Water Program Offers Huge Rebates

Efficiency Efforts So Far Fall Way Short of Expectations

As Santa Barbara county wrestles with what has so far been the fifth driest year in the history of annual rainfall calculations, water conservation advocates are making strong pushes to assist water purveyors in using water more efficiently and reduce monthly costs.

In cooperation with six county water districts, the County Water Agency is offering hefty rebates that could save businesses and institutions hundreds and even thousands of dollars for installing water-efficient fixtures.

As part of the more than two-year-old “Save Water, Save a Buck” Program, the County earlier this year doubled its rebates so that businesses and institutions can earn up to $300 for installing water-efficient toilets, up to $300 for waterless or water-efficient urinals and up to $350 for high-efficiency clothes washers.

The six districts participating in the program include water offices from Montecito, Carpinteria Valley, Goleta and the cities of Santa Barbara, Santa Maria and Lompoc.

The rebates are made possible by a three-year, $234,000 grant through California’s Proposition 50 and its Water Use Efficiency Grant program. Each district is contributing about 6% of the rebates for its respective business or institution. The amount of rebates available is limited based on what appliances are installed, according to Helena von Rueden, senior program specialist for the Santa Barbara County Water Agency.

Still, von Rueden said her office has yet to “come across any business that has enough installations to exceed any limit.”

According to the program’s website, www.sbwater.org, the rebates are expected to bring about installations of nearly 1,000 water-efficient toilets, 341 urinals and 400 clothes washers to save an aggregate amount of nearly 2,000 acre-feet per year over the lifetimes of each fixture.

So far, however, participation in the program has fallen drastically short. While the County Water Agency is making a “big push” to get users signed on to a program that expires at the end of 2007, participation is “not as high as we hoped,” von Rueden said. The disappointing results, she said, could be attributed to lack of public knowledge and media coverage of the program and that many businesses and institutions have already retrofitted their water operations. For instance, von Rueden noted, the majority of users already have toilets with flush rates that don’t exceed 1.6 gallons of water.

In Montecito, only one customer has taken advantage of the program so far: Westmont College, the Montecito Water District’s third largest user. In December, the school installed two F-4000 Falcon waterfree urinals and in January received a $300 rebate check. The college intends to install as many as 20 waterless urinals in public restrooms and in the men’s locker room at the campus gymnasium.

“It’s such a good offer. We plan to use it quite a bit in the future,” said Tom Beveridge, director of Physical Plant, the department that handles all of the college’s utility issues.

Responding to reports of low participation in the rebate program, Beveridge said, “That surprises me. I assumed it was quite popular.”

In the last few years, Beveridge said Westmont has made “pretty aggressive” attempts to conserve water, principally in areas of vegetation. The school has made significant upgrades to its irrigation and water system and has improved its water rights to Barker Tunnel in Cold Spring Canyon. Since 2003, the school has a reported a 42% drop in its annual usage of water.

The latest emphasis on water conservation coincides with a year that seen the county’s fifth lowest rainfall count in the 136-year history of annual calculations. According to County Flood Control District records, the county’s rainfall total as of the beginning of this week is 38% of the annual average. Since last July, rainfall counts at Montecito Water District headquarters have totaled 6.2 inches, about 31% of the annual average.

For more information on the program and what fixtures qualify for rebates, call 1800-215-7559 or visit www.sbwater.org.

Miramar Project Brings About Reunion of Two L.A. High School Classmates

In 1976, William Reich graduated from the college preparatory academy, Harvard School for Boys (today it’s called Harvard-Westlake), before embarking on a roving and fortuitous career in the hotel and travel industry. A highlight in his extensive résumé are the years 1980-84, when Reich served as front office manager for The Peninsula, in Hong Kong, the luxurious “Grand Dame of the Far East” that is routinely ranked one of the world’s top hotels by international polls and trade magazines.

Reich later returned to his native Los Angeles and went on to work for Travel Facilities Inc., a company that offered high-end corporate leisure services, during the 1990s, which is when he met up with his old high school classmate, Rick Caruso, the Los Angeles developer and president and CEO of Caruso Affiliated. Reich lent Caruso some his corporate leisure expertise and the two discussed frequently working together in greater capacity.

“Rick always told me, ‘When I get a hotel, we’ll bring you in,’” the 48-year-old Reich recalled during an interview on Tuesday.

Reich’s time came three months ago, when Caruso purchased the Miramar Hotel and immediately tapped his high school friend as a consultant for the hotel. Within a short time, Reich was added to the full time staff as vice president of hotels and resorts.

“He’s as good as it gets at bringing expertise to the field,” said Matt Middlebrook, vice president of government relations for Caruso Affiliated.

In his position, Reich will oversee the entire day-to-day operation – anything from room reservations to concierge service to baggage handling – in addition to managing the food and beverage activities.

As the designs for the new Miramar begin to materialize, Reich has been deeply immersed in every aspect of the renovation and he will continue to do so as the Caruso team anticipates submitting its application to the County in June and break ground by the end of the year. He’s attended public presentations for the renovation and met with Montecito neighborhood groups in an effort to, as he put it, “infiltrate myself in the community.”

“The good thing for the company is that I got involved early on,” he said. “I will know everyone by name and I will have knowledge of every step in the process.”

In coming months, he’ll be moving his wife and 3-year-old child to the Santa Barbara area, where he’s been sojourning, he said, “in various capacities for my entire life.”

As the rehabilitation faces the entitlement process, he said he planned on “working on all logistics,” such as how many bungalows to build, whether a second-story restaurant is appropriate and even the minutiae of whether hotel doors open properly.

“All of those bits adds up to one big hotel,” he said.

With respect to running the Miramar, Reich indicated the hotel should take a page out of The Peninsula playbook, by making service the emphasis and the admiration and acceptance of South Coast residents a chief priority.

“For The Peninsula, the community of Hong Kong was very proud of that hotel,” he said. “That’s what I want for the Miramar.”

Addressing public concerns about whether Caruso can make the Miramar profitable, Reich said that goal is “very doable” as long as the company relies on Santa Barbara’s strong tourist market and is dependent on the needs of the area when it comes to offering dining and hosting conferences and large fundraisers.

“This has success written all over it,” he said.

Since two weeks ago, when Caruso gave a presentation on his Miramar plans, the team has intensified its involvement with County officials, working to shape the project application. In-house architect Dave Williams is still working on elevation drawings and over time the company will add other architects to the fold.

At this point, Caruso’s sense of resolve and measure of expediency have held up mightily.

“We’ve got a lot people working fast and furious to make that January 2010 opening,” Reich said. “So far so good.”