Ablitt House Stands Tall As a Towering Work of Art

Ablitt House Stands Tall As a Towering Work of Art

(Originally published May 26, 2008)

The uniquely designed home in Santa Barbara has won over even those who once opposed the project.

Deep down, we all want to be able to tell the naysayers, “I told you so.”

In rare instances, the words don’t even need to be uttered for the general sentiment to hang in the air.

Owner Neil Ablitt is offering free tours of his unusual abode, the Abblitt House. At 53 feet high, the home is among the tallest structures in Santa Barbara. (Lou Fontana / Noozhawk photo)
Owner Neil Ablitt is offering free tours of his unusual abode, the Abblitt House. At 53 feet high, the home is among the tallest structures in Santa Barbara. (Lou Fontana / Noozhawk photo)

Such is the case with the Ablitt House, by many accounts the most fantastical home in Santa Barbara. With its 20-foot-by-20-foot footprint, four single-room floors, infinitely detailed interior design and 360-degree rooftop view of the city, mountains and ocean, the house is considered a bona fide work of art by even the most vocal of former naysayers.

The proud owner of this narrow tower of a home at 13 W. Haley St. is native Santa Barbaran Neil Ablitt, the retired founder of Ablitt’s Fine Cleaners & Launderers a few paces away. His daughter now manages the operation.

At 53 feet high, the not-so-humble downtown abode is among the tallest structures in town, yet is oddly difficult to spot by passers-by on State Street. The skinny house is tucked into an alley behind State Street’s Velvet Jones nightclub, with only its bell-towered top peaking above the buildings on the main drag. Now, even the hotel manager who once opposed the project and the planning commissioners who denied it admit the house is a gem.

For Ablitt, it has been a long journey.

The Ablitt House has four single-room floors. The contractors incorporated Neil and Sue Ablitt’s love of ‘books, tile and wine’ into the design. (Lou Fontana / Noozhawk photo)
The Ablitt House has four single-room floors. The contractors incorporated Neil and Sue Ablitt’s love of ‘books, tile and wine’ into the design. (Lou Fontana / Noozhawk photo)

Things started OK in 2002, with the Historic Landmarks Commission, but hit a snag in early 2004. Facing opposition from the Holiday Inn Express, the Ablitt House was narrowly rejected by the Planning Commission. Ablitt appealed to the City Council, which was charmed by the design and unanimously overturned the commission’s decision. In December 2004, architect Trevor Martinson made an 11th-hour attempt to derail the project. It failed.

In November 2005, construction crews broke ground. On Dec. 17, 2006, Ablitt and his wife, Sue, moved out of the boat they had been living in for 14 years and into the house. However, they had to sleep on floor mattresses for five months while their bed was custom-designed to fit in their bedroom.

Since its completion, the house already has won at least one national design award for the tile work.

To thank the community, Ablitt has been giving free tours of the structure, which, for earthquake safety, digs into the ground nearly as deep as it is high. In the 14 months since the house became inhabitable, about 1,500 visitors have toured the home, ascending the home’s 72 tile-decorated stairs in wide-eyed wonder.

“Around every corner, there’s a little adventure,” marveled Eva Kirkpatrick, who was taking a tour with a handful of others.

“It’s the most creative, most original house in Santa Barbara,” visitor Susan Billig said.

In the past few months, Ablitt has channeled his inner tour guide, peppering his spiel with good-natured barbs about the naysayers and revealing his own free-spirited temperament. “The only thing we told the contractor is that we like books, tile and wine,” he likes to say.

On the tour, Ablitt takes a modest tack, deferring all credit to architect Jeff Shelton and the handful of artists who worked on the home. “My only job has been to keep my mouth shut, sweep the alley and stay out of the way,” he says. “These guys are geniuses.”

Contractor Dan Upton said the job led to many sleepless nights, but he wouldn’t have wanted any other contractor to claim the burden. “My job is to give the house a soul,” he said. “This was an easy one, in a way, because so many good people worked on it.”

Of course, genius design and a soulful construction don’t come cheap. Initially, Ablitt estimated he could build the house for about $480,000. The actual bill was triple that amount, and it’s still climbing.

But to Ablitt, it has been worth every penny. “It’s a work of art, and a work of love,” he said.

From the beginning, the house has been a media darling. In addition to the play-by-play write-ups in local publications during the city hearings, the story caught the attention of the Los Angeles Times, which in 2004 ran a front-page story on the house. It was picked up by The Associated Press and ran in about 60 newspapers across the country. Shortly after, Ablitt got a call from the TV show Good Morning America, which wanted exclusive footage of the interior. The interior didn’t exist at the time, so the deal fell through.

Soon, the Ablitt House will be the focus of a half-hour production on HGTV (Home & Garden). Ablitt doesn’t own a television, “and I never will,” he says.

Ablitt purchased the small lot in 1984 for $6,400 – quite a deal in Santa Barbara, where land is so valuable that a small bungalow home can sell for upward of $1 million.

At the time, the lot seemed useless. For starters, it was too small. The city’s commercial-district zoning laws required that residential buildings in the downtown area be set back 10 feet from all neighboring property lines. Given that the size of Ablitt’s lot is 20 feet by 20 feet, that gave him zero room. “Technically, I couldn’t even put up a flagpole,” he says.

Plus, a severe drought had caused the city to issue a moratorium on new water connections. Without a water connection, a landowner could not obtain a building permit. But in 1987, the city held a lottery for water connections. Out of hundreds who applied, Ablitt was among about a dozen winners.

A decade passed and nothing was done. In the mid-1990s, Ablitt and his wife set sail for Mexico and didn’t return for seven years. When they came back in 2001, Ablitt went to his dry-cleaning business and was bedazzled by a new development next door. It was called the Zannon Building.

Ablitt walked around the premises and happened across two strangers: Shelton and Upton. He struck up a conversation with them, complimenting the building. He told them about his tiny lot. Shelton’s first response was terse: “I’m not taking any more work.”

But when Ablitt walked the men to the site, Shelton grew animated. A wave of inspiration had come over him. The next day, he approached Ablitt with a rough sketch design.

To get around the mandatory 10-foot setbacks, Shelton made a coy move. He stuck an office in the house, thus qualifying it for “mixed use” status, meaning it was no longer strictly residential. (The city later dropped the requirement for them.)

Shelton said he was expecting city staff members to disapprove. “To my surprise, they were not only not against it, they were sort of delighted,” he said.

Still, the architect knew the staff members weren’t the deciders. It would be up to the commission and the council. Before meetings, Shelton said, “I just kept telling Neil, ‘Don’t worry about it, just keep smiling and don’t complain.’ “

As it turned out, the Planning Commission was less amused by the design. Commissioner John Jostes said Ablitt was asking for too many special favors, which in the planning world are known as “modifications.” For instance, residential homes need a yard, but this home certainly wouldn’t have one.

Then-Commissioner Bill Mahan found it unfair that Ablitt intended to build his home right on the property lines of his commercial neighbors, none of whom had expanded their structures to the edge – yet.

Commissioner Harwood “Bendy” White thought the land could have been put to better use, maybe to build more high-density homes downtown, he said.

Now, all three say they love the finished product.

“It is extremely playful and interesting and unique,” Jostes said. “And being in the middle of the block, it’s not nearly as visible as I thought it would be.”

Mahan said it’s only a matter of time before the house becomes a local landmark. “There’s no question the architecture is a delightful thing,” he said.

Mahan, who earlier this year launched a ballot initiative to lower building-height limits to 40 feet in downtown Santa Barbara, also said he has no qualms with this particular 53-foot structure. “It’s really more like a tower – towers don’t bother me at all,” he said. “I think they bring a nice variance to the skyline.”

White echoed the praise. “It’s a remarkable piece of craftsmanship,” he said.

However, asked if he would vote for the project now, knowing what he knows, White and Jostes declined to speculate.

White added that Ablitt one day could face the bleak prospect of watching tall walls being built mere inches away from his windows. “If I were Neil, I would probably not be happy if people came in and built to the property line all around me. I would feel hemmed in,” he said. “So we’ll see how those things unfold over time. Maybe it will never happen.”

Other Freelance

A Brush with Art, Success for Boy with Autism

This article was published on the website of Santa Barbara Newsroom, an experimental project launched by a group of journalists.

Until May 11, Kevin Hosseini will have a painting displayed at the Carpinteria Valley Arts Council, 855 Linden Ave. Photo by Edgar Oliveira / SBN
Until May 11, Kevin Hosseini will have a painting displayed at the Carpinteria Valley Arts Council, 855 Linden Ave.. Photo by Edgar Oliveira / SBN

* * * WATCH THE VIDEO * * *

(Originally published on April 7, 2007)

Perhaps like many artists, Kevin Hosseini can get frustrated to the point of hurling his paintbrush across the room when a piece isn’t coming together.

But unlike others, the 12-year-old Carpinteria resident benefits from a one-word reminder neatly handwritten on a note next to his easel: “Calm.”

Kevin was diagnosed at an early age with autism, a developmental disability related to the central nervous system that can cause people to become easily over-stimulated. But that hasn’t stopped Kevin from finding success.

A gifted oil painter, the sixth-grader at Carpinteria Family School has sold about 15 pieces to patrons who live as far away as New York City, as well as closer to home, including Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum and state Assemblyman Pedro Nava.

Kevin’s body of work grew so large that the family started selling the paintings. Photo by Edgar Oliveira / SBN
Kevin’s body of work grew so large that the family started selling the paintings. Photo by Edgar Oliveira / SBN

Until May 11, he will have a painting displayed at the Carpinteria Valley Arts Council (, at 855 Linden Ave. And on May 12, he will be one of 28 artists featured in Carpinteria’s first-ever home studio tour.

Kevin discovered his passion by accident about two years ago, when his behavioral therapist, Colin Zimbleman, who’s also an artist, came to the house with a canvas and paintbrush in the hopes of finding a fun activity that would bring a therapeutic effect.

It worked. In addition to the artistic success, Kevin still benefits from the lessons of life learned through painting. For instance, sometimes life is messy – sometimes you drop your brush on the floor and leave a splotch that needs cleaning. The key, Zimbleman tells him, is to solve the problem one step at a time: get a paper towel, get it wet, rub the floor clean, throw the towel away.

“Then it’s not some big heavy thing,” he said.

Painting became an obsession. Kevin’s body of work grew so large that the family started selling the paintings at modest prices for lack of space on the walls, said his mother, Debbie Hosseini. So far, he’s made a total of about $2,500 — not a bad stipend for a 12-year-old.

Every year, one in 150 children are diagnosed with autism. Photo by Edgar Oliveira / SBN
Every year, one in 150 children are diagnosed with autism. Photo by Edgar Oliveira / SBN

“He doesn’t have a lot of friends, so he gets satisfaction from his art,” she said, while sitting in the kitchen, as Kevin dabbed away on a brightly colored abstract painting of Bob Marley in the adjacent room. “Also, the recognition he gets is satisfying – people see him as a capable person.”

Every year, one in 150 children is diagnosed with autism. The disorder is especially prevalent among boys – one in 94. Twenty years ago, for reasons researchers have yet to decipher, the rate was one in 10,000.

Debbie and her husband, Carpinteria Sanitary District Financial Director Hamid Hosseini, started noticing something amiss with their son when he was around 2 years old.

He started forgetting words that he had learned; his vocabulary dwindled from about 75 words to 25. He became obsessed with lining up his toys in neat rows, and with watching water pour out of a hose. He started having gastro-intestinal problems.

As a toddler, Kevin would escape from the house at night and run into the darkness. At the time, the family lived near a creek in Carpinteria.

“One time I had 10 people out looking for him,” said Debbie, an accountant and computer programmer. “I was afraid he had drowned in the creek.”

Some of the episodes were scary. Once, when he was 4, the pair was on the freeway and he started acting up from the back seat. He wanted her to stay in the fast line, because he was fascinated with the yellow line.

“He started throwing things at my head, and he got out of his car seat, yelling ‘Yellow line! Yellow line!’ ” she said. “He tried to open the van’s back door.”

Now, thanks to years of behavioral therapy, Kevin is better able to control himself, and his parents are better trained in dealing with the tantrums. The biggest lesson: Do not respond to a child’s tantrum by giving him what he wants – until he settles down.

 gifted oil painter, the sixth-grader at Carpinteria Family School has sold about 15 pieces. Photo by Edgar Oliveira / SBN
gifted oil painter, the sixth-grader at Carpinteria Family School has sold about 15 pieces. Photo by Edgar Oliveira / SBN

But Debbie said she learned another, perhaps even more valuable lesson: Don’t just treat the weaknesses – focus on the strengths, too.

“He’s developed a skill that maybe he can use later on, instead of bagging up groceries,” she said. “Something that he’s passionate about.”

As for Zimbleman, who spends five hours a week with Kevin free of charge – his costs are covered by the Tri-Counties Regional Center — said he was blown away by Kevin’s natural ability as an artist.

“He’s got a Kevin style – people can see that,” he said. “Between the color, texture, the technique he uses, the subject matter – it all just kind of fits,” he said. “His work has a gut-level intensity to it.”

Click here to see more of Kevin’s art.

Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze

No resources? No problem. Carson High School robotics students make good use of junk

No resources? No problem. Carson High School robotics students make good use of junk


Originally published on May 9, 2014

What the Carson High robotics team lacks in resources, it more than makes up for in resourcefulness.

Carson High’s scrappy robotics program began two years ago with a shopping cart, which served as the team’s laboratory. The four founding teammates — all freshmen — spent weeks pushing it around campus, scavenging recycled materials and junk, such as broom sticks and scrap metal, that might prove useful for building an underwater remote operating vehicle.

These days, the team has a little more in the way of resources, but it remains a have-not.

Most notably, Carson High has no swimming pool, thereby complicating the effort to participate in the annual underwater robotics competition, which is happening Saturday in Long Beach.

But team members have a way of making things work, with a little help from their friends and neighbors.

One generous neighbor, the DoubleTree by Hilton in Carson, allowed the team to use its outdoor pool in the weeks leading up to today’s competition.

There, with happy-hour hotel guests sipping cocktails nearby, the teammates have perfected their two remote-controlled vehicles.

“We have to be as creative with materials as we can,”said coach Tammy Bird, a science teacher. “It’s all about repurposing materials. … It’s completely ‘MacGyver.’ ”

Built in the shape and size of microwave ovens, the sibling robots are a complex confection of PVC pipes, broomstick handles, bilge pumps used in boat toilets, scrap metal, diapers (for waterproofing electronics), underwater cameras and skeins of wire. The curious creations are manned by a kid on the surface with an Xbox controller connected to a laptop. The robots are capable of plunging to the bottom of the pool, motoring across the surface, picking up debris, opening doors and collecting samples.

“It’s kind of like the Mars rover, where you’re sending something out to collect data, since we can’t be there,” said Bird, the lead teacher with the school’s Environmental Science, Engineering and Technology Academy.

The months of hard work have led to the annual Marine Advanced Technology Education competition, which is happening all day today at Long Beach City College.

Historically, the team has fared surprisingly well, given its meager resources. In both its first and second showings, Carson High placed fourth out of the 15 or so regional competitors.

“We beat both CAMS teams last year, and they’re an engineering school,” Bird said. “The kids said, ‘Sorry Miss Bird, we didn’t win the competition.’ I’m like ‘Oh hell, you won — you beat both CAMS teams!’ ”

The only Los Angeles Unified School District competitor in Saturday’s event, Carson High is an unlikely robotics standout. It’s an urban school serving a largely low-income population that is among the most diverse in LAUSD. The school’s test scores lag far below the state average.

Of the team’s 24 members, only one or two have a parent who works in the field. None has a car; they make the two-mile trek from the school to the DoubleTree by skateboard, foot or bicycle. (The school technically has two teams — one for each robot.)

Team captain Jelani Dozier was among the four freshmen who pioneered the program two years ago. He fondly remembers pushing the shopping cart around campus that first year in search of materials.

“We have this thing at our school called the graveyard,” he said. “That’s where teachers throw out old desks and stuff they don’t need, old computers that don’t work.”

The cart made passes through there. And Bird still chuckles about how things from her classroom and school garden went missing — and wound up on the robot.

“One of my teacher boxes with wheels to cart my books and stuff around — the wheels disappeared on that,” she said. “The rotors on my sprinkler heads were used for propellers.”

The team’s biggest score that first year was an empty five-gallon water jug, which became the core component to that first legendary robot, “Bottlenose Porpoiseful,” named after the dolphin-like marine mammal.

“The shopping cart was their laboratory, and people laughed at them,” said Nuu “Tui” Tuimoloau, a retired college counselor who volunteers with the team.

The team got the last laugh: their contrivance was the fastest robot in the competition.

True to scrappy form, the Carson High roboteers have tricked out their creations with a few enhancements that have tested the limits of the rules of the game — prompting organizers to rewrite them. For instance, the Bottlenose Porpoiseful had wheels — the ones that disappeared from the teacher cart — enabling the charismatic device to scoot along the bottom of the pool when the intent is for the robots to hover and be “neutrally buoyant.”

Now, wheels are expressly forbidden. Dozier views the new rule as a badge of honor.

“We thought outside of the box,” he said.

The premise of this year’s game mimics an eerie reality on Lake Huron, one of the five Great Lakes. On the bed of the chilly waters separating northeast Michigan from Canada are hundreds upon hundreds of shipwrecks.

Each team is meant to be a company vying for a contract to help identify the “ships,” which in reality will consist of sundry props — such as dinner plates or ship masts fashioned out of PVC pipe — at the bottom of an Olympic-size swimming pool.

Students must use their robots to pick up china, open doors, collect samples and take pictures, among other things. While achieving these tasks, the driver and co-pilot cannot be within direct view of the robots — the camera on the robot and monitor in front of them must serve as their eyes.

“It’s a real and relevant scenario,” Bird said.

For students, the program has led to real and relevant career opportunities. One junior on the team, Jennifer Baysa, this summer will work as a paid intern at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

Dozier, who had been pinning his post-high school hopes on football, said he has found a new career path.

“Because of this, I’ve been able to go with Ms. Bird to places like Raytheon and Northrop Grumman and see what they’ve been doing,” he said. “It’s kind of changed my perspective on what I want to do after college. I want to be some form of mechanical engineer.”

Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze

New CSU Chancellor does a little break dancing during visit to local campus

New CSU Chancellor does a little break dancing during visit to local campus

Timothy White, the new chancellor of the California State University system, introduced his folksy brand of leadership Tuesday to the Dominguez Hills campus in Carson, where he wandered about and chatted up students, professors and janitors alike.

At one point, the 63-year-old former president of the American Academy of Kinesiology and Physical Education even kicked off his shoes to gamely take a stab at performing the most rigorous of break-dancing moves: the backspin.

White, the seventh president of the nation’s largest university system – and the first who is the product of it – seemed genuinely at ease while shooting the breeze with students, even as a swarm of media cameras captured his every move.

“How are you going to make the world better?” he asked Evelyn Murillo, a junior in an anthropology class that was abruptly interrupted by the entourage.

“I want to become an FBI agent,” she answered shyly.

“You know, there are some amazing opportunities in the FBI,” White responded. “You use your brain, so it’s rewarding. And it’s steady. The work will never run out in today’s world. ”

Cal State University's new Chancellor Timothy White visited Cal State Dominguez Hills Tuesday to meet with faculty and students. (Steve McCrank / Staff Photographer)
Cal State University’s new Chancellor Timothy White visited Cal State Dominguez Hills Tuesday to meet with faculty and students. (Steve McCrank / Staff Photographer)

When he took the reins in December, White assumed the top job on the heels of the retirement of his polarizing predecessor, Charles Reed, who endured heavy criticism during an era that saw simultaneous tuition hikes for students and salary increases for incoming university presidents. The strife led to union strikes on the part of faculty and hunger strikes on the part of students. Rightly or wrongly, Reed was characterized as out of touch.

Perhaps in an attempt to distance himself from the acrimony, White set a certain tone in November when he requested a pay cut. The move shaved his salary from $421,500 to $380,000.

In keeping with that tone, White on Tuesday stressed the importance of staying in touch with the students and faculty he serves.

“I started college in 1966, and since that day – until I started this position – I’ve always been on a college campus, either as a student or a post-doc or a faculty member or administrator,” said White, who earned his bachelor’s at Fresno State, master’s at Cal State Hayward and doctorate at UC Berkeley. “So I’ve always had the intellectual life around me, the student life around me. Now I’m in an office that doesn’t have students. ”

White, of course, enjoys a luxury that his predecessor didn’t have: the November passage of Proposition 30, a statewide tax hike that essentially stopped the financial bleeding that sent tuition rates soaring.

It’s a blessing that he doesn’t forget to count.

“I think there is light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “(Prop. 30) allowed us to start investing in things that matter. … Voters in California have said enough is enough. I’m willing to pay more taxes. It may not help me personally, but it does help society.”

Still, he stopped short of making any guarantees that tuition won’t rise again after 2013-14.

“We can certainly commit to it this year and for next year,” he said. “What I want to be careful of is to not lock ourselves into financial economic boxes that we can’t get out of. ”

White seemed to make a good impression on students. On Tuesday, he was sought out by a female student who’d heard about his break-dancing stunt in which White, following a flash mob organized by the university’s dance department, allowed himself to be coached on how to perform a backspin.

After effusively shaking White’s hand and having a brief chat, 46-year-old Yvette Lee explained her enthusiasm to reporters as White – his salt-and-pepper hair still mussed up from the backspin stunt – walked into a classroom.

“Having a real person who is so important taking the time to walk through – he’s interested,” she said. “He’s really interested. ”

Also impressed with White so far is Dave Bradfield, head of the faculty union at Dominguez Hills.

“It’s a positive change in style, and I hope there’s a change in substance as well,” he said.

Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze

Embattled Centinela Valley school district Superintendent Jose Fernandez gives himself pay cut

Embattled Centinela Valley school district Superintendent Jose Fernandez gives himself pay cut

March 11, 2014


Kicking off a wild school board meeting that drew some 300 furious residents, Centinela Valley high school district Superintendent Jose Fernandez — who has come under intense scrutiny for a compensation package that amounted to $663,000 last year — announced he would voluntarily cut many of the perks embedded in his contract, bringing his salary to $295,000.

Although Fernandez said the amount of last year’s total compensation — which includes perks and benefits — has been exaggerated by the media, he nonetheless offered to forfeit a bevy of benefits, most notably the annual 9 percent raise embedded in his contract as a bonus for longevity.

“These are significant give-backs,” he said, over a rising chorus of jeers. “I hope they reassure the public and the board that I’m being reasonable.”

The five-member board and superintendent overseeing four high schools in Hawthorne and Lawndale have been buffeted by criticism that has only intensified since the Daily Breeze first reported on Fernandez’s compensation package on Feb. 9. In addition to his pay and benefits, Fernandez also took a $910,000, low-interest loan from the school district to purchase a home in affluent Ladera Heights for the same amount.

Last week, in response to the controversy, state Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, proposed a bill that seeks, among other things, to assign more responsibility to the Los Angeles County Office of Education to police excessive compensation packages for school leaders.

Fernandez’s gesture Tuesday night did little to quell public outrage over his employment contract, which was unanimously approved in 2009 by the five board members, four of whom remain on the panel.

Dozens of speakers — many of them students from Hawthorne, Leuzinger and Lawndale high schools — stepped up to the microphone in the Centinela Valley Center for the Arts in Lawndale and excoriated Fernandez and the board. Many called on them to resign.

“You serve us, because we have elected you to serve at our pleasure,” said Danielle Sevilla, a resident in the district. “Do not put this community through a costly and traumatic recall process. Do the right and honorable thing and step down.”

Several speakers came to the board bearing props. One student placed a broken-down computer upon the stage, saying it was from the computer lab at Leuzinger High.

In a surreal moment, early on in the meeting, a livid Lawndale resident named Jay Gould threw a fistful of dollar bills at the board on the stage, shouting that all they care about is money. For hours afterward, the dollar bills lay strewn across the stage after speaker after speaker took the microphone to lambaste the board.

“You are the only superintendent who doesn’t work the whole school year — you get 60 days of vacation, while the rest of us who pay your salary get two weeks,” said Hawthorne resident Kristel Lindner. “You can say all you want that you’ve done a great job, but buildings don’t teach students. Last school board meeting you said we should have come sooner and these problems could have been fixed sooner.”

Among the many students to address the board was Lawndale High student Fatima Alvarez.

“Our parents work two to three jobs to take care of us … and they expect you to do your job,” she said to loud cheers. “It is not nice to be corrupt, it is not fair for us.”

Fernandez argued that the Daily Breeze was misleading by publishing the total amount of his compensation package in calendar year 2013, rather than the 2012-13 school year.

“It is very misleading,” he said. “I’m the victim of that.”

However, when the Daily Breeze asked officials from the Los Angeles County Office of Education for the total compensation of several area superintendents, the agency responded by sending W-2 forms for the calendar year 2013, saying that was the way the agency calculates total compensation. The total amounts for the leaders of Torrance, Redondo Beach and Palos Verdes school districts were all in the $200,000s. The total compensation for Fernandez exceeded $663,000.

Toward the beginning of the meeting Tuesday evening, Lorena Gonzalez — the newest member of the board — asked the audience why she doesn’t see any of them attend regular school board meetings to commend students for their academic accomplishments.

She was shouted down by the angry crowd and gave up on trying to finish her thought.

Several speakers later addressed the comment when addressing the board.

“Your comment, Ms. Gonzalez, is highly offensive to me,” said resident Melanie Bell. “I take it personally. I have a reason I’m not here. I was working and am trying to raise good citizens in this community.”

Gonzalez later apologized to that parent.

“You’re absolutely right, we cannot always be here,” said Gonzalez, a banking executive and a mother of four students who attended district schools. “I work 10-hour shifts as well.”

Gonzalez noted that she has been on the board just two years, though she did not point out that she wasn’t among the board members who approved Fernandez’s contract.

“There is a lot to learn,” she said. “It’s not an excuse, and I’m not excusing myself.”

In his comments, board member Hugo Rojas struck a contrite tone.

“I’m sorry to everyone that you have to be here, and that we have to be in this room dealing with this matter,” he said. “That is my apology to you.”

Like she did in the previous board meeting, President Maritza Molina came to Fernandez’s defense.

“I am pleased that Superintendent Fernandez is ready to voluntarily and unilaterally take the pay cuts he has outlined tonight,” she said. “This is a good sign that the superintendent is listening to the concerns of the public and of this board. It is a sign of progress and we will be carefully watching as he makes good on his promises.”

However, she added, the superintendent’s voluntary concessions are “not the end of the story…As far as I am concerned, all elements — let me repeat, all elements — of that compensation package must be on the table during our negotiations.”

Staff writer Rebecca Kimitch contributed to this article.

Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze

iPad Craze Hits South Bay Schools

iPad Craze Hits South Bay Schools

For students in Gina Ball’s algebra class at Adams Middle School in Redondo Beach, taking quizzes on work sheets has suddenly become a thing of the past – now they just use the iPad.

At Pacific Elementary School in Manhattan Beach, fourth-graders in Paula Noda’s class no longer write essays about an annual trip to a mission in Orange County – now they put together an iPad video, complete with theme music, sound effects and panning.

At Richmond Street Elementary in El Segundo, first-graders practice their letters not with a pencil but with their index fingers, which they trace against the screen of – you guessed it – the iPad.

The iPad craze has officially hit South Bay schools, which this fall began snapping up the sleek devices by the dozen, and in some cases by the hundred. At about $600 a pop (not counting the cost for programs), it’s a considerable expense, especially in this era of unprecedented cutbacks.

But educators insist the investment is worth it because the iPads are the wave of the future, not a passing fad. Especially in light of Apple’s recent announcement about jumping into the textbook game.

“There is not a ton of debate about whether this is a direction the schools are heading,” said Annette Alpern, assistant superintendent of instructional services at the Redondo Beach Unified School District. “The question is more: How quickly will the future arrive?”

Pacific School Mission IMovie from Paula Noda on Vimeo.

Leading the charge is Manhattan Beach Unified, which purchased 560 devices for a pilot project this fall. That’s one machine for every dozen kids in the K-12 school district – although many more students get a little face time with the iPads, as the devices are rotated from class to class, usually on a cart with wheels.

When it comes to the use of the tablet computer in the classroom, Manhattan Beach is the district to watch – and not just because it has purchased so many. For one thing, it is training teachers from throughout the South Bay how to use the tablets. Perhaps more to the point, the district is trying to take a scientific approach, meaning it is not only charting a pedagogical course, but taking data in the process. Specifically, the district is periodically surveying students, teachers and parents on the effectiveness of the pilot.

“We want to demonstrate that it helps teachers to teach and students to learn,” district spokeswoman Carolyn Seaton said. “If we can’t demonstrate that, then this isn’t a pilot worth expanding.”

Pierce Kingston and Natalie Trayton were quick to figure out the steps to making a movie with their iPads. Pacific Elementary School, Manhattan Beach. Photo by Brad Graverson
Pierce Kingston and Natalie Trayton were quick to figure out the steps to making a movie with their iPads. Pacific Elementary School, Manhattan Beach. Photo by Brad Graverson

The verdict so far: The iPads are enhancing the learning process.

But the rosy review isn’t without its caveats. For instance, preliminary results show that the high levels of enthusiasm exhibited by teachers and students at the elementary level tends to wane slightly as the age groups get older, with high schools demonstrating the lowest levels.

As for test scores, they’ve gone up significantly in the one example studied by the district to date: a middle-school science chapter test on DNA, where the percentage of students scoring proficient or better has climbed in a year from 63 to 76 percent.

Another caveat: The initial wow factor seems to be waning somewhat.

While 97 percent of the participating teachers in Manhattan Beach reported in November that the iPad makes class more engaging, that proportion had dropped to 86 percent by the end of January. The proportion of students who said so also dropped, though less steeply, from 81 to 77 percent.

Also trending downward was the share of teachers reporting that the iPad has made the classroom a more innovative place for learning: from 82 percent in November to 68 percent in January.

Richard Clark, professor of educational psychology and technology at USC, is a voice of caution amid the storm of infectious enthusiasm.

While he agrees that the iPad can be a good teaching tool, he questions the oft-stated claim that it better motivates students to learn.

“Research shows that it’s true for maybe an hour, but when students see they have to work just as hard, the motivation can go away,” he said.

He added: “We’ve known for half a century that media doesn’t make any difference in learning, any more than the truck that delivers groceries to the store increases the nutrition of the customers that are there.”

Be that as it may, the general consensus among South Bay educators is that the tablets are here to stay.

“I’ve never seen so much excitement from the students – nor commitment from me,” said Ball, the algebra teacher at Adams Middle School who has been in the business for 20 years.

Among her favorite aspects of the devices is their ability to provide instant feedback. Gone is the need to lug home a stack of quizzes in her briefcase – the machines spit out the grades in real time. Right away, she can see that most of the class mastered question No. 2, but also missed question No. 6. She then can immediately devote her teaching energy to that weak spot.

The fervor also has spilled over into the realm of special education.

Richard Bernard, a veteran science instructor for the South Bay region’s hearing-impaired high school students – who, despite being teens, tend to read and write at about a second-grade level – said the iPad has completely upended the way in which he teaches.

“Many teachers are using the iPad as a tool,” he said. “My approach is it is the tool.”

No longer does Bernard deliver lectures in front of the class, a routine he did every day until this year. Instead, the students – who attend class at Mira Costa High in Manhattan Beach – learn at their own pace using apps that provide real-time feedback on whether they are mastering the material and ready to move on to the next thing.

“I’m not a teacher anymore – I’m kind of the group leader,” he said, though students still must demonstrate to him that they have mastered the standards before advancing to the next level.

Tablet technology doesn’t come cheap.

The Manhattan Beach school district shelled out about $400,000 for this year’s batch of devices. Soon, the school board will consider whether to expand the program and, if so, by how much. The options range from spending no money next year to doubling down on the current $400,000 program to shelling out nearly $3 million for “full implementation” – that is, one iPad per child districtwide.

The Redondo Beach school district has purchased about 200 iPads so far and there are plans to buy more, Superintendent Steven Keller said.

“The days of hardware and plugging in are more and more passe,” he said. “This is the way students are learning. We need to lean into this.”

The enthusiasm among South Bay educators for tablet technology extends to California State University, Dominguez Hills. The Carson campus now uses the iPad in several courses, such as developmental math and classes for teachers in training.

Among the believers is Jeff Miller, an associate professor in the college of education.

But he worries iPad fever could exacerbate what is widely referred to as the digital divide, in which students from low-income schools don’t have the same access to technology as their peers in more affluent areas.

He also cautions that the iPad should be a tool for teaching, not the teacher in and of itself.

“My fear would be some teachers just give out the iPad and say, `Go online and try to find something out,’ rather than really giving them guidelines,” he said.

Seaton of the Manhattan Beach school district agrees.

“An iPad doesn’t teach the kid,” she said, “the teacher does.”

Follow Rob Kuznia on Twitter at


A Hippie and His Van: They’re a Piece of Work, Man

A Hippie and His Van: They’re a Piece of Work, Man

With a flair for flamboyance, One Feather is turning heads – and making a living off donations from tourists eager to take pictures with his masterpiece.

By Rob Kuznia, Noozhawk Staff Writer | Published on 06.30.2008

Sure, a lot of hippies live in a van, but rare is the hippie who uses that same van as his meal ticket.

Meet the man who goes by the name One Feather.

Part stand-up comedian, part freak-show carnival announcer, part “peace and love” preacher, the 46-year-old Jesus lookalike – who refuses to divulge his birth name – has created a piece of work that is difficult not to stare at.

The vehicle is so bristling with décor that not a spot of original van can be seen.

The eclectic assemblage of about 5,000 pieces affixed to the so-named “Temple of One Love” includes a full-size trombone, hundreds of plastic action figures, two 10-speed bicycles, an Irish harp, several small piano keyboards, dozens of guitar picks embossed with an alien face, an 8-foot missile a la Planet of the Apes, vintage toy Tie Fighters from Star Wars, an acoustic guitar and a Jesus action figure riding a Harley – to name just a few.

Hippie One Feather has turned his van, ‘Temple of One Love,’ into a one-of-a-kind piece of art with thousands of figurines, instruments and other items. (Rob Kuznia / Noozhawk photo)
Hippie One Feather has turned his van, ‘Temple of One Love,’ into a one-of-a-kind piece of art with thousands of figurines, instruments and other items. (Rob Kuznia / Noozhawk photo)

But the real piece of work here is not the van. It’s the man.

With his bushy beard and long, wavy brown hair, One Feather presents himself every day as the quintessential hippie. For him, going to work means pulling the van into the parking lot at East Beach, taking a seat in a lawn chair and talking to tourists, who seem to be gravitationally attracted to his van.

His only request: a small cash donation in return for a photo.

“Take a trip! It’s all visual – no drugs are needed,” he calls out from his folding chair, his belly hanging out from beneath his too-short T-shirt, as bemused beachgoers walk past. “I’ve already done them – for your viewing pleasure.”

At first blush, One Feather seems stereotypically hippie, to the point of being cartoonish. His inflection carries that stonerlike quality of sounding perpetually surprised. And he’s definitely stoned, which he’s proud to admit. But he’s also a quick improviser and, some might say, a savvy entrepreneur.

One Feather likes to say that he hasn’t worked a day since the start of the millennium – that is, the year 2000. For that he can thank passers-by – most of them tourists – who for seven years have provided him with enough in tips to get by. He declined to say how much he earns.

However, it’s a stretch to say he isn’t working. In fact, during weekday hours his friends avoid popping by, knowing he’ll be working the crowd.

That is when he can be seen posing for pictures, rib-jabbing kids, cracking bumper-sticker-worthy remarks to passers-by and chatting up senior citizens, all while looking for a new audience.

One Feather makes a living off donations from tourists who want their picture taken with his van. (Rob Kuznia / Noozhawk photo)
One Feather makes a living off donations from tourists who want their picture taken with his van. (Rob Kuznia / Noozhawk photo)

“Just say no to Bush!” One Feather shouts to high-schoolers walking by. “If you’re going to say no to drugs, spell (no) with a ‘k’!”

Despite the coy references to drugs and sex, parents of small children seem not only unfazed but drawn to the loquacious hippie. The irony of his mainstream acceptance isn’t lost on One Feather.

“What was once called a hippie or a freak show is now called a tourist attraction,” he said during a pause in the foot traffic. “Please make sure to write that down.”

One afternoon, a family of four from Thousand Oaks approached the van on their four-seat bicycle. They were puzzled but not offended.

“It might be weird for some people, but he’s doing whatever he needs to do to keep out of trouble,” said the father, Silas Nesheiwat. “He’s passionate about – something.”

The mother, Reem, added, “My first thought, when I saw the Jesus picture, was, does he really believe in Jesus?”

One Feather loves this question.

“The world doesn’t need more Christians,” he said. “The world needs more Christ.”

A self-described “Jesus freak” once known for roaming local streets in robes, One Feather says Christians need to unlearn some of the individualistic principles of the religion.

“We’re all one. We’re all one in the spirit of love, bro,” he said. “Brother, I’m living on miracles. I’m living on love.”

A native of Pennsylvania, One Feather says he moved to California after high school. He joined the military, where he trained to become a nurse. Alas, he and the military turned out to be a bad fit.

“The greatest gift that (Uncle) Sam gave me was throwing me out for smokin’ the chronic,” he said.

One Feather went to jail for a few weeks and lost his stripes, but upon his release drew on his military nursing experience to land jobs at hospitals, he said. He was 33 when he found the van. The way he tells it, the story is serendipitous. One Feather had broken up with his girlfriend of three years in Olympia, Wash. He didn’t own a vehicle and decided it was time to get one. He wanted to leave town.

One afternoon, he was bicycling home from work after receiving his first $400 paycheck when he came across a man putting up a for-sale sign on a 1976 Dodge Sportsman. The man turned out to be the husband of a woman who was nine months pregnant. They were homeless. Child welfare officials had warned the couple to sell the van and find an apartment or lose the baby to the state. One Feather and the man made a deal. One Feather ended up with the van, and the couple got to keep their baby.

One Feather’s first project for the van was to paint, above the windshield, a picture of Earth cradled by “the hands of God — one male, one female, one black, one white.”

Another satisfied customer drops a dollar in the globe.
Another satisfied customer drops a dollar in the globe.

Shortly afterward, in 1996, Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Jerry Gay took pictures of One Feather and his van. The photo was published in a book by Gay titled Everyone Has a Life to Live.

In the black-and-white photo, the van, despite being used as a canvas for hippie paintings, looks plain compared to the flamboyance of its current incarnation.

One Feather is in the photo. Then, as now, he’s the true work of art, standing before the van in a white robe.

One Feather definitely isn’t shy, or passive. He approaches groups of tourists as they approach the van in a kind of pre-emptive strike.

“It’s not my fault, man,” he says to a group of young men. “It’s my older brother’s fault. He was a hippie, man. He’s the one that put that little piece of paper on my tongue.” He laughs like Popeye – a disarming “Ge ge ge ge ge ge!”

The people laugh and one of them sticks a $5 bill into the collection plate – which in this case is a globe with a slit cut into the North Pole. Not long after, a little boy who says he’s going into first grade shyly approaches the hippie from a four-seat bicycle occupied by his mother.

“I like your van,” the boy says.

One Feather puts his hands on his knees, like an umpire. “What’s your favorite part?” he asks.

“The whole thing,” the boy answers.

“What do you think the most important thing in life is?” One Feather asks.

“I don’t know.”

“Be happy?”


“Yeah. High five! You’re a smart kid.”

The boy returns to the bike and rides away, waving.

Not long after, One Feather stops to chat with a couple from the Bay Area. They say they’ve seen many vehicles like this, but One Feather’s work is the finest. He asks if they think his handiwork could have a shot at being in a museum exhibit. They say yes.

They also praise the chalkboard on the side of the van, on which One Feather likes to scrawl quotes. On this day, the quote is, “If you see yourself in others, than whom can you harm?”

The man from the Bay Area tells him about a good quote he saw recently. “America must be a melting pot: As the citizens burn on the bottom, the scum floats to the top.”

One Feather’s eyes light up.

“The scum floats to the top,” he repeats. “I like that! Sounds like I have a quote for tomorrow.”

Pacific Standard Magazine

Red Meat: A Healthy Choice?

An award-winning journalist says not red meat but refined carbohydrates are responsible for heart disease, diabetes, cancer and many other maladies of civilization. He and other experts weigh in.

Red Meat: A Healthy Choice?

In the wake of the meteoric rise and fall of the Atkins Diet, the concept of eating red meat in recent years has taken a beating in the wider public consciousness.

From books like Fast Food Nation — which brought to light the foul quality of much of the meat in fast food — to attack ads like a recent PETA campaign portraying Inconvenient Truth-teller Al Gore as a portly hypocrite for eating meat, the general message has been that meat is bad. Even environmentalists have joined in, stressing that a calorie of cow has a much larger carbon footprint than a calorie of carrot.

Moreover, many nutritionists and doctors have for decades warned that eating too much red meat is unhealthy.

“The less red meat, the better,” Dr. Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, told Time magazine in 2001, in an article titled “Red Alert on Red Meat.” “At most, it should be eaten only occasionally. And it may be maximally effective not to eat red meat at all.”

At the same time, vegetarianism is increasingly associated with going green and living healthfully. In What to Eat — a widely praised book that came out in 2006 — leading nutritionist Marion Nestle says vegetarians are “demonstrably healthier than meat eaters.”

But are steak dinners really so bad for our health? A controversial, award-winning journalist who is making the rounds on the university lecture circuit says no. In his book, Good Calories, Bad Calories, Gary Taubes isn’t so much endorsing red meat as he is challenging the very foundation on which the nutrition establishment bases its advice.

“(The balanced diet) has the advantage of being politically correct,” he wrote. “Whether it is healthier, however, than, say, a mostly meat diet absent any refined or easily digestible carbohydrates … is still anybody’s guess.”

His 450-page book, which came out in the fall, hypothesizes that the maladies of western civilization — heart disease, cancer, obesity and even Alzheimer’s — are caused not by the red meat and saturated fat we’ve been told to avoid but by the refined carbohydrates that until recent years were largely overlooked and in many cases even encouraged.

The book isn’t necessarily setting out to vindicate the Atkins Diet, which encourages people to eat meat, eggs, cheese and animal products and abstain from white bread, sugars, potatoes and other carbohydrates. Still, its conclusions amount to a tacit endorsement.

To some extent, Taubes’ book, which delves deep into the history of nutrition research, is bolstered by a surprising spate of recent studies indicating that the Atkins Diet not only may be the most effective weight-loss method but may also protect against heart disease.

Nonetheless, experts of all stripes say long-range studies are still lacking.

Agreement — Up to a Point
Speaking with, Taubes, a self-described carnivore, said his research has led him to believe that humans can thrive on all-meat diets. Indeed, he says, some of the world’s healthiest populations lived this way for centuries.

“The fuel for the low-fat dogma was a kind of anti-meat movement that started in the 1960s,” he said. “I think back to the ’80s, when I was eating skinless chicken breast, pasta and burritos and believed if I had a steak I was going to kill myself. But there never was any particularly compelling evidence that red meat, per se, was particularly bad for you.”

Taubes’ ideas are shunned by much of what he likes to call the nutrition establishment. By now, most of the experts in the field know his name, and many resent his characterization of their life’s work as fatally flawed. His 2002 New York Times article, “What If It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?,” is widely credited for single-handedly reviving the Atkins craze — for a time. The headline alone suggests today’s nutrition experts might be about as wrong as the ones who once insisted that the sun rotates around Earth. In fact, it’s an analogy that Taubes regularly invokes to illustrate how backward he thinks many dieticians have it.

For all of Taubes’ contrarian views, some experts are coming to his defense. His book has been endorsed by Michael Pollan, author of the best-selling The Omnivore’s Dilemma. In his latest book, In Defense of Food — published this year — Pollan refers to Good Calories, Bad Calories as an “important new book.”

To Taubes’ own shock, his work has been publicly praised by Dr. Andrew Weil, the alternative-medicine guru who has long warned against eating too much red meat. In October, shortly after the release of Good Calories, Bad Calories, Weil, who shares a publisher with Taubes, was the lone expert in a group of three on Larry King Live who spoke favorably of the book. The TV moment created a mini-stir in the diet world and was streamed on YouTube.

“I think this is a very important book; I have been recommending it to my medical colleagues and students,” said Weil, eliciting a somewhat relieved-looking nod from Taubes, who had spent the first segment of the show sparring with Oprah Winfrey’s doctor. “He raises big questions, and I think there are some very big ideas in this book. One of them is that there is absolutely no scientific evidence for the belief that fat is the driver of obesity.”

(Later in the show, Winfrey’s doctor, Mehmet C. Oz — co-author of the best-selling You: On a Diet — called Taubes “psychotic” adding, “I think you really believe it’s true.”)

Both Pollan and Weil embrace one of Taubes’ biggest points: that the science leading to the government’s enduring recommendation to eat less fat — and in particular less saturated fat — was flawed, and alternative hypotheses, such as the one condemning simple carbohydrates, were pushed to the margins.

However, both Pollan and Weil stop short of sharing Taubes’ enthusiasm for red meat. Pollan urges people to “eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Weil repeats his praise for Taubes on his own Web site, which produced a deferential article called “The Surprising Reason People Get Fat,” but says he draws the line at the recommendation to eat a lot of meat. Instead, he steers people toward eating fish.

At least one meat-endorsing expert finds this paradox puzzling. Sally Fallon, who co-authored Eat Fat, Lose Fat with longtime nutrition maverick Dr. Mary Enig, criticized Pollan for not taking a stronger stance, even though his book gives props to the work of Enig. “He talks about (the merits of) traditional foods. Then when you get to his recommendations, they are the opposite of what he just said,” Fallon told “It’s like he forgot what he said.”

Disagreement Is the Spice of Life
Taubes is lecturing at more and more universities and academic conferences. The growing list includes the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Pennsylvania, Canada’s McGill University and the University of Southern California.

Taubes also may speak soon at the University of Minnesota, the birthplace of the now increasingly questioned notion that saturated fat and red meat cause heart disease.

One of Taubes’ critics is Willett, chair of the nutrition department at Harvard University, who was quoted in the Time article. Speaking to, Willett stood by his statement from seven years ago on the dangers of red meat.

He said he agrees that sugars and starches, from candy to potatoes, are problematic. In fact, he said, now that trans fats are on the run, refined carbohydrates have replaced them as the No. 1 nutritional problem in the United States. But just because those carbohydrates are bad, he said, does not mean red meat is good.

“You’ve got two bad things being compared,” said Willett, author of the best-selling Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy. “Empty calories increase weight gain. … If you replace that with red meat, it’s just about a wash.”

When it comes to heart disease, Willett, one of the leaders of a decades-long project called the Nurses’ Health Study, said he agrees that a diet heavy in red meat is no more dangerous than a diet heavy in refined carbohydrates. But he said red meat seems uniquely correlated to other ailments, such as colon cancer.

“It does look like you would be better eating less red meat,” he said, “particularly processed red meat.”

Willett recommends a diet high in polyunsaturated fats, the kind found in olive oil, fish, nuts, beans, poultry and “maybe some eggs.” Asked to comment on Taubes and his thesis, Willett said, “Taubes has simplistic answers, but there is no simple path to truth.”

Another expert, Dr. Diana Schwarzbein, says eating too few carbohydrates can be just as damaging as eating too many. Unlike Willett, Schwarzbein, an expert on hormone replacement therapy, says there is nothing wrong with eating red meat in moderation. But she says a dearth of carbohydrates leads to a shortage of the insulin needed to keep serotonin levels normalized in the brain. This, she says, can lead to such side effects as sugar cravings, depression, weight gain around the midsection and sleep disturbances.

In general, she believes people should consume two carbohydrate grams for every protein gram. Back in the high-carb craze of the 1980s, she says, the ratio was more like 10-to-1 or 20-to-1. But now “with the pendulum swung to the other end, and the overconsumption of protein, it’s more like 1-to-10 to 20,” she said.

“How ironic is it that the guy (Taubes) who says, ‘Hey, that (high-carb diet) is going too far’ is now advocating something extreme that is low-carb?” she said. “I believe in moderation.”

A Polarizing Figure
A three-time winner of the Science in Society award from the National Association of Science Writers, Taubes studied physics at Harvard and has written well-received books about other scientific controversies, such as cold fusion.

But he touched a nerve with “What If It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?” The gist of the article was that Atkins, who had always been widely maligned by experts, might have had it right all along. Maybe the diet was not only the best way to lose weight but also — contrary to what the leading authorities were saying — better for your health.

The article sparked an uproar. Reason magazine printed a scathing article about Taubes called “Big Fat Fake.” And some of the sources in Taubes’ article — including Willett — claimed they were quoted out of context.

In any case, “Big Fat Lie” led to a $700,000 book advance for Good Calories, Bad Calories.

The book took five years to write, and though obviously denser than the article, is no less provocative. While it devotes most of its pages to highlighting the flawed science that led to the many still-existing public notions about nutrition, it does dedicate one section to the possible health benefits of a diet that is 100 percent meat.

In this section, Taubes tells the story of anthropologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson, who dropped out of Harvard around 1900 and spent a decade with the Inuit, a tribe in Alaska and Canada. The Inuit ate nothing but animal fats — mostly caribou but also fish, seal, polar bear, rabbits and so on. They ate no fruits and vegetables and no carbohydrates.

“The Inuit, (Stefansson) insisted, as well as the visiting explorers and traders who lived on this diet, were among the healthiest if not the most vigorous populations imaginable,” Taubes wrote.

That experience later inspired Stefansson to embark on an experiment in which he and another man — Danish explorer Karsten Anderson — were the subjects. In 1928, overseen by a committee of researchers, the two men ate nothing but meat for one year. After a year of eating 2,600 calories a day, not only did the men lose weight; their blood pressure either dropped or stayed low, their kidneys continued to function without flaw and their mineral and vitamin counts displayed no deficiencies.

“The only dramatic part of the study was the surprisingly undramatic nature of the findings,” wrote Eugene DuBois, the Cornell researcher who summarized the results.

Most striking was the good health of the men despite their deprivation of fiber and Vitamin C — two nutrients lacking in a meat-heavy diet. Taubes explains this by positing a still-untested theory: Perhaps people only need these nutrients when their diets include significant amounts of sugars and starches.

However, the passage about Stefansson is the book’s lone example of an all-meat diet, and Taubes acknowledges that few scientists today will pay much heed to a study containing just two subjects. But few if any other all-meat studies have been done, he added.

“It would probably be considered unethical today,” he said.

In any event, Taubes isn’t convinced that it’s vital for diligent carb-watchers to consume much in the way of fruits, fiber or even leafy greens. “Once you remove (the sugars and white bread), I don’t know if you get any benefit from eating vegetables, other than that it might make your mother happy,” he said.

The best modern-day equivalent to the all-meat studies might be those looking into the merits of the Atkins Diet. Until about five years ago, no such studies existed.
The findings are surprising.

In 2003, a pair of studies from Pennsylvania published in The New England Journal of Medicine showed that the meat-heavy, carb-light diet showed not only good results on weight loss but also no adverse health effects. In 2007, a yearlong Stanford study comparing the effects of four different diets on obese women showed similar results: The Atkins Diet was, by a modest margin, the biggest pound-shedder. Also, the cardiovascular health of the Atkins women improved significantly: Their triglycerides plummeted, their blood pressure dropped and their high-density lipoprotein (also known as the “good cholesterol”) rose — all good results.

The study was “pretty much in line with what all the other studies have shown comparing Atkins and low-fat diets,” Bonnie Brehm, assistant professor of nutrition at the University of Cincinnati College of Nursing, told The Washington Post.

And just this month, a University of Illinois study concluded that a high-protein diet with lean meats and low-fat dairy foods was more effective for helping women lose weight without losing bone than a conventional weight-loss diet based on the food-guide pyramid.

“This is an important finding because many people, especially women in midlife, are concerned with both obesity and osteoporosis,” said Ellen Evans, a U of I associate professor of kinesiology, in a statement. “Many people lose bone mass when they lose weight.”

Still, it’s unclear in any of the cases whether the pounds stayed off, and researchers say studies tracking long-term health effects of Atkins are still lacking. Also, the Atkins studies certainly don’t jibe with Schwarzbein’s life experience as a practitioner: She blames the diet for the hormonal problems exhibited by many of her own patients.
The Atkins studies aren’t the only surprising developments of late.

In the book In Defense of Food, Pollan writes that the most up-to-date studies show that “the amount of saturated fat in the diet probably may have little if any bearing on the risk of heart disease.” He furthermore stated that researchers have been backpedaling from this so-called lipid hypothesis quietly, almost sheepishly.

“The lipid hypothesis is quietly melting away, but no one in the public health community, or the government, seems quite ready to publicly acknowledge it,” he wrote.

Origin of the Thesis
The widespread belief that saturated fat leads to heart disease started in the 1950s. The father of the theory was a University of Minnesota scientist named Ancel Keys, who championed a Mediterranean diet consisting primarily of fruits, vegetables, pastas and bread. His work has enjoyed tremendous staying power.

In 1977, when Sen. George McGovern drafted what came to be known as The Dietary Goals for the United States, he drew heavily on Keys’ research. The first recommendation: Increase carbohydrate consumption. The second (of six) was to decrease the amount of fat in the diet, particularly saturated fat. To this day, such carb-laden grains as bread, pasta and cereals still make up the largest share of the five food groups depicted on the Food Pyramid (now known as MyPyramid). The “Meat & Beans” group is still consigned to the smallest.

When Keys died in 2004 at age 101, The Washington Post published an obituary that — in the first paragraph — stated that he had “discovered that saturated fat was a major cause of heart disease.” (Atkins, by the way, died at age 72.)

If Taubes’ beliefs on carbohydrates are true, wrote Pollan, “then there is no escaping the conclusion that the dietary advice enshrined not only in the McGovern ‘goals’ but also in the National Academy of Sciences report, the dietary guidelines of the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society and the U.S. food pyramid bears direct responsibility for creating the health crisis that now confronts us.”

Pollan was referring to the oft-mentioned obesity epidemic, which officially began in the early 1980s, the dawn of the high-carb craze.

Willett acknowledges that some of the conclusions drawn from Keys’ studies were “overly simplistic.” But he says Keys’ contribution to science is still valuable. “The main thing that Ancel Keys did was show there was a huge difference in heart-disease rates in different countries,” he said.

As for the results of the recent Atkins studies, Willett isn’t surprised. “Those are the studies that compare a high-fat diet with a high-carbohydrate, -starch and -sugar diet,” he said. “Most of those studies show not very much of a difference.”

According to Willett, the real story is how the twofold increase in Americans’ consumption of polyunsaturated fats — fish, beans, nuts, lean meats — has coincided with a 50 percent drop in heart-disease deaths over the past 40 years.

“That was a huge public health accomplishment that was sort of overlooked,” he said.

(Pollan counters this point, however, by suggesting that the lower mortality rates may simply owe to better treatment of heart disease.)

Moving forward, Taubes says he would like to see a study comparing the mostly meat diet to the widely accepted idea of a “balanced diet.” To date, he says, it’s never been done.
He also calls for more studies in what he views as a specific area of neglect: the carbohydrate hypothesis, or the idea that eating too many starches and sugars is the main driver of obesity and heart disease.

“Such trials would be expensive,” Taubes wrote. “But it’s hard to imagine that this controversy will go away if we don’t do them.”

Other Freelance

Santa Barbara High Grad Faced Own Mortality

This article was published on the website of Santa Barbara Newsroom, an experimental project launched by a group of journalists.

Jerry Perez can remember the moment he decided to turn his life around and graduate from high school.

It was three years ago, and he was lying in what he thought might be his death bed, trying to console his sobbing mother.

Jerry Perez promised his mother he'd graduate. Photo by Rob Kuznia/SBN
Jerry Perez promised his mother he'd graduate. Photo by Rob Kuznia/SBN

The victim of a life-threatening kidney disease that had plagued him from birth with kidney stones, temporary paralysis and stunted growth, Jerry’s health troubles may have contributed to behavior issues that landed him in situations nearly as dangerous as the disease.

“My mom told me ‘All I want is for you to get a diploma in your hand,’ ” he said. “That’s when I promised her that I would get one.”

On June 14, he will fulfill that promise: Jerry will accept his piece of paper along with hundreds of other graduating seniors in cap and gown at Santa Barbara High School.

His path to a diploma has been a bumpy one, filled with the obstacles of not only disease, but also gang violence, divorce and the alcoholism of his father, who recently wound up homeless.

In one year’s time, owing largely to on-campus extracurriculars such as the low-riders bicycle club and the now-defunct Junior ROTC, Jerry went from nearly being expelled to being a student of the month, not to mention a favorite of many teachers and administrators.

Academic counselor Marcy Porter and Jerry got to be pals. Photo by Rob Kuznia
Academic counselor Marcy Porter and Jerry got to be pals. Photo by Rob Kuznia

Jerry still has a tough road ahead of him. Next year he plans to simultaneously take courses at City College and take care of his recovering father after he is released from the detox shelter. But his achievement of earning a diploma is significant. The youngest of three siblings, Jerry will be the first in his family to graduate high school. He hopes to one day become a Medical Emergency Technician.

“He’ll do fine in the world, because he’s got street smarts,” said Marcy Porter, an academic counselor at Santa Barbara High. “He’s also got a lot of personality.”


Jerry has come a long way from where he was that day three years ago at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital. His kidney disease – known as Renal Tubular Acidosis – was getting the better of him.

He’d been at the hospital about a week since waking up one day and realizing that he couldn’t move. It was one of those bouts of paralysis that results from dangerously low levels of potassium, and this episode was especially severe. He rode to the hospital in an ambulance.

At the time, however, his problems weren’t limited to poor health.

An undersized kid who, at the age of 8, had been told by doctors that he wouldn’t live past 12, Jerry developed a nihilistic anger that he tried to satiate with violence.

“There was nothing more to live for,” he said, while sitting on the couch in the subsidized apartment he shares with his mother on the Eastside. “Back then I didn’t care about nothing.”

Starting in junior high school, Jerry, who now, at age 17, stands at 5 feet 2 inches, became involved with gangs, and refused to back down from anyone who challenged him. Often, rivals made fun of his height.

Jerry Perez credits Junior ROTC for helping turn his life around. Courtesy photo
Jerry Perez credits Junior ROTC for helping turn his life around. Courtesy photo

Once, he walked into a throng of hostile boys on State Street. After some words were exchanged, one of the boys whacked Jerry on the upper back with a small baseball bat, knocking him to the pavement. Afraid of getting hit again, Jerry stayed face down on the ground until he was sure they were gone.

Another time, as Jerry walked past the fountain at the Paseo Nuevo shopping center on State Street, a kid he had never seen before referred to him as a “wetback midget.”

Jerry shoved the kid into the fountain, accidentally slamming the kid’s head onto a hard surface. A bystander called 911. As Jerry fled, he heard the ambulance approaching.

By the time Jerry was in the eighth grade, he’d been in so many fights – and had taken so many blows to the head – that he started suffering severe headaches.

To this day, the back of Jerry's neck bears the scar from a brain surgery he says was caused by fighting. Photo by Edgar Oliveira
To this day, the back of Jerry's neck bears the scar from a brain surgery he says was caused by fighting. Photo by Edgar Oliveira

“It really hurt when I laughed,” he said. “Like someone was pushing my head together.”

His mother, Lorena Garcia, now 40, took him to see a doctor at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Academic counselor Marcy Porter and Jerry got to be pals.
Academic counselor Marcy Porter and Jerry got to be pals. Photo by Rob Kuznia
It turned out to be a good idea. The doctor said tubes needed to be surgically implanted from his head to his spine to drain surplus liquids, which Jerry believes were caused by the fighting. (Jerry said the doctor didn’t speculate on the cause.) To this day, the back of his neck bears the scar from that surgery.

“The doctor told me, ‘You get hit in the head one more time and you’re done,’ “ he said. He is scheduled to have another checkup after graduation.


Although Jerry eventually promised to change his delinquent ways partly out of concern for his own safety, his main worry was his mother. He knew he was her last hope to see one of her children graduate on time.

An immigrant from Mexico who speaks no English, Garcia has long held three low-wage jobs, as a newspaper delivery woman, house cleaner and janitor.

Jerry and his mother were thrilled when he won the Cadet of the Year award. Photo by Edgar Oliveira/SBN
Jerry and his mother were thrilled when he won the Cadet of the Year award. Photo by Edgar Oliveira/SBN

Meanwhile, her family life has suffered. Her oldest son, now 24, dropped out of school and got heavily into gangs and drugs. Her daughter, now 19, also dropped out of school. Her husband was an alcoholic, and she divorced him about 10 years ago. She has since remarried.

But even after Jerry made the promise to his mother, he had a few slip-ups. On one such occasion, when he went to the principal’s office for yet another fight, he struck up a conversation with the secretary, Marcy Porter. (She has since taken a job at the school as a counselor.)

Due to his frequent trips to the office, the two had developed a rapport.

“She’s like, ‘You seem like the kind of guy who wants to be in charge,’ “ he said.


Porter told him about a class – Junior ROTC – in which students wore military uniforms and could make their way up the chain of command.

To this day, the back of his neck bears the scar from a brain surgery Jerry says was caused by fighting.
To this day, the back of Jerry’s neck bears the scar from a brain surgery he says was caused by fighting. Photo by Edgar Oliveira
The part about the uniforms made him uneasy, but Jerry decided to give it a shot. He enrolled in the class.

At first, he wasn’t nuts about the ROTC, and continued to get into trouble. But over time he excelled; his grades improved, and so did his attendance.

He rose to the rank of lieutenant, meaning he led a squad of cadets during drills. Unfortunately for Jerry, the program was cut after his junior year because of low enrollment. But he said he’ll never forget that last day of ROTC.

During that class, the teacher, Sgt. Steven Potts – who, like the class’s other teacher, was a contracted-out military man — forbade Jerry to perform his daily duties, such as doing roll-call, handing out reading materials and leading drills.

Later, the class held its annual awards ceremony. Expecting that he would receive at least one award, Jerry told his mother to come. She did. By the time the event was nearly done, however, Jerry still didn’t have anything.

“They didn’t call him and they didn’t call him,” said Garcia, speaking in Spanish. “He was nervous, biting his fingernails.”

Then, the instructor approached a table with a trophy covered in cloth. The two-foot–tall statue of a soldier was set aside for the Cadet of the Year. As the instructor unveiled it, the room fell silent: “It goes to Jerry Perez!”

His mother wept. Then the instructor started giving out more awards to Jerry.

“At the very end,” she remembers, “they began calling, ‘Jerry Perez, Jerry Perez, Jerry Perez’ – over and over again, ‘Jerry Perez!’ ”

His success with Junior ROTC bred further success. Jerry’s GPA jumped from around 1.3 after his freshmen year to his current 3.3. He became a student of the month.

This year, Jerry was awarded a $2,400 scholarship from Santa Barbara Scholarship Foundation. (He had to turn it down because his medical condition won’t allow him to sign up for the requisite 12 credits at City College.)

When the school board eliminated the Junior ROTC program, Jerry joined a low-rider bicycle club, of which he became secretary.

In addition, Jerry also started working as an office assistant at Captain Don’s Whale Watching Tours, where his struggling father has also been an employee.


Now Jerry is about to embark on what could be his most daunting challenge to date.

Recently, he was at school when he received a call on his cell phone from his boss, Don Hedden – also known as Captain Don. He called to tell Jerry that his father needed help, and should probably go to detox.

Jerry plans to live with his father when he gets out of detox. Photo by Edgar Oliveira
Jerry plans to live with his father when he gets out of detox. Photo by Edgar Oliveira

Jerry learned that his father, Jose Perez, 38, seemed to be having hallucinations. He had used his cell phone to call the police from the restroom of a bar to report that a strange man had been following him all day long, and was hiding in the next stall.

Officers arrived and checked the stall, but found no such man. When the officers left, Jose Perez swore that he saw the man following him again.

Jerry decided he needed to help his father. At the time, Jose Perez had been homeless for about six months, and was sleeping under the stars at East Beach.

A few weeks ago, in an effort to help coax his father into detox, Jerry spent some nights on the beach with him. They slept in sleeping bags inside a motorboat on loan from Captain Don.

Jose Perez agreed to check into a 14-day program at Casa Esperanza. Now, Jerry, who already has his hands full making plans for his graduation party, is looking for an apartment for them to share.

“I’m going to have a really busy life,” he said, “a lot of responsibility. It came really early to me.”

For his part, Jose Perez has made a promise to Jerry to turn his life around. It’s not unlike the promise Jerry made to his mother three years ago.

“I feel so happy by him,” Jose said. “I hope as soon as I get out of here I stay away from the alcohol. … I want to start a new life.”

But Jose Perez’s situation is tenuous: he said he still sees the man on occasion.

Jerry, meanwhile, said he has learned to set goals, and achieve them.

“It’s a goal that we have to reach,” he said of his father’s sobriety. “Now I have something to live for.”  ***