After Two Departures, Carbajal Ponders a Planning Commission in Transition

As the Montecito Planning Commission approaches its fifth year of existence, First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal has been faced with new appointments to the five-member panel, a rearrangement that he said would bring new “vitality and vibrancy” to the commission. First came the anticipated resignation last month of Commission Chair Bob Meghreblian, creating a vacancy that Carbajal immediately filled in with Sue Burrows, an appointment the 37-year Montecito resident has awaited for two years.

Shortly after Meghreblian’s retirement, another seat became open when Commissioner Richard Thielscher unexpectedly resigned. The First District office has set a deadline of January 16 for interested individuals to submit their applications. With plans to fill the vacant seat before the commission’s February 21 hearing, Carbajal said he wanted to interview every applicant in a thorough hiring process he hoped would create a commission that draws on multiple perspectives.

“A diverse set of backgrounds is important on the Montecito Planning Commission because it allows the spectrum of the community to be fully represented,” Carbajal said. “That is the essence of Montecito.”

In the case of Burrows, Carbajal honored a commitment he made two years ago when he promised Burrows a spot on the commission as soon as an opening presented itself. He said Burrows’s “diverse affiliations and diverse experience” would make her a “fair and balanced” commissioner.

For her part, Burrows, who vied for a commission appointment in January 2005, when she was beat out by Claire Gottsdanker, the waiting period has been spent readying for the post, regularly watching the commission’s monthly hearings on television.

“It’s not such a bad thing to know and to wait, because you can prepare,” she said.

With an official appointment coming from the County Board of Supervisors on January 9, Burrows neglected to predict how she would weigh in on future cases or whether she found fault in past commission decisions. She said she “wouldn’t want to prejudge anything until you get all the documents and materials,” choosing the departed Meghreblian, one of the commission’s leading patriarchs, as a model for her service.

“He directed a meeting with such efficiency and fairness,” Burrows said of Meghreblian. “I think that’s a direction we should continue to pursue.”

In the domain of land use, Burrows brings a smattering of experience. She has been with the California Women League of Voters since 1990, serving as the Santa Barbara chapter’s president from 1995 to 1998 and as chair of the organization’s land use committee.

Burrows highlighted her involvement in the League of Voters’ opposition to the Naples mega-development project, a proposed 54-home complex of large homes whose draft environmental impact report is undergoing revision. Burrows pointed out that the Naples development, albeit larger in scope, is similar to the Jack Maxwell proceedings, in which the Montecito developer tried to split his Summit Road property into three lots with a right to build homes. The Montecito Planning Commission denied Maxwell’s request for development in fall of 2005 and he filed a lawsuit last summer at the County Superior Court.

From 2003 to 2004, Burrows served on the Montecito Association Board of Directors, before leaving early to become one of the founding board members of the Montecito-based Homeowners Defense Fund, an organization devoted to local control of land use planning. She left that group in the spring of 2006, saying her position as a board member would present a conflict of interest with her imminent appointment to the Planning Commission. Burrows still works with the Casa del Herrero Foundation, handling media relations and development of funds.

The Second Seat

In determining the next planning commissioner, Carbajal said a deep planning experience isn’t necessarily a requisite for the job. “If you happen to have a planning background, great, but you don’t have to have one,” he said. “You have to have the characteristics to make a good analysis and decision.”

Carbajal didn’t respond to reports that Jack Overall, a Montecito Association director and Land Use Committee member, was the leading candidate for the second seat, saying he had yet to review all the applications.

The second vacancy provides a timely opportunity for the recently formed Voices of Montecito, a coalition of local watchdogs devoted to reforming planning procedures. Members of the group said last week that one of its members, J.W. Colin, a Montecito resident who has expressed interest in joining the Montecito Association Board of Directors, would apply for the vacant Planning Commission seat. Lee Luria, a leading member of Voices of Montecito, said Colin would give the commission a “broad approach to land use” and a “respect for property rights,” describing him as “somebody who hasn’t been recycled through all the committees, like the Montecito Association, and would bring a different perspective.”

A First District County Arts Commissioner for the past six years, Colin has a modest level of local experience in public service and a more extensive résumé in the private sector. He was a registered professional engineer in Texas and during the mid-‘60s he worked at Information Systems Inc., a firm for which he was in charge of all planning and layout of “Snowmass-at-Aspen,” a project he said gave him an explicit understanding of an applicant’s finite building schedule.

“I think I can bring a more fundamental, business approach,” Colin said over the phone last week. “I don’t care if it’s you or me or Ty Warner, it takes too long to get an application processed in this town.”

As a commissioner, Colin said he would deliver a “common sense approach of being treated how you would want to be treated if you were an applicant.” He singled out the Biltmore seawall repair as an instance where hotelier Ty Warner, the applicant, was unfairly treated. He said the commission should be more eager to approve projects, especially when they come with a supportive recommendation from County planning staff.

“I don’t think that’s asking too much,” Colin said.

Edison to Begin Tree-Trimming Project

Campaign Comes on Heels of Destructive Gale-force Windstorm

Beginning this month and lasting through the entirety of 2007, Southern California Edison will be staging a sweeping campaign to trim high limbs from street-side trees that pose a danger to power lines and might disrupt connections for customers.

The tree-trimming operation, which an Edison official called “more aggressive than usual,” is designed to go beyond the normal requirements mandated by the California Public Utilities Commission, the state authority on voltage line clearance.

“We’re taking the proactive steps,” said Jane Brown, Edison’s region manager of public affairs.

The utilities company has contracted Davey Tree to complete all of the cutting and a certified arborist will be present during the project to ensure the preservation of County-protected vegetation.

The planned project comes in response to an announcement last fall by Edison that many parts of Montecito were in dire risk of power disturbances. The company reported that 39% of all outages in Montecito were due to vegetation, a frequency that Brown called “higher than in other areas.”

The imminent threat posed by Montecito’s sprawling canopies was best represented on December 27, when a severe windstorm devastated the County’s residential areas, toppling trees and high voltage lines onto streets, cars, homes and buildings and blowing out transformers.

Edison’s most recent calculations estimated that more than 250,000 of its customers experienced service interruptions, ranging from momentary outages to blackouts lasting several hours.

While Edison officials reported that Carpinteria had been one of the South Coast’s hardest-hit areas, Montecito faced its own inconveniences from gale-force winds. Sheffield Drive was blocked off for the duration of December 28 as Edison crews rapidly cleared the street of felled trees, utility poles and debris.

The utility company reported as many 14 poles had crashed down, some strewn across the roadway, others tangled with trees and lines in teepee-like formations. The large poles supported power lines serving local homes and businesses, as well as long distance transmission line feeding Edison substations. By the end of the day, the road was reopened to motorists.

At East Valley Road, near the Toro Canyon area, mature oak trees came down on cable lines and obstructed traffic for the better part of the day as crews from both Verizon and Cox Communications used chainsaws and heavy-lifters to clear the debris.

A Cox representative working on the scene said that while the heavy oak tree limbs had fallen on top of cable lines, no equipment was damaged and no customers faced service interruptions.

Anna Frutos-Sanchez, a spokesperson for Edison, said that while service had been restored to nearly all customers, the company still faces “permanent repairs that will take several days.”

The tree-trimming project comes in the wake of other service improvement operations announced by Edison last year, including the ambitious five-year Project Santa Barbara that will pour millions of dollars throughout the county for engineering work and infrastructure upgrades.

Throughout Montecito, Edison crews will be replacing failing equipment and modernizing ageing electrical facilities, especially in Coast Village, a prioritized area that can be as problematic for power failures as tree-flanked roadways.

Sansum Tries to Be ‘Mayo Clinic of the West’

Clinic Works to Overcome Public Confusion About its Service

In the haste and stress of critical, often life-saving health care, keeping track of the multitude of attendant practitioners and facilities can be a difficult task for patients and their families. For those patients, the availability of top-care treatment centers in one city is perceived as a privilege.

But for medical facilities in Santa Barbara, which operate in close geographical proximities and work with identical goals and disciplines, there can often be confusion and misconception. Potential patients don’t immediately know where to go and interested donors can’t figure out to whom they write their checks. In past years, Sansum Clinic has struggled with this predicament.

After a survey conducted last year, the 85-year-old non-profit health care provider reported that more than half of the 600 respondents believed that Sansum Clinic and Sansum Diabetes Research Center were part of the same organization. About 30% believed that Sansum Clinic and Cottage Hospital operated under the same organizational umbrella.

For Sansum’s leading officers and trustees, the survey results came as a surprise, especially for an organization that has such a large presence in the region.

“From a practical standpoint, research shows that there was a lot of confusion,” said Ana Drucker, Sansum’s vice president of marketing and development. “The survey really showed us people didn’t understand the health care system in Santa Barbara.”

What people might not understand about Sansum is that at 1,100 employees, it is Santa Barbara county’s twelfth largest employer, serving 40% to 50% of the south county’s population with 500,000 patient visits per year and an annual budget of more than $120 million. With 16 sites spread throughout the region, it is the county’s largest flu shot provider and it leads the country in many distinctions: it offered the first dialysis program, the first board-certified pediatric radiologist and the first fellowship-trained vascular surgeon.

But as healthcare costs rise rapidly, especially for medical equipment, and as Santa Barbara’s demographic gets older, Sansum has been unwilling to afford the public’s misconceptions about its identity and purpose.

Last February, the organization launched a long-range capital campaign, putting about half a million dollars into advertising, informational packets, a new name and new logo. As of last September, it has been known simply as Sansum Clinic instead of Sansum-Santa Barbara Medical Foundation Clinic, a transition that, according to the organization’s recently released annual report, “signals we are a strong, unified and integrated organization.”

The new campaign was also symbolic in capping the merger between Sansum Medical Clinic and Santa Barbara Medical Foundation Clinic that took place eight years ago. It’s an important milestone, organization officials say, as Sansum strives to become “the Mayo Clinic of the West.”

“It’s about positioning Sansum for the future to make sure that Santa Barbara has the best health care facility in the United States in this kind of urban area,” Drucker said.

But as the health care industry rapidly transforms with the advancement of and need for new technologies, Sansum faces crucial challenges. Its 2005 financial figures show that only $841,000, or less than 1%, of its yearly revenue came from donations.

Part of that low percentage, Sansum representatives say, comes from problems in public perception, but it’s also a factor of the organization working in Santa Barbara’s competitive non-profit market. Board members said some donors confessed to having contributed money to Cottage Hospital’s capital campaign believing those funds directly benefited Sansum.

Another obstacle for Sansum is the area’s aging population, which means increasing health care costs. Because Santa Barbara is so “attractive for empty nesters,” Sansum will have to continue upgrading and improving its services to take care of its constituency, said Vicki Hazard, vice chair for the Sansum Board of Trustees and chair for long-term planning.

“People move here just as they need serious health care,” said Hazard, a Montecito resident.

To be prepared for the future, Hazard said the organization must continue to stay avant garde in recruiting top-notch physicians and in acquiring the latest technological equipment.

“You have to demand the best of everything,” Hazard said. “If you don’t insist on that kind of excellence, you will lose your way.”

Adds Board Chair James Scheinfeld, also a Montecito resident: “We’re always trying to look at what will best serve the people of this area.”