Board of Supervisors Denies Miramar Appeal

In a 4-1 vote on Tuesday, December 9, Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors denied two separate appeals of the Montecito Planning Commission’s approval of Rick Caruso’s Miramar revival. Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf, the sole dissenting vote, cited her concern about noise, water, and lack of a full environmental impact review (EIR) as she voted in favor of the appeals. “We require EIRs of projects all the time, and I’m pretty much dumbfounded why a full EIR wasn’t done early on; I don’t consider this project to be the same as the Schrager project,” she said.

In their presentations, both appellants focused on water: one was concerned with the lack of it and the other discussed the ramifications of too much of it. Attorneys from Coast Law Group, representing Citizen’s Planning Association noted the “extraordinary” nature of the Miramar project, claiming that the developer and his team had intimidated and personally attacked their opposition. Also brought up were instances of two previous planners who had either been fired or asked to withdraw from the project, but the shaky state of water supply in Montecito was the bulk of the argument. “Water supply impacts are significant and immitigable,” said one of the attorneys. CPA’s Executive Director Naomi Kovacs defended the non-profit’s position on the project, saying that the goal is not to simply stall the effort of rebuilding the hotel, but to assure due process by requiring a full EIR. “This is about making sure the community gets the best, safest project,” she said.

Stan and Jean Harfenist, with an attorney speaking on their behalf, focused on the flooding of Oak Creek and claimed the Miramar would add to the problem. The attorney told a story about a condominium complex that had been built in the flood plain many years back, and how a man and his son had to be rescued from their flooded home nearby. “Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it,” he said, equating the story to what will happen to nearby homes if the Miramar is built. In his rebuttal, Caruso said, “We are not causing the problem, but we are happy to be part of a solution.” The Harfenist appeal also accused the MPC and Santa Barbara County of not being thorough enough in regard to requirements of the project. “Many adverse environmental impacts have been slipped under the rug,” he said.

Caruso and his team argued that these issues, as well as countless others, have been thoroughly reviewed by both his staff and county staff. He claimed that the environmental impacts of the project will be less than those created by Ian Schrager’s Miramar revival, which received approval in 2000.

Third District Supervisor Brooks Firestone defended the planning department, saying they are “thorough, almost frustratingly so.” Fourth District Supervisor Joni Gray also took issue with the appellants’ attacks on P&D. The hotel, if built, will bring in an estimated $4.26 million of tax revenue to the county. “It will be an unfortunate waste of time and money if litigation is pursued,” said Matt Middlebrook, vice president of government relations for Caruso Affiliated.

“We’re thrilled,” said Middlebrook after the meeting, “We appreciate the supervisors hearing us out and listening to the facts.” Caruso showed the Board an animated video “fly through” of what the property will look like if his project is built, but the architecture and style of the buildings will be changed to better fit the “cottage style” architecture outlined by the Montecito Community Plan, as required in conditions of the MPC approval. Middlebrook said at this point they will focus on the architectural designs and work on obtaining preliminary and final approval from MBAR.

Montecito Association

At this month’s Montecito Association meeting, the board honored MFPD’s Geri Ventura for her outstanding public service during last month’s Tea Fire.

MA President Bill Palladini praised and thanked Ventura, who was imperative in relaying evacuation and fire information to the public during the first tense hours of the fire. In addition to emailing residents about evacuation orders, Ventura took to the airwaves on Montecito’s emergency radio station 1680AM. She also assisted in staffing the staging area and updating media outlets around the country. Board member Ted Tedesco, who was evacuated during the fire, praised Ventura’s detailed descriptions of the burn areas. “You did an unbelievably outstanding job for us,” he said. She was given a round of applause from the board.

In other fire news, Montecito Fire Chief Kevin Wallace reported that the evacuation drill held in April was paramount for the community knowing what to do during the emergency. “It was hugely important, and it strengthened the relationship between the fire district and the sheriff’s department,” he said.

The response of the MA Board to the fire was three fold explained Executive Director Victoria Greene. Website links to various resources were posted on the MA website, including information on how to help, where to get help, and fire preparedness. The second part of the MA response was to use office and staff as an informational “clearing house” to better direct the public. Third, a committee has been formed consisting of board members Elisa Atwill, J.W. Colin, Dave Kent, Palladini, Mindy Denson and Michael Cook, and honorary director Dick Thielscher. The committee will organize a Tea Fire Forum to be held in late January for residents to come together to share stories, get advice, and ask questions of community leaders. The MA is also offering free membership to residents who lost their homes.

On Saturday December 13 a forum will be held at Montecito Covenant Church from 9 am to 12 pm where fire survivors can learn how to rebuild their homes using fire resistant construction strategies, as will as use materials which are more environmentally friendly. Local architects, builders, landscape architects and fire officials will be on hand to share their expertise. CARe, a non-profit organization will be at Montecito Library on Thursday, December 11 to help survivors with insurance claim assistance. Ventura reported that a website, is also a great resource: there you can find classifieds of wants and needs, an event calendar, and a blog with victim accounts of the disaster.

1st Vice President Diane Pannkuk reported the nominating committee’s choices for next year’s officers. Peter van Duinwyk for President, Palladini for 1st Vice President, Pannkuk for 2nd Vice President, Monica Brock Petersen for Secretary, and Gene Sinser for Treasurer. The list of nominees will be voted on at the annual meeting in January.

During public comment, Elizabeth Dilworth, President of the Board of Bonnymede, stood up to thank MFPD for their swift action during the condo fire that broke out last month. “We could not have had more superb service,” she said. She reported that a contractor who was using a torch started the fire.

The next Montecito Association Meeting is scheduled on Tuesday, January 13.

Westmont Defeats Appeals of Master Plan

In a decision released last week, a three-judge panel from California’s Second District Court of Appeal unanimously supported Westmont’s Master Plan. This decision reaffirmed a December 2007 Santa Barbara County Superior Court ruling that upheld unanimous approvals by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and the Montecito Planning Commission. The panel issued their finding after hearing arguments in Santa Barbara Oct. 22. According to Westmont rep Scott Craig, a total of 14 officials have made five consecutive, unanimous decisions to date supporting Westmont’s Master Plan. “This decision, like the ones before it, confirms that our project will not adversely affect the neighborhood,” said Westmont President Gayle D. Beebe.

Eight years ago, Westmont began the permitting process to update its previously approved Master Plan. Under the updated plan, the college intends to build Adams Center for the Visual Arts, Winter Hall for Science and Mathematics, a chapel and a new residence hall in the first phase of construction; additional buildings will be built in the future. In May 2006, the college redesigned the project to incorporate guidance from the Montecito Board of Architectural Review and the Montecito Planning Commission, reducing total construction by more than 20,000 square feet and moving buildings away from the perimeter of the campus. The county imposed several new conditions as part of its approval, and the college has agreed to operate under a revised conditional use permit (C.U.P.) with 116 conditions, as compared to 31 under the prior C.U.P.

Construction for the first phase is expected to take about three years to complete and is already underway. The college pulled permits for Adams Center and Winter Hall Nov. 12, the day before the Tea Fire destroyed 15 faculty homes and eight on campus buildings including 35 dorm rooms.

Upper Village Tea Fire Fundraiser

On Friday, December 5, Montecito residents and business owners gathered in the Upper Village to thank MFPD and MERRAG for their efforts during the Tea Fire last month. The fundraising effort, organized by Lana Marme, Glen and Missy Mueller, and Peter and Tina Da Ros, featured a raffle with items donated by local merchants. Marme tells us over $5,000 was raised for the Firefighters Association, MERRAG, United Way and the Mountain Drive Association to help fire victims.

Bill and Carol Foley donated a 22-foot holiday tree, dubbed the “Tea Fire relief tree,” that is standing in the upper village. It is adorned with ornaments donated by Santa Barbara Bank and Trust and decorated by residents who donated money to the fire victims. Marme credited Scott Corridan and Kim Curtis for helping with the tree. Montecito Association’s Peter van Duinwyk emceed the raffle, and Victoria Green helped organize the successful day.

First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal recited a dedication to fire victims, and MFPD and MERRAG were praised for their quick response. “To lose one’s home to fire, especially on the eve of the precious holiday season, is a devastation beyond measure, and one so many of us could simply never imagine,” he said.

Attendees enjoyed coffee from Caribbean Coffee Company, pizza from Via Vai, baked treats from local schools, volunteers, and Birnam Wood Golf Club, and bottled water from the Jordano's. “The Upper Village merchants were extremely enthusiastic and generous with their donations for the raffle,” Marme said, “It was a wonderful community effort.”

Ornaments will continue to be available for donations throughout the holidays and can be found at Santa Barbara Bank & Trust or Lana Marme.