Hotel Owner Battles Against ‘Anti-Ty’ Campaigners

In the company’s first appeal of a Montecito Planning Commission decision since last February’s Biltmore Spa saga, Ty Warner Hotels and Resorts has asked the County Board of Supervisors to consider a full and unquestioned approval of the Biltmore seawall and steps renovation. In the commission’s 4-1 approval of the $2-million rehabilitation, the Warner team said commissioners imposed unfair and arbitrary conditions that stymie a timely repair.

“It seems that a few decision makers feel that they just aren’t doing their job unless they deny us of something,” said Greg Rice, executive vice president of development. “They tack on conditions like they’re ordering a side of fries without considering what it takes to get them implemented.”

The appeal destroys almost any hope of repairing the seawall in front of the Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel and building steps down to Butterfly Beach before summer 2007. The County requires that any construction on or near the beach take place between September and June.

Warner representatives said it would take at least 60 days before the Board of Supervisors would hear their case. While they recognized that the appeal ruins any chance to begin construction this fall, the Warner team said it was time to stand firm on their principles.

“There seems to be an animosity towards us that is now starting to infringe upon private property rights,” said Bill Medel, project manager. “When [commissioners] start making up their own rules in the middle of the game, we have to do something.”

The steps down the Butterfly Beach crumbled in January of last year after deluges of winter rain and high tides pummeled it into submission. The steps on the south end of the Coral Casino property had given in only a year prior.

In typical Ty Warner fashion, the hotel magnate orchestrated a rebuild design that went above and beyond the average demands of such an endeavor. The new concrete steps, for instance, will be relocated 40 feet west of their original place so they can be in alignment with an already approved brick crosswalk and traffic bulb-out in front of the Biltmore. The steps will be built parallel to the shoreline, rather than the original perpendicular direction, to protect the structure against crashing waves.

The project’s designer, David VanHoy, the architect behind the Coral Casino renovation and other Channel Drive beautification efforts, conjured up a cosmetic scheme that colors the area with a touch of Warner personality and that is “compatible with the architectural vocabulary of Channel Drive.” The stairs would be complemented with a promontory and guard rail and, just behind, blueprints call for a brick walkway to connect to the brick crosswalk. This is all amidst new plantings, including segments of sod as substitutes for patches of gravel, brick pilasters and other embellishments.

“The idea is to be contextual architecturally in this area and not create something new,” VanHoy said.

Residents of the area complimented the project as tasteful and necessary for the ambience of the neighborhood. “There are some issues in life that are difficult, but this one’s a no-brainer,” said Bob Hazard, who lives at nearby Bonnymede.

But the Planning Commission said the architectural additions depart from tradition for the area. Commissioner Claire Gottsdanker said while the Biltmore owns the seawall and steps, the hotel has always created the “perception that this is a public path and belongs to the community, not to a very fancy five-star hotel.”

Along with three other commissioners, Gottsdanker approved a motion that removes the brick portions of the pathway, a last-minute condition that though minor in detail meant a great deal to the commission.

“I think the stairs should be fixed in a manner that’s been historically true,” Gottsdanker said. “The hotel is continually eroding that tradition.”

Bob Bierig, who cast the lone vote of dissent, suggested the condition was outside the commission’s purview. The Montecito Board of Architectural Review typically handles matters dealing with design preferences.

“My feeling is that it’s very difficult for us as a planning commission to say, ‘let’s take out this piece,’” Bierig said. “If we’d spent a few more minutes, we could have come up with an alternative.”

Gottsdanker said she believed the project would deter beachgoers from the Butterfly area. To Warner representatives, the assertion has no merit. “It’s baloney,” Medel said. “We’re not putting up gates. It’s private property and we’ve given public access to that area.”

Ultimately, the Warner camp said disagreements are less about conditions of approval and architectural differences, and more about personal grudges. Medel accused some members of the planning commission and the Montecito Association of waging an “anti-Ty” campaign.

Bierig dismissed the charges saying the commission “reveres Warner’s taste and his commitment to thorough design.” That respect for his work, though, doesn’t mean the hotelier should always have carte blanche, Bierig said.

Montecito Association members said land use disagreements are fundamental when preservation-minded organizations face off with the business interests of a hotel. But they believe that Warner has always gotten a fair shake.

“It’s unfortunate that they have the impression that we pick on them and are out to ding them, because that’s not true,” said President Bob Collector. “There is no special treatment.”

Residents Wage Sweeping Purge on Graffiti

So much attention was paid to graffiti last week you’d think it was Graffiti Awareness Month. In a show of collaboration, community groups, volunteers, law enforcement and government officials launched an anti-graffiti spree on August 26, erasing wall drawings and gang markings as fast as their paint brushes would allow them.

A caravan of cars carrying First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal, County Sheriff’s deputies and members of the Montecito Association targeted half a dozen locations in Montecito, including San Leandro Creek near Crane School, at Miramar Beach and Hammond’s Meadow and highway underpasses.

The graffiti purge was organized in reaction to what law enforcement officials call a noticeable rise in graffiti within the last year to year and a half. Carbajal said immediate removal of these markings is crucial because graffiti “brings down the aesthetic value of this community” and degrades the “collective psyche of our quality of life.”

Put another way, “it takes us away from what we’re used to having,” Carbajal said.

For County deputies, elimination of graffiti is an essential component of crime prevention. In a phone interview, Lieutenant Darin Fotheringham said the destruction of property not only changes people’s perception of where they live, but also how they perceive the level of their law enforcement service.

“When it is seen, it really makes the persons feel uncomfortable about the safety of the community they live in,” Fotheringham said. “The thing we’ve learned about graffiti is that the quicker it’s cleaned up, the safer a community is and it is proven to prevent crime also.”

In another cleanup, more than a dozen volunteers used 23 gallons of paint to layer the walls of the Butterfly Lane pedestrian underpass in eight colors. A project that had been in the works for months, the effort was meant to cover up graffiti that had blighted a mural on one wall and to add a replica of that mural on the opposing wall.

During the last stages of permitting approval, Caltrans had told Austin Lampson, the project’s chief organizer, that painting would not be allowed on August 27, a Sunday. Lampson and her friends spent the duration of August 26 racing against fading sunlight to put up the last splashes of paint. They finished just in time.

“We’ve really had a lot of public support and that’s what made it all happen,” Lampson said.

Mr. Carbajal said his office is working with the Montecito Association and County workers on developing a formal graffiti cleanup program for the first district. Such a program would be a first for the County, and Carbajal said planners would borrow ideas from the City of Santa Barbara’s graffiti department to implement a system that “minimizes overhead costs.”

In the past, “we haven’t had a need” for this kind of program “because we’re less urban,” Carbajal said.

He added that mitigating the financial burden to taxpayers would require involvement from private organizations such as the Montecito Association’s Beautification Committee.

“If they’re willing to do this on their own, then alright, more power to us,” Carbajal said, holding two thumbs up in a show of approval.

The Association’s President Bob Collector said he and his colleagues would work with the First District office and Richard Navarro, maintenance superintendent for the County Public Works Division, the department in charge of graffiti for public right of way and traffic signs.

Montecito Schools Applaud D.A.R.E Replacement

This fall, Our Lady of Mount Carmel will be taking the lead, and other Montecito schools may surely follow. Mount Carmel will be one of six County schools to implement LifeSkills Training, a drug prevention program meant as a proxy for the terminated D.A.R.E. program.

During a press conference on the Mount Carmel campus on August 26, Sheriff Jim Anderson heralded LifeSkills as an effective educational program designed to “combat peer pressure and the negative influences that are all to prevalent in our society.”

In a two-minute speech standing amongst Sheriff’s Department colleagues, Anderson stressed the value of anti-drug messages in the classroom. He said it was important to target kids early, before noticeable problems appear.

“It all starts with education,” Anderson said. “That message continues to be told. It’s that reinforcement that will make it successful as the kids get older. By educating children today, we increase our chances in the future of having law-abiding citizens.”

Karen Regan, principal at Mount Carmel, said LifeSkills would be a crucial component of the school’s curriculum, as indispensable as subjects like math or science. “We here at Our Lady of Mount Carmel believe in teaching the whole child,” Regan said.

LifeSkills is a 30-year-old experiment championed by Dr. Gilbert J. Botvin, a drug abuse prevention expert who is now professor of public health and psychiatry at Cornell University Medical College.

The program, according to the LifeSkills website, is designed to “provide students with the necessary skills to resist social (peer) pressures to smoke, drink and use drugs.” It’s meant to help children “develop greater self-esteem, self-mastery and self-confidence” while enabling them “to effectively cope with social anxiety,” among other benefits.

Administrators at other Montecito primary schools said they’re eager to join LifeSkills, but are waiting to deliberate on the issue before deciding. “It looks good to me,” said Dr. Bryan McCabe, Cold Spring School superintendent and principal. “I was very much a fan of the D.A.R.E. program when I was principal in the Goleta elementary school district.”

Dr. McCabe said programs like LifeSkills go hand in hand with every other facet of the elementary school curriculum, from physical education to nutrition. It’s all part of providing information that keeps students healthy.

“I have a sense of obligation that I should provide these kids with that kind of information,” McCabe said.

Kris Bergstrom, Montecito Union’s principal, said LifeSkills fits directly into the school’s philosophy of “asset development.” She said unlike D.A.R.E. LifesSkills is research-based because its effects can be compared with schools that don’t implement the program.

“The whole concept of LifeSkills is far more in alignment with [our values],” Bergstrom said. “I can tell you we will participate.”

The current pilot project for the program is intended for sixth or seventh grade but includes age-appropriate components for third, fourth and fifth grade.

At first, LifeSkills will be taught at three South Coast schools – Mount Carmel, Vieja Valley and Isla Vista – by Senior Deputy Michael Power and at three North County Schools – Arellana, Benjamine Foxen and Los Alamos – by Senior Deputy Bill Borneman. It will cost the County $200,000 per year, expenses that are sure to go up as interest in the program increases and more deputies are needed in classrooms.

Economic constraints are what doomed D.A.R.E. in June 2004, and Anderson hinted last week that no program is sacred in the eyes of budget hawks.

“I’ve always been an advocate of these programs, but they’re difficult to implement when we have issues with state funding,” Anderson said.

Ultimately, LifeSkills faces one important question: How do you measure the success of a program today when its effects won’t be known for a few years?

Anderson acknowledged such a quandary is inherent in any drug prevention program. “If you want to track every student that goes through the program every single year,” he said, “that’s going to be difficult.”

Briefly Noted

Crawford Resigns as Coach

After three years in charge of the Westmont College baseball program, Rob Crawford has resigned as head coach, citing family reasons.

“Obviously, we are going to miss Rob,” said Dave Wolf, Westmont’s athletic director. “But we wish Rob and his family well and certainly understand his need to do what is best for his family.”

The college has yet to name Crawford’s successor. “With school starting in just over a week, we obviously will have to move quickly to assess the situation,” Wolf said, “and move in the best interests of our athletes and of the program.”

District Wins Two Awards

The Association of California Water Agencies’s Joint Powers Insurance Authority gave out 23 awards this year, and the Montecito Water District received two of them. District employees Mike Ayala and Dave Flora each won the Workers’ Compensation Award for modifying a trailer that would be used for carrying trenching and shoring equipment needed to repair broken water mains.

“It was as easy as taking stuff off and putting new stuff on,” Ayala said last week.

The trailer makes sure that in the event of an untenable water main break, district crews have the necessary equipment to handle an operation. In the past, when dealing with five-foot or deeper trenches, employees were forced return to their station or fix the problem without the right equipment. Such instances can lead to serious accidents, often fatal ones.

“You’ll read about it in the paper,” said Danny Rodriguez, water distribution supervisor, commenting on the regularity of accidents.

Rodriguez said the 300 water offices affiliated with the Association of California Water Agencies would likely adopt the trailer modification. He added that Montecito Fire District employees have pledged interest in designing a trailer for their own trenching and shoring equipment.