City gets transportation update

It’s one of those classic good news/bad news scenarios — Santa Barbara’s air quality is improving, thanks at least in part to electric buses, but because the air quality is improving, we’re no longer going to be eligible for congestion mitigation and air quality grants that have been helping to fund those buses.

That was just one of many challenges outlined last week in the city’s Transit Assistance Workshop, where representatives from the City Council, MTD Board of Directors, Downtown Parking Committee, Planning Commission and the Transportation & Circulation Committee got together for the first time to talk about big picture transportation issues.

Other key issues include the expiration of Measure D in 2010, which provides for a one-half cent sales tax and dedicates that revenue to transportation projects and programs. Over $270 million has been collected since the program began in 1990 and advocates are already working on a new Measure D ballot measure to ensure its continuation. However, one potential stumbling block may be the shift of population growth from the south county to the north county, which means a shift in the distribution of those sales tax revenues as well, regardless of where those dollars are actually spent.

Councilman Dr. Dan Secord, who represents the city on the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG) Board of Directors, the entity which distributes most of the transportation funding, expressed frustration with the disproportion of money going to Santa Maria, where it is primarily spent on roads rather than mass transit development and congestion mitigations, as is done in Santa Barbara.

The fair allocation of resources was a hot button topic for many who attended. Both commission members the public commented on the disproportionate amount of money spent on downtown transportation compared to other parts of the city, as well as the fact that Santa Barbara foots the bill for the lion’s share of MTD services with minimal contributions from the county and the cities of Carpinteria and Goleta.

Perhaps we could figure out some kind of a matching funds challenge, suggested Councilwoman Helene Schneider. “Even a two to one match would be something.”

Delegates from each of the groups will work together over the next 60 to 90 days to tackle some tough transit questions, outlined by Public Works Director Tony Nisich: “Should the city provide additional assistance to MTD? Which services should receive additional funding? How should they be funded?”

We have to figure out how to make sure that our land use decisions and our transportation decisions are addressing reality and not fantasy, said Councilman Das Williams, who volunteered to participate in the study group. “I don’t know that we’re really wrestling with anything else as a city that’s this important.”

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on July 28, 2005.

Santa Barbara High puts Turnbull at the Helm

Goleta Valley Junior High School Paul Turnbull was named principal at Santa Barbara High School. Promoted from assistant principal to principal at GVHS in July 2003, he follows once again in the footsteps of Dr. Kristine Robertson, who left GVHS to take become principal at SBHS and recently was named director of personnel for the Santa Barbara Elementary and High School Districts.

Turnbull was unable to attend the July 26 board meeting where his appointment was unanimously approved.

“I believe he will be an outstanding advocate for Santa Barbara High School,” said Superintendent Dr. Brian Sarvis in announcing his appointment. “We had a number of high quality applicants for the position, Paul Turnbull was the clear choice. Paul is clearly the right leader for this job. He brings many fine qualities to Santa Barbara High School. He is dynamic, he is innovative, and I believe he will be respectful of the culture of Santa Barbara High School. He is knowledgeable about curriculum and instruction and has high expectations for all students. He works collaboratively with staff and students and the parents and has consistently demonstrated a high level of integrity.”

When interviewed by the South Coast Beacon last year after being selected as one of the “40 People Under 40 You Should Know,” Turnbull said his favorite thing about being a principal was, “being around people who are excited about being around kids, helping people learn, and making our community stronger. Being in education restores my faith in human nature because I see examples of caring and altruism every day.”

Before coming to GVHS in July 2001, Turnbull was a teacher and administrator in the Abbotsford Senior Secondary School in British Columbia, where he taught International Baccalaureate English, English, physical education, outdoor education, and coached varsity girls’ basketball and varsity football. He also taught in grades 3-12 in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

He has a master’s degree in education from the University of Victoria, British Columbia. As an undergraduate, he earned three different bachelor’s degrees: in education, at University of Manitoba; in English literature, at Queens’ University in Kingston, Ontario; and in physical and health education, at Queens’ University in Kingston, Ontario.

With Turnbull’s promotion, Sarvis said the district will “move rapidly to find the best principal for Goleta Valley Junior High.”

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on July 28, 2005.

Harding Principal Forced on Leave

Despite overwhelming support from parents, teachers and former students, the Santa Barbara Elementary School District voted to put Harding School principal Marlyn Nicolas on administrative leave for the 2005-2006 school year and will not renew her contract in 2006-2007. The vote was 4-0, with board president Lynn Rodriguez, whose child goes to the school, abstaining.

The board did not specify whether the leave would be paid, but according to Nicolas’s husband Frank, it was his understanding that she would be paid for the remainder of her contract.

When asked to comment on the matter prior to the July 26 announcement, Rodriguez said, “Personnel matters and how the person’s performing is very confidential. But just in general, people may not be aware that principals are on a contract, year to year, that because they are paid a substantially higher salary than a teacher, they have higher levels of responsibility and accountability, and they have a pretty comprehensive job description. They have a lot on their plate that they are responsible for.”

According to that job description, an elementary principal’s major duties and responsibilities include: serving as administrative and instructional leader of the school; supervising and evaluating the instructional program; responsibility for the health, safety, welfare and morale of students and employees (during school hours); working with the district office regarding staffing, curriculum and budget; overseeing the physical facility; taking the lead in establishing and prioritizing school goals; designing and implementing parent involvement and education programs; and interpreting the school’s programs to the community served by the school.

Some parents and teachers expressed concerns that Nicolas was ousted because the school was having difficulty getting middle class white children in the neighborhood to attend.

Realtor Linda Havlick, a neighbor who volunteers at the school, said she was shocked at the decision and urged the board not to punish Nicolas for its own open enrollment policy.

Harding teacher Susie Kirkus, who’s been at the school for more than 30 years, said she was upset about the process, and that adequate investigation was not done into the workings of the school and that Superintendent Brian Sarvis only came to the school once at the beginning of the year.

“You would think you would spend a lot of time there if you have school you are very concerned about,” she said. “My main concern is about the truth. I would feel this way if any principal had gone through this.”

Parents, several of whom spoke in support of Nicolas during public comment, may not be taking the loss of their principal sitting down. Immediately after the announcement they began discussions of a possible boycott of the first day of school on Aug. 29.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on July 28, 2005.

Harding principal’s future uncertain

Supportive parents and staff are rallying behind embattled Harding School principal Marlyn Nicolas, but her future is still up in the air. As of right now, she is still principal, and according to her husband, Frank Nicolas, her preference is to stay.

Her future was apparently discussed in closed session at the July 12 board meeting, but according to Board of Education president Lynn Rodriguez, it will not be decided until July 22 whether the matter will even be on the agenda for the board’s next meeting on July 26.

“We have potentially an item on the agenda next week but that’s not certain yet,” said Rodriguez, who is also a Harding parent, a situation she said has been uncomfortable given the current rumors surrounding the school’s principal. “It’s tough, because especially in elementary school, there’s such a connection between the parents and the school and the staff, and it can be very uncomfortable. … I personally in this situation, especially since I am a parent at the school and have been for seven years, am trying to sort of leave it to staff as much as possible. They have the expertise more than I do about principal performance issues.

“But I can unequivocally say that the principal at Harding is very well liked. … It’s an extremely hard situation. I think it is good for the public because I don’t think people really understand a principal’s job duties, what they’re really supposed to do and how they are evaluated and how they are held accountable because it does take more than being a nice person to be an effective principal,” said Rodriguez.

Harding teachers have speculated that the discussion of removal of their principal was based on an evaluation they filled out last month out about Nicolas’s performance, at the request of Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education, Robin Sawaske.

“We were under the impression that our comments would be used to help her, not to remove her,” teacher Jeanette Pinedo told the board. Other teachers who did not want to speak on the record echoed that sentiment.

Sawaske is on vacation this week, and unavailable for comment,

When asked about the district’s principal evaluation procedures, Rodriguez said she thought evaluations had been done on a regular basis in the past, but with turnover in staff (Sawaske is the fourth person to hold the assistant superintendent position since 2002) ” I think it’s been a little spotty.” She added, “In common practice, well in our district anyway, the Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education oversees the principals, meets with them regularly, and good practice would say that they get an evaluation every year.”

Principals have annual contracts and typically if it is not going to be renewed they are told in March, in order to allow the principals, many of whom have teacher tenure, to reapply for classroom positions. Layoff notices must legally be given to teachers by March 15, which would have been the case if a principal with more seniority were to bump them, according to Rodriguez.

Mr. Nicolas said his wife has been in the district for 31 years, and at Harding School for 27 years, first as a teacher and for the last seven years as principal.

If her fate is not discussed in closed session at the July 26 board meeting (the agenda will be posted at in the late afternoon on July 22), the next board meeting is not scheduled until August 23, the day staff reports to Harding for duty, with school starting on August 29.

Closed session board agenda items are often vague, for example the July 12 item was listed as “public employee discipline/dismissal/release.”

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on July 21, 2005.

Whole Foods survives first review

The motto of Whole Foods Market, “whole foods, whole people, whole planet,” will certainly be put to the test in Santa Barbara, as the company saw at its first concept review meeting with Planning Commission last week. There’s a whole lot of community input in its future if the organic food retail giant wants to successfully navigate the city of Santa Barbara’s planning process.

The proposal, outlined primarily by architect Brian Cearnal, includes the demolition of all existing structures in that center, as well as the adjacent Taco Bell, which Cearnal designed.

“I kind of like this little Taco Bell,” he said, feigning horror at the prospect of its demolition.

Prompted in part by comments from the League of Women Voters, the Citizens Planning Association, the Allied Neighborhood Association, the Coalition for Sustainable Transportation, and individuals, planning commissioners expressed concerns about the traffic estimates provided by the city.

Senior transportation planner Rob Dayton explained that they used a formula for trip generation indexes based on square footage and type of use, rather than actual traffic counts, as is common practice in California.

For example, the average daily number of trips estimated for Circuit City right now is 635, but the new Circuit City, which will be approximately 3,000-square-feet smaller but contain the same inventory, has an estimate of 556 trips, even though it will be located in a brand new, presumably more vibrant shopping center. According to the traffic estimate provided, the proposed new project will result in 393 fewer average daily trips to the center.

“I intuitively have a problem with those results,” said commissioner George Myers.

“We need to have a high confidence level in those numbers,” said commissioner John Jostes, a sentiment echoed by the majority of the group.

The commission had very positive things to say about the addition of a Whole Foods Market to the community, particularly in light of Whole Foods regional president Michael Besancon’s statement that the company’s policy is to donate at least five percent of its profits to local and regional charities.

However, the commission asked staff to take a closer look at the traffic estimates and directed the applicant to take a look at adding some housing to the project, as well as modifying the proposed parking scheme to make the development more in keeping with their vision for an urban streetscape, including taking a look at developing more pedestrian walkways and possibly a small park.

The July 14 review of Whole Foods came on the heels of a July 7 overview of multiple projects planned for the outer State Street area — including that project; a three-story mix of commercial office space and condos, for 3885 to 3887 State St.; a renovated Sandman Inn, which includes a three-story 113-room hotel and 64 condos; and a mix of commercial office space and 16 condos, at 15 S. Hope Ave. At the earlier meeting, the public also expressed concern about traffic congestion in the area and the need for comprehensive planning rather than piecemeal approval of projects as they come in.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on July 21, 2005.

A Day to Dream

To help celebrate a decade of making dreams come true for terminally ill adults, the Dream Foundation invites the community to spend a whimsical day in Dreamland.

On July 24, the Santa Barbara Zoo will be transformed a fanciful getaway where families can spend quality time together while helping to support the foundation, a national nonprofit that is based in Santa Barbara.

Founder Thom Rollerson’s goal with this event was to do something kid-friendly, that’s very accessible for families and really directly reflects the mission of the Dream Foundation: to enhance the quality of life for individuals and families battling terminal illnesses. He had always wanted to do something that got those people together again with the people in Santa Barbara who made the Dream Foundation a reality, explained Rod Lathim, who is the event coordinator, artistic director and producer of A Day to Dream.

“When you enter Dreamland it’s kind of like going into Disneyland or some place where you can leave your daily worries outside the gate and come in. And when you’re in there you get to do fun things with your friends and your family and your kids,” said Lathim.

The first thing guests will see is a magical tree of dreams, where they can pick “fruit” containing inspirational quotes and action items. “I call them little mini random acts of kindness that you are encouraged to go do and set out and accomplish while you’re in Dreamland,” said Lathim.

They will also be encouraged to answer the question “What are your dreams and wishes for the community?” Selected answers will read on stage by the Youth Host Committee — William Bermant, Justin Bogart, Carly Burnell, Kelsey Cage, Samia Finnerty, Jennifer Gray, Ryan Halsey, Mackenzie McGonegel, Bridget Mitchell, Nathalie Mitchell, Avery Schwartz, Sara Weiner, Claudio Zungri and Jackie Zupsic — as well as sent to Santa Mayor Marty Blum and the City Council for review and hopefully, inspiration.

The youth hosts (ages 8 to 15) have helped shape the event and will act as Ambassadors to the dream recipient families and guests.

The new NBC series “Three Wishes,” hosted by Amy Grant, will also be there, filming a Dream Foundation recipient, a man with brain cancer from South Dakota who has always wanted to take his family to see the Pacific Ocean.

Other celebrity guests include host Brad Garrett, and Bruce Jenner, Elizabeth Peña, and Harry Shearer, among others.

In addition to “a feast of delectable food and sweets,” and a nonstop lineup of theatre and music from Porch Dogs, Dancing Drums and Boxtales Theatre Company, guests will also be able to visit “Swamette,” a seer and interpreter of dreams; the Flower Empower Emporium, which echoes the Dream Foundation’s volunteer program delivering donated flower bouquets to people battling catastrophic illnesses; a Haberdashery where guests can create fanciful hats; and the Dream Journey Pavilion, featuring massages and face painting; as well as learn hip hop moves with MTV choreographer and dancer Cris Judd.

“The cool thing is that once you’re in, the ticket price ($29.50/$15.50) includes everything,” said Lathim.

The sets, inspired in part by Dr. Seuss, also sound very cool.

“I wanted to do something where you walk in and you’re enchanted and enticed and there’s something fun for adults as well as kids,” said Lathim crediting his “great committee (co-chaired by Clay Dickens and Sara Lytle) for really rolling up their sleeves and getting paint under their fingernails.”

The results should be truly dreamy indeed.

Tickets for A Day to Dream, which takes place at the Santa Barbara Zoo on July 24 from 2:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., are $29.50 for adults and $15.50 for children 12 and under. Tickets are available at the Lobero Theatre Box Office, 963.0761, until July 23, and then in the lobby of the Mar Monte Hotel (across from the zoo) on the day of the event.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on July 14, 2005.

Honors program sticking

The Santa Barbara School Board reluctantly agreed to maintain junior high honors classes while moving to elevate the general track classes to college preparatory level at the request of Superintendent Brian Sarvis and the principals of Goleta Valley, La Colina and Santa Barbara junior high schools.

“The principals agree with me that a change like this should not be this contentious,” said Sarvis, alluding to the public outcry that erupted from parents when they learned of the plan to drop the honors program last month.

In addition to raising the bar for all students by putting average and above-average students in class together, the principals had expected that eliminating honors would help to encourage diversity in the classroom.

Trustee Annette Cordero, who cast the lone vote against maintaining the honors program, expressed regret that the new proposal doesn’t show the same concern for desegregation.

“We have to stop sticking our heads in the sand about the fact that while the schools overall are not segregated, the programs are,” she said.

Comments from the public were mixed, with some advocating for the status quo and others, like LULAC’s (League of the United Latin American Citizens) Ernesto Hernandez, speaking out in favor of the principals’ original proposal.

“Our community has consistently advocated for improvements,” he said. “For us the norm has not been working out.”

Board members lauded the principals’ initiative, even though the plan proved to be a tough sell to parents.

“I’m not interested in a contentious kind of change,” said board member Nancy Harter, however she added that she would like the schools to be “really vigorous in moving forward” with phasing out the honors classes and elevating the general track.

“I hope that we move forward with a widespread dialogue,” said Board President Lynn Rodriguez. “There is a tremendous amount of gain to be had from diversity in the classroom, even various education levels that that can bring richness to the classroom and right now some of our classes lack that based on the homogeneity that’s there.”

Board member Bob Noel took a proactive approach and presented his plan, “Project Arriba,” for closing the achievement gap in junior high by focusing attention on students in grades four through six.

“If you want to stop tracking in the junior high schools, stop graduating sixth graders who are unprepared,” he said.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on July 15, 2005.

Whole Foods project causes community concern

Adding a Whole Foods Market to the upper State Street area, already a target of concern for neighborhood and activist groups because of traffic congestion and other issues, will be on the docket for the Santa Barbara Planning Commission July 14.

With big changes in store for that area, including at least three other projects under review, city staff members Rob Dayton and Bettie Weiss guided planning commissioners through a review of outer State street traffic conditions last week, as members of the public advocated for a comprehensive look at the area before any new projects are approved, something staff is, in essence, already doing as part of the General Plan update, according to Weiss, a city planner.

Without delving into too many specifics, Weiss and Dayton, senior transportation planner, presented an overview of what may be in store for upper State Street:

-A revamped Circuit City, a new Whole Foods supermarket and rooftop parking for nearly 300 cars, at State Street and Hitchcock Way;

– A three-story mix of commercial office space and condos, for 3885 to 3887 State St.;

-A renovated Sandman Inn, which loses the restaurant but includes a three-story 113-room hotel and 64 condos; and

-A mix of commercial office space and 16 condos, at 15 S. Hope Ave.

While not in the city review process yet, Earl Ensberg, of Grace Lutheran Church near La Cumbre Plaza, also said his church is looking at building housing for seniors on the church’s property on the 3800 block of State Street.

Representatives from the Citizens Planning Association, Urban Creeks Council, League of Women Voters, Grove Lane Neighborhood Association and the Allied Neighborhood Association, and several individuals raised concerns about the impacts of the developments. In addition to calling for a strict adherence to zoning requirements, several speakers, including planning commissioners, expressed a desire that these developments be used as an opportunity to incorporate creek restoration and more open space into the area, which many described as an example of bad planning both functionally and aesthetically.

Since the majority of the proposed developments are mixed use, phasing out commercial office space in favor of housing, Dayton said that traffic might eventually be reduced because people will walk to stores rather than get in their cars every time they need something.

” I’m not an expert on traffic. But to me, that’s poppycock,” said Joe Guzzardi, who lives in the area. ” It’s ridiculous. It’s not the real world. The real world is that we have gridlock on upper State Street.”

These cumulative impacts are going to need your full attention, said Connie Hannah from the League of Women Voters. “There is no way to change the roads, so restrictions on development seem the only recourse.”

The Whole Foods/Circuit City project is scheduled to be heard by the Planning Commission at approximately 5:15 p.m. at City Hall.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on July 14, 2005.

Honors program gets reprieve

An outcry from parents about the principals’ decision to drop the honors programs at Santa Barbara, La Colina and Goleta Valley junior highs has prompted the school board to put the item back on its agenda next week.

While La Cumbre Junior High will roll out a new curriculum in the fall — offering separate learning communities for Core Knowledge, Gifted and Talented Education (GATE)/ pre-advanced placement, liberal arts/college preparatory and intensive English development/newcomers — the other three principals have said they are raising the bar for all students by putting average and above-average students in class together. Some parents believe that the decision will have a negative effect on the roughly 15 percent to 20 percent of students who have been on the honors track, a group that performs well but doesn’t qualify for GATE.

With affluent Montecito parents talking about forming a charter junior high school and others considering moves to private school, many fear that the elimination of honors will make it more difficult to for the schools to remain socioeconomically and ethnically diverse, particularly Santa Barbara Junior High.

“The Honors Track is an attractive option that influenced our decision to leave private school,” wrote SBJH parent George Gonzales in a letter to the board. “While we can’t fault the outstanding level of instruction provided by the district, the general environment causes many parents from different ethnic backgrounds to proceed cautiously. Continuation of the Honors Track will reassure many of us that sending our children to public school is the right decision.”

Indeed the percent of Anglo students at SBJH has shrunk from 41 to 31 percent, since the 2002-2003 school year, according to Lanny Ebenstein, a former board member who has contracted with the district to create enrollment projections.

“To eliminate honors programs at Santa Barbara Junior High would intensify this detrimental trend,” he said.

SAGE (Supporters of Advanced and Gifted Education), a new group formed to advocate for high achieving students, has also come out in support of continuing the honors programs.

“Every taxpayer wants value for their money. Tracking, or segmentation, enables instruction to be geared, paced and outcomes evaluated appropriately making the highest and best use of both time and money,” wrote SAGE president Denice Adams in a letter to the board.

The trustees are expected make a decision on the honors program at its next meeting at 7 p.m. July 12, 720 Santa Barbara St.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on July 7, 2005.

Hope trustees ratify principal reassignment

In recognition of the “diversity of opinion” with regard to Superintendent Gerrie Fausett’s reassignment of the Hope School District‘s principals, the board of trustees voted unanimously to ratify the decision, despite that they were not required to do so.

Joseph Liebman was not at the July 1 meeting, where his colleagues took the opportunity to publicly query Fausett about her decision to move Hope School principal Patrick Plamondon to Monte Vista School, Monte Vista’s Judy Stettler to Vieja Valley School, and Vieja Valley’s Barbara LaCorte to Hope.

“What are the key benefits of principal rotation?” asked board member Todd Sosna.

“The most important thing is to have administrators who are well –versed in more than one section of the district,” said Fausett.

Board member Elizabeth Owen asked Fausett to address rumors that the principal rotation was connected to the possible closure of Hope School.

“We have no plans to close Hope,” countered Fausett, adding that any decisions about whether to minimize or maximize enrollment in the three school district, which has about one-third transfer students, would be made in a public forum.

The possibility of the district switching its funding to Basic Aid — the model used by the Montecito and Goleta Schools to ensure funding even with declining enrollment — has been floated in the Hope District for years, and will likely be on the table again in the fall, along with trying to cure the district’s budget woes with a parcel tax, a strategy that failed with voters in 2003.

As for the timing of the principal move, Fausett said “our scores are so close” that it is likely that one or two schools may be designated with program improvement status under the No Child Left Behind Act, and she was concerned that doing a move after that would be perceived as punishment for the principals.

Unhappiness over the rotation has already had some fallout. Fausett said that the Hope District Foundation Auction, which raised over $70,000 last year, would probably not happen this year. The controversy has also motivated some parents to become more active in board politics. Hope School parent Craig Malley brought a video camera to record the meeting for others.

Ed Adams, a Hope School parent who has said the board and superintendent didn’t follow the proper process in making the rotation decision, told them, “Guaranteed we will be here watching what goes on to see that in all decisions you follow the process that you’re supposed to.”

A few people have suggested that the news would have been accepted much more favorably if the principals had been part of the announcement. But Fausett said that wasn’t possible.

“Trust me when I tell you I would have done anything to keep this board and this community from going through what we have gone through. There is a reason why I did it the way I did it. It wasn’t the easiest way, but I had to do it that way. ”

Originally published in South Coast Beacon in 2005.