Sycamore Canyon Gates Were Open

According to Montecito Fire Chief Kevin Wallace, the gates that block access to Sycamore Canyon Road and the APS roundabout were in fact unlocked and open during the Tea Fire, contrary to rumors to the contrary.

Wallace tells us both gates were opened by 6:05 pm, about 20 minutes after the first call reporting the fire came in. “Legally, we couldn’t have opened them any earlier,” he said, citing a rule that states the gates cannot be opened unless and until a red flag warning is in effect. Wallace said the issue of the gates was a priority for the department; the fire captain first on scene can be heard asking about the gates on dispatch recordings. “We didn’t break our promise to the community,” Wallace said.

Those same gates were closed during the evacuations which took place nearly two weeks later due to flood warnings. “The gates were closed then because it is a low, dangerous area. If there is flooding, that is the last place we want people to go,” he clarified.

Westmont at MBAR, Again

On Monday, December 1, as Westmont students returned to campus after last month’s Tea Fire destroyed several campus buildings and some thirty-five dorm rooms, Westmont reps were back before the Montecito Board of Architectural Review asking for revised final approval for Phase I of the Westmont Master Plan. Specifically, the board was asked to approve design changes to the Chapel, which board members unanimously supported with the exception of one abstention.

Laurel Perez, a representative for Westmont, told us the board had asked for more information about the Chapel, and for a few minor changes, including recessed windows. At the meeting, the board was given more information on specific materials and finishes to be used on the building.

The grading process to make way for new structures had begun to take place the day before the Tea Fire broke out on November 13. “At this point the fire recovery effort will combine with the Phase I construction effort,” Perez said. As of now the college has completed the MBAR process for the first phase of construction, unless modifications or revisions to plans come up.

Miramar Latest

They’re back: Rick Caruso and his Miramar team will be in front of Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, December 9 at 9 am. The purpose of the meeting is for the Board to hear two appeals on the Montecito Planning Commission’s approval of the project.

The appeals, filed by Coast Law Group (on behalf of Citizens Planning Association) and Stan and Jean Harfenist, were both submitted to the county before the October 20 deadline. Matt Middlebrook with Caruso Affiliated insists both of the appeals cite issues which were brought up extensively at one time or another during some forty hours spent in front of MPC. “There is no new ground to cover,” he said.

CPA’s appeal describes the project’s inconsistencies with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the Montecito Community Plan. A number of issues including water use, FAR calculations, flooding, traffic, storm water drainage, historic preservation, sewer capacity and construction noise are cited in the appeal.

The Harfenist appeal cites about 26 issues including Oak Creek flooding, of which Mrs. Harfenist spoke to at each of the four, day-long MPC hearings that have taken place. Their appeal cites inadequate environmental review, non-conformance with the Montecito Community Plan, the Coastal Act, Coastal Land Use Plan, and Coastal Zoning Ordinance. It also accuses the MPC and Santa Barbara County of making numerous mistakes including not responding adequately to public comment, using an improper baseline to assess the impacts of the project, and inappropriately using an Addendum instead of a full EIR. The appeal also accuses MPC of abusing its discretion and committing an “error of law” in approving modifications regarding project height and setback, and in not gaining authorization and approval of Union Pacific Railroad.

Middlebrook tells us the plans for the $300 million dollar, 192-guest-room Miramar Resort have been thoroughly looked at for flaws. “They have been pored over, reviewed, and revised in every way possible,” he said. Caruso’s team will present a broad overview of the project to the Board, but most of the defense of MPC’s position will be presented by County staff.

As anticipated, the appeals process has stalled the project; Caruso bought the property nearly two years ago. Middlebrook said he expects the appeal will be denied during the hearing next week and hopes the project will not be delayed further. After the appeals process, designers will begin to apply comments from the Planning Commission and revise plans. “We will look at the definition of ‘cottage-style,’ which was given to us,” he said. At that point the project will be seen by MBAR, and will evolve based on input from board members. “Everything is on track,” Middlebrook said.

Holidays in the Village

On Thursday December 11, the public is invited to celebrate the season on Coast Village Road. “Holidays in the Village,” the Coast Village Business Association’s annual event will be held from 5:30- 7:30 pm.

Throughout the evening, young carolers dressed in traditional Victorian garb will visit businesses and restaurants up and down Coast Village Road, and CVBA president Danny Copus, owner of Montecito Inn, tells us everyone is encouraged to join in. Instead of the horse-drawn carriage of years past, a trolley adorned in holiday decorations will cruise the street, where cold hands can find steaming mugs of hot cocoa. “This event is something to make the holidays more festive,” Copus promised.

Tea Fire Benefits

MERRAG (Montecito Emergency Response and Recovery Action Group) and firefighters from the Montecito Fire Protection District will be honored this Friday, December 5, at a fundraising event hosted by merchants from Montecito’s Upper Village. From 2-4 pm “by the fountain” in the Upper Village, you are invited to join in thanking MERRAG and MFPD, and to participate in a raffle with items donated by local businesses. First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal will be in attendance, and refreshments and entertainment will be provided. For more information contact Lana Marme at 805-969-6962.

Another Tea Fire benefit is taking place Monday, December 15 to help Lance and Carla Hoffman who were burned in the fire. The Arlington Theater will be showing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, a favorite movie of Carla’s. Thanks to a generous donation from Paramount Studios and The Metropolitan Theatre Corporation all proceeds will go to the Hoffman Trust.

While Lance and Carla continue to improve at the UC Irvine Regional Burn Center, they are still facing months of expensive recovery and rehabilitation; their family estimates it will be 2-3 months before they are able to leave the hospital. According to Jennifer Rose, Operations Director of the Downtown Organization, the downtown business community is rallying around the Hoffmans (both are long-time employees of downtown Santa Barbara) in hopes of assisting with their medical costs and to help them successfully return to live in the Santa Barbara area.

The 7 pm benefit screening, emceed by John Palminteri, will also include a free drawing for all ticket holders. A drawing for a 4-night Hawaiian vacation including airfare, hotel and car voucher donated by Santa Barbara Travel Bureau is all part of the $15 dollar ticket price. In addition, a limited number of $25 tickets will also be sold. These tickets include the movie and drawing, but also allow ticket holders to attend a pre-movie reception in the Arlington Courtyard. The appetizer and wine reception, catered by Olio e Limone, Café Buenos Aires, Los Arroyos, Pascucci, Paradise Café, California Pizza Kitchen and Fess Parker Winery will begin at 5:45 pm.

Tickets are available through, the Arlington Theatre Box Office, Paseo Nuevo Management Offices and Metro Entertainment. For more information call the Downtown Organization at 962-2098 ext. 10 or email

Northern Flicker Flies Again

During Montecito Beautification day on November 1, two families who were pitching in to help clean up the neighborhood on San Leandro Lane discovered a Northern flicker injured in the bushes. The Red-shafted Northern flicker was taken to the CARE Emergency Hospital then transported to the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Center in Goleta by Cheryl Walker, a Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network volunteer.

According to Julia Parker, Director of Animal Affairs for the Network, the flicker had injured its chest and back; the bird was in bad shape and could not stand. Recommendations from Santa Barbara’s Cat and Bird Clinic were to give the bird cage rest, and vitamin E oil was applied to its legs for a week. The flicker made a tremendous improvement over time and began to stand and perch. Once the bird began to fly it was moved to a larger enclosure for exercise.

The striking Red-shafted Northern flicker is 12 inches in length and perches vertically like a woodpecker. It is brown and black with a barred back, spotted chest and a black bib. The male has a red moustachial stripe. The flicker can be found in suburban and woodland areas, and it consumes both insects and plant material. According to Parker the bird’s diet includes caterpillars, gypsy moth larval, cockroaches, ants, grubs, crickets, and wood lice as well as mulberry, elderberry, huckleberry, grasses, oak and sumac.

The Northern flicker found during Beautification was released back to its habitat in Montecito on December 1.