The Cambrian

Hwy. 1’s reopening to a miracle in Big Sur: Here are The Cambrian’s top stories of 2018

The year-end holiday season is a time for tradition, and one of The Cambrian’s annual rituals is looking back at the biggest North Coast stories of the year.

Here, in no particular order, is the 2018 list:

Mud Creek Open019
The first cars drive along the newly opened section of Hwy. 1 across the Mud Creek Slide earlier this year. Highway 1 will likely be closed at both Mud Creek and Paul’s Slide as a storm with heavy rain approaches. Joe Johnston

Highway 1 opens

After an 18-month closure of Highway 1 between Ragged Point and Big Sur, the renowned scenic stretch finally reopened on July 18, 2018.

Having the highway open again was a big deal for: Travelers, the businesses who serve them and the people who work at or deliver to those businesses; Hearst Castle; state highway and other road workers; and especially the people who live in or between Cambria and Carmel and, for so long, hadn’t been able to get from one area to the other on the All-American Highway.

A series of landslides in 2016 and 2017 had blocked or destroyed the pavement at Mud Creek and Paul’s Slide (respectively about 9 and 26 miles north of the county line), and damaged the Pfieffer Canyon Bridge so severely, it had to be replaced.

That award-winning bridge construction was completed in 2017. But it took an additional nine months for Caltrans and its contractors to recreate the pavement at Mud Creek and make that stretch of highway safe to traverse again. In the end, they wound up building a new road atop the stabilized slide material.

The Mud Creek openings (a soft opening on July 18 and a more festive ribbon-cutting ceremony two days later) were two months earlier than originally expected, despite the complexity of the job.

Caltrans, John Madonna Construction and other contractors had worked feverishly, dawn to dusk, seven days a week, to create a new roadway atop the slide materials at Mud Creek, where the road was obliterated when the mountainside let go.

The agency knows the land is continuing to move at Mud Creek and Paul’s Slide, which prompted Caltrans to develop a new protocol: Precautionary hard closures at either or both sites anytime the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency predicts a severe rainstorm in the Big Sur area.

When that protocol is activated, Caltrans warns residents and others of the possibility 48 hours in advance and reaffirms the warning 24 hours and again a few hours before padlocking the gates that keep everybody out until it’s safe again to drive on the world-famous scenic byway.

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The Aquabatix synchronized swimmers practice their routine at Hearst Castle in San Simeon before Sunday’s gathering to celebrate the restoration and reopening of the Neptune Pool. David Middlecamp

Neptune Pool

Enthusiasts gathered around Hearst Castle’s iconic, outdoor Neptune Pool on Oct. 21, celebrating that the iconic 104-by-95-foot outdoor landmark was full of water, totally refurbished and back to normal.

With the pool’s spectacular hilltop setting and sunlight dancing on the water, fog wafting over it or vivid sunrises and sunsets reflecting in it, the Neptune is reportedly one of the most frequently photographed pools in the world.

The exclusive October soiree — complete with synchronized swimmers — commemorated the years’-long, $5.4 million project to repair the pool and stop the many leaks in the iconic pool, some of which had been dripping for decades, despite other attempts to stem the trickles, seeps and flows.

It’s estimated that the pool — built in the 1920s, then redesigned and enlarged twice by William Randolph Hearst and architect Julia Morgan — was leaking from 2,000 to 5,000 gallons a day.

Because of those leaks and the prolonged drought, the pool had been empty most of the time since mid-2013, Then workers from T.B. Penick & Sons of San Diego began completely repairing, renovating, revamping, rehabilitating, retiling and waterproofing the pool. Conservators also worked on statues surrounding the pool.

The pool project’s planning process in Sacramento and San Simeon had been underway for about a decade; work on the job itself began in earnest in mid-2016.

Cambria water-sewer rates

When Cambrians get their water-sewer bills in January, the rates will be higher. A state-mandated process in which those customers could protest the increases failed to generate enough protests, and the higher rates took effect Nov. 1.

The revised notice of proposed rate increases sent Aug.17 estimated that, under the new rates, bi-monthly bills for the “average” single-family residence that uses 6 units of water every two months (or about 75 gallons a day) would increase to $211.30, from the current bill of $180.65. Use more water in a billing period, and rates per unit go up.

Nevertheless, some who felt the increases were too high, too soon, have estimated that the increases would be much higher.

A Proposition 218 movement objecting to those increases fell short by about 700 protest letters of stopping the new rates (1,268 protests had been submitted).

Getting from rate-increase concept to approval had been a bit messy.

There were problems with the original process and notices mailed out in July, so the district redrafted them and did another mailing.

In the revised notices of “Public Hearing on Proposed Increases to Water, Sustainable Water Facility and Sewer Rates,” the district also postponed that hearing and protest count to Oct. 4 from Aug. 30, in order to provide the district’s customers with the required amount of time to consider the proposal.

Vicki Schumacher, superintendent of Coast Unified School District, gives a presentation on the district’s finances and proposed budget cuts Jan. 11. Stephen H. Provost

Changes, changes

Shakeups and retirements in recent months have meant dramatic shifts in leadership at three key North Coast governmental agencies and a popular camp.

While Camp Ocean Pines had succession plans and its new executive — Andrew Boyd-Goodrich, who takes the reins Dec. 31 from 17-year camp veteran leader Chris Cameron and CFO Rosemay Cameron — the three agencies are still seeking their next leaders.

After months of closed-session discussions and public outcries, the Cambria Community Services District parted ways with its general manager, Jerry Gruber, who had been with the district since 2010 and became general manager in mid-2011. His final day was Sept. 27.

District Clerk Monique Madrid, who also was acting GM when Gruber was away, is the interim general manager until the board selects a new leader. However, the board on Dec. 13 hired Paavo Ogren, GM of the Oceano services district, to be a part time “strategic and organizational advisor” for six months to assist and mentor Madrid in management issues.

At that same meeting, David Pierson was elected board president and Harry Farmer, vice president.

Meetings of the Coast Unified School District Board of Trustees had for months been roiled by complaints by parents and teachers about the work, leadership and demeanor of Superintendent Victoria Schumacher. Those simmering objections increased in volume and frequency after belt-tightening, school-year-end budget cuts meant the loss or early retirement of some teachers and drastic reassignments of others.

Ultimately, the board and Schumacher hammered out an agreement Oct. 2 under which she would retire from active duty for the district on Jan. 3, but would be on medical leave (getting sick-leave pay) through June and a lump sum severance equal to three months of her current gross monthly salary, which replaces an 18-month buyout clause in her current contract, which had been set to run through June 30, 2021.

Schumacher was hired in May 2014.

Then at the board’s Dec. 13 meeting, Board President Samuel Shalhoub (who was reelected to that post by his peers) read a statement announcing that middle-school principal Kyle Martin would add to his duties the job of interim assistant superintendent, from Jan. 1 through June 30. In addition to his regular pay and benefits, Martin will receive an extra $2,500 a month, for a total of $15,000.

Shalhoub said later in a report on social media that the board is “still exploring the possibilities of filling the actual interim superintendent position later in January.”

Cambria Community Healthcare District administrator Bob Sayers retired in September. A month later, operations director/field paramedic Jason Melendy took on temporary, additional administrative duties as interim administrator. But two months later, he opted out of that assignment, saying that he was, in effect, doing three fulltime jobs, which was simply too much.

For now, the district’s only administrative employee is Heidi Holmes-Nagy, administrative services manager, who works fulltime.

At the board’s Dec.12 meeting, Barbara Bronson Gray was elected board president, Mileur as vice president and Fedoroff as secretary.

The board appointed retired physician Miguel Hernandez of Cambria to fill the board vacancy created by the recent retirement of Shirley Bianchi, a longtime public servant and former county supervisor. Because of her husband Bill Bianchi’s health issues, she also resigned as leader of the Cambria FireSafe Focus Group she helped to start.

The district Board of Directors (relabeled from “trustees” when the board approved a new set of bylaws) is continuing to research its options and search for a new administrative leader, although whether or not they’ll hire a fulltime top exec was still open for discussion, Fedoroff said earlier this month.

The board was to have met in a special closed session at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 26, at the Veterans Memorial Building, 1000 Main St., to discuss possible appointment of an administrator.

New medical clinic

The First California Physicians Partnership clinic in the Linnvestments medical building, 2150 Main St., is now open.

The main floor of the two-story structure had undergone lengthy, extensive, expensive renovations prior to the clinic’s opening on Dec. 3.

It’s taken years of negotiating and work to get the clinic here, starting with a community health survey (organized by Mileur and others) to determine what services area residents wanted.

Building owner John Linn also was very involved in getting FCPP in Cambria.

For now, internal medicine physician Alison Lewis is taking appointments Mondays through Thursdays, according to Christina Lyken, market operations manager.

Lyken said same-day appointments are available, adding that “in the future, we’re considering bringing in specialists,” and that FCPP is still “looking at bringing in xray” facilities. She said FCPP accepts most major insurances, including CenCal.

Patients who call 805-395-3277 for an appointment will be talking to someone at a care-coordination center elsewhere, not at the Cambria office.

Fedoroff said he was the clinic’s second patient, and he found the the appointment to be “a great experience.” He said, “Now, not only do we have a great young dentist in Dr. (Ramandeep) Badhan but a great young internist in Dr. Lewis along with veteran physician Dr. (Robert) Gong all in one building on Main Street.”

The Sierra Vista blood-draw lab has reopened in the building, and provides those services Mondays and Wednesdays from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for now. However, according to Sierra Vista lab staff in San Luis Obispo, they expect to add Thursdays back into the schedule soon.

Mike Burkey, Cambria Fire
Cambria Fire Department engine. File photo

Ballot measures defeated

Voters gave thumbs down to two ballot measures that would have added fees to their property-tax bills if the measures had received the two-thirds majority vote needed to pass.

In June, the Cambria Fire Department sought $62.15 per parcel per year for local Measure A-18, which would have provided funding for three firefighters to meet some safety requirements for them and the public in case of fire.

More than 53 percent of voters who cast ballots approved the measure, but that wasn’t enough.

The three firefighter/paramedics, whose salaries had been initially paid by grant funds, no longer work full-time for the department.

In November, the healthcare district asked property owner/voters to approve a tax of $35.04 per parcel for six years to help pay for ambulance and capital expenses (not salaries or benefits. Nearly 42 percent of those who cast ballots voted no.

Will the agencies try again? Time will tell.

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Firefighters work near the site of an apartment fire in Cambria on Monday morning. Stephen H. Provost


A morning-commute-time fire near Cambria’s Shamel Park on Feb. 26 forced the evacuation of a three-unit apartment complex and sent one man to the hospital with burns.

About nine people were displaced, according to Fire Chief William Hollingsworth.

Then on May 29, a fire destroyed a house on Pinewood Drive in the PineKnolls neighborhood and burned the occupant so badly, she was taken by ambulance to the Grossman Burn Center in Los Angeles.

Dana VanBell, a friend of the burn victim Sherry Hilber, wrote on a gofundme page that although the center was a long distance away, “this decision likely saved Sherry’s life. As soon as they reached the Burn Center, Sherry was operated on. Thereafter, she underwent painful repetitive skin debriding procedures to allow her skin to heal. Skin grafts were required and Sherry remained in the ICU over a long period.”

VanBell said that eventually, Hilber “was transferred to a long-term rehabilitation center, far from home, alone, and away from family … Sherry has no home to return to and no worldly possessions other than her iPad.”

Hilber is facing more surgery, and “will definitely require financial help to rebuild her life, continue her long recovery, and eventually return to her charity work” with her RxLaughter nonprofit.

RxLaughter researches and educates about the therapeutic value of comedy care, especially for children and those struggling with serious emotional and physical challenges. She was a veteran primetime programming executive for the ABC and CBS networks, and also is a writer and script analyst.

Hilber has told friends that she would love to come back to Cambria if she can find a suitable rental.

For details, go to .

Meanwhile, Mike O’Sullivan, Cambria contractor and brother of the home’s co-owner, Mary Hill of Belmont, is in charge of rebuilding the fire-destroyed home.

“Annunciation” by Bartolomé Pérez de la Dehesa hangs on the east wall in the Assembly Room in Hearst Castle’s La Casa Grande. The painting’s creator was unknown until two guides noticed an inscription illuminated by late-afternoon light last fall. Victoria Garagliano

Hearst Castle painting

It’s the kind of news that intrigues readers and sends art experts into a frenzy: Due to unusual illumination from late afternoon sunlight, two ultra-observant Hearst Castle guides saw previously unseen markings on a large painting in Hearst Castle’s Assembly Room.

The Latin monogram and inscription identified the painting as a work by Spanish artist Bartolomé Pérez de la Dehesa. The large artwork hangs in a prominent place over antique choir stalls to the left of the room’s fireplace, which is itself tall enough to stand in.

Thanks to the discovery by guides Carson Cargill and Laurel Rodger, and diligent research by Museum Director Mary Levkoff, the art world and visitors now know more about the large religious painting probably created in 1690.

“This is a major new discovery for the oeuvre of Pérez,” Levkoff said at the time, and other art experts seemed to agree.

The discovery even made it onto the pages of Smithsonian Magazine.

The artwork’s subject is the Annunciation, which is described in the Bible as being when archangel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus, son of God.

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Solar panels are being installed at the Hearst Castle Visitor’s Center parking lot. David Middlecamp

Hearst Castle solar project

A solar array in the Hearst Castle Visitor Center parking lot is now providing 100 percent of the power required by the entire base-of-the-hill State Park complex. Construction on the Ecoplexus project began April 24.

The project’s cost to the state? Zero, because the array is leased. At the end of the 25-year contract, the state can renegotiate the agreement or have the contractor remove the system.

Castle officials expect the system could save the state approximately $1 million over the course of the contract.

The project is the first leased power-purchase arrangement in a California State Parks unit, according to Dan Falat, superintendent of the parks district that includes the Castle. The state pays 11 cents per kilowatt hour, as opposed to the previous PG&E rate of 15 cents per kilowatt hour in the winter and 20 cents per kilowatt hour in the summer. Falat said the system is designed to provide 1 million kilowatt hours per year.

The more than 1,800 solar units are on overhead panels that also provide shade for vehicles parked underneath them, and have helped to reduce light pollution of the night sky, because night lighting comes from downward pointing LED lights under the canopy.

The project also had a landscaping component, with some nonnative cypress trees removed, to be replaced with low-growing native shrubs in the project area and about 200 trees around the parking lot’s perimeter.

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The wreckage of Angela Hernandez’s white 2011 Jeep Patriot rests in the water line Friday on a Big Sur beach. Courtesy of Chelsea Moore

Big Sur rescue

A Morro Bay couple was honored recently by the state of California for their role in the rescue of an injured woman who’d been clinging to life and a Big Sur cliff for a week after her 2011 Jeep plunged 200 feet from Highway 1 to the surfline below.

Chad and Chelsea Moore received the California Emergency Medical Services Award after a meeting of the Commission on Emergency Medical Services in San Francisco. The award recognizes “exceptional acts and service by individuals working or volunteering” in the state’s emergency medical system.

The story about the rescue received nationwide media coverage, and reports went viral online.

In July, Portland resident Angela Hernandez had been driving from Oregon to Southern California in her 2011 Jeep Patriot when she mysteriously disappeared.

The Moores were camping in Big Sur and hiked down a private bluff to a remote beach when they came across Hernandez’s empty Jeep. After gathering a few items to take back to authorities, they found Hernandez, who was injured but stable, The Tribune reported at the time .

Chad Moore stayed with Hernandez on the beach while Chelsea Moore ran back to the campground and called 911. Rescuers from the Big Sur Fire Brigade pulled her up the cliff.

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Chelsea Moore took this selfie of her and husband Chad Moore after they found the wreckage of Angela Hernandez’s Jeep and just before they found Hernandez. Chad is carrying a poster they found in the vehicle. Courtesy of Chelsea Moore

“We’re super thankful for them and everything they do,” Chelsea Moore said about the Brigade. “It was the first time for us, for sure, to see a Jeep that had gone over a cliff, but it was not the first time they’ve seen a vehicle go over a cliff.”

Hernandez learned she had a brain hemorrhage, four fractured ribs, broken and fractured collar bones, a collapsed lung, ruptured blood vessels in both eyes and sunburn on her hands, feet and face.

The annual California EMS awards “laud noteworthy or extraordinary acts, and outstanding service while working as EMS certified or licensed personnel, administrators, educators, volunteers or civilians within the EMS system,” according to a news release from the agency.

Award recipients “epitomize the spirit of caring and commitment to quality healthcare that embodies these awards,” Howard Backer, Emergency Medical Services Authority director, wrote in a statement.