What Exactly Is The Montecito Association?

Recent controversy has highlighted some fundamentally false ideas of what and who the Montecito Association is and what it does and/or hopes to accomplish. Here then (and on page 11 by MA President Robert Collector), we’ll try to set a little of that record straight.

The Montecito Association traces its roots back to the Montecito Protective Covenant of 1927; it was then, and is now, “committed to leading the community in the preservation, protection, and enhancement of the semi-rural residential character of Montecito.” The Association in its current form was created in 1948; since then, it has been on the correct side of many issues that have challenged Montecito. Sometimes, naturally, it has been on the wrong side, but on balance, the Montecito Association has been a trusted defender of that “semi-rural residential character.”

The Montecito Association has recently been at odds with Biltmore-Coral Casino-Montecito Country Club-San Ysidro Ranch-Miramar owner Ty Warner over some of his planned improvements and projects. Two issues ago, we outlined some of those conflicts – many of which are viewed by the Warner group as affronts, an impression that is sometimes warranted and other times not.

Warranted complaints include questioning the use of matching bricks (and two planters) in front of the Biltmore seawall (which Ty Warner owns and is responsible for maintaining), criticism of the new roadway and bike path on Channel Drive, demand for a limitation on the number of spa patrons at the Biltmore Spa, employee parking, and other matters. These have served not only to shine unfavorable light upon the Montecito Association, but have also – and in the eyes of many, unnecessarily – frustrated Mr. Warner, whose money is being spent and whose property rights are at issue.

Let’s clear up one glaring bit of misinformation: Other media (not us!) have incorrectly reported that the Montecito Association has denied or given unfair treatment to Ty Warner’s updated plans for the Miramar; this is untrue. Updated Miramar plans have never been brought before the Montecito Association. According to Greg Rice, executive vice president of development for Ty Warner Hotels & Resorts, LLC, Mr. Warner has become fed up with “the process,” and that is the reason he put the Miramar property on the market. Some feel this is simply a “PR stunt” by the Warner team. Maybe, but our understanding is that, while it is true the Montecito Association has not been presented with new plans for the Miramar, Warner and his crew have no illusions as to how those plans would likely be treated, based upon their recent uncomfortable experience.

The 1992 Montecito Community Plan

The Montecito Association’s main reason for existence is to implement the Montecito Community Plan, the chief tenets of which require Association members to:

• Protect the scenic backdrop value of the foothills and mountainsides; protect the watershed function of the mountainsides; prevent excessive erosion and scarring from development;

• Protect habitats and other biological resources, and provide a balance between protection of species and flood control;

• Preserve the narrow, winding roads and lack of sidewalks;

• Provide for infill growth rather than expansion of the Urban Area;

• Maintain adequate services and infrastructure to support development and provide protection;

• Reduce the impact of noise from construction projects;

• Increase opportunities for beach access and recreation;

• Bring the Land Use and the Circulation Elements of the Montecito Comprehensive Plan into consistency;

• Implement architectural design guidelines.

That’s it. As we’ve said above, the Board of Directors doesn’t always get it right, but that is its mission. That’s why members volunteer hours and days, weeks and months, to sit on the various committees to plan and run things like Beautification Day, the Village Fourth, the Historical Committee, etc.

Does the Association – like all government or quasi-governmental bodies – overstep its mandate? You bet. Should it be redressed from time to time? Absolutely. But, let’s give it credit for what it has done – including creation of the Montecito Planning Commission. The MPC was always going to be a threat to the Association’s very existence but to its credit, the Association voted in favor of its formation anyway. Montecito is the only unincorporated area in Santa Barbara county to have this kind of power over its own growth. Let’s keep all that in mind as the Association is buffeted by both the winds of change and the exhortations of well-meaning groups like The Voices of Montecito.

In the meantime, if you are unsure whether Ty Warner has been a positive or negative influence, take a walk around the Biltmore, or better yet, the almost-finished San Ysidro Ranch. Make a reservation at the Stonehouse (read food columnist – and my former babysitter – Eva Van Prooyen’s article on page 36); get there early and meander up the tree-lined pathway to the restaurant, and then decide.