Archive » May 8, 2008
Letters to the Editor
By MJ Staff
Turn CVR into a 40-Pump Service Station
Some clarifications are in order regarding Scott Wenz’s recent letter (MJ #14/17). First, his assertion that “increasing urban density creates demands for roads and parking” isn’t necessarily true if that “density” comprises a good balance of housing with financial incentives to reduce the use of automobiles. Living in a dense urban core obviates the need to use a car to buy a gallon of milk. Secondly, Wenz’s “freedom of transportation” may sound wonderful in theory; unfortunately the experience of sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic is better likened to enslavement, not freedom. I know, I know, we need more lanes on the 101. Here’s an idea: forget adding a lane in each direction through Montecito. Let’s have five like the I-10 and transform Coast Village Road with all its pesky development, into a 40-pump service station.
Proposed Miramar Hotel Project
As in all projects, the County must examine the “no-project alternative” if construction of this 5-Star facility does not proceed. We happen to live immediately to the East of the Miramar and in fact, our westerly property line is also the Miramar Hotel’s easterly line. As such, we are currently experiencing many of the “no project alternative” issues listed below. For your consideration, here are just a few of the consequences of not proceeding with this project:
*Continued vermin infestation of the deteriorating structures on the property;
*Perpetual re-painting of graffiti on the perimeter fence (which is toppling in several locations), as well as the various structures on the property;
*Lowering of the property values in the area;
*Continued loss of tax revenue to the County (for nearly 8 years now);
*Perpetuation of an extreme fire hazard in a prime area of Montecito;
*Persisting blight on the community;
*Continuation of a strong message to the business community to stay away from Montecito;
The time to act in favor of this project is now and we express our full support for the Miramar project and ask that the County do whatever needs to be done in order to provide the necessary permits as quickly as possible.
As a separate but critical issue, the County and CalTrans need to seek a joint resolution of the flooding problem in the area. When Route 101 is widened, both governmental agencies need to accept the responsibility to accommodate more than a 25-year storm beneath Highway 101…and correct the problem clear to the ocean, once and for all. There are many reasons for these two agencies to proceed on a separate but distinct path…now.
Thank you for your consideration.
Floyd and Diana Wicks
Re: Water Rates Going Up… Again!
In response to “Water Rates Going Up… Again!” in your May 1st issue (MJ #14/18): we agree that property owners should get involved in the water supply situation in Montecito by attending Montecito Water District Board meetings.
The Montecito Water District (MWD) is facing serious water shortages. Our reliable water supply is 10% less than our customers’ water demands. Last year we sold 200 million gallons in excess of our reliable supply and for this year it looks like we will sell a comparable amount of water. There is a water shortage in California, and it is becoming very difficult to find water to buy at any price.
We believe the letter writer was confused when he said many homeowners could receive a water allocation that is a fraction of what they have been using. In fact, the plan on the table for single-family residential customers is not a water allocation plan. Instead, as is the case with many water districts and cities in California, including the City of Santa Barbara, the District is considering a block rate structure in which the first block of water use would be at one price, and usage over that amount would be sold at an increased price. If adopted, the new proposed block rate structure we are introducing will accomplish two objectives. That our customers recognize that our water supplies are limited, and that conservation by our customers is essential in balancing our limited water supplies with customer demand.
Within the next several months our customers should be receiving letters explaining our plans. We will also hold two public meetings to solicit customer input, in an effort to get the best and fairest solution. The meetings will be well publicized. Please plan to attend these meetings and help formulate a solution to our water supply problems.
Montecito Water District
Unasked and Unanswered Questions
Rick Caruso’s Miramar project is the largest commercial venture ever proposed in Montecito. As such, it has the potential to affect our community to an enormous extent. In considering this project, many important questions arise, and I believe they have not all been asked. Nor have answers been provided, neither by Caruso Affiliates nor in the Supplemental Environmental Impact Report (the SEIR) and Addendum to the Negative Declaration for the Schrager Development Plan. The questions:
1) Why is it necessary to entirely re-grade and alter the topography of the site? This is an extensive readjustment of the natural contour of the land, not just a filling-in of a mid-site depression. The entire Miramar property will be re-configured by four feet of cut on the western (or Santa Barbara) side and 13 feet of fill on the eastern side. The main portion of the entire resort will then be at or above the level of Jameson Lane. This proposed alteration to the terrain is the source for all the very valid concerns about the resulting impact on drainage and runoff, on flood plain, on aquifers and water tables as well as about the interference with and effect on public views. Given the extent of the proposed changes to the topography, these concerns about flooding and water supply cannot be resolved with absolute certainty. Do we want to take these risks?
Our Community Plan clearly states: “excessive grading for the sole purpose of creating or enhancing views shall not be permitted.” An alternative purpose for this extensive alteration needs to be provided. The proposed underground parking is one justification offered, but there are other design alternatives and other parking solutions available. To my knowledge, these have not been considered seriously enough in view of the very real and potentially serious ramifications of the contemplated grading. Why not?
2) Why can’t the hotel be designed such that the maximum height limitations are not exceeded? References to its height measured from existing grade and the presence of a berm on which the main building sits make it a bit difficult to determine exactly how much higher it will be than allowed by ordinance. However, the photos taken in December 2007 when the story poles were briefly erected (and these are an attachment to the Negative Declaration Addendum), clearly illustrate that the proposed buildings create the appearance of being twice the height of structures that are currently seen on the site. Even with the new 3-1/2 foot height reduction, this remains a significant exception to the ordinance. Absent a compelling reason to allow excessive height, no exception should be granted. In this instance, no reason has been given.
3) Why can’t the proposed Miramar Hotel & Resort meet both the letter and the spirit of the cottage-style hotel requirements set forth in our Community Plan? This is a hallmark of Montecito’s lodging style, a characteristic that makes our community unique. Regardless of what might be stated by Caruso Affiliates or what might be implied in the SEIR’s conclusions, the actual plans for the Miramar—not the renderings that have been circulated in the community—make it abundantly clear that the proposed design is not what was intended by the framers of the Community Plan: the Caruso Miramar more closely resembles a large and very upscale shopping center than it does the San Ysidro Ranch or the Biltmore, examples upon which the Community Plan determination is based.
If demolition of the crumbling structures on the Miramar site is allowed, the Caruso Group will save a great deal of money by avoiding costly renovation of these old buildings, and they will not be constrained by those existing footprints. They will have a tabula rasa on which to work; they can be unendingly creative in designing their hotel, as long as it truly meets this cottage-style description. There’s been no explanation offered for why they’ve chosen not to do so.
4) Why is any allowance being made for inadequate parking at the new Miramar? The Caruso Plan calls for the proposed parking to be 120 spaces fewer than the ordinance requires. To refer to the approved Schrager Plan and its proposed parking inadequacies at this point is not appropriate; this is a different and much expanded project we’re being asked to accept, with potential to create enormous parking difficulties for the entire area. The currently proposed Miramar parking plan does not fully take into account numerous factors, such as the overlap between employee shifts, the possible underestimation of the employee numbers required for a five-star resort, the expansion of the Beach & Tennis Club, the addition of retail space and the extensive spa facilities. Given its location between the freeway and the ocean, any overflow parking from the Miramar will pour into the surrounding residential areas.
On a “perfect storm” kind of warm summer day—with a small wedding for 100 persons on the beach, a large wedding in the ballroom for 600 guests, a great percentage of the 300 family members of the Beach Club using its facilities (including the tennis courts, which are the only option proposed for overflow parking) and a fully booked hotel—the neighborhood surrounding the Miramar could be completely shut down by cars from the Miramar. There would be no parking options available and no traffic circulation possible, since the planned closure of Miramar Avenue both eliminates parking spaces and creates a potential bottleneck situation at Eucalyptus Lane. Unless you live within walking distance of Miramar Beach, you might not be able to access the ocean; a vital recreational resource would be unavailable to most of the community. This is a dire but not improbable result. There’s been no explanation as to why we should not anticipate this happening and require enough parking to avoid the problem.
In conclusion: I was part of a citizen group that successfully worked with the City of Beverly Hills and the builders of the Beverly Hills Peninsula Hotel, when it was proposed over 18 years ago adjacent to a residential neighborhood in which we lived. Questions like these were asked and answered then, and the result was extremely successful: the hotel with which many of you are familiar is a world class, five-star operation; the neighborhood in which it is situated is minimally impacted and considers the hotel a tremendous asset to the community. I am hopeful that such a result can be achieved here, but it will require dialogue, compromise, and mutual cooperation.
Thank you for your attention.
Susan Keller (Editor’s note: You bring up some good points, so we’ve asked the Caruso organization to address them and they will respond in an upcoming issue – TLB)
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