(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)

Cold Spring School Improvements Are Necessary

In the October 12 edition, David Strauss shared his opinion on Measure K2006 (www.montecitojournal.net/archive/12/21/400/), a general obligation bond measure on the November 7 ballot. I would like to clarify some of his points. The Cold Spring School Board of Trustees passed a resolution in June to place the bond measure on the ballot. If passed by residents of the Cold Spring School District, the funds from Measure K2006 will be used to modernize 50-- and 80-year-old classrooms and student restrooms, construct new classrooms to replace the existing portable buildings, and provide additional learning and work space for students and staff.

The measure was not “slipped through by parents and teachers,” as Mr. Strauss describes in his letter. The discussions by the CSS Board regarding the bond measure took place over a six-month period in open public sessions. The meetings were publicly noticed and followed a two-year process of board discussion on the facility needs of the school with input from staff and parents.

Mr. Strauss claims the measure does not make clear the exact use of the funds. Actually, the District developed a detailed project list for the use of the funds and it was included with the resolution filed with the Elections Office. The project list has been distributed to all CSS parents and is summarized in mailers sent to every household in the district attendance area. In fact, I personally handed Mr. Strauss the project list several weeks ago.

The estimated cost for Measure K2006 is $30 per $100,000 of a property’s assessed value. A home with a $2 million assessed value (not market value) would cost a homeowner approximately an additional $600 annually. Conversely, a home with a $20,000 assessed value would cost a homeowner $6 annually. Both figures are an unfair representation of assessed values in the District. According to California Municipal Statistics, Inc., the median assessed value of a single family home in the Cold Spring School District is $635,501. Accordingly, the median homeowner would have an estimated increase of approximately $190. We ask voters to look at their assessed valuations from the County to accurately calculate their respective liability.

The process for placing a general obligation bond on the ballot and for the expenditure of it is governed by state law and has citizen oversight and taxpayer safeguards built in. Part of this governance is from Proposition 13, the law that keeps our property value assessments so low. The intent of Proposition 13 was to take away the taxing authority of local elected officials and put it into the hands of local voters – not to eliminate taxes. Improvements supported by the bond measure will benefit all existing and future students of the Cold Spring School District. Ultimately, a successful school benefits all the families in the District either through direct attendance or through the increased property values associated with a highly achieving district.

Karen Phillips, President, Cold Spring School Board of Trustees Bryan McCabe, Ph.D., Superintendent-Principal, Cold Spring School District

‘When is Enough, Enough?’

Measure K-Cold Spring School Bond $14.5 Million:

In 1996, Cold Spring School asked for and got the voters to approve a $3-million school bond, which we are still paying for (check your 2007 property tax statement, which you just received). Note that this tax increases as your assessed value increases, or when you make permitted improvements on your home. If you plan to sell your house, the new owner will be required to pay for this bond based on the new sale price. Now they are back, and asking for another $14.5 million dollars, again to be paid for by another tax on homeowners’ property.

If this measure passes, it will raise taxes, rents, and along with the Westmont construction, there will be more traffic at Sycamore Canyon and Cold Spring Road.

When is enough, enough?

If Measure K passes, will they be back for more?

VOTE NO on MEASURE K.

Send a message to the board that they must work within their budget or find other ways to raise money, just as private families and businesses must work within their budget.

VOTE NO on MEASURE K.

VOTE NO for NO NEW TAXES.

David Strauss

Montecito

SB1206 Protects Homeowners

Homeowners Defense Fund has not taken a position on Proposition 90 prior to its formal Board Meeting. My own research, however, confirms an almost universal revulsion of private-to-private takings, as inspired by the plight of Susette Kelo in the Kelo vs. New London Supreme Court Decision, June 2005. Private-to-public takings is the traditional basis of Eminent Domain as established by Chief Justice John Marshall, our second Supreme Court Chief Justice. Proposition 90 would establish a California State constitutional amendment prohibiting private-to-private takings by intermediary public institutions.

But, what else would Prop 90 do? It would challenge the legitimacy of all zoning and community plans as adverse to maximum use of private property owners affected by downzoning policies of community planning and environmental statutes. While the libertarian premise of total deregulation of land use inspires Prop 90, proponents of zoning and planning law are perplexed by a proposition that would negate decades of case law on community zoning policy.

A less invasive solution is at hand: the public should be informed that SB 1206, Senator Kehoe’s legislation was signed into law on September 29, 2006. This 17-page statutory enactment tightens up the definition of “blight” and reforms the arbitrary practice of private-to-private takings by the California Redevelopment Agency. Prop 90 authors had no way of knowing that this effective yet less invasive legislation would pass through and be signed into law just five weeks before the November election. It has. It is the designation of property called “blight” that was used as the tool to bring down Susette Kelo and her neighbors, and it is the loose interpretation of “blight” that has caused so much misery among business and private property owners in California. So-called “blight” was the tool of choice by the property-tax hungry municipality of New London, Connecticut. It enabled the city to sell the choice seaside property to massive development interests.

In August, 2005, following the Kelo decision, Senator Christine Kehoe chaired Senate Committee hearings on Kelo and its ramifications in California. Her bill, SB 1206 was designed to address the most egregious abuses of takings in public policy. It is the law now, and even if Prop 90 fails, SB 1206 will protect Californians from the nightmare that was endured by Susette Kelo in Connecticut.

Dr. Judith Ishkanian

Montecito

No on Prop 90

Tim Buckley’s endorsement of Prop 90 is both surprising and dismaying to the Montecito Association. Certainly Mr. Buckley makes no secret of his deep libertarian convictions, but supporting any proposed legislation with the caveat that it’s “flawed and could become problematic for some zoning regulators and community planners” is ill conceived to say the least.

Would any of us enter into a contract we knew was poorly written? Probably never if we could help it. Instead, if the contract’s supposed intent was valuable enough, both parties generally rework the language to ensure that provisions and consequences are absolute. Poorly crafted legislation, like imprecise contracts, always result in unintended, and mostly negative, consequences.

For this reason the Montecito Association Board of Directors voted unanimously to oppose Prop 90’s passage. This is something we don’t normally do, take positions on elections or initiatives, but Prop 90 is so purposefully loosely written, so potentially dangerous to Santa Barbara, that what it invites is far more significant than the eminent domain reform it pretends to advance.

Some facts:

• Most impartial legislative analysts (whether you trust government or not) oppose this constitutional amendment for its purposeful lack of clarity and abuse of the initiative power; i.e. avoiding all public hearings or process.

• The impetus of Prop 90 is the fear that government is using the power of eminent domain to evict people from homes in order to sell their property to big businesses.

• This fear arises from the recent Supreme Court Kelo vs. City of New London decision.

• The Montecito Association finds this fear reasonable.

• However, what happened in Connecticut cannot happen in California. California’s constitution states, “an area must be found blighted (not the condition in Kelo) before government can take private property for redevelopment. To qualify as a public use, the government must pursue a public purpose and own or control the use of property taken by eminent domain.”

• Whatever loopholes might exist in the California constitution (see above) allowing equivalent abuse of power have now been addressed by legislation (SB1206) signed into law September 29, reforming the role of blight assessment in government “takings,” and was sponsored by the chair of the California Kelo hearings. It is specifically designed to accomplish what Prop 90 pretends to; and (2) a constitutional amendment introduced in the legislature by Senator Tom McClintock that likewise enjoins the folly of Kelo is well on its way to passage.

• Shouldn’t such legislation be the appropriate homegrown remedy, rather than out-of-state interests designing a California Constitutional amendment?

• But no, Prop 90, which bypasses the legislature, was primarily financed by Howard Rich, a wealthy New York developer who stands to make a bundle if it passes.

• What Prop 90 really requires, in its purposefully broad language, is that government must pay property owners if it passes certain laws or rules that result in “substantial loss to their property.” Whatever that means.

• For instance any time a law or regulation is passed to control development, protect air and water quality, endangered species, restrict undesirable businesses, preserve historical locations, or enact consumer protection laws, it invites lawsuits claiming harm to property or businesses.

• Downzoning, building height limitations, virtually any land use development planning can be deemed harmful to someone willing to file suit.

• Say local voters pass a measure limiting development to 50 units on a parcel, instead of the 200 a developer seeks. Under Prop 90 the developer can demand market value payment for the 150 units he was denied. And win.

• Very nifty. It’s inviting developers to submit plans, hoping they’ll be rejected so they can sue for damages.

• Unrealistic?

• A similar initiative sponsored by Mr. Rich and his mostly anonymous cohorts was recently passed in Oregon. Already several billion dollars worth of lawsuits have been filed.

• And who pays these judgments? The public, you, the taxpayers.

• Prop 90 even makes pollution a property right, forcing taxpayers to pay to stop it.

• Who’s against it? For starters the California Fire Chiefs Association, the California Police Chiefs Association, the California School Boards Associations, the American Farmland Trust, the League of California Homeowners, and our own Santa Barbara County Counsel.

• Who’s for it? Mostly people and organizations you’ve never heard of.

The irony of Mr. Buckley’s position is that he lives and operates a business in Montecito, arguably the country’s exemplar of community planning. Prop 90 could unravel it all by enabling cleverly constructed challenges to our historic planning constraints.

Chaos. What we’ll inherit. Like Oregon. And the already glacial pace of government will stop cold in the face of pandemic challenge.

And speaking of government, Mr. Buckley’s perspective reads ideological rather than practical. Of course no one wants unnecessary governmental intrusion in their lives, but unjust regulation isn’t always jammed down our throats as property rights activists argue. Does it happen? Yes, unfortunately, but all too often as a function of citizenry not participating in the public process.

In other words, we must bear at least partial responsibility for lousy policy, not because, as Prop 90 feigns addressing, government, as a consequence of politics, is all devouring, but rather our apathy too often renders us vulnerable.

For more than half a century the Montecito Association has proved that engaging in the process works. And as such, we believe Prop 90 is a sop to those who do no research, don’t read the legislation, and respond to slogans. In today’s cynical world the calculations behind advancing a crackpot initiative unfortunately make good actuarial sense for Mr. Rich and his henchmen.

But while the Association believes strongly that preventing a repeat of the Kelo decision in California is critical, we believe even more strongly that community should solve this problem, our legislature, the bill already approved and the amendment in process, far more voices than a shrill, narrow, out-of-state perspective that disingenuously elevates the individual at the expense of his neighbors.

The Montecito Association urges that residents become informed about Prop 90 by reading the General Election Voter Information Guide at the very least.

Sincerely,

Robert Collector,

President, Montecito Association

(Publisher’s Note: We couldn’t begin to list “poorly written” legislation that has led to numerous lawsuits; virtually all new legislation would fall under that category. However, the election is upon us and your concerns have been duly noted. On November 7, the public will have its chance. – TLB)

Concerned Citizens For Property Rights

Next month Ty Warner will be defending his very attractive design for the repair of the Biltmore beach stairs before the Board of Supervisors. This because the Montecito Association and the Montecito Planning Commission finds fault with a plan that draws aesthetic link to the Biltmore hotel. (The beach stairs – by the way – are on the Biltmore’s property.)

We back Mr. Warner for sticking to his guns on his beach access design: however, we feel there is a much bigger issue at play.

Why are these quasi-governmental, neighborhood groups deciding the fate of commercial operations that provide million of dollars to County coffers?

The role that the Montecito Planning Commission and Montecito Association serve in residential design standards, beautification awards, and local parades is understandable. However, when it comes to a regional-serving hotel that generates $2 million in bed taxes per year, the Montecito groups are grossly out of their league.

The County has indulged these groups and their games of “playing government” long enough. Real decisions that have a direct impact on County residents need to be made by County representatives and individuals qualified for the job. I hope the Board of Supervisors regards this upcoming hearing as a major wake-up call, or at the very least, sends a strong message to these Montecito groups by approving Ty Warner’s appeal.

Robyn & Len Freedman, Robert Fell, Herbert Simon, Laura Parton, Mary Belle Snow, Andy & Dolly Granatelli,

Montecito

(Publisher’s Note: We too believe that Ty Warner should not be discouraged from making improvements to Montecito, but you should recall that it was a tenacious Montecito Association that prevented developers from erecting three 8-story apartment buildings behind the Biltmore in the late 1960s. The Board of Supervisors, at that time, voted 4 to 1 to override the 3-2 denial of its Planning Commission and okayed their construction. The Montecito Association led the effort to oppose those buildings. The Association may be “quasi-governmental” and sometimes downright irritating, but invaluable nonetheless. – TLB)

New Westmont Plans Are Impressive

I live in Montecito and have been on Westmont’s campus numerous times. I’ve seen the existing buildings and interacted with students and faculty alike. Like many of my neighbors, I feel as though I have a stake in the outcome of this project. This is my neighborhood too. I have been a part of this process for years now and think that the revised plan, which Westmont has presented to the Montecito Board of Architectural Review, is a plan of combined functionality, creativity, and sensitivity. I am impressed and very pleased.

Functionally, I think the buildings do what they are intended to do. They provide the classroom space that students and teachers so desperately need. They are energy efficient and will be a good addition to the campus. Also, the way the buildings are arranged allow for the mixing of disciplines and the mixing of learning that the college promotes.

I think that the academic buildings having roofs with plants on them is a very creative idea, as well as a very sensitive solution to concerns about the buildings impacting views. I think that rerouting the road and adding another buffer is also a creative and sensitive solution to some neighbor’s concerns about buildings being close to them. I like the idea of residence halls on stilts to protect Oak Tree roots too.

I think the biggest issue for Westmont going into the Montecito Planning Commission hearings will be this: there is nothing to complain about! Even the Mountain Drive Association, a longtime opponent, has expressed its approval of the new plan. Westmont has heard and addressed neighbors’ concerns and provided us with a plan that is impressive in every sense of the word.

Paul Knightley

Montecito