Barney’s On the Beat

By: Barney Brantingham

Pro-Growth City: If there’s any doubt that Santa Barbara is a pro-development, go-go pro-growth town, check the 5-2 vote to okay the Veronica Meadows home project. (Or, drive along lower Chapala Street.) The City Council, after twice turning up its collective nose at Mark Lee’s 52-home project on Las Positas Road, liked it a lot last week. Even though Lee is now promising two “affordable” units, critics term it “oversized homes for people with oversized incomes,” in the words of The Independent’s Nick Welsh.

Councilmember Brian Barnwell, one of the five voters, was so excited that he ran around to the planning, parks and recreation, and transportation staffs delivering donuts and leaving notes of praise like this one: “Thank you, planning staff, for approval of St. Francis and Veronica Meadows.” But then someone, identified to me as a St. Francis opponent, happened to waltz into the planning office and spotted the goodies and note.

This, she complained, was totally inappropriate. The staff, of course, is supposed to be making fair analyses, not pushing for the okay or denial of a project. I wonder if Barnwell would have been sugaring up City Hall staffers if the Lee project had been denied. When I talked to him, Barnwell conceded sheepishly that saying “approval” was “a poor choice of words. It’s become Donut-Gate. I just wanted to thank the staff for all their hard work.”

Actually, he said, “I have done it before.” But to some I’ve heard from, the donuts symbolized sour suspicions that City Hall leaned toward Cottage Hospital’s plan to condo-ize St. Francis. Paul Casey, community development director, emailed the council: “While we appreciate the gesture toward the hard work that planning staff put into the projects (not the approvals per se), I can assure you that a box of donuts does not sway our professional work and extensive analysis of large, complicated, and controversial projects put before all of you for a decision.”

Still, the Las Positas and St. Francis projects and mega-buildings going up downtown — along with the Levy timeshares, Fess Parker’s new hotel, major projects proposed on upper State Street, and office buildings going up on the periphery of downtown — point to a city government that favors development and lots of it. And if the freeway gets even more clogged, so what? Mayor Marty Blum could have voted against the Las Positas annexation and killed the project but didn’t. As for the note, “If that was the actual wording, I think it’s unfortunate,” she said. “I cannot imagine a professional planner putting his or her reputation on the line for a donut.”

The League of Women Voters, studying 11 new projects proposed on upper State Street, warned that “excessively large projects could destroy the very features the public likes about upper State Street.” The currently required setbacks and landscaping in front of buildings should be maintained and mountain views protected, the league said.

The league cited the Sandman Inn project, where the old motel would be demolished and replaced with a 112-room hotel and 77 condos. Across the street, where Circuit City is now located, current buildings would be razed and replaced with a Whole Foods market, commercial space, and 15 residential units. The Lofts project near State Street and La Cumbre Plaza calls for three commercial spaces, 34 market-rate one-bedroom units, and 10 affordable units, the league pointed out. “All these will add to the present congestion on upper State Street,” the league said.

Greeting Cards: When a half-dozen or so small businesses got letters from Wendy McCaw attorney Barry Cappello, they weren’t holiday greetings. They were warnings that keeping those “McCaw Obey the Law” signs in their windows could get them more than rocks and coal in their Yule stockings. So, all but one promptly took the posters down. But Highlights Hair Salon (160 W. Alamar St.) pasted Cappello’s letter in the window and posted the McCaw sign on the ceiling.

McCaw Sues Writer: Now that Wendy McCaw has sued Susan Paterno, Chapman University’s director of journalism and author of the recent “Santa Barbara Smackdown” article in the American Journalism Review, there is speculation that California’s anti-SLAPP law could apply. The Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) statute is aimed at stopping corporations, powerful groups, or entities from silencing critics by filing lawsuits of questionable merit. McCaw sued Paterno, not the University of Maryland-owned AJR. Writers beware?

Randy’s Party: Tuesday night, folks from various News-Press departments gathered at Harry’s Café to say adios to 23-year NP chief financial officer Randy Alcorn, fired recently in one of the frequent staff purges.

Oh, Rats! A rapt audience was at the Marjorie Luke Theatre at Santa Barbara Junior High, watching All the President’s Men, as President Nixon’s rats scurried across the screen. Suddenly, scurrying across the darkened stage, outlined against the screen, was the unmistakable profile of a real live rat.

You can reach Barney at 965-5205 or via He also writes a Tuesday online column at and Barney’s Weekend Picks on Fridays.

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