POWER OUTAGE BREEDS DISTRUST OF EDISON

For three years running, Coast Village merchants have learned with uncomfortable regularity the cost of not having electricity for a day. They were reminded of this lesson on June 29 when the power went out mid-morning and didn’t return until the height of the afternoon, essentially spoiling the better part of a day’s work.

About 10 am, when the power went out at Coast Village Road hair salon Shear Pleasures customers with dying solution in their hair scrambled outside to use the heat of the sun as a dryer. One client receiving a perm went home immediately to wash out her hair in hot water. “When something like that happens everybody suffers,” said Carly Marquez, a receptionist at the salon.

Stylists working at the time said they waited around with the hopes of salvaging some wasted hours. But in all, hairdressers said they lost more than $1,000 in total business.

At Villa Fontana, the apartment complex perched above Coast Village, 45 units endured the day without electricity. For some people, power didn’t return until past midnight and residents resorted to using candles and flashlights to navigate their dark abodes.

When the electricity shut off, the Montecito Deli crew had just finished preparing most of the eatery’s food for the day. Because the Mediterranean café’s daily profits hinge on the lunch rush between noon and 3 pm, owner Jeff Rypysc said most of the day’s business was wiped out. In all, he said he lost anywhere from $800 to $1,000 of potential revenue, in addition to $800 of perishable product he was forced to toss out. “I took home as much meat and cheese as I could. The rest I had to throw away,” Rypysc said.

The recent outage contributed to business owners’ growing distrust of Southern California Edison, the area’s only electricity provider. Rypysc said in the nearly five years he’s owned his restaurant, he has lost $8,000 to $10,000 in revenue and product resulting from power losses.

In all, Edison reported 1,400 customers were affected by the brownout. The outage’s range extended from the outer limits of Coast Village Road to a portion of East Valley Road. As businesses regained power periodically throughout the day, Edison crews worked multiple sectors of Montecito to address the problem. In the evening, a utility unit of four trucks and a dozen workers blocked off a patch of Coast Village Road across Montecito Deli staying until past midnight dealing with complications.

Jane Brown, region manager of public affairs for Southern California Edison, attributed the outage to a “bad underground table” that led equipment to fail. Brown said the failure was isolated and had nothing to do with any brownouts occurring in recent years.

This was the third power outage of this scale on Coast Village Road in one year. On January 18, a high-voltage underground power line failed, emitting sparks and smoke and ruining a day’s worth of business.

Brown said Edison crews would soon be installing “automatic reclosures” in the business sector. She said the new equipment will mitigate the number of customers affected by a brownout and will also enable the utility company to recover clients’ power in a more timely fashion.

“It grieves me to hear about unhappy customers,” Brown said. “We’re very concerned about our reliability. I promise that we will be putting our best foot forward to take care of this problem.”

Though some Edison employees had told customers the outage had been planned, Brown said this wasn’t true. “We wouldn’t do something like that on a heavy business day,” she said.

In another measure to improve service, Brown said Edison is amidst sweeping changes to modernize Montecito’s system. She said the five-year-long project will upgrade the system from 4 to 16 kilovolts. About two-thirds of Montecito has so far received this upgrade.

“The fact that we are getting new components should help some” to prevent additional power outages, Brown said.

But some business owners aren’t comforted by Edison’s assurances. Rypysc said Edison officials had told him outages were unpredictable and described them as “an act of God.” Rypysc added that an Edison crew supervisor had told him that the underground electric equipment was old, faulty and would require ongoing maintenance work to prevent continuous failures.

To recoup some of his lost revenue, Rypysc has complained repeatedly to Edison, but said it’s difficult to get any results because the company is the only service provider in the area.

“There’s nothing you can do. I’ve tried to call, but nothing happens,” he said. “They have a monopoly and they control everything, so the little guy suffers.”

Danny Copus, president of the Coast Village Business Association, said he’s spoken with shop owners who are thinking of banding together to file a lawsuit against Edison. Given the street’s robust tax contributions, Copus said merchants deserve better service.

“These are multi-million-dollar businesses,” Copus said. “Forget about the hotels, the restaurants really rely on power for their livelihood. We don’t see the immediate effect of these outages. There’s a long-term effect that you just can’t calculate.”

Asked whether he’d participate in a lawsuit, Rypysc was hesitant. ”I can’t spearhead that,” he said. “I’m pissed off but I don’t have time to fight them.”

Copus, who is general manager of the Montecito Inn, said his hotel was planning on buying a generator, which he estimated would cost $50,000 but could be as much as $90,000. “But not every business can go out and do that,” Copus noted.

The Coast Village Business Association will take up the outage issue at its August meeting.

JACK MAXWELL SUES COUNTY OVER LOT SPLIT

Living up to threats he made before the Board of Supervisors in February, developer Jack Maxwell has sued the County for turning down his request to split his Montecito property into three buildable lots. In its denial of Maxwell to subdivide his 1.8-acre Summit Road parcel, the County’s “conduct was illegal, discriminatory, irrational, and denied [Maxwell] due process and equal protection under the law,” wrote land use attorney Richard Monk in court documents.

Last week, County lawyers got the first opportunity to review the 30-page lawsuit and said they believe the Board of Supervisors decided correctly in their denial of Maxwell. Still, lawyers said it was too early to analyze the particulars of the case.

“At the heart of it, the case involves pretty complicated land use law dealing with the Subdivision Map Act,” said Kelly Casillas, deputy County counsel.

When the Board of Supervisors first denied Maxwell in February, and made the decision official at a March hearing, County counsel Alan Seltzer was the lawyer attached to the case. Considered by colleagues an expert on the Subdivision Map Act, Seltzer left the County office in the spring to take a job in Santa Monica. “Alan’s departure has been a tremendous loss to us here,” Casillas said, adding Seltzer teaches subdivision law to attorneys across the state.

Casillas said either she or Bill Dillon, senior deputy County counsel, would replace Seltzer on the case.

For two years, Maxwell has been embroiled in a battle with residents who feel development of these lots would ruin the semi-rural character of their neighborhood. Some residents have characterized the developer as un-neighborly and acting solely out of financial interest.

Neighborhood protectionists such as the Montecito Association rallied to support fellow residents. They’ve argued that granting approval of Maxwell would weaken the authority of the Montecito Community Plan and spur a domino effect of development here and parts statewide.

For his part, Maxwell says he’s being discriminated. Though the Montecito Community Plan has two-acre restrictions for lots in the neighborhood, Maxwell has pointed out repeatedly that only 6 of 51 parcels meet the minimum requirement.

When they voted against Maxwell, County supervisors were prepared for a lawsuit, but said it was important for them to stand firm on their principles. “Litigation alone should never be the sole deciding factor for good public policy,” said First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal.

Countering Carbajal was Third District Supervisor Brooks Firestone, who said he feared the County didn’t have a strong case against Maxwell. “Our legal counsel has said this is not a slam dunk,” Firestone said.

Indeed, Maxwell’s attorney Mr. Monk warned the supervisors in February to approve the lot split, saying the case is a “land use lawyer’s dream” because it has “Supreme Court potential.”

Biltmore Steps Repairs

Could Begin in September

Ty Warner Hotels & Resorts officials last week said work crews could begin repairing the steps on the Biltmore Seawall as soon as this September. Bill Medel, Warner’s project planner, said his team first has to acquire a coastal development and gain approval for the work from the Montecito Board of Architectural Review and the Montecito Planning Commission.

During an onslaught of rain in January 2005, the steps to Butterfly Beach crumbled after getting pummeled by high tide waves. Despite pleas by residents to promptly make repairs, Warner representatives said they were delayed by an involved and time-consuming permitting procedure and by the legal battle over the renovation of the Coral Casino.

“It’s just a huge process,” Medel said. “The lawsuit has kind of slowed us down.”

Because the County would prohibit beach construction during intense tourist season – between June 15 and September 15 – Medel said repairs of the steps will have to take place during two phases between September and May when crews run the chance of facing inclement weather.

The costs of repairs, Medel said, could be as much as $1 million – $2,000 per linear foot.

Because the steps have a history of breaking down during periods of heavy rain, Ty Warner officials said they have taken new precautions. The next time the wall needs fixing, officials would only be required to apply for a building permit, an arrangement that Medel says ensures repairs would occur “a lot quicker than they used to.”

COUNTY COURT AWARDS WARNER $2,500

Ty Warner got a small reprieve last week when a County Superior Court judge ruled that Cynthia Ziegler must reimburse the hotel mogul $2,500 in transcript and copying fees. If Ziegler loses an appeal she made recently to the State Appeals Court, she will also owe $3,500 to the County and $500 to Doug Large, attorney for the Coral Casino Members Committee.

“Once again the court judge has concurred with the Montecito Association, Montecito Planning Commission, Historic Landmarks Advisory Commission, County Board of Supervisors and the California Coastal Commission that Cynthia Ziegler’s effort against the rehabilitation of the Coral Casino is wrong,” said Greg Rice, executive vice president of acquisitions for Ty Warner Hotels & Resorts, LLC.

Ziegler’s attorney Susan Brandt-Hawley had disputed her client incurring the costs because the court hearing transcripts were never used. “We didn’t think it was fair,” she said. “But it’s nothing substantive. If we are successful the costs will be waived.”

For more than five years, Ziegler has been steadfastly blocking Warner’s $65-million renovation of his Channel Drive club. She argues that the rehabilitation would cause irreparable damage to County-protected portions of the historical landmark.

After getting denied by four county and state agencies, she sued the County and was subsequently turned down by a County Superior Court.

Brandt-Hawley said she would submit her opening brief to the State Appeals Court as soon as this week. She said a hearing will be scheduled within the next six months. “Everything is proceeding on schedule,” she said.

President Search Nears End

The search is almost over. Westmont College has dwindled to two the number of candidates for replace Stan Gaede as president. Narrowing its list from more than 100 nominees, the 16-person committee composed of trustees, administrators and faculty has identified Dr. Wes Balda, founding dean of the School of Management of George Fox University, as a finalist. Dr. Balda and his wife, Janis, will visit the campus on September 4-5 for a series of meetings.

“In order to make it possible for the two to visit the campus when students and a full complement of faculty are present, it will be necessary to defer those visits until the early fall,” wrote Merlin W. Call, chair of the search committee, in an online blog.

The committee has yet to determine the second finalist.

The replacement won’t begin the post until January 1, 2007, said David Eaton, chair of the Board of Trustees.

Following Gaede’s June 30 departure, the college appointed Dr. David Winter as interim president. Dr. Winter, who is currently chancellor of the liberal arts Christian college, served as president for 25 years before Gaede’s tenure.

“We’re thankful for the experienced leaders we have among our current administration and trustees and former administrators,” Eaton said in the spring edition of Westmont Magazine. “We are so encouraged that David Winter is willing and prepared to serve.”