COUNTY SHERIFFS ENDORSE ALCOHOL BAN RENEWAL

When the County Board of Supervisors this June reviews the efficacy of the year-old alcohol ban on Butterfly Beach, they’ll be given unconditional support from law enforcement officials to renew the ordinance. The County Sheriff’s Department, which with the County Parks Department enforces the ban, says the alcohol ordinance has been effective in reducing the amount of alcohol consumption on Butterfly and Miramar Beaches while keeping in check other undesired factors caused by drinking, such as noise, littering and public urination.

“We feel it’s been an amazing tool for us to weed out problems before they start,” said Isaiah Tchobanoff, Montecito’s community resource deputy.

The ordinance had other desired, though unexpected consequences, according to deputies. The department reported that crime for the Butterfly Beach and Channel Drive area was reduced by more than 50% in the last year, from 19 cases the year prior to 9 in the last 12 months. Since the ordinance has been in place, deputies have given out 19 citations.

The County Sheriff’s Department’s support for the ban is buttressed by homeowners groups such as the Montecito Association, which in a letter to First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal wrote that alcohol prohibition made beachgoers more responsible, contributing to cleaner and safer conditions.

“Our local community beach seems to have returned to a community park, once again used mainly by families with children,” the letter wrote. “Gone is the rowdy, inconsiderate, and often inebriated conduct that we saw in the summer of 2004 – the motivating factor in the community’s request for alcohol control.”

Interest in the ordinance originated in May 2004 when huge crowds numbering in the hundreds congregated on Butterfly Beach, to the chagrin of privacy-oriented residents of the area. The beachgoers, the majority of them college-aged partiers, took to the sands drinking heavily and playing music on boomboxes. On one weekend, an out-of-town radio DJ set up a satellite station where the rumbling bass of rap music could be heard reverberating as far as a mile away.

Neighbors complained about trash, noise and public urination. Cars parked illegally while commuters clogged up the roadways. The Montecito Association, with involvement from County agencies, hosted community forums and endorsed an anti-drinking resolution. Within a year, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an ordinance.

For the ban’s first summer in existence, authorities praised the reduction of alcohol consumption. Still, they were unsure whether it was the ordinance taking effect or other factors, such as beach erosion and the foggy weather that is endemic to the early part of summer.

“We’d like to take credit but I’m afraid it’s been more than anything Mother Nature who has done most of the work for us,” Lieutenant Darin Fotheringham said last June.

Tchobanoff, though, said that while crowds were deterred by outdoor conditions, deputies were successful in controlling drinking activity on clearer, more inviting afternoons.

In the ordinance’s early days, authorities took a zero-tolerance approach in its enforcement, a method several beachgoers called heavy-handed for punishing responsible drinkers.

This coming summer, deputies said they would be more lenient when issuing citations. “For people choosing to have a glass of wine, you’re not going to be hassled, knocked to the ground and handcuffed,” said Tchobanoff. “It’s no secret that we have discretion in law enforcement.”

Kevin Wallace to Become New Fire Chief

The Montecito Fire Protection District Board has chosen a replacement for Chief Ron McClain, who announced earlier this year he would retire. Kevin Wallace, division chief for the Montecito Fire Protection, will take over as chief in October bringing to the force an added degree of verve and youth. “He’s a very capable young man,” said Chief McClain.

The appointment of Wallace was expected among the district’s top brass. When he announced his retirement, McClain said the fire board would choose someone within the department. To many, Wallace appeared as the logical successor.

In nearly 25 years of service, Wallace has made a quick ascent through the ranks of the force. A University of California at Riverside graduate with 100 semester units in fire science, he joined the Montecito Fire District in 1983. Five years later he became captain and in 1996 was promoted to battalion chief. In 2001, he was appointed division chief, a post he maintains today.

Wallace is also a state-certified hazardous materials specialist and he served on the South Coast Hazmat Team for 12 years.

Last September, Wallace traveled to New Orleans and Mississippi to assist in Hurricane Katrina relief. A month later, during a disaster preparedness forum with County emergency officials, Wallace said his experience in the battered Gulf Coast helped put in perspective what went wrong in the recovery and what people in the South Coast can do right when faced with a similar scenario.

During the disaster forum, Wallace also said California’s organized emergency system and rich tradition in disaster preparedness would leave us better equipped to handle a storm of comparable magnitude.

“Everyone understands the chain of command. There’s no confusion about who to go to,” he said. “When you call for help there is a system that you can fit in and grow to size.”

Prop 4 Override May Reach 2006 Ballot

If the Montecito Fire District wants to use up every cent of its 2006 budget, its taxpayers this year will have to wave off an ordinance that limits its annual spending. Last week, Chief Ron McClain said Montecito taxpayers, in July, would receive a notice in the mail informing them about the district’s intentions to override Proposition 4, a statewide appropriations limit on spending from tax proceeds.

Prop 4, also called the Gann Initiative after its chief sponsor, Paul Gann, limits annual spending to the amount used up the year before. State law allows for upward adjustments made for increases in population and cost of living. Public agencies that exceed that limit are required to return the surplus to taxpayers within a period of two years.

With a staff of 40 firefighters working out of two stations, the Montecito Fire Protection District operates on an annual budget of $11.4 million. More than $7.5 million is spent on salaries and medical plans.

The fire district’s coffers offer considerably more money per tax payer than other agencies on the Central Coast. For example, the Santa Barbara Fire District, serving approximately 90,000 people, has an annual budget of $14 million, a little more than $155 per person.

Meanwhile, the Montecito Fire District offers about $1,140 per person. The differences in tax distribution have helped the Montecito department develop into one of the most advanced and equipped fire agencies in California, offering heftier staff salaries and retirement plans than other districts.

Each year’s budget still leaves room for more than $1 million in surplus, which department officials have attempted to use to the best of their abilities. Last December, Montecito Fire District closed escrow on a $2.1-million East Valley Road parcel with three houses. The district rents out each house at a discounted rate.

Last year, Montecito taxpayers supported overriding Proposition 4. Chief McClain said overriding received 97% approval. Last week, McClain said he would urge taxpayers to approve it again.

“There’s a great deal of political influence when you see support here for the fire district,” he said.

Carnival Still Needs Sponsors

Less than two weeks away, the Montecito Union School Carnival still needs more sponsors, say organizers. “Our children truly benefit from each individual effort,” said Marni Rozet Neighbors, organizing committee chair.

The annual Parent Teacher Association-sponsored carnival, which takes place on April 29 from 10 am to 3 pm, has already received contributions from several local businesses and individuals, among them: realtor Dan Encell (whose son Ryan is a second-grader at Montecito Union), Montecito Bank & Trust, Ty Warner Inc., Make it Work, Woody’s Barbeque, Here’s the Scoop, the Transki family and MUS sixth-grader Emma Steinkellner (who designed carnival tee shirts).

Other contributors include the carnival committee: Michele Cuttler, PTA president Kathi King, Sheela Hunt, Joanne Makeever, Lizzie Peus and Lori Murray.

Anyone interested in participating can call Marni Rozet Neighbors at 252-7988 or Sheela Hunt at 698-3767.