of the street-singer character I cared about would have been fine. But the book takes a gratuitously violent turn into incredulity with too many characters, too many murders, improbable romances, an eco-terror attack and far-flung locales that stretch all the way to Vandenberg. Turns out, I was ready to toss the book at exactly the same plot development he did. Disengaged and no longer caring what happened, I doggedly kept reading, cover-to-cover.

Just because I love all things Santa Barbara.

While Flett-Giordano’s convoluted plotting and relentless product placement exhausted my patience, readers who like occasionally funny phrases and local and brand-name references in their fiction might enjoy this book a lot more than I did.

Clearly, the Emmy-Award-winning writer intends to continue to writing about the life, times and things of detective Nola MacIntire.

Civilized Behavior

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150There have been a couple of recent national-news cases of hungry toddlers acting up in restaurants, and the reactions of adults on the scene. Both kids cried, fussed and threw the kind of tantrums that only two-year-olds can throw.

In the incident at a busy diner in Maine, the owner was so unnerved at the child’s disruptive behavior during the long wait—and the parents’ failure to remove her from the scene—that she finally yelled at the out-of-control little girl. The mother later posted about the incident on Facebook, and in the Washington Post, and millions have weighed in on social media, supporting one side or the other.

In the incident at a crowded fish house in North Carolina, once the little boy melted down, his mom took him right outside to calm him down; when she returned to the crowded restaurant, he started up again, and this time the dad took the boy out to the car, leaving mom to settle the bill and usher the other kids out. But the waiter delivered the unexpected news: another diner, who had witnessed the incident—had already paid the $86 bill.

Two very different ways of responding to a universal issue: one that escalated the situation, one that calmed it down.

Oh, did this bring back a particularly cringe-worthy memory in my own parenting: It was a long-ago Christmas open house for Santa Barbara Magazine, put on by a new publisher from out of town who had proudly just purchased a beautiful historic home in El Caserio. The place was filled with nice things—and adults—and it was clear from the horrified look on our gracious host as we entered with our little darling one-year-old in our arms that she was not a welcome guest.

After a few uncomfortable minutes, my husband and I exchanged the look—like what the heck were we thinking?. We hastily said our goodbyes and got of there fast, before our parenting faux-pas got any worse.

That incident instantly raised our consciousness from clueless to careful, and we quickly established some rules about how not to be “those parents” ever again. We never wanted to struggle with a potentially squirmy kid while disapproving onlookers shook their heads. Thinking of how we felt when encountering out-of-control children in restaurants, we came up with some simple guidelines:

  1. Stay Away: Do not take a baby or a toddler to a nice and or expensive restaurant—stick to family places, pizza parlors, even quality fast-food joints. No one wants to hear or look at a fussy kid. Especially anyone who is spending a lot of money for a quiet time in the presence of adult company (many who are away from their own kids), and likely paying top dollar for a babysitter.

EXCEPTION TO THE RULE: If you must attend a special event due to family obligations—and cannot get out of it—then be prepared to leave that restaurant at a moment’s notice if your little one begins to act up. And do not complain about it.

Case Study: On Mother’s Day, my in-laws insisted that we attend a family brunch at a packed-full fancy French restaurant, Beau Rivage in Malibu. My darling toddler behaved adorably long enough for the family to exchange hugs and kisses, and coo over her cute little outfit and bright smile. Then she began to squirm in my lap in that way that I knew was the point of no return. I spent the rest of the afternoon walking her around and hanging out with the valet. It was fine: We walked around, I had plenty of snacks that kept her going, and she finally fell asleep in my arms—and the rest of the family and the patrons in the restaurant enjoyed their Mother’s Day celebration. And so did my daughter and I.

  1. Plan Ahead: Little children have an uncanny ability to meet the level of noise and chaos in a large, crowded room. Plan accordingly and time your visit to a restaurant to mostly “off” hours, certainly not during a rush time for breakfast, lunch or dinner, no matter how casual the place.

Case Study: The children who made the national news for their bad behavior may have had more tolerance for the situation if their parents had brought them there before or after the big rush hours, or even occupied and fed their tired, hungry and overwhelmed little ones with snacks from home. Be good scouts and be prepared—even if that means leaving sooner than you wanted to, packing the food in a to go container, or having mom or dad take the fussy one for a walk or a wait in the car.

  1. Teach your Children Well: Children need to learn how to behave in a restaurant, so they need some practice. We took our daughter to the local Red Robin (now the site of the upscale Marmalade) about once a week when she was between two- and four-years-old. As she began to understand how to behave appropriately, we expanded our horizons, and took her to better places, including Harry’s, where Alex the long-ago bartender prepared Shirley Temples garnished with extra fruit. She learned from positive reinforcement that it was fun to go out for a meal.

Case Study: When visiting my sister in the Bay Area, she insisted on treating us to dinner at the Chez Panisse Café, a more casual version upstairs from Alice Waters’ acclaimed restaurant. We deliberated over our five-year-old’s ability to cope, and based on several positive experiences with her, decided to give it a go. She was amazing! She loved the food, the funky ambience, and the way the waiters fussed over her. She even ordered her own personal pizza (wood-fired, of course) and politely inquired about how long it might take. It was one of those special moments in parenting when we felt we might have got it right!

Remember, unlike adults who like to linger over a meal and socialize with their dinner companions, little kids don’t. They want to eat—immediately—when they’re hungry, and then get up to do something else when they’re done. They might be persuaded to look at a book or play with a small toy or phone (something we didn’t have when this parenting journey began) while they’re waiting for Mom and Dad to finish, but a half-hour to them is a long time. An hour is beyond their ability to manage.

Be proactive parents: everyone in the dining room will thank you. And be patient, it takes time and effort,  but it’s better than making the national news!

Bon Appetit!

Haggen: Part II

cherilogo-150x150I went to Von’s uptown on the weekend and the place was packed. The checker told me that they keep getting Haggen employees shopping there in Vons, because they can’t afford the prices in the store where they work!  Now comes word that Haggen has laid off the employees with developmental disabilities who worked as courtesy clerks—many of whom had been there for years. Yet another reason to avoid shopping at Haggens, a company that is seriously out-of-touch with this community, and lacking good business sense and knowledge about how to treat valuable employees.

PS: How terribly ironic that this news of the layoff of these workers comes at the 25th anniversary of the American Disabilities Act which protects the civil rights of individuals with disabilities.

Editor’s Note: Here is a petition asking Haggen to rehire all developmentally disabled employees or offer a generous severance package.

Market Forces

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150A couple of months ago, our beloved proprietors of our neighborhood corner market sold their long-term family business and moved on. And since then, the store that once stocked an eclectic selection that included fresh doughnuts and tasty samosas; Zote soap and organic fruit, has turned into a liquor store where alcohol sales are is clearly the highest priority. I used to run down there for a half-gallon of milk, a box of confectioner’s sugar, or just stop in for a chat with the family who owned the place, knew all the neighbors, and watched our children grow up.

The vibe has changed there, too; it’s no longer warm and friendly, so I just don’t go there anymore. Things change, people have to adapt. Our corner markets are great little remnants of the past, but we can do without them in today’s world where nostalgia has little value.

But when it comes to basics like groceries, we’re running out of affordable choices in Santa Barbara—or at least it’s beginning to feel that way.

b5b560b2a3012ca61a56502deffb05f0Over the years of living here, I’ve learned to make peace with onc closure after another—the little, old Von’s replaced by the incomprehensible Public Market; Scolari’s replaced by the failed Fresh Market that now stands empty in a part of town that needs a full-service grocery store; and even way-back-when, Albertson’s was replaced by Gelson’s and it moved uptown. And now that Albertson’s is gone, due to a corporate takeover by Haggen, which seems a little over its head right now with the immediate expansion of the chain from 18 to 164 stores with the completion of a single financial transaction.

Apparently Haggen owners have been reading too many slick magazines about Santa Barbara and figured that the wealthy locals would just load up their Coach bags, hop in their Teslas, and happily purchase boutique-y items like a $19 bottle of honey in a fancy jar, or pay an extra $4 a pound for cherries just because the produce department has been cleaned up. I’ll give them that: the place looks much better, and it’s a lot easier to find a parking place than it was before.

But I can’t shop there anymore.

I’m going to miss the nice staff working there, the music they play, the sale prices and some of the items that Albertson’s carried: My sandwich-loving son had developed a taste for their quality Dietz & Watson deli offerings (gone), their fresh local torta rolls that were a bargain at 3 for $1 (gone), and their fresh milk in glass bottles from a family dairy in Tulare. Apparently they still carry it, but there just wasn’t any in stock when I stopped in specifically for it today. I was one of the few customers in the store.

So what started out as a shopping trip became a shopping afternoon—since I had to stop at Trader Joe’s anyway, and then on to Ralphs to purchase the items I couldn’t find at Haggen. By the time I got home after my three-stop shopping experience, the last thing I wanted to do is unpack my insulated and canvas bags, put everything away, and get started cooking.

Right now, I’m out of luck and actively shopping for another place to shop.

I don’t want or need a fancy, upscale “Santa Barbara-style” gourmet shopping experience that some out-of-state demographics expert has determined on paper is exactly what the local market will bear. Maybe they’re figuring that all those people in vacation rentals have actually displaced residents, and they’re willing to pay premium prices since they’re away from home.

Yes, we spend outrageous amounts of money to buy, even rent here. And there are some wealthy enclaves in many areas of this community. But we “regular folks” with modest incomes, fixed expenses who haven’t had a raise in years are working pretty hard, and scrambling just to stay in place—grateful to have a home and money to pay for groceries. But our ability to pay is not unlimited.

Many of us are creatures of habit, and figuring out where we shop for food is one of those personal decisions based on a whole lot of individual criteria. For me, I like a clean store with friendly employees, a good selection of fresh produce, decent prices with some regular bargains (or what seem like bargains), and a place that’s close to home and easy to navigate.

Is that really too much to ask for in today’s Santa Barbara?

Cognitive Dissonance at City Hall

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150For a community that usually seems so liberal, so socially conscious, and so caring about the needs of others, the hours-long hearing about short-term vacation rentals was particularly jarring. Not surprising was the number of green-ribbon-wearing individuals speaking in support of their lucrative entrepreneurial enterprise of turning their homes into hotels.

But what was surprising was their absolute insistence that they are providing a much-needed service that allows them to house short-term visitors to Santa Barbara—and their right to pocket plenty of cash, even though the current laws on the books do not allow it in most residential neighborhoods in town.

What they didn’t address was how making these properties available for out-of-towners eliminates those properties from the supply of rentals that would traditionally house local residents.

After all, they can make a lot more money by ignoring the ordinance. And making money—as much as they can, however they can—is all that matters, right?

One after another, these happy homeowners expressed how their newfound VRBO/Airbnb good fortune has enhanced their own personal lives—and the lives of well-heeled travelers who want to visit Santa Barbara from across the nation and around the world.

Those who live here, work here, and can’t find a house to rent for more than a month at a time? Mmmm, not so much.

For as long as I can remember the mantra of “workforce housing” has been chanted around here. Good heavens, we have allowed all kinds of changes in density, required low-income units in luxury projects and even thought it was fine to knock down a hospital to provide it—and now there’s less of it than ever available to locals.

But travelers from distant lands? Put out the welcome mat and give them a hug.

Some even told the oft-repeated story—known to everyone—about how living in Paradise comes at a price. Renting out their home is their only way to stay in place, they asserted time and again.

But the idea that the newly fattened bank accounts of those homeowners-turned- hoteliers has come at the expense of residents who rent—making it impossible for them to stay in place—certainly wasn’t on the minds of those who waxed poetic about their new solar roofs, fine amenities and newly landscaped properties.

It’s survival of the fittest—and the savviest with a computer and a piece of property—in Santa Barbara these days.

They asserted there are virtually no complaints from neighbors about their endeavors, and even spoke of their own nobility in serving as ambassadors to Santa Barbara and in providing work for housekeepers, gardeners and handymen. Although that might talking point have been undercut a bit when a hotel manager pointed out that these largely cash, under-the-table transactions are unfair to legitimate lodging businesses that play by the rules.

Ultimately, that’s what really rankles about this whole sad situation that has grown so out-of-control in the past decade: the rules don’t matter anymore. Even the City has said so, when it made the unwise decision to simply charge TOT and issue business licenses to skim its own money off the top of this activity prohibited by existing zoning ordinance.

A former City Council Member told me years ago that when this subject was broached with the City Finance Director as an unethical practice, it was treated like a big joke. Now it’s gotten serious: When the lawmakers became scofflaws, why shouldn’t the homeowners?

The City has lost its moral authority on this issue and the law of unintended consequences is now in play. There was plenty of defiance expressed by so many of those benefitting from this illegal activity: time after time, they asserted, if you ban it, we’ll just “go underground” and keep doing it anyway.

Ultimately, the City Council decided last night that the laws on the books that prevent renting homes as hotels should actually be enforced—and directed staff to examine permitting some sort of home-sharing short-term rentals with the owners on the property.

So what happens now is a question of what does this community—and its citizens—truly value? Will the City really spend the estimated $300,000 to enforce the ordinance it ignored for so long? Decisions made years ago turned this place into one that depends on tourists for everything, even keeping a roof over our heads and money in the bank, even at the expense of those who have worked a lifetime just to stay here.

Dealing with the vacation rental mess is just the beginning, if City Hall really wants to get serious about the need for “workforce housing.” It’s time for them to take a look at what else they’ve ignored for so long: how many homes have been turned into turned into office space for doctors, insurance brokers and all sorts of small businesses. And while they’re at it, they need to confront the complexity of how recruiting international students has affected the ability of our own kids to ever even consider getting an apartment of their own. And the real irony is the only way they’ll be able to stay here is to move away.

Big Brother on the Coast

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150Before graduating from Santa Barbara High School last week, one of the last assignments my son had was reading “1984” for his Senior English course. I remember reading George Orwell’s classic when I was in high school—before 1984—when it was still a rather chilling, prophetic read.

In contrast, my son merely shrugged it off. It was tough to get him into a mindset fearing bureaucracy: he’s has been raised at a time when cameras and constant surveillance are a given; when the line between public and private information is blurred all the time; and when “news” is shaped by the newsmaker.

Our generational perspectives loom large. While he shrugs off the cautionary tale, my sensibility is more alert to any hint of Orwellian power structure.

And the latest information about the recent Santa Barbara Oil Spill at Refugio seems very Big Brother-ish to me.

From the beginning, all the “official” news about the spill has been distributed by the “Unified Command,” that monolithic-sounding group of “stakeholders” that includes executives from those responsible for the spill, Plains All American Pipeline, as well as individuals representing the government agencies charged with the cleanup. Seamless, all-powerful. In Charge.

Even those first televised press conferences looked orchestrated, as one uniformed spokesperson after another took turns speaking banalities at the podium—providing neither heat nor light, just perfunctory statements designed to reassure the public that everyone was doing their job, and everything would go according to plan.

imageIgnoring, of course, that the “incident” that so inconveniently released thousands of gallons of oil into the environment—killing more living creatures than will ever be counted—should not have happened, and should not have happened if everyone was doing their job in the first place.

And, thanks to a story written by Kelsey Brugger of the Independent, we now know that nowadays only certain reporters are “invited” to attend the press conferences.

Reporters who are considered “neutral to positive” are selected to spread the news about how well the cleanup is going. And the Joint Information Center provides the information and selects the reporters who parrot it back to their satisfaction. Er, who write the stories the Joint Information Center and the Unified Command approve of, since, as Brugger reports, they are concerned primarily with “transparency.”

We’re heading seriously into Doublespeak with that one—because the news is supposed to be gathered not for how well the newsmakers think the story is told from a particular point of view—but for how well it tells the Truth.

Remember, there was a time, well before 1984, when the local daily had a motto that defined the job of the journalist: “without fear or favor of friend or foe…” But as we all know, that was a very long time ago.

Good for Kelsey Brugger for writing about how she was approved by the Powers-That-Be—and it’s likely now that she has asserted her journalistic independence by telling the story behind the story they want told, she won’t be invited to any more of their little get-togethers.

Something tells me that the Unified Command might just as well change its name to Ministry of Truth, and none of us would be any the wiser—or more well-informed. We’re not allowed to get anywhere near the site where all the damage was done, and now, the 2015 Thought Police will tell us what to think, and who will tell us.

Slick and Dirty: A Local Mess

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150A year ago, the Los Angeles Times reported on a 10,000-gallon oil spill: “The leak was caused by a valve malfunction, and firefighters found a 20-inch break in an above-ground pipeline.” Sound familiar? It happened in Atwater Village in a diverse neighborhood near Griffith Park in Los Angeles.

The town’s streets were flooded with oil—knee-deep in some places—due to a ruptured pipeline that sprayed oil 20 feet into the air. The smell was so strong that individuals were confined to their homes; some were hospitalized. At least none of the oil spilled reached the nearby Los Angeles River.

The company responsible was identified as Plains All America.

It wouldn’t have taken much for any investigative reporter to look at the record of Plains All America just to see what kind of company it is, and where it operates. Especially an investigative reporter who lives in any place where oil is Big Business and pipelines are numerous. A place like Santa Barbara.

But investigative reporters are in short supply here, there and everywhere, especially in Santa Barbara, where they are all but nonexistent and our media situation has become downright discouraging.

I’m kicking myself now that I didn’t spend an hour or two back then, just looking up to see if Plains All America had any presence in Santa Barbara—maybe it would have helped shine a light on the company that created what the local television station has called the “Crisis on the Coast.”

As we now know, the Texas-based company has an abysmal record of pipeline spills all over the country, has received fines of more than $41 million to upgrade their operations, and yes, operates many miles of pipeline in in close proximity to a formerly pristine area of the California Coast—where two beautiful state parks have long been set aside to allow the public access to camping, hiking, and all sorts of water activities.

And we now know that the Plains All America pipeline was terribly corroded; it ruptured a quarter-mile inland and, unthinkably, flowed straight into the ocean.

photo 2

The more we learn about this mess is that it was an accident waiting to happen, and that the company charged with monitoring itself had every reason not to bother.

It’s interesting to watch the local outrage expressed against this Texas company that has shown so little regard for the local environment—and gotten a free pass while doing so.

But it’s hardly the first time this lack of oversight has occurred around here. Some years back, when I still believed in the power of the media to make a difference, I investigated a leaking underground storage tank, circa 1920 and contaminated soil found during the excavation work for the condos under construction on the site of the former St. Francis Hospital.

Although established protocol called for the Project Environmental Coordinator (PEC) to immediately notify the City and the County about the discovery, the findings were not reported in required daily and weekly records. In fact, the existence of the tank and the contamination were hidden for weeks—while the construction company brought in its own out-of-town experts to take a look at the situation and deal with it on its own.

You see, the City allowed the same corporation that was managing the project to be responsible for its environmental oversight. It happens all the time. When questions were raised about the environmental records that failed to mention the existence of the tank and its contamination, and brought to the attention to city officials, the inaccurate reports were glossed over, ignored and allowed.

The city planner on the project even acknowledged that the PEC did not properly report or monitor environmental conditions on the site, yet the City had no intention of investigating what went wrong or changing monitoring personnel or policies.

So excuse me if I’m a little cynical about local officials expressing their indignation about the actions of oil-rich Texans when they tolerate the same kind of skirting of the rules, and look the other way and allow local companies to conduct their own “oversight,” public and the environment be damned. It goes on all the time.

It’s been five years since I researched and reported about this stomach-turning behavior. It made no difference then, and it makes no difference now. The interests of Big Oil, Big Business and Big Government are just too powerful for we the people and our Little Media. Not much independent oversight actually protects our interests or our environment. By the time it all comes to the surface, it’s just too late.
Photo Credits: Environmental Defense Center and The Trailmaster

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.