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Santa Maria Sun / Canary

The following article was posted on December 27th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 43 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 43

Remember, that one time?

Can you believe how fast 2017 went by? It’s incredible!

Could it be possible that time is actually speeding up? Probably not, but it sure seems like the news has never moved this fast, especially on the national scale.

But there was plenty of seismic change on the local front as well.

The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians finally saw Camp 4 become a part of their reservation, something that should have happened a long time ago. Of course there were plenty of “vitriols in the valley,” as ole Andy Caldwell called them, who loathed the decision by the U.S. Congress to put the land in federal fee-to-trust, and even more so the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors’ decision to make a deal with the Chumash.

And I won’t stop pecking on this point: If the county had met with the Chumash sooner, there would have been a much better deal and both sides would have been happier in the long run. I hope the county learned something from that.

But remember, the county has had its hands full, considering it’s been getting ready for legal recreational cannabis come Jan. 1. Government moves at a glacial pace, and when a drug comes out of prohibition, there is a lot to consider.

One place our county government moves fast though is in wildfire response. Santa Barbara County Fire Department crews had a lot to manage this year, from the massive Alamo and Whittier fires to the gargantuan Thomas Fire, which was still burning by the time this paper went to print. They got plenty of help of course during those infernos, but don’t forget, they put out many vegetation fires throughout the year.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office also acted with a quickness when it rescued campers from Circle V Ranch Camp near Cachuma Lake when the Whittier Fire ignited. The only road out of the summer camp was engulfed in flames and blocked by downed trees, but they got the job done and the kids safe with some help from the U.S. Forest Service and fire crews. Whew!

Fighting all those fires is expensive, but so is the ongoing CalPERS and CalSTERS pension crises. Local budgets are getting hit, from the county to municipalities to school districts, all because a projected rate of return wasn’t what people thought it would be in the late 1990s. They really fudged the math on that one, but there was also a bit of rosey-eyed optimism that the dotcom boom would go on forever. Now it’s up to local governments to make up the difference to the tune of tens of millions of dollars across the next several years. Gulp, how are we going to get out of that one? I’m not sure all that new revenue from legal weed is going to be enough to cover the deficit.

That budget crunch has already had some serious repercussions. Sheriff Bill Brown closed the Santa Maria Branch Jail in July due to a lack of funding to keep the jail open, so North County law enforcement has had to drive all the way to the Santa Barbara County Jail in South County to drop off perps. Putting the burden on North County definitely raised some eyebrows, including those of 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam.

“[Brown] puts us in charge of whether or not there’s a Santa Maria jail, but that’s not the way it works,” Adam said.

Thankfully, the Lompoc Police Department (LPD) and Chief Pat Walsh let departments from Santa Maria and Guadalupe drop people off at the city’s jail to help a bit with the problem.

Speaking of Lompoc, it’s been a difficult year for the town. The police department lost an officer in March to suicide, spurring a conversation about PTSD and support among law enforcement officers. That was definitely the most somber thing Chief Walsh and the department had to deal with in 2017.

Walsh had a much more face-palm-inducing issue later in the year when an incident between Lompoc Mayor Bob Lingl and Councilmember Jim Mosby became public. Apparently Lingl pointed his finger in a “gun gesture” toward Mosby at Lompoc’s Old Town Market and joked about shooting the councilmember in the head in reference to the council’s contentious budget hearings. Keep your fingers to yourself, Bob!

Apparently the LPD investigated the matter but found no credible threat, which pissed off Mosby’s wife, who posted about the incident to Facebook. After that, Walsh had to issue a statement about the whole embarrassing matter.

That situation underscored the uncomfortable air in the Lompoc City Council when Mosby and Councilmember Victor Vega tried to fire City Manager Patrick Wiemiller over snippy comments made during budget negotiations. It’s no surprise that Wiemiller is leaving Lompoc for the relatively drama-free city of Santa Maria for a deputy city manager position.

Santa Maria saw a lot of changes too! We’ve got district elections now, which Mayor Alice Patino has openly derided on multiple occasions, saying the city was “forced into” the change and that it “won’t change anything.” Then what’s all the fuss about, Alice? 

She is right about the city being “forced” into district elections though; failed City Council candidate Hector Sanchez told the city that if they didn’t change the at-large system to district elections, he would sue. Even then, when the final lines were drawn up, there was criticism from those in the community that the sitting councilmembers favored district lines that protected their seats.

The Santa Maria Police Department (SMPD) said goodbye to former Police Chief Ralph Martin, who rode into the city on a white horse to save the department from the debacle that was former Chief Danny Macagni in 2012.

Martin led the department through a lot of progress, from the shiny new headquarters to the astounding Operation Matador bust, which nabbed more than a dozen MS-13 gang members allegedly linked to a string of homicides that rocked the city in 2015 and 2016. Of course, Martin did lie to the local press when he put out a “ruse” press release—or fake news, as President Donald Trump is fond of saying—to protect witnesses in that case, a story the Sun broke in late 2016. The SMPD was actually given the “Fake News Award” by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in March of this year—not exactly the spotless legacy I’m sure Martin wanted to leave with the department.

Dang, I’m out of room here, but there’s plenty I missed. I don’t know about you, but I’m hoping to enjoy a quiet New Year’s celebration before we do all this again. I hope yours is a safe one as well. See you next year! 

The Canary is ready for 2018. Send your thoughts to canary@santamariasun.com.




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