Archive » December 14, 2006
Letters to the Editor
By MJ Staff
‘Enough is Enough’
That’s it. I can’t stay silent any longer. To echo a phrase launched by the Ty Warner PR machine, “Enough is enough.” In their recent, glossy communication, lavishly produced by the Warner group, and in the November 29 issue of the Journal (montecitojournal.net/archive/12/26/538/), I’ve been singled out by name as well as by position, as Chair of the Montecito Association’s Land Use Committee. My actions have been mischaracterized, my words misconstrued. This is both dismaying and frustrating; it’s like being a politician with every bit of the burden and none of the benefit of public office. My statements – or a version thereof – have been used to demonstrate my “personal bias” against Ty Warner.
In response, I would pose a one-word, threshold question, actually my best defense against such a charge: “Why?” Why would I have personal bias? Why would I – or any other individual – devote hundreds of hours this past year on all the other work of the Association just to be able to carry out some kind of vendetta against Mr. Warner? Apparently it’s only Mr. Warner I’m personally biased against, since no one else has leveled such a charge. I’ve sat through innumerable County meetings in regard to: reformatting the County-wide zoning laws, renewing the Growth Management Ordinance, reviewing pending state legislation that impacts our community, studying Westmont’s proposed Master Plan Update, recalibrating Montecito traffic baselines, clarifying Montecito’s Architectural Guidelines, to name just a few. On behalf of the Association, I’ve attended multiple Montecito Planning Commission meetings to urge adherence to our Community Plan. I’ve sat in on a dozen Board of Architectural Review meetings and commented on multiple projects, not only Mr. Warner’s. Occasionally, I am thanked for my efforts.
Could it be that the same public policy considerations I bring to these exercises also inform my examination of Mr. Warner’s proposals? That I uniformly express the same concerns about preserving historic character, about protecting public access and entitlement, as well as about over-development, urbanization, traffic and safety, and increased density in regard to all the projects I review? Could it just be that I love our town and want it to remain the same, or as much as is possible in the face of constant challenges to our semi-rural character? Think about it.
I feel a particular obligation to express my personal philosophy since some of what has been published took place during a private meeting I arranged with Greg Rice, Warner’s executive vice president of development, in which I tried unsuccessfully to do just that. I wanted to make a good faith effort to improve relations and to find a way to work together. When I called Mr. Rice, I told him I had no agenda other than to facilitate communication; when he asked, I assured him that the meeting would be off the record. Now that Mr. Rice has put our meeting on the record, I feel compelled to relate my version.
Our meeting was a disaster from the outset. Mr. Rice arrived for coffee already agitated; he brushed aside my carefully worded preamble and confronted me with a series of accusations. It was difficult to be responsive without being defensive. There was no acknowledgment that – with the massive amount of development in which Mr. Warner is engaged – a long, involved planning process is both inevitable and appropriate. Mr. Rice labeled those who even question Warner’s projects as part of “the opposition,” lumped them together and referred to them all as the Association, refusing to concede our limited advisory and advocacy role and regardless of whether it was actually a County Planning and Development action, with its governmental authority, or the quasi-governmental MPC or MBAR. He admitted to no distinction between decisions or recommendations based on public policy, and those due to violations of ordinances or inconsistency with the Community Plan, or those raised by traffic and safety concerns. Association opposition was characterized as being unrelenting, our reasons as being bogus. Later, I recognized this to be a deliberate Warner strategy: their holding us responsible for the purported sale of the Miramar should have come as no surprise to the Association.
Three instances in particular have to do with me personally. Mr. Rice claims, “The Montecito Association leadership has repeatedly failed to invite [the Warner group] to meetings where our projects and properties have been discussed and voted on.” On the contrary, Bill Medel, Warner’s project manager, refused my invitation to attend the September 6 Land Use Committee meeting at which we reviewed the MPC decision on the proposed Biltmore seawall stairs. Medel said, “We don’t need the Association; we have our approval.” Rice maintained to me that Medel had never been contacted. When I persisted, telling him that I have the cell phone records to show the call was made, Rice changed the subject.
Additionally, Rice claims that I lobbied Montecito Fire Chief Ron McLain to oppose the Channel Drive “improvements” – the median and planted bulb-outs. The notion that I might have such influence is flattering but ludicrous. The concern I first expressed – which warranted my abstention on the vote at the January Land Use meeting – had to do with possible decreased visibility for drivers, because trees would be planted in the median along the curve of the road. The Fire Chief’s safety concerns were entirely separate and more serious: constricting the road with a planted median and with bulb-outs that project eight feet into the roadway has the potential to slow response time for emergency vehicles. Subsequently, I voiced my opinion publicly about what some of us see as the “privatization” of Channel Drive; the design creates the impression that the entire area is incorporated into the Biltmore Hotel grounds. However, this was not the basis for Chief McLain’s decision; to suggest otherwise is both incorrect and an insult to him.
At our meeting, I made a last-ditch effort to communicate the source of my concerns about the seawall stairs at Butterfly Beach; significantly, in his latest mailing, Mr. Rice refers to this as “our Biltmore beach stairway.” As a hiker who frequents the San Ysidro Trail, I believe the Ranch’s addition of the attendant-manned gate kiosk at the entrance had a chilling effect on public usage of the trail easement along the bottom of the Ranch. Similarly, I suggested that persons not knowing there’s a public right of way might think that the seawall steps – given their location and design – are for the exclusive use of Biltmore Hotel guests. I knew that some on the MPC shared this concern. Mind you, this was all before the “Public Access” signage was magically included in the Biltmore’s stairway plans at the recent appeal to the Board of Supervisors, signage that would have allayed these concerns, making the entire appeal unnecessary.
At this point, Mr. Rice said, “This is Ty Warner’s private property and he can do whatever he wants to with it!” I responded too quickly and out of frustration, “So he wants to rub the public’s nose in it?” Immediately I apologized to Mr. Rice for my “unfortunate choice of expression.” He stood; I implored him to stay. He pronounced, “This is going nowhere” and stormed out, leaving me sitting there while the hotel wait staff pretended not to notice the rude behavior.
Although I announced some time ago that I wouldn’t seek a second term as a director on the Association Board, I do not regret the effort I’ve expended or the process in which I’ve participated this past term: it’s been an incredible learning experience for me. If I could do it all again, however, I probably wouldn’t attempt a private meeting with Greg Rice, since it really was a waste of time and effort. I’d also like to think I could refrain from issuing inflammatory ripostes, such as to his comment. But, I am human. I can be goaded into saying things I regret. I make mistakes. But I’ve done the very best I could do with the responsibility I assumed, and in that regard, I can stand proudly with Association volunteers from the past 60 years. We’ve all done the best we could do, and we’ve done some good for Montecito.
Who Is John Galt?
It's with a mixture of amusement and frustration that I've watched the activities of the Montecito Association over the last few years. Amusement, at the audacity of their actions and because none of the projects they've addressed have affected me personally. Frustration because as a Montecito resident for 20 of the 24 years I've lived in the area I care about this community and what happens here; it is my home.
I've watched what's happened with the Biltmore, Miramar and the Butterfly Beach steps, but I really didn't pay particularly close attention to the details until the Westmont issue came up. As an alum ('85), this is the closest the Association has come to affecting me personally. I was particularly alarmed when I found out that the leader of this organization was one of the ones who had harassed Westmont mercilessly on the Cold Spring School board. I was really surprised, because I sure didn't remember voting for him, or even having the opportunity to vote for him. Up until that time I was aware that this organization existed and had political power, but knew nothing about its makeup or organization. So I did research, and I learned that this is basically a volunteer homeowners association, in which only members have a say. The board is not appointed by an elected official or voted on by citizens, but only by paying members of the Association. (I should add this wasn't so easy to find out; they have a website, and even an area for “Governing Documents,” but their own bylaws, Association rules or other organizing documents aren't there.) Yet this organization has jurisdiction over projects that are proposed by non-members of the organization, and they are at the board's mercy. It would be one thing if this were just an auxiliary organization that could file “friend of the court” style opinions to the actual democratic decision makers like any other group, but the powers of this organization have clearly exceeded that; they have become the decision makers. So, what we have is an organization dictating policy in Montecito, in which you must pay a membership fee in order to have a say in who runs the organization. This is called a "poll tax", and is clearly unconstitutional. Since I am not a member, I am disenfranchised from having a say in what happens in Montecito.
This has to change. Either the Montecito Association has to have its powers drastically restrained or it needs to become a genuine democratically elected entity, or at least with members appointed by elected representatives. As it is, they are only petty tyrants imposing their views on the community. They may in fact be well-meaning petty tyrants, but without democratic checks and balances, tyrants they are.
I'd like to offer support for Ty Warner and all that he's done in Montecito: Who is John Galt?
(Publisher’s Note: We can understand your frustration that a privately run member-based association can hold so much political sway, but the Montecito Association has a monthly meeting where the public can voice concerns to the board. We doubt the state of Montecito has descended to a level of hopelessness and despair, but we appreciate the reference to Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” – TLB)
Miramar’s Perfect Buyer
It is with great surprise and sadness that Ty Warner has been forced to sell his Miramar Hotel. We, as neighbors, are so pleased that he was going to save and renovate this wonderful old hotel that has been so neglected and in need of repair.
Mr. Warner was the perfect buyer for the Miramar. With his vision, insight and style, he has shown the community what quality projects he can produce.
It would be nice for all the parties involved to develop a plan to keep Ty Warner involved in the project.
(Publisher’s Note: We are also disappointed that he put the Miramar up for sale, as you are correct when you state that Warner is “the perfect buyer.” – TLB)
NIMBY is Nothing New
I apologize if my letters concerning the lack of affordable housing in the area caused you unnecessary distress. Montecito residents are at little risk of being usurped from their "luxury homes" and beds. Fair Housing Law addresses the need to plan zoning to include development based on socio-economic group as identified in the Housing Element. Also, retrofitting rental units that should have been built ADA accessible but were not. As well as other obstacles that deny housing to certain segments of the population. Don't feel too bad. People of advantage still receive their housing subsidies in the form of low interest rates, tax credits, and incentives.
Not to make light of your claim that affordable housing discriminates against those not eligible for the program. Giving the limited funding to people making 180%-200% of the median income will do little to provide the low and very-low income units that the County is responsible to produce.
As you stated, you are only looking to be comfortable that my choice to remain in the community and my need for housing are based on necessity. Let me assure you my decision to live here is very much based on necessity. I am only alive today because of the medical care and supportive services available in the Santa Barbara area. And the temperate climate. And like you, I enjoy the beauty of the area and the many cultural events and educational opportunities available here. And the para-transportation that allows me to access my needs. You can't just deport your poor to an agricultural field in the north county. My life is here. The ashes of my sister and more than a few friends are here. Whatever your reasons for not wanting to live with people like me, I believe I have better reasons to stay. And I get points for sincerity.
Your “people who need housing don't need to live in Montecito” segregation plan is nothing new. That pervasive NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) attitude against special needs housing is not unique. Many communities have attempted to use local ordinances to keep affordable units out of their neighborhoods. What smacks of discrimination to me is allowing HUD funding intended to provide low-income housing to be used for personal gain by others not eligible for the program. Let me try to understand your logic. If you steal the funding you get to live here. If you are eligible for an affordable housing subsidy you have no choice but to leave. You can call that fair housing. I don't.
(Publisher’s note: At the risk of sounding cold-hearted, I am philosophically opposed to forcibly taking money from Carlota so that it can be handed over to Karen, which is what all these income-redistributing “affordable housing” plans do. – TLB)
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