(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)

We Never Approved Westmont

I cannot sit by and allow the grossly inaccurate statement in your recent editorial “Onward (and Upward) for Westmont” (www.montecitojournal.net/archive/12/25/516/). You stated that the “new plan was met with quick approval by both the MPC and the nearby Mountain Drive community.” I am a member of this Mountain Drive community, The Mountain Drive Community Association to be precise, and this new plan has never been “approved” by our association. As a group of very concerned neighbors of Westmont College, some of whom have been contesting their expansion for close to 30 years, we graciously offered our appreciation for their efforts to modify their plan by implementing a “green” style of building that would camouflage some of the vastness of the project. We felt this deserved to be acknowledged, but we never approved the new plan, and this is why.

In my final address to the Montecito Planning Commission during public comments last month I said: “There remains one critical issue which must be addressed, and that is the size and scope of this project. The square footage of the overall proposed buildings has not been reduced, and this is a grave and dangerous mistake. The peacefulness of our community, our neighborhood, and our homes is at stake and I beseech this commission to insist upon a reduction in square footage of at least one third to one half of what is proposed. This is an imperative step in these proceedings if we are to preserve and uphold the guidelines, standards, and objectives of the Montecito Community Plan.

The reason for this necessary drastic reduction in square footage is simply because a 350,000-square-foot addition in the middle of rural Montecito is not compatible with the neighborhood. It just isn’t, no matter how pretty you make it or how worthwhile the activities it houses. I therefore request that we move forward with caution by limiting Phase One to one or two of the proposed buildings and thereby get a real life evaluation of the construction, traffic, noise and pollution impacts that can be expected with further building. I also recommend that you not grant the exception to the height restriction for the chapel auditorium. This entire project is an exception. Let us not add exception to exception. Enough is enough.

Sadly, my words seem to have fallen on deaf ears, or, according to the Journal’s simultaneous article “Westmont College Expects Appeal of Commission’s Project Approval,” on ears that have been unduly influenced and pressured by County Counsel.

The fact is, our Mountain Drive Community Association is outraged and grief-stricken by the commissioners’ approval of Westmont’s Master Plan. Imagine if you will, living right next door to the construction equivalent of two La Cumbre Plazas as some of my dear friends and fellow Mountain Drive Community Association members do. No. We did not approve this plan.

I suspect that once other Montecito residents start to experience the inevitable impacts of this gargantuan project, they may well wish that they had been more involved in these proceedings. My personal heroes Pam Lopker and Laura Collector may yet muster the strength, courage, and fortitude to spearhead an appeal to save this beautiful, quiet neighborhood of ours. If not, then let my fellow Montecito residents beware. The beginning of the end of Montecito as we know it will start with unprecedented grading and attendant noise and traffic in 2008.

In my last-ditch appeal to the MPC and in an effort to voice appreciation of Westmont’s efforts but not approve their latest plan, I stated: “Westmont is a worthwhile and well-intentioned entity in our community and I believe that they can update, enhance and enlarge their campus within the reasonable confines of doing so in a residential area. They have made great efforts to modify their building standards so that they are more harmonious in style with their surroundings. But the final and most critical issue is ultimately that of size. Once we decide to go down that road, metaphorically speaking, it will be your decision to make it a freeway, or keep it a country lane. Please choose carefully, because once the cement starts flowing, there will be no going back.”

Get ready for those cement trucks folks!

Gabrielle Mandelik Hayum

Montecito

Mountain Drive Community Association Member

(Publisher’s Note: We have regularly voiced concern over the size of this project and have even made suggestions – both public and private – to influential Westmont supporters that the project is inconsistent with the “semi-rural” Montecito environs and that the administration should scale it back. That said, we applaud the new design, which really does take many of the objections to the original plan, i.e., intrusive outdoor lighting, moving the perimeter road away from Mountain Drive neighbors, etc., into consideration. Our understanding of the results of the latest MPC meeting was that the Mountain Drive community had indeed approved of most of the changes. If that is incorrect, please accept our apologies. The larger question of whether Westmont really does have the right to add the square footage it is attempting to add is one that likely will be settled in a court of law. As far as the Journal goes, we’re not happy to see anything grow, neither 101, nor Westmont, nor Lotusland, nor Val Verde, nor the Biltmore. As for me, I grew up here, went to school here, bicycled to school, walked to the beach, and skateboarded down Cold Spring Road at midnight (sorry Dad). The enormous pressure on Montecito to grow or get out of the way is sad to watch, so I understand and sympathize with you and your organization. – TLB)

Count Us Out

Congratulations on your one-sided coverage of Measure K. Ever heard of fair coverage? Ever heard about not publishing lies? Ever heard about what happened to the News-Press?

Congratulations – you have lost many Cold Spring parents. We may have lost on Measure K but we can still vote by not reading your paper!

Garrett and Ginny Speirs and many Cold Spring Parents

Montecito

(Editor’s Note: It is curious that you would label my article “one-sided” when I interviewed two Measure K supporters and only one opponent. The final tally for Measure K was extremely close, a testament to how divided voters of the district were on the issue. We took no sides editorially, figuring a decision on the bond measure was best left in the hands of residents that would be affected by the higher property taxes required to pay it off. We ran all letters that were sent to us either for or against this measure. We have and will continue to remain a place where open debate is encouraged. – GD)

Salud, Take Heed

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors once again unanimously overruled the Montecito Planning Commission (MPC) by approving the elegant Biltmore design for replacement stairs to Butterfly Beach, replete with brick pavers, flower pots, a viewing platform and mature landscaping. They unanimously rejected the MPC contention that the stairway design was “too beautiful” and “too Biltmore.”

MPC denial of the David VanHoy design added tens of thousands of dollars in unnecessary legal and architectural fees for the applicant, who once again had to appeal to the County Board of Supervisors. The Warner team had hoped to begin construction in September 2006 to be ready for the summer of 2007. Instead, the appeal process pushes the public access to the beach back another year, creating a three-year delay since the original stairs were washed out by winter storms.

County Supervisor Brooks Firestone scolded the MPC for an “abuse of process” and called for a resolution to reform the Montecito planning process, suggesting that bringing petty issues of design to the County Board of Supervisors is a waste of taxpayer time and money. The chair, Supervisor Joni Gray, said, “I don’t know why we even have to discuss this.” Montecito’s Supervisor Salud Carbajal admitted the MPC handling of the stair decision had been “less than stellar,” but added that “a revision of the approval process is unnecessary.”

The reality is that the Montecito planning process has become so difficult that projects like the restoration of the Coral Casino have been bogged down for five years by hearings, lawsuits, and almost 100 conditions of approval (some silly: like labeling and storing each piece of rotting plywood for 100 years). These conditions and the time delays have escalated the restoration cost from $15 million to $60 million. The planning process has become so torturous that the Warner team has been forced to abandon the Miramar restoration because of a legitimate concern that the approval process will raise project costs to unaffordable levels. Unless a “greater fool” becomes a buyer, the Miramar could remain shuttered for another 20 years.

The MPC process needs to be reformed. What should be done? First, Salud must recognize that a problem exists. He needs to respond to his fellow members of the County Board of Supervisors and concerned citizens with something more substantial than homilies like, “In the democratic process there are winners and losers,” followed by, “If only the Biltmore team had proposed signage stating the public’s right to access the beach” (the signage is already there), the MPC would not have made its fundamentally flawed decision. This misrepresentation brought a collective groan from audience members who had attended the MPC hearing.

Salud appoints the MPC members and he is responsible for their performance. He needs to move quickly to establish a blue-ribbon, independent MPC Review Board, possibly chaired by former Montecito Journal publisher James Buckley, an MPC supporter, to meet with the current members of the MPC, concerned Montecito citizens and noted community architects to propose needed reforms. The intent would be to improve the planning process in Montecito, shorten the time needed for approval, minimize personal biases, and protect the community.

One positive change might be the appointment of Commissioner Bob Bierig to chair the MPC. Bierig is a born leader and a consensus builder who can bring people of disparate views together. Another area for reform would be a mandatory rotation plan to bring new MPC members and new ideas into the process. Sometimes, when folks remain too long in positions of power, they begin to believe that their personal tastes are shared by the community. A third area for reform is speeding up the process. Why should a remodel of the privately owned Coral Casino take five years and generate 92 conditions for approval?

A reformed MPC must protect Montecito’s character, preserve its rich traditions, and encourage quality development. The other County Commissioners believe we have a dysfunctional MPC, and they have a point. Salud, take heed. Appoint a blue-ribbon Review Board to recommend steps to improve the process because reform is needed.

Bob Hazard

Montecito

(Former Publisher’s Note: Thanks, Bob, for your vote of confidence in any ability I might have to be objective, but we don’t need another board, even if I am on it. We need clear rules by which everyone – winners and losers, neighbors and property owners, MPC members and applicants – agrees beforehand to abide by. No never-ending appeals, and no more arbitrary “conditions” requested or required by well-meaning committee or commission members on private property owners that are outside the written restrictions and/or requirements of a Montecito Community Plan. – J.B.)