Smilgis Drops ‘The Dish’

Martha Smilgis, the Montecito resident and veteran journalist, said her three years writing a weekly gossip column for the Santa Barbara News-Press were more than enough. Smilgis announced she would quit “The Dish” after the newspaper’s “Powers that Be” asked that her column be more “gossipy” and less political. She said Monday she would leave the paper with “no hard feelings.”

“I enjoyed the column tremendously and I will certainly miss my readers,” Smilgis said over the phone. “I’ve learned a lot about this town. I’ve come to respect a lot about this town that has so many creative and smart people.”

Smilgis wrote her first piece for the News-Press in September of 2003, a column she recalls was about night clubs and State Street. From then on she says she wrote “a little bit of everything,” from style and social trends to “clever little asides” about local personalities to tidbits from political confabs.

“The column didn’t change at all throughout its time, if you think about it,” she says.

Smilgis graduated from UC Berkeley and then carved out a busy journalism career, working for CBS and CNN in New York and as a correspondent for 17 years at TIME magazine, where she later became an associate editor. She had a three-year stint at People magazine, was one of the executive producers for Extra! and wrote a column called “The Outraged Investor” for the San Francisco Examiner. She’s published one novel, “Fame’s Peril,” and is working on another as-of-yet-untitled book about murder and “trust fund babies.”

Gusts of Wind, Gasps for Air

For the first time since the fallout at the Santa Barbara News-Press began in July, newsroom unionizers and sympathizers brought their complaints about owner and co-publisher Wendy McCaw to Montecito. On a windy Saturday evening, a close-knit group of 55 protesters gathered on the brick valet entrance of the Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel demanding the embattled owner to recognize the unionization of newsroom employees, to negotiate new contracts and to rehire editors and reporters she fired.

The vigil was carried out during the Santa Barbara News-Press Lifetime Achievement Awards banquet held at the Biltmore. The 18th annual gala, which McCaw attended, honored William S. Thomas Jr., Sara Miller McCune and Morris "Morrie" Jurkowitz, all accomplished business elites who were each chosen by a selection committee made up of past recipients.

In her acceptance speech, McCune, who is publisher and chair of Sage Publications and has expressed interest in purchasing the News-Press, spoke briefly about feeling “humbled” before concluding, “Next year, I hope to own the News-Press” as the audience gasped in disbelief.

“It just electrified everyone. It was the most inappropriate statement I’ve ever heard at an event of that nature,” said Montecito’s Judith Ishkanian, who attended the banquet. “It is so improper to disrespect the host of the party.”

McCune apparently returned to accept her award, a Tiffany eggshell blue box, before locating the exit. She was then, we are told, confronted by News-Press editorial page editor Travis Armstrong, who said her comments were “rude and inappropriate.”

More on Gunner

Richard Gunner, the real estate investor who purchased the Upper Village “Pharmacy Property,” has a background that according to some in the industry indicates he’s serious about his Montecito investment. Mr. Gunner owns high-priced commercial real estate here and elsewhere, including the Tally Ho Inn in Carmel-by-the-Sea and the Santa Barbara Inn, which he purchased for $16.3 million. “Obviously realistic about what he is getting into, Mr. Gunner seems like a delightful fit for the San Ysidro Pharmacy property,” says Jan Atkins, managing director of Atkins Hotel Advisory