Archive » November 9, 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)
Doing the Right Thing
Living in Montecito affords the chance for concerned citizens to see the planning process up close and personal. It is pure theatre, often pitting the forces of constructive change against those opposed to change. Recently, the Santa Barbara Planning Commission, after a grueling six-hour public hearing, unanimously approved a plan to tear down old St. Francis Hospital to build 115 town homes. Seventy percent of the new units will be affordable housing for nurses and other healthcare professionals employed by Cottage Hospital. This act of public courage should serve as a guide to our planning commissioners in Montecito.
At issue was a dispute between heated neighborhood opponents and the not-for-profit Cottage Healthcare System that employs 2,600 healthcare professionals, 25% of whom now commute from Lompoc, Santa Maria, Oxnard, or Ventura. More than 1,000 of the 2,600 workers do not own homes or have roots in this community.
There is a critical shortage of healthcare providers in Santa Barbara. We are losing our talented medical staff because they cannot afford to live here. The median price for a home in Santa Barbara has climbed to $1.2 million, which requires a family income of at least $200,000 to qualify for home ownership. As veteran healthcare workers retire, Cottage is unable to recruit replacements. Current healthcare workers who commute to Cottage from other South Coast communities are leaving Cottage for jobs closer to home. The shortage of high-quality Cottage healthcare workers threatens the 20,000 annual hospital admissions, the 50,000 annual emergency room visits and the 2,800 new baby births recorded each year.
The private non-profit Cottage Healthcare System stepped forward and agreed to fund the first privately financed affordable housing project in Santa Barbara, without one cent of taxpayer money. Originally intended as a break-even project, the new homes will now be subsidized by an $8- to $10-million gift from the Cottage Hospital Foundation.
Pitted against this project were entrenched neighborhood objectors seeking to stop the project or delay it by piling on “conditions for approval” that raise the costs to unaffordable levels. Neighbors charged the planning commissioners and staff with “political chicanery” and “ethical transgressions.” They called the Environmental Impact Report “fatally flawed,” and demanded additional studies to delay the project. One resident insisted on a “Vibration Impact Study,” which brought giggles from the audience, who were unsure whether she thought the project would ruin her sex life or her nerves.
Opponents fanned fears – fear of increased traffic, fear of noise or, best of all, fear of a healthcare risk. One neighbor testified that toxic diesel fumes during construction would “poison our neighborhood children and the elderly.” A rebuttal speaker, who lives near the 101 Freeway, noted that the fumes she breathes every day are 10 times worse than what St. Francis neighbors will face during a 16-month construction project.
Another neighbor wanted to know how much money was in the “Cottage Hospital Relocation Fund” to reimburse neighbors who want to move out. Others tried to paint healthcare providers as bad neighbors and affordable housing as a threat to home values. Many wanted the commissioners to approve the project, but move it to Goleta or anywhere else.
Finally, opponents appealed to preservationists, demanding historic re-use of the abandoned four-story St. Francis Hospital structure. They were bolstered by strong editorial support from the News-Press. Cottage examined the adaptive re-use option in its early design phase, but found the rehab cost-prohibitive. Converted dormitory-style, hospital rooms on both sides of a central corridor would not sell to healthcare families who want to purchase modern town homes with below-ground parking. In addition, tearing down the four-story, 65-foot St. Francis Hospital and replacing it with lower profile two-story town homes with a maximum building height of 35 feet, would improve views and is more compatible with the neighborhood. One resident spent nearly an hour pushing his own hand-drawn, self-serving design sketches for adaptive re-use.
It has taken Cottage Healthcare System three years to get halfway through its approval cycle. The process is a major and costly deterrent for anyone wanting to bring something new to the community. It is the civic responsibility of every citizen in Montecito to understand the approval process to make sure that it strikes the proper balance between protecting the community and allowing a vocal minority to usurp private property rights, stop progress, and inflict endless delay on worthy projects.
(Publisher’s Note: Even though privately funding an affordable housing program is much more admirable, we can still understand opposition from neighbors. As long as Cottage buys property for a fair market share and doesn’t get special privileges from the City, it should be able to build like any other property owner. What is worrisome is the amount of time a group can stall a project because it is unhappy. The appeals process is needed but stalling construction for years is a painful and costly reality for many developers. If your proposal is that there should be a time limit on approval with or without appeals, we agree. – TLB)
Whatever the fate of the Miramar, I feel that it would benefit the community, both those of us who remember this childhood haven with delight, along with newcomers, to include a small public space in future plans. Perhaps one of our talented local artists could sculpt the likeness of the good-humored, ubiquitous bellman, Grover Barnes, on his bicycle as its focus. Not only was he diligent in his defined duties there but often kept an eye on us children as we watched television in the little back room while our parent reveled in the bar. We cannot have the old Miramar back, but at least we could capture its former essence in this way.
(Publisher Emeritus note: Terrific idea, Ms Clark! There are persistent rumors that the Miramar is up for sale and that Mr. Warner is prepared to let it go – for the right price. If new owners do take over, they are likely to resurrect Ian Schrager’s original renovation plans. Grover Barnes is nearing his 100th birthday, and a statue in his honor in a suitable place in a new-and-improved Miramar would indeed be a fitting tribute. – J.B.)
Thanks Giffin & Crane
I am one of the lucky people who have had a house built by Giffin & Crane (“Celebrations” MJ # 12/21). In fact, you included a photograph of it (the one with the duck house in the pond).
It was a pleasure and a joy the entire time.
We also won a Montecito Beautiful award, and a Santa Barbara Beautiful award.
The quality of everything is the best, and Giffin & Crane’s follow-through is excellent with any maintenance issues.
Bruce Giffin and Geoff Crane are a magnificent team!
Penelope and Adam Bianchi
Dear Ms Seefeld
I read your column regularly and feel I know you well enough to address you by your first name. I too suspected improprieties in the Affordable Purchase Program but I never would have guessed the scope of the problem you would uncover. And I pay closer attention than most. You deserve much credit for bringing this matter to light (“Shouting into the Wind” www.montecitojournal.net/archive/12/22/437/).
We have been using polite words like "fraud" and "abuse.” When in fact, someone has been stealing HUD dollars from eligible recipients. And now you are suggesting that we punish the victims of these crimes even further by canceling their participation in the Purchase Program. That just does not seem right to me. If you cheated on your income tax the Federal Government would hold you responsible to pay restitution with penalties. I am not yet certain that we need to take extreme measures and deny the disenfranchised their Right to Fair Housing. But I do expect some accountability.
In the volume of legislation passed to prevent misuse of HUD funds, those genuinely eligible to participate can now institute suit if their "Fair Share" is compromised. Backed by the "right by use to build,” which says that if a community does not provide zoning for affordable housing they can't stop someone from putting it where they want. No, it is not yet time to scrap the Purchase Program. I still believe it can work as intended.
It is counter-intuitive and difficult for some to accept that encouraging people in the lowest economic strata to purchase homes can save tax dollars in the long run. The government subsidizes mortgages both market rate and affordable. Mortgages for low-income housing are fixed and remain constant. If only affordable rentals were available, the subsidies would go to landlords who could raise rents as the market bore over the next 30 or 40 years. Property owners don't lose when they develop affordable units. There are many incentives offered in the form of tax credits and bonuses. I expect that more landowners will be checking out their options as the market slows. If taxpayers are tired of giving the poor something for nothing, supporting their efforts to become private property owners is the best way I see for them to work their way out of poverty and build wealth.
Reporting "transgressions" is only the start of reforms. Now we must all work together to achieve compliance with Fair Housing Law or risk losing federal funding for some program you value. If you still want to exclude a segment of the population from the Purchase Program just ask Carpinteria how to do it. They did!
(Publisher’s Note: Buying a house is not necessarily the best choice in certain communities. Average homes in Montecito are reaching the $3-million mark. A mortgage for a $3-million home would be around $15,000 with 20% down and that’s not including property tax. There are plenty of home rentals in and around the area that afford you the same luxury for one-third the cost. If the market plummets, a renter can always leave and stay afloat. Many people who save for years and buy a home without governmental help run the risk of their property losing value. This hasn’t happened in a decade but many places in the country will see the effects of overbuilding and high home costs. If affordable housing units could be sold at market value, the housing supply would increase and make it easier for homebuyers to find a house in their income bracket. Besides, subsidizing some homebuyers is a disincentive to other homebuyers and is a lousy idea. – TLB)
Wow! Thank you all for your great participation. All being our dedicated MERRAG volunteers and organizations and my coworkers here at Montecito Fire District who helped make our disaster simulation take place.
It may not have seemed like much for those MERRAG members who had to respond from their own locations and only had a few things to report over the radio, but here at the DOC, it was extremely busy! Each location's one or two situations added up to a lot of requests for service or assistance over the hour that we were activated!
The radio transmissions were very good, and descriptions of the scenarios were well depicted. I did note that everyone seemed to have a more confident voice on the radio when transmitting this time. There were also fewer cut-offs than we have experienced in the past. Good job!
Here at the DOC, the Primary and Secondary Pager Carriers (Tom Schleck and Jill Dale) started off by setting up DOC Manager position and initiating a radio call out. From there, things just rolled into a big incident with many requests for assistance. It was clear to see that if we did encounter a real earthquake of that magnitude, we will need a lot of help from MERRAG and the rest of the community to assist and put this district back on its feet.
The documentation during the event also went well. There were a few suggestions of things that may make an activation more efficient, such as utilizing a headset for the person manning the radio, and prioritizing what gets set up in the DOC when manpower is limited.
I was told by several coworkers that they were impressed with the level of participation and the growth that they have seen in the abilities of those who respond for an activation.
Kudos to all! I am very proud of all of you and want to personally thank these participants for their effort in making this a very successful drill:
DOC volunteers: Tom Schleck, Jill Dale, Tina Coffin, Davis Von Wittenburg, Mike McCaleb, Bill Gowler, Phyllis Marble, John Ackerman, Tom Bauer, Troy Harris, David Rubio, Keith Frick, Spencer Boise, Chris Wilkenson, Jane Dyruff, Laura Menehan, Martin Rose, Chief Terry McElwee, Chief Kevin Wallace, and all A-Shift personnel.
Organizational participants included: All Saints by-the-Sea Church and Parish Pre-School, Four Seasons Biltmore, Birnam Wood, Casa Dorinda, Cold Spring School, Crane School, El Montecito Presbyterian Church and School, Featherhill Road Association, Friendship Center, High Road Homeowners Organization, Laguna Blanca School, Lotusland, Montecito Shores Homeowners Association, Montecito Union School, Montecito Valley Ranch, MDCA, Music Academy of the West, Westmont College, Montecito Water District, Montecito Sanitary District, Montecito Fire District, and SBSO.
Montecito Fire District
I am very curious to know the opinions, thoughts, and comments of Montecito Journal readers who oppose the death penalty and especially how they feel about the Saddam Hussein verdict.
U.S. Foreign Policy
A couple weeks ago, in the Sunday Edition of the News-Press there was an article titled: “History Lesson.” It sees a comparison with current U.S. foreign policy and an “empire complex.” Running an empire is a very serious adult game. There is bound to be collateral damage. Strategies, as noted, also include keeping the understanding by the audience (U.S. population) well in check. Bush and his administration are no fools and see very concrete reasons for this.
The author of this piece draws some parallels to the naïve approach to understanding foreign policy that is ingrained within the U.S. population. This makes it hard to come out with a rational frontal public approach and is an unfortunate catch-22.
A civil war in Iraq may be part of the long-term strategy for the U.S. Our longer-term economic competitors include the EU and China. The latter’s currency is as yet not considered a competitor to the global monetary system. The EU’s euro, however is a serious competitor to the dollar and thus its underpinning as the extant world monetary system.
The EU is basically energy deficient. If we can choke off its access to the world’s energy, we will be better off from the perspective of empire theory. One way to do this is through civil war in the Middle East, especially via Iraq. The turmoil from civil war will assure that the conflict continues for a considerable time. In the interim, access to oil reserves are diminished, hence increased pressure on the EU. If we can further the global warming trend (while protesting that it is not real) we may see northern Europe sheet over with ice in a decade or two. This would completely disrupt the EU. Thus, one serious economic competitor is out of the picture and then would be dependent on the U.S.
That civil wars have been instigated as proxy to drive deficits is nothing new to history, especially in the Middle East, including North Africa. A case in point is the civil war in the Sudan. If Sudan’s agricultural potential were ever seen to come to fruition, the U.S wheat industry would take a serious hit. Their product would likely be offered for euros and not dollars. Also bringing in the Sudan’s vast irrigation potential would disrupt water to Egypt, a U.S. ally where we spend about a $1 billion-plus a year. Thus, a civil war is a cheap form of insurance.
Much of all this has to do with the status of the dollar, which, as the world’s monetary exchange system, is built on a very fragile and unstable foundation. Were this to change to the EU’s euro, the U.S., as we know it, would be vastly changed.
There are a series of other drivers involved in keeping Iraq in turmoil. Civil war would easily accomplish this and at little outside expense. This may be the underlying reason for Rumsfeld’s low budgetary allocations. Further, without oil, we can run on nuclear energy and the people would be faced with that option. The proponents of nuclear energy would like nothing better than to see oil dry up. Civil war is an excellent desiccant.
Dr. Edo McGowan
Former US environmental advisor to 22 African nations for the Department of State
(Publisher’s Note: Plenty of other countries consume and produce chemicals that contribute to Global Warming (if indeed global warming is man-induced). I really doubt that the United States single-handedly could cause enough climate change in the next 20 years to put northern Europe underneath an ice sheet, but hey, maybe it’s worth a try! – TLB)
Leave Westmont Alone
For more than six years, I have watched Westmont College bend over backwards throughout the process of updating its campus master plan. Even though the college is simply updating a plan that has been approved for decades, Westmont has been willing to accept delay after delay, and literally tens of millions in additional costs.
What’s most amazing is that much of this has been in response to a very small group of opponents who freely admitted early in the process that their proposition to the update was “a little blackmail.”
That is why I am not surprised that one of these opponents said in the latest Montecito Journal (“The New New Westmont” www.montecitojournal.net/archive/12/19/370/) that Westmont’s revised plan is nothing but “window dressing.”
(If your true goal is for Westmont to leave Montecito, it is just “window dressing” to completely reroute the main campus drive, physically move the prayer chapel to a new location, demolish existing buildings to create additional design options, and re-design every single proposed building.
I recently had the chance to view the plans and walk the campus with the local architects. I think that what the architects have done with the design and the space is amazing – especially the planted roofs.
With the Board of Architectural Review’s glowing endorsement of the new design concept, with the Mountain Drive Homeowners Association’s expressions of gratitude and approval of the latest plan, and with more than 1,300 Montecito residents publicly listing their names as supporters of the update (more than 200 of whom live within a half mile of the college), it’s time that we stop allowing this small handful of opponents and their attorney to speak as if they represent more than their own narrow interests.
Westmont has taken a more than reasonable amount of time to answer questions and address concerns, and has produced an update to its approved plan to be proud of. Now it’s time to let the college move forward.
Sent via Fax
(Publisher’s Note: While we agree it may be time to “let the college move forward,” the “approved” master plan from the 1970s just doesn’t pass muster. We also doubt the delays, while undoubtedly costly, have run into the “tens of millions.” We like Westmont’s new plans, but without the diligent opposition of an organized neighborhood group, it would never have come to fruition. – TLB)
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