Thursday, May 24, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 12

Santa Maria Sun / Cover Story

The following article was posted on December 30th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 42 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 14, Issue 42

Legs for days--or longer

Big stories made the headlines all year long in 2013


This year’s headline makers were the kinds of stories that just keep on giving—the kinds we in the journalism world like to call stories with legs. Their words continued to walk across the Sun’s pages, week after week. 

Let’s take Santa Maria Energy’s oil expansion project as an example. News of the project broke in early April, when it was presented to the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission. A long, controversial countywide conversation ensued, which—by the way—is still going, even though the county Board of Supervisors pushed the project through in mid-November. 

Other news that makes the long and leggy list includes the Santa Maria City Council’s quest to find a fifth member, as well as the great Fallas Discount Store debate. The Santa Maria-Bonita School District is still slogging through litigation cases that mostly have to do with board member Will Smith.

Oh, there’s also the hullabaloo still surrounding the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians’ goal to add 1,400 acres of land to its reservation.

And, there’s more. Are you ready for it? Well, here we go.


Pipe dream is reality


In mid-November, construction crews finished the most difficult component of the Nipomo Supplemental Water Project—horizontal directional drilling (pictured) through the Santa Maria River to create space for a pipeline that, once completed, will pump 3,000 acre-feet of life-giving water per year from Santa Maria to Nipomo. Around the same time, another construction crew started working on a pipeline to connect Nipomo to the Santa Maria water treatment plant. A similar pipeline will go in on the Nipomo side, along with a pump station.




Discounts prevail


The Santa Maria City Council approved a Fallas Discount Store to set up shop in the old Mervyn’s building downtown on Aug. 6, despite the protests of city residents who came out against it. City leaders took nearly three months to decide whether to allow a discount store downtown. Only after a long set of rules regarding store appearances and upkeep was in place did council members finally vote 4-1, with Mayor Alice Patino dissenting, to give Fallas the thumbs up.

After the debate was over, council members passed a 45-day emergency moratorium prohibiting bargain basement stores from the downtown planning area. The council decided against a permanent moratorium and the emergency ordinance expired.




Filling the vacancy


After two months of deadlock, the Santa Maria City Council in February selected Willie Green, a part-time instructor at Allan Hancock College, to fill its fifth seat. Mayor Alice Patino and council member Bob Orach butted heads with council members Jack Boysen and Terri Zuniga over whether to appoint Etta Waterfield—who lost to Orach by two votes in last year’s election—to the vacant seat. Green beat out Waterfield and nearly a dozen other applicants for the position, which carries a two-year term.




Steam pressure


Santa Maria Energy got the go-ahead from the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Nov. 12 to drill 110 more steam injection oil wells at its 25-well pilot project site outside of Orcutt. The decision came seven months after the project’s initial hearing before the county Planning Commission on April 24. When supervisors approved the project in November, they also voted to place a 10,000-metric-ton greenhouse gas emissions limit on the project. The debate surrounding that limit is what held the project up for so long, and has continued to be a flashpoint for some county residents since the approval.






Former St. Joseph High School student Delaney Henderson sat down with the Sun in July for an exclusive interview detailing her journey from sexual assault victim to survivor. Henderson was a key witness in the trial of Shane Villalpando, a fellow student who was sentenced to one year in Santa Barbara County Jail and five years’ probation for having unlawful sex with underage teenagers. Henderson said she spoke out against her assailant to help prevent other girls from suffering the way she did. “This isn’t something that kids make up,” she told the Sun. “If someone says they were raped, 99 percent of the time, they were raped.”




Ibarra trial

The pre-trial hearings for the 11 defendants accused of torturing and murdering 28-year old Santa Marian Anthony Ibarra were hard to follow, because of the audio quality and because of the mish-mash of clients and attorneys stacked up inside a courtroom that’s not quite big

At the July 18 hearing, which took place in Dept. 8 at the courthouse in Santa Maria, Superior Court Judge Rick Brown said the next hearing would be in a bigger location equipped with better sound equipment.

“It’s obviously very difficult circumstances,” Brown said during the hearing. “By the time we meet again, we will be in very different facilities.”




Rape is rape


In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 65, thus changing the state’s legal definition of rape to include attackers who coerce victims into sexual activity by impersonating their significant others. AB 65 was the brainchild of Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian and Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley (pictured). Dudley asked Achadjian to help her in 2010 after she was unable to prosecute a case because state law said a person who impersonates someone else for sex is guilty of rape only if the victim is married and the person is pretending to be his or her spouse.




The saga continues


Tension remained high over at the Santa Maria-Bonita School District this year due mostly to disagreements between Board of Education member Will Smith and his fellow board members and some district staffers. In April, an administrative law judge ordered Smith to stop making threatening statements to employees, documenting protected activities, and falsely accusing employees of misconduct. The judge’s order was the result of a complaint filed by the Santa Maria Elementary Education Association. Smith, however, maintained he didn’t do anything wrong. In May, the California Department of Education released a decision in response to a complaint filed by Smith that essentially said the district’s TurnKey-constructed buildings are safe, but have yet to be certified. Then, earlier this month, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing upheld a proposed decision to revoke Smith’s teaching credential. The vote stems from a January 2012 accusation that Smith engaged in immoral and unprofessional conduct while employed by the district. Smith declined to tell the Sun whether he would appeal the decision.




The animal hotel


In late October, the Santa Maria Valley Humane Society finally moved into its new 16,000-square-foot facility on West Stowell Road in Santa Maria. The development, nicknamed the “Pet Project,” started in 2005. The new location includes more kennels for stray dogs, a large cattery, new offices, a retail area, and a new-and-improved spay/neuter clinic—all the things needed to save more animals’ lives in the Santa Maria Valley.




Change lingers


It’s been parents versus teachers versus district administrators all year in the Santa Maria Joint Unified High School District. The hubbub started in December 2012 when parents questioned the makeup of Santa Maria High School’s Shared Decision-Making Committee. Arnulfo Romero, a Santa Maria High parent, was the loudest voice advocating for change on that committee. On March 20, the school board unanimously voted to revamp the laws governing shared decision-making committees for the district’s three biggest high schools. In response, the teachers’ union filed an unfair labor practices complaint against the district. Parents also requested to change Santa Maria High’s three-class per semester block schedule. Teachers voted in a new rotating block schedule with six classes per semester in November.

That schedule will start in the 2014-2015 school year.



Valley divided


The question of whether Camp 4, a 1,400-parcel of land in the Santa Ynez Valley, will soon become part of the Chumash Reservation has pursed lips across Santa Barbara County since August, when county supervisors voted not to engage in direct negotiations with the tribe over development of the property. The Chumash submitted a fee-to-trust application for Camp 4 this summer to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. The tribe was also able to recruit congressional representatives to introduce legislation that would annex the property to the federal government on behalf of the Chumash. County supervisors have officially opposed both actions and the tribe is still waiting for an answer from the feds.




Contact Managing Editor Amy Asman at

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