On the Beat

They’re coming! If you think Santa Barbara’s a tourist town now, wait a couple of years. Hotel industry people I’ve talked to say that when all the pending resort projects come on line, Santa Barbara will become a major international Mecca for high-end travelers. For starters, they predict that after the prestigious Orient-Express plows millions into El Encanto Hotel and Spa, with its prime location overlooking the city, it will lure the elite that follow and trust the O-E brand. El Encanto will close in September for months of major renovations. The Four Seasons Biltmore, now that Ty Warner has spent far more than $200 million to buy and upgrade the 1920s classic, may be positioning itself to focus on more East Coast old and new money, and Europeans with plenty of pounds and euros. For some reason locals tend to forget that Bacara is holding its own out in Goleta despite fears a few years ago that it would boogie-board into a sea of red ink. Bacara offers seclusion and privacy to an increasing number of those who demand it. Ty Warner is still pumping money into renovating the San Ysidro Ranch, long a hideaway for honeymooners and L.A. entertainment folks. When the work is done and the restaurant reopens after being dark for a couple of years, the ranch will again be a star.

And let’s not forget the poor Miramar, a shambles after Ian Schrager’s ill-fated attempt to rebuild it after demolishing much of it. Warner rescued the beloved resort and is quietly working on rebuilding plans. (So quietly that he’s been hush-hush about what the results will be.) One thing going for the Miramar is that it’s on one of the best beaches on the South Coast. Remember too the Simpson House Inn, dating to 1874 and North America’s only AAA five-diamond bed-and-breakfast. Add it all up and the word is that Santa Barbara, already a top vacation spot, is on the verge of becoming a prime watering hole for the internationally rich and famous. Along with that, of course, room rates that will knock your socks off. And lurking somewhere off the radar is Bill Levy’s time-share project on lower State, awaiting financing and facing a December drop-dead city deadline.

The Helmsley Mention: Readers are wondering if one reason the News-Press canned all five of its community columnists is to get rid of Montecitan Stephen Murdoch. In Murdock’s August 3 column he quoted someone who thought NP owner Wendy McCaw reminded him of an unbeloved New York hotel owner. Wrote Murdoch: “One man I spoke to the other day went so far as to compare McCaw to Leona Helmsley, who became infamous in the 1980s for inheriting a billion dollars from her husband, being mean to her employees, and saying, ‘Only the little people pay taxes.’ Helmsley is not a figure that a paper’s publisher (or anyone else) wants to be compared to. The next few months will show if the perception of elitism sticks or if a more positive one replaces it.”

Kate’s on L.A. TV: Kate Wentzel, former KEYT weather woman who departed on short notice, is now being seen charting isotherms on L.A. stations KCBS 2 and KCAL 9. “They have dressed her better (at KCAL 9) than (KEYT) ever did,” observed reader Audrey Martinson. Paul Vercammen, the KEYT news director dropped a couple of months ago, is telling friends: “I’ve been doing freelance reporting and producing for KCET and CNN in Los Angeles.” Paul’s mum about why he left, but word from TV Hill is that his departure had nothing to do with the FCC’s current inquiry about whether the station aired one of those corporate videos pretending to be news.

Anti-Union: Word from De la Guerra Plaza is that Wendy has dumped her first attack-dog union-busting law firm, Ogletree Deakins, replacing it with another “union avoidance” outfit, as the term goes, Kauff, McClain & McGuire. One of KM&M’s operatives, Laura Putney, is busy in the building.

She’s Off the Front Page: Hildy Johnson is the main character in the Hecht-Lederer play and movie The Front Page, about wacky newspapering in Chicago. (The 1940 remake, His Girl Friday — with Rosalind Russell gender-bending as the once-male Hildy — is a delight.) Well, a few years ago, Hildy Medina joined the News-Press staff as a reporter, then business writer, but she’ll never make Page One there again. Hildy has vamoosed off to the Hispanic Business magazine, where she joins Michael Todd, one of the first to resign during the current meltdown. Hilda, a crackerjack reporter, is the 14th to split the newsroom by my count.

For the Coast? Thanks to the Guv, Santa Barbara County now has two residents as Coastal Commission alternates, both moderate Republicans and seen by enviros as pro-development. Third District Supervisor Brooks Firestone has joined ex-Santa Barbara City Councilmember Dan Secord on the board. Secord is running against Janet Wolf in the November election for 2nd District supervisor. The problem persists: A system where politicos pick politicians for the board.

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