(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)

It’s Not Personal; It’s Business

Two issues ago (www.montecitojournal.net/archive/12/18/), you had an article that referenced an “anti Ty” campaign. This is in response to that article.

Montecito is unique in California. It has beauty, semi-rural charm, and Old-World elegance. That is what brought most of us here. For some six decades, a series of laws and ordinances have restricted what could be built or modified. Building projects that are within these guidelines have no problems. But when an owner attempts to go outside the guidelines, his project is open to delay, question, modification, or rejection. Everyone has an opinion. The owner wants option A; the volunteer Architectural or Land Use Committees may want something else. The County staff or Montecito Association may want a different modification. Owners of property who submit plans outside the guidelines know this from the outset.

A great disservice is done when personal attacks are made on matters of “opinion.” Everyone is entitled to his own. Other than the County’s professional staff, all the review committees are community volunteers who spend much time trying to do, in their opinion, the right thing. Mr. Warner has very competent, high-priced professionals urging his views. I believe a disservice is done when his representatives and friends attack those who disagree with them. Examples are, “It seems that a few decision makers feel that they just aren’t doing their job unless they deny us something,” or, “disagreements are less about conditions of approval and architectural differences and more about personal grudges.” Or accusing “some members of the Planning Commission and the Montecito Association of waging an anti-Ty campaign.”

In my opinion, our community is a much nicer place without this type of rhetoric.

Richard Shaikewitz

Montecito

No Agenda Against Particular Applicants

In the past two editions of Montecito Journal, representatives of Ty Warner properties and their supporters have, through a series of baseless claims of “obstructionism” and “personal bias,” attempted besmirching the Montecito Association, a non-profit homeowner’s association that, while not perfect, is arguably the principal agent behind the unique zoning ordinance and extraordinary planning that make Montecito what it is.

We’ve always had critics, but let’s review the facts. The Montecito Association (MA) for decades has reviewed land use projects, first through its Land Use Committee, a body composed of Association directors and Montecito residents. The Land Use Committee is, and always has been, a divergent group of volunteers dedicated to finding the nexus between proposed projects and the Montecito Community Plan (MCP). This is the key, the MCP, our Rosetta Stone, what the MA is dedicated to preserving. And our rubric is simple: whatever any applicant (residential or business) is proposing must comply with The Plan, derived from our zoning ordinance, Article IV of the County Development Code.

When the LUC reaches a position, it makes this recommendation to the Board of Directors, 17 Montecito community volunteers, who then craft the Association’s formal position to the Montecito Planning Commission and/or the Board of Supervisors.

The shrill contentions that the Montecito Association has an agenda against particular applicants are not only groundless, but also impossible. No one director can author a bias. Our decisions are wrought in public, and based solely on land use criteria debated by each of the 17 directors until consensus is achieved. We challenge skeptics to read our positions; each is vetted by the MA’s land use consultant Victoria Greene, a former staff planner at the County. The positions are (land use) technical and must square with staff reports and County counsel. They are never the product of personalities or personal likes and dislikes; they can’t be. Even the suggestion debases the honorable commitment these people have made to best serve their community.

But, for 60 years, we’ve heard similar accusations from applicants with whom we disagree.

Like the Beverly Hills developer who wanted to build an eight-story hotel on the Biltmore site; or the developers who fought to make Bonnymede all high-rises; or the crew that proposed a shopping center on East Valley and Romero Canyon; or, in the ‘60s, the Supervisors who wanted to strip Montecito of Article IV. Ask Art Henzell and other local heroes, past directors of the Montecito Association, who stopped them.

Tossing acid when you don’t get your way is a tactic; it’s cynical, glib, and easy. But what’s not easy is dedicating thousands of volunteer hours to preserving our community. And this is what the Montecito Association Board of Directors and Land Use Committee members do: give their valuable time and effort thanklessly, lobbying on the community’s behalf downtown and in the North County, meeting with County staff when Association members have problems, conducting public forums, running an office, a website, trying to solve traffic and construction issues, producing the 4th of July Parade, Montecito Beautification, cleaning up graffiti, having stop signs installed at schools for children to safely cross streets, preserving open space in Montecito by successfully helping to convince the Water District not to raise agriculture rates. The list goes on and on.

This might sounds tedious. But it’s real, the tremendous commitment of a handful of volunteers, your friends and neighbors, generations of these volunteers, who have tirelessly done the due diligence on zoning compliance, land use projects, and legislation that affect us all. Someone has to do it or we’re Orange County rather than one of the most special communities in the world.

The rules for developing here are simple, the process not so tortuous as critics contend. We have a Development Plan that governs us all. It’s when applicants choose to deviate from the Plan that problems arise. Problems that won’t be solved by disparaging anyone with a difference of opinion.

Instead, let’s be more constructive. The Association has a long history of honorably settling disputes by inviting participants to seek common ground. But, should we talk, let’s be clear about the governing context – it’s what’s best for the entire community in perpetuity. We, who are lucky enough to live here, have the obligation to preserve what’s wonderful and pass it on to our children.

If the Montecito Association has any bias, I just stated it.

Robert Collector

President, Montecito Association

Montecito Needs a Taste Committee

The basic problem is not that Ty Warner is being singled out for harassment, it is that the boards, associations and commissions you say are needed to preserve the semi-rural character of Montecito unfairly apply poorly drawn standards. The regulators signed off on the monstrous mega-mansion that now blights the corner of Picacho and East Mountain and a special exemption for serial real estate speculator Rob Lowe.

What is really needed is a Taste Committee. Barring that, how about an absolute size restriction like Aspen just adopted? Or how about making these egomaniacs surround their eyesores with enough greenery to protect innocent passersby?

Submitted by a new reader via www.montecitojournal.net

Neighbors of Butterfly Beach OK Seawall

I normally don't write letters or get involved in community squabbles, but this one impacts the future of Butterfly Beach, which is an important part of my neighborhood and a vital part of Montecito, so I feel compelled to voice my concern.

I am the Homeowners Association President of a town-home complex directly behind the Biltmore Hotel. As a neighbor of the Biltmore, I fully support Ty Warner's seawall restoration plan and so do my neighbors.

It will finally add some much needed aesthetic appeal to Butterfly Beach. Far from discouraging beachgoers, a more pleasing beachfront access will actually make it more attractive and encourage people to visit the beach. Furthermore, it will discourage vandalism and graffiti, and be good for the community in general. A nicer beach translates into higher property values for Montecito residents.

I don't know what Ty Warner has to do to prove he's a responsible investor and a good neighbor. Time and time again, he has bent over backwards to appease a handful of vocal malcontents who seem to delight in throwing up roadblocks at every turn. I think his track record speaks for itself. The Biltmore and surrounding area has never looked better. The bike path and its landscaping is a beautiful improvement that has also helped address the erosion problem. Montecito can't remain stuck in a time warp. It's time to move on, and I think most people in Montecito agree. Unfortunately, they are not the ones who have been speaking up.

I don't want to hear anyone say, “It's too nice,” especially when a private party is offering to pay the bill. We should feel fortunate. Montecito should look “nice.” There is nothing wrong with that. Since when is “nice” a bad thing? As for it looking like it's part of the hotel and discouraging the public, how stupid do they think the public is? It's actually a plus that it's in harmony architecturally with its surroundings.

Give the public a little more credit. Give Ty Warner a break, and give Butterfly Beach the elegant stairway access it deserves.

Sincerely,

Julie. S. Jorgensen

President, Antigua Pines Owners Association

Montecito

Montecito Should Support Westmont Approval

I enjoy the Montecito Journal and never miss reading an issue. I had the privilege of seeing the presentation by David Van Hoy on the revised proposal for completion of the Westmont campus last week. I was delighted with the sensitive use of materials and landscape to soften the original proposal. I believe that this project should be approved and the community should be proud to have such an outstanding campus that produces excellent graduates in such an outstanding setting!

Dave Spainhour

Santa Barbara

We’ve Heard This Before

For over 30 years, I have watched as Westmont College grew and expanded. One thing would lead to another and “of course we will need this modest increase or face certain economic ruin!” It would begin with: “Higher education is a very competitive business and we will need a modest increase in student population to remain competitive in today's market; we have more students, so we will need more classroom buildings and/or residence halls to accommodate their educational needs; with more students and increased size in facilities we will need to hire more staff; we cannot hire the staff until we can provide affordable housing for them. The land we own (was) in Montecito and subject to Montecito Planning Area building limitations. Here is an idea – let's have our Montecito acreage annexed into the City of Santa Barbara. By picking up the City limit line and dropping it on the other side of our proposed residential acreage, all the Montecito restrictions evaporate.”

The impacts remain there, but it's legal.

“Oh goodness! We have hired more staff to fill the new classrooms, and now our revenue/expense ratio is out of line. We are very sorry but we will need to increase student population in order to remain competitive in today's market.”

And so it goes. Thirty-plus years ago when we moved here, we knew Westmont was a neighbor. We saw that they were operating under a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) and they were supposed to blend into the residential environment. However, Westmont College is a business, and like any business, it needs to grow. When my family arrived here, Westmont's student population was 850 students. Now it is 1,200 students. Oh, excuse me, it is an average of 1,200 students with a potential peak population of 1,235.

The best predictor of future behavior is observing past behavior. When we add staff, housing, buildings, demonstrated new expenses, eventually we will have to add students to “remain competitive in today's educational market.”

I am glad that Westmont is now taking the intent of their residential neighbors seriously. The newest submission for “green buildings” is better than the previous submission. How do they plan to fill the proposed 300,000-plus square feet of additional educational space with their existing 1,200 (1,235) students? They promise “no increase in the student population is being requested or expected.” Good – put that “promise” in a deed restriction.

The adjoining residential neighborhood represents our homes. To Westmont, this neighborhood is a place of business. The residential character of the neighborhood is being seriously compromised by this proposal for expansion, with no real end to the potential growth in sight.

Chris Albertson

Montecito

(Publisher’s Note: Up north, UCSB continually expands and puts pressure on Goleta and Santa Barbara with little regard to the inhabitants living in the surrounding areas. Montecito residents must remain vigilant lest Westmont take a similar course, but the college’s need to upgrade its campus seems genuine and dissimilar to UCSB’s relentless growth. – TLB)

Great Small College

About Westmont, I am definitely for the plans, but I supported the other plans, too. My worry is that when you ask whether your reader is uneasy about them, you suggest that possibly one should be (?). Perhaps that wasn't your intent at all, but experience teaches that people who have a gripe will register it before those who approve.

The issue about Westmont that is most important: this is an outstanding small college in a sea of giant universities, and provides a different learning experience for its students, a different way of relating, in short, a different way of growing up. The teachers know the students, the students know each other, and that is an incredible experience when young people are exploring early maturity. Perhaps someday we will return to the small college experience en masse because it is more nurturing for people, but in the meantime, we need a few outposts. Montecito people, and Santa Barbarans as well, have admired Westmont and its leaders since its inception. Their contribution to our community has been outstanding. I wish there were a way to measure the good vibrations we all enjoy as a result. Only very recently have some residents been alarmed and incited to oppose its long-approved plans.

Sylvia Weller

Santa Barbara

Brilliant Revisions

Am I pleased with the new Westmont proposal? Even the opposition congratulated the architects on the design. Westmont has tried to address every issue that had been raised and I think it is brilliant. It saddens me to see, at the Architectural Review meeting, the whispering among the neighbors who seem intent upon objecting to something that will delay yet again what Westmont is trying so hard to accomplish while struggling to be a good neighbor. When one listed her concerns and ended by hoping their group would be included in deciding what plants would be used on the sod roofs because they might not coordinate with other greens, I wondered if others would see how ridiculous it all is. It occurred to me that is has become a game that is being played. Should there not be a time limit so this will not go on forever?

Joyce Lind Hutchinson

Montecito

(Publisher’s Note: Not only a time limit, but a decision-certain limit too, beyond which no appeal could be entered. – TLB)

TLB Needs Sabbatical

Your commentary on David Bostick’s letter www.montecitojournal.net/archive/12/19/347/) is the most amateurish attempt I’ve witnessed in many a year! I vote you “for what it’s worth,” and it turns out to be nothing.

You’re worried about the loss of Vietnam and Cambodian lives, without mentioning the 51,000 lives of Americans. And as far as leaving Iraq and letting them use body bags, I say great. With almost 3,000 American already dead and thousands of wounded, and Bush stumbling around. In fact, I believe one American life is worth more than all the Iraqi lives.

So Joe Lieberman played politics and failed. A good reason to get rid of him! Could he be biased?

And as for Dick Cheney, the worst choice of all, as a lifelong Republican and if Cheney is the nominee in 2008, I’ll vote for the opponent, even if it is Hillary Clinton. I can’t be more emphatic than that.

I suggest you take a sabbatical and join the military for a couple of years. I guarantee you’ll come out (hopefully) a changed man.

Earl W. Stanfield

Santa Barbara

(Publisher’s Note: Well, if you are a “lifelong Republican,” it would seem counter-productive to vote for Hilary Clinton in 2008. My guess is that after four years of her gang in power, Dick Cheney would be looking like a mighty fine alternative. – TLB)