The Inside Skinny on Ty Versus the Montecito Association
Montecito residents have been riveted by the newest game in town—this week’s Ty Warner vs. Montecito Association Grand Slam match, and both sides have lobbed strong, hostile volleys against each other.
If you talk to Team Ty (Ty Warner’s bevy of consultants and business managers), Warner has been the object of “abuse of power” by the 60-year-old Montecito Association. From association volunteers (whose average age is 60!), you hear they are the brunt of an unwarranted attack by Warner’s slick PR team.
Things got exciting with the first slam last week (the Wednesday before Thanksgiving). The Montecito Journal got a hold of a letter that Greg Rice, executive VP of Warner Properties and Warner’s appointed voicebox, was about to send to the Montecito Association Board of Directors. The letter blamed the association for driving Warner away from future development of the Miramar Hotel project. It confirmed that the locally treasured-but-waning hotel was on back on the market. With Warner dropping out, the story flashed around Montecito and Santa Barbara at the speed of an aced serve. (Indy columnist Barney Brantingham broke the news on Friday — but the full dish was reserved for my Montage!)
“The Montecito Association is a radical group of self-interested people who try to stop specific projects,” Rice told me. He then enumerated a litany of what he sees as association abuses. The final blow, he said, came in the form of a four-page letter, signed by association president Bob Collector. It was sent to all Montecito residents (3,000-plus) and in it Collector responded to a previous Rice letter, which had lambasted the association’s position on a Warner-proposed Biltmore Hotel beach stairway. (I know this letter exchange is getting confusing, but if you wonder why these people don’t just talk, keep reading.)
“Susan Keller (the Montecito Association’s Land Use Chair) lobbied the Montecito Fire Department to go against a median we proposed,” Rice complained. “Then when I met with her about the beach stairs and told her Mr. Warner owns the beach, she said, ‘Yes, we know he owns the beach so stop rubbing our noses in it’.” With that, we hear Rice abruptly left the Biltmore dining room, leaving Keller with the check and a cup of cold coffee.
Rice said right now he’s feeling pretty chilly toward the neighborhood organization and its members. “Diane Pannkuk (an association boardmember) said our beach stair case was too ‘glitzy.’ That’s what she gave as reason to deny the project. Her comments made their way in to the MBAR minutes and we were never able to respond and our project was denied by the Montecito Planning Commission,” he said. (Warner appealed to the Board of Supervisors and the decision was reversed.) [Editor’s Note: If all these boards, committees, and associations start to confuse you, check out J’Amy’s excellent roundup of who’s got what power and why by clicking here.]
Rice added he does not believe that Warner gets a fair shake in the Montecito planning process. He said the relationship between the advocacy-based homeowners association and the county governmental based-decision making MPC is too intertwined. “The commission and the association work hand-in-hand. The commissioners ask things like ‘Where’s the Montecito Association letter?‘” Rice complained. “They cloak what they really do.”
So, does Rice want to try to drum the Montecito Association out of business? “Not at all,” he promised, “a homeowners association can be of benefit if it is balanced. It’s the bias that needs to go.” He said Warner took the association’s widely distributed criticism letter to heart.
“Mr. Warner read and re-read the letter and took a great deal of time to contemplate what it meant for his efforts to improve other Montecito properties in the future. Its meaning was evident to Mr. Warner: (the Association) will not change the way it treats Mr. Warner,” Rice explained. “Perhaps if you and your group would like to take on the challenge of determining the fate of the Miramar, you should think about purchasing the property yourself,” his letter suggested to the M.A. Board.
As the developer and the community protection advocates continue to bat each other rhetorically over the head, other community members have started sift through the discourse. One land use attorney, who asked to remain anonymous, emailed Montage: “The sale of the Miramar cannot possibly be because Warner is afraid the Montecito Association, a non-governmental body with no legal power. Warner has actually gotten everything he wanted for every other project he has proposed. Is it possible that Warner did not want to actually build what he promised the community he would build? This ‘story’ about how he is selling because he was ‘hurt’ by the Montecito Association smells about as much as the idea that Foley quit Congress to be with his family.”
First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal has made some attempts to defuse the raging Montecito contest, which pits two of his major constituents: Warner, one of Santa Barbara County’s largest taxpayers, against the association, Montecito’s longtime and historically powerful homeowners group. “As emotionally painful as the debate has become, it may have a purpose,” Carbajal said. “There is nothing wrong with a healthy debate that flushes out all of the interests, but it is sometimes painful and frustrating. Montecito is a special place that did not happen by accident, but because of a careful planning process. We don’t want to squander what has made S.B. County what we have today. I stand ready to help in any way I can.”
Will the Supervisor’s soothing words bring reason to the neighborhood? We hope so, or it could be game-set-match for our quaint and beloved blue-roofed Miramar!
WESTMONT TREE LIGHTING: And now for a holiday breather: Westmont will be lighting their fifth annual Christmas tree lighting next Wednesday, December 6, on the university’s Kerrwood Lawn at 5 p.m. Hundreds of students, alumni, and neighbors are expected to celebrate the occasion, which will be enhanced by a visit from Santa Claus and some songs from the Westmont Gospel Choir. Those attending are encouraged to bring canned goods to help out The Unity Shoppe, which makes the holiday season easier for the county’s needy families. For more info, call 565-6245 or see www.westmont.edu.