Archive » May 18, 2006
Letters to the Editor
By MJ Staff
(If you have something you think Montecito should know about, or wish to respond to something you read in the Journal, we want to hear from you. Please send all such correspondence to: Montecito Journal, Letters to the Editor, P.O. Box 50015, Montecito, CA. 93150. You can also FAX such mail to: (805) 969-6654, or E-mail to Tim@montecitojournal.net)
Magical May Madness
Thanks so much for the great coverage of “May Madness”(MJ #12/9) .We volunteers who work so hard for it are paid back many times when we meet and hear the music students who are able to attend on fully paid scholarships from the money we raise. We personally are still in touch with several students now making their way in the music industry.
Welcome To Warnerville
Montecito is a quiet coastal enclave where volunteerism is a way of life, a small place with a unique sense of community and soul. We protect our semi-rural lifestyle and our sea otters with an intensity that borders on fanaticism.
Montecito works because residents share a common goal – to make it a better place. We revere the past, but realize that only a passion for quality and beauty can secure our future. The heroes in this town are not celebrities, but citizens that generously volunteer their time and money to make things better, people like Michael Towbes, without whom there would be no Granada Theatre for the Performing Arts.
Others, like the late Paul Ridley-Tree and his wife, Leslie Ridley-Tree, have opened their hearts and wallets to every worthwhile cause in the community. It’s not just about money. James Buckley and his son Tim Buckley have run our small-town newspaper with pride and passion, using the power of the press to encourage positive change by building community consensus.
And what about the reclusive Ty Warner, who years ago had a dream he would one day own the Biltmore? A few detractors in this town engage in their favorite sport of “Ty-Bashing.” You know the drill: ‘My family has been here for three generations. Ty Warner – he’s that Beanie Baby billionaire, who thinks he can come in here and buy up the place. Why pretty soon we’ll have to rename this town Warnerville. Huff, huff –sniff, sniff!’
There is an unpleasant odor that goes with such trash talk. It demeans us and shows a lack of class. How often have I sat in Montecito meetings and heard remarks by Montecito Association officials like, “We are only concerned with safety and beautification” followed by a mean-spirited dig like “I don’t want Channel Drive to become Ty Warner’s gateway to the Biltmore. He just wants to make more money!”
In an astonishing six years, Ty Warner has invested over a billion dollars in our community, not to make more money (he already has that) but, like other artists, to create and leave behind a legacy of architectural treasures that add to this town’s charm, character, and unique appeal.
Mr. Warner is a man with a passion for design and historic detail. He collects the best talent in the world, and asks his architectural and design team to do only one thing – create world-class masterpieces. His vision is not just to make good things better; it is to make great things the best in the world. Such a person is as rare as a Faberge egg.
When Ty Warner purchased the Biltmore, it was an aging dowager, victimized by a series of cash-strapped owners who had deferred maintenance and allowed it to fray around the edges. He immediately set about to restore the hotel to its former grandeur. Walk into the Four Seasons Biltmore today. Gaze up at the ceiling and admire the hand-painted architectural details. Step into the restroom; it’s a work of art. Compare the serenity and character of the Biltmore with the glitz of its newer competitors. Historically accurate detailing, sculptural niches, hand-painted decorative tiles, hand-carved mirror frames and acres of tropical gardens all create an elegant residential non-hotel feel in a setting of beauty in the heart of Montecito on Butterfly Beach.
Such meticulous attention to detail does not generate higher profits, but it does give a proud owner the satisfaction of creating a community treasure. We win because we get to enjoy the harmony of graceful architecture and understated elegance. And this is the man we fear will not honor our historic treasures?
Now walk across the street to Coral Casino, which sits shuttered and closed. An egotistical gadfly from San Francisco, who wants her own way, has led a micro-band of malcontents who have never prevailed at any public hearing. They have held up the Coral Casino renovation for six years. They have used and abused the planning process and the courts to help raise the renovation cost from an original $12 million to $65 million, a cost so exorbitant that no contractor wants to even bid the job.
What can we do? Ask your friends and neighbors who are involved in the community planning process to rethink their positions on entitlements for the Biltmore, Coral Casino, San Ysidro Ranch, Miramar, Montecito Country Club and Rancho San Marcos. This man now has a 6-year track record of care and concern for historical preservation and sensitivity to safety, beautification, traffic, and community concerns.
Reach out the hand of fellowship in a spirit of cooperation and goodwill. Streamline and shorten the hideous approval process that adds time, complexity, and millions of dollars in needless spending. Restore the balance between community concerns and private property rights. Make Ty Warner follow the rules, but stop piling on 22 pages of arbitrary and toxic conditions. Close the juggernaut jaws of injustice that lengthen the appeal process and costs millions without any tangible community benefit. Don’t dream up restrictions like providing affordable housing subsidies, historical conservators, or free bus passes for construction workers. These are punitive conditions that would never be imposed on any other property owner or business in Montecito.
The bottom line is this: Will this Beanie Baby billionaire continue to invest his time, treasure and talent in this community, or will he shift his resources to more friendly and receptive communities, in which he has already invested, such as the Four Seasons in New York City, Las Ventanas (Window to Paradise) in Los Cabos or Kona Village Resort in Hawaii?
Let’s hope Montecito regains its sanity and protects its largest employer, its greatest benefactor, and its leading contributor to our community’s tax base.
(Publisher’s note: Holy cow, if Ty Warner is Catholic, he’s surely headed for sainthood based upon this litany of care and accomplishment! We’re Warner fans here too, but a little balance is called for. If, for example, Ty Warner wanted to follow the approved plans for the Miramar, he could begin construction tomorrow. But, he’s an exacting fellow and probably has his own ideas for the venerable resort, and that is going to take time and yes, lots of money. Sometimes it isn’t the community, or the Montecito Association, or the County, or the Montecito Planning Commission, or the Board of Supervisors, or County Planning that gum up the work; sometimes it’s the property owner, although we agree with most of your sentiments. – TLB)
Losers Are Winners at Coral Casino
I second Daphne Moore’s recent letter (MJ #12/9) about the manner in which the Coral Casino membership’s vote on remodeling options was conducted. The MJ editor’s comment about the fairness of the election leaves me scratching my head.
At first, we received an “official ballot.” Naturally, there was a deadline for casting our votes. Remodel Plan C (which left the club in its current layout) clearly won the election, as counted and reported to the membership by a local accounting firm. Plan A, which added a second-story restaurant, changed the location of the Raft, and transformed the Raft courtyard into a large gym, earned second place. Plan B, which kept the Raft cafeteria and courtyard in place, but added a restaurant to the second floor, came in third place. As these election results apparently did not reflect the owner’s desired outcome, the deadline was extended several times and members were provided with duplicate ballots and given the opportunity to change their vote. Those who had initially voted for remodel Plan C were informed they might suffer some unpleasant consequences, such as incurring the cost of the renovation. To determine that combining votes for Plans A and B defeated the winning Plan C was certainly odd, but that’s what happened. The winner was declared the loser. The loser was eventually declared the winner. The “official” vote was then declared nothing more than a “preference vote.” If there had been any logic to this process there would have been a runoff election between Plans A and C. The problem there is that Plan C would have probably prevailed i.e. no second story restaurant.
I served actively on the Member Committee from 1990 to 2003 to preserve Coral Casino members’ rights. The remodel plan election took place in 2001.
Jacqueline Gabrielle Roston
(Publisher’s Note: What you report is accurate, but ultimately my point still stands. Ty Warner is the owner of Coral Casino and should have the right to pursue his plans with or without the acquiescence of the club’s membership. – TLB)
Too Many People, Too Few Houses
It was interesting to read Ms Seefeld’s column (“Private Property Report” MJ # 12/10) expressing her concerns about the state of California mandating that its counties be required to shoehorn “affordable” housing density onto every bit of available land. I was wondering if she is aware that the house she owns and the nineteen other residences in her development that look just like hers, more or less, would not be there if it weren't for this state affordable housing mandate?
In the 1990s, after many months of discussion and meetings, members of the Summerland Community Plan Committee decided it would be appropriate that five houses be built on the eleven agricultural acres on which her house now sits. Then during one of the last of many community meetings concerning these eleven acres the county said, “Sorry folks, but we need to make some changes here, because the State says that we need to add some super affordable units somewhere and we (county planning staff) have decided this would be a great place to put them.” So they changed the five houses that the community thought appropriate for these acres and added a second, alternate overlay of six super affordable units and fourteen market rate units to pay for them.
It was a contentious meeting and many more contentious meetings followed, but the end result was that a developer moved in and another eleven acres of Ag land got buried under asphalt and twenty houses.
Ortega Ridge Road Resident
(Publisher’s Note: Without that interference, only five houses would have been built, rather than the twenty that were, which was Ms Seefeld’s point exactly. – TLB)
The Journal gave almost a full page of space to an article entitled “Batten The Hatches” (“Private Property Report” MJ #12/10) that suggested the State had "unilaterally and arbitrarily" picked a number for the amount of housing it wanted to build and would try to force property owners to contribute their land for such use.
It went on to claim that the Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors had the option not to comply and could contest the action. I do not believe this information is correct. On its 38th anniversary, HUD (Housing & Urban Development) reminds the public that "it's not an option," "it's the law." And has been since The Fair Housing Act was signed into law with the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
It does not force anyone into developing his land. It only requires that if they do, the development must follow the needs identified in the Housing Element.
Fair Housing says that all people in the U.S. should have the opportunity to live in safe and decent housing where they choose to live. You can't build housing just for rich people and expect everyone else to disappear off the face of the Earth.
Every city and county must adopt a housing element as part of its General Plan. (Montecito does not do one on its own because it is not an autonomous jurisdiction). These figures are then presented to the State, which compiles the findings into a Consolidated Plan and presents it to the Federal Government, which uses the numbers to distribute Federal dollars.
Most HUD money goes to subsidies market-rate mortgages. The balance goes to subsidize affordable units in categories with a complicated formula. That housing for firefighters is part of the Affordable Program. I did not hear of any objections over affordable dollars being spent for them.
Communities do not have to build housing for the masses. But they will have to come up with the money to purchase affordability covenants for the next 30-40 years to meet their responsibilities.
The tricky part is going to be how to show that the lack of affordable units in Montecito is to protect the health, safety, and welfare of all concerned, and not discrimination motivated.
Ms Seefeld claims to have knowledge of fraud and abuse in the program and claims great damage being perpetrated on taxpayers. If money is being misused the real loss is to the eligible participants. The Department of Justice takes such charges quite seriously and every citizen has the responsibility to report blatant violations.
(Kim responds: Generally: One of the fundamental rights we have as citizens is the right to own private property. Part of ownership is the right to do with our property what we choose, subject to reasonable constraints. The government has no right to take...directly or indirectly...a person's private property in violation of their constitutional rights. Despite this protection in the Constitution, there is an assault being waged on private property rights in this country. "Affordable housing" programs, whether you believe in them or not, should not be used as a mechanism to disregard the Constitutional rights of some citizens to benefit others.
Specifically: Every five years the State of California does in fact "mandate" that every jurisdiction set aside sufficient land to build a designated number of housing units; a number dictated and imposed upon the jurisdiction by the state, not the federal government.
Federal housing laws and the money that is tied to them is a subject unto itself and beyond the scope of the article written. As to the supposed right of "all people in the U.S. should have the opportunity to live in safe and decent housing where they want to live"; where do we draw the line? Does this mean that citizens and taxpayers must give up property rights to house millions of illegal aliens?
At present, the County and State do not directly force unwilling landowners to contribute land for building such housing, nor does the article say they do. However, in the wake of the Kelo v. City of New London case decided last year by the U.S. Supreme Court, the power of eminent domain is being used by governmental entities all over this country to take private property, not for a public use as envisioned by by the Constitution, but to sell to private developers for building denser housing and commercial uses to expand the tax base.
I suggest that anyone skeptical that this can happen here read the entire Housing Element that the Board of Supervisors just approved. It is clear to me this option is on the table and that we had better address it now rather than later.
It can be argued that the County does this indirectly through "affordable housing" requirements that kick in if a property owner wants to build more than four units. The owner must pay very steep "in lieu of” fees or place a required number of units on site or donate land for them to be built elsewhere.
The County has been provided with evidence of substantial fraud in the affordable housing program. The recent partial audit of the program confirms this. Whether the County will finally act to correct the problem is yet to be determined. Without taxpayers who subsidize government-mandated housing programs, there would be no subsidized housing no matter how many laws are passed. Thus it is the taxpayer who is most damaged by those exploiting the system and the County's failure to do anything about it. More on that in the next column – Kim Seefeld)
I am delighted to see the paper online!! (montecitojournal.net). We live part of the time in Montecito, part of the time in the bay area and never like to miss an issue. Congratulations on a terrific website and thank you!!!
Submitted via Internet
(Publisher’s Note: Gee Thanks! Every article will now be viewable online. We encourage you to utilize our website and send us any ideas you have to make the experience more enjoyable and/or useful. – TLB)
Website is a Success
Great job on the new website (montecitojournal.net) – just what we needed!! Thanks and keep up the good work. The paper is a special piece of Montecito.
(Publisher’s Note: Soon www.montecitojournal.net will feature hot-off-the-press items that will be updated daily so Montecito residents will be the first to know what’s going on. ¬– TLB)
Loved the Fun Facts
You are doing great! Absolutely Loved your Fun Facts (MJ #12/10). Am sure you must've received tons of mail also for correcting the spelling gaff by Judy Foreman on page 20, but got such a giggle out of it (a building described as a quansa hut). Only a generation familiar with Kwanzaa rather than WWII Quonsets could make that association. For the heck of it I Googled both spellings and discovered that both are acceptable, so I learned something today. I'm still bickering with my son over whether it is "catty corner" or "kiddy corner" . . . what style guidebook does MJ use?
Huge fan of MJ,
(Publisher’s Note: I had a good time compiling the fun facts. My dad, who always read everything before it was published, would have caught the Quonset hut error; he’s a WWII nut. As for an MJ style guidebook, it is strictly our own, compiled over a ten-year period. You should know, for example, that only local names are bolded and usually only when they actually attended an event. In articles that merely mention names but no event, names are bolded only for the living; the names of those that have passed on, however, continue to be put in bold type for twelve months after their death. In columns or articles with no local names, bolds and italics are used for graphic effect only. Ms is printed with no (.) as it is not an abbreviation of anything, and we have a list of more than a hundred words and phrases, mostly superlatives and clichés, that are verboten. – TLB)
We Love Kona Village
Loved that article by Judy Willis (“World of Wine” MJ #12/10) about our favorite place on Earth – Kona Village – where we have gone ever since I wrote one of the first articles about that paradise for a travel magazine. We have been there some 34 times (plus I did the three portraits of the Hale Moana dining room of some Kona Village personalities. But!! I hate to tell you, the photo on page 67 of the issue is not of Kona Village, where there are no two-story units. That’s one of the reasons why we love it.
(Editor’s Note: At the last minute, unsatisfied with the visuals we had in store, I scoured the Internet in search of an un-copyrighted replacement. Your suspicions are correct, the picture you saw was indeed from Kona Village, the town, but not from the venerable resort that you’ve come to love. – GBD)
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