MPC Says Goodbye to Two Commissioners
Robert Meghreblian, sometimes referred to as the “father” of the Montecito Planning Commission, is taking retirement at the end of today’s MPC meeting. (The meeting is being televised, beginning at 9 a.m., Wednesday, December 20, 2006 on Channel 20). After nearly four years as one of Montecito’s five land use referees, deliberating such controversial cases as Westmont College, the Coral Casino, Rob Lowe’s mega-mansion, and the Music Academy expansion, Meghreblian tendered his letter of resignation to Supervisor Salud Carbajal earlier this month. The First District Supervisor, who appoints all five Montecito Planning Commission slots, said he has reluctantly accepted Meghreblian’s withdrawal. He has not yet, however, announced a successor. (Interested applicants can contact Carbajal’s office at 568-2186; an appointment is expected by January 9.) Supervisor Carbajal said replacing Meghreblian would be difficult.
“Bob was an exemplary commissioner who leaves big shoes to fill,” Carbajal said. “I am grateful for his service. Bob’s leadership was part of the collective efforts that led to the formation of the Montecito Planning Commission. He helped shepherd the commission through its infancy and its early challenges and he leaves the commission with at strong foundation to continue serving the land use needs for the Montecito community.”
Meghreblian is seen by some as the central nervous system of the county’s only local-area planning commission. In 2001, he conceived the notion of an area planning commission for Montecito. He tenaciously lobbied the concept through numerous community gauntlets and, once he had Montecito’s support, he navigated the idea through government narrows and bureaucratic channels at the county.
Meghreblian has been active in Montecito land use since the early 1990s, having served as the president of the Montecito Association and as the chairman of its Architectural Review Committee. A physicist and manufacturing executive by profession, Meghreblian worked Jet Propulsion Lab’s Space Science Division and Cabot Corporation in Boston.
As an advocate for studious examination, Meghreblian became well-versed in Montecito’s sophisticated land planning process and long history. He knew, for example, that in 1927 Montecito was credited with being the first unincorporated area in the state to adopt a zoning ordinance and that, in 1992, Montecito’s current community plan was updated and ratified.
He believed, with those basic planning tools in place, an area planning commission, with five Montecito residents as commissioners, was the next logical step for land use protection. Prior to the creation of the Montecito Planning Commission, Montecito land use issues were settled at by the county’s Planning Commission, a body comprised of one planning commissioner from each of the five supervisorial districts.
With the strong support of then-Supervisor Naomi Schwartz, the Board of Supervisors established the Montecito Planning Commission in 2002. It held its first meeting in March 2003. Prior to her retirement, Schwartz appointed the founding MPC commissioners: Bob Bierig, Michael Phillips, Dick Thielscher, Joan Wells, and, of course, Meghreblian. He became chairman of the commission in 2004 when Joan Wells retired, and is credited with running a very tight ship.
“Bob’s mind is brilliant,” said fellow MPC Commissioner Claire Gottsdanker. “He is totally committed to Montecito and he has a very objective clear thinking style.” She credits him for steering well-run meetings and keeping many of the cumbersome, controversial, and complex projects on track. “Without his leadership,” she explained, “I think we’d still be deliberating some of those projects. He pushed just us, but it was the right pace.”
Meghreblian said he is pleased with the success of the Montecito Planning Commission. “The MPC provides a very important service to the community and the county of Santa Barbara by possessing the patience and attention to get the job done — and it has shown it is the group that can do it.” And, as he departs, how would he describe the sometimes contentious and seemingly thankless volunteer experience? Without pause he beams with enthusiasm, “It has been very gratifying!”
Additionally, Commissioner Dick Thielscher also tendered his resignation this morning. Although Thielscher said he informed Supervisor Carbajal in advance, Thielscher’s resignation seemed to come as a surprise to the other MPC commissioners.
“I am just shocked that you are leaving us,” said Commissioner Bob Bierig. “You have a vision of Montecito that I will miss seeing on the board. You see Montecito as visible and open and not behind hedges, and I appreciate your work and will miss it.” “Montecito is the place it is because of the work you have done, and thank you both for your commitment,” said Commissioner Claire Gottsdanker.
Both resignations will be effective on December 31.
NO BOOMERANG: MPC Commissioner Michael Phillips brought up the possibility of further MPC review of Westmont College’s expansion project, which faces a Board of Supervisors appeal hearing on February 6. Phillips did so, he said, because both the neighbors and the college have appealed the MPC decision. Phillips stated, “We got it wrong.”
But his notion got little support. County counsel said there were no provisions for bringing a project back to the planning commission. County P&D director Diane Black said that were was no new information and therefore she was not sure a review would change the commissioner’s positions. And Commissioner Bob Bierig said he wished he could bring back a lot of the projects, but he did not see the feasibility.
With Meghreblian and Thielscher resigning — and two new commissioners having little background on the project — Phillips boomerang idea died without further discussion or even a vote.
HOMEGROWN BEST SELLERS: Montecito’s Tecolote Book Shop is showcasing two hometown bests on their bestseller rack: Steve Crandell’s Silver Tongue, a breezy and bountiful memoir about of his loquacious 83-year-old father, Larry Crandell, makes the list along with David L. Gersh’s new mystery Art is Dead.
When asked how David came to write a mystery about art, he tells us, “I always wanted to start a book with ‘It was the dog that did it.’ ” David’s seems to have a dog-gone good recipe for success right on the cover flap of Art is Dead. It says, “Take one juicy slice of the art gallery scene. Pour in a bottle of Pinot. Add a dark haired seductress, season with a soupcon of treachery and murder, and who says the plot doesn’t boil.” Aside from the murder it sounds like a normal day Montecito—where nothing is ho-hum!
Silver Tongue writer Steve Crandell shares Larry Crandell’s (both pictured with former N-P publisher Joe Cole) ability to laugh, love, and make friends in minutes — and true to Larry’s love-of-nonprofits character, the book’s profits go to charity, making it truly the gift that keeps on giving! It is a poignant read, a father-son take that is packed with inspirational and amusing vignettes that make Larry seem even more lovable — if that is possible. This book is a real must for any dad on your list!
Both these literal literary pros can get you in the spirit — either by spiritual inspiration or by inspiring you to soaking up that a sultry pinot nior, but don’t take it from me. At the check out line at up at Tecolote recently were a gaggle of writers, armed with these bestsellers: former News-Press publisher Joe Cole, the Montecito Journal’s Jim Buckley, former News-Press community columnist Judy Ishkanian, and former News-Press and Indy society editor Beverly Jackson.
MONTECITO MEANDERINGS: The Montecito Association has mailed out new, revised ballots for their annual board of directors elections which are due back January 3. In related news, the new MA watchdog group Voices of Montecito seeks a voice at the MA board table. So they’re waging a write-in campaign for J.W. Colin, and lobbying for an appointed seat should a board vacancy occur. (We hear this could happen as early as January.)….
We are happy to report that the Montecito Board of Architectural Review made a swift “it’s passed—whew” of the now famous Ty Warner Biltmore steps. The design committee demurely offered that a few new “It’s Public Access” signs did the trick, although they politely suggested that maybe (not a condition, but a recommendation) the posts could be lowered by one brick lower. Like a benign conquering hero, architect David Van Hoy gamely threw in the one-brick chip — after all, what’s one brick in the scheme of things? No date set for starting construction….
The community is expressing sadness over the loss of two well know Montecito residents: Nancy Farish Basham, well known for her many involvements and notably as sales director for Sea Meadows and Montecito Shores; and Robert Edmonston, a longtime Montecito Water District Board member and esteemed community leader. They will both be missed….
It’s my annual plea to remind you to send a holiday card to the hard working men and women at the Montecito Fire District. A few years ago, they had three paltry holiday cards hanging in their office. I’m sure the community is more grateful than that, so here’s an easy way to let them know how valued they are. Send a holiday card to The Montecito Fire District, 595 San Ysidro Road, Santa Barbara, 93108.
And, to all, Happy Holidays from Montage!