How do you say “thank you” to the Zaca Fire Incident Command, those men and women have worked so hard for weeks to put restraints around the Zaca Fire and keep her from Santa Barbara’s densely populated front country? Two words: Jonathan Winters!
Montecito’s top comic was the surprise guest at Sunday evening’s farewell-reception honoring Commander Bill Molumby’s California National Incident Management Team Two. Team Two’s difficult two-weeks on Zaca ended earlier that day when the reins were handed over to Rocky Oplinger‘s Team Four. Such teams are made up of about 45 people, and they are assigned to incidents throughout the U.S. The managers of each team know each other well, which helps the operation work with extreme precision. They rotate in for two-week shifts.
Former Montecito District Fire Chief Herb McElwee (pictured above at left with Winters and Molumby) was attached to Bill Molumby’s Live Oak Command Post as a local liaison, and the mutual admiration grew. Because of that bond, McElwee was naturally expected to join the 40-person farewell event on Sunday. The unexpected was McElwee’s special guest: his longtime friend and Montecito’s favorite resident-comedian, Jonathan Winters. Winters eagerly accepted McElwee’s last minute Saturday invitation because, Winters said, he wanted to personally meet the firefighters and extend the community’s thanks.
When Winters made his entry to the Hotel Andalucia’s rooftop reception, anonymously hosted by another one of McElwee’s Montecito pals, the firefighters stood in stunned disbelief. Their somber military poker faces melted into astonished smiles of recognition, as Winters strolled causally among the gathering. He approached clusters of suddenly-shy firefighter fans, flashing his honorary Montecito Fire District firefighter badge, ad-libbing jokes, smiling for photos, and signing autographs. With each Winters-produced-smile, the weight of the fire seemed to slide off the firefighters backs like the 50-pound packs they unload in the field when exhausted.
“You are very special people and we appreciate you and what you have done for us here in Santa Barbara,” Winters said in a serious tone. And then, with his perfect comedic timing, Winters changed the mood. As he was presented with a “Team Two” cap, and honored as the first-ever celebrity Team Two honorary member, he deadpanned how he thought that appreciation might grow.
“I’ve been thinking of running for governor of California,” he said. “I’d win, you know, because I know how to pronounce ‘California.’” The audience roared with laughter and, as Winters departed, he left behind a room full of mutual admiration and genuine smiles - perfect souvenirs of our community’s appreciation!
“We firefighters like to take care of our own, so these donations mean a lot,” Bob Bangar told Montage, adding Team Two could be headed toward Texas or Louisiana as early as Thursday.
TUESDAY FIRE UPDATE: Montecito Fire District Chief Kevin Wallace said today he is somewhat encouraged about the Zaca fire situation smoldering behind Montecito. “I am feeling better,” Wallace told Montage.
He said yesterday ground crews made a tactical decision to take a short cut and work directly on the fire, postponing backfires along the Pendola Jeepway. “The crews on the ground took a target of opportunity and that keeps the backfires away from Montecito, and makes me feel much better,” Wallace said, adding the backfire plan remains an option. (Wallace is shown here prior to that meeting with U.S. Forest Service District Ranger John Bridgewater, Montecito Association President Bill Palladini, and First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal.)
“I know I keep saying ‘if we get two good days in a row we are out of it,’ but it’s still out there and I know what kind of brush this is. The winds are shifting so people need to stay vigilant for a few more days,” Wallace warned.
Montecito has been on alert for over two weeks. A town hall meeting was called on August 6 to warn Montecito about the proximity of that meeting.
TIDAL WAVES AND SEISMIC ACTIVITY: Last week, the Montecito Association rolled a tidal wave of platitudes on Rick Caruso, who personally attended the board’s monthly meeting.
Caruso told the group that all the necessary components of his Miramar plan had been submitted to the county, with drainage and fire access plans being handed in at 3:30 p.m. the day of the meeting, August 14. The county now has up to 30 days to review the plan and deem it complete.
Caruso said he was looking forward to a joint conceptual review of the Montecito Board of Architectural Review and the Montecito Planning Commission on September 19. That news jolted Planning Commissioner Claire Gottsdanker, who was in the audience and hand no prior knowledge of her commission’s meeting.
Without a complete plan to review nor a staff report in hand, President Bill Palladini said the board would not be offering a formal written position. “We very much respect the process and the bodies that have the responsibility to guide the project. We do not want to pre-empt their work by taking any position for or against the project at this time,” he explained. “This does not mean we are not enthusiastic about having a great hotel built by Mr. Caruso. We will do all we can to see that it is built as quickly as possible and that it is compatible with the Monecito Community Plan.”
The majority of boardmembers there chimed in with verbal accolades to bolster Caruso. Dana Newquist, who also sits on the Montecito Fire District Board, where Caruso’s plan had been under stiff scrutiny, offered MA’s support to move the community process along. As he swatted a fly buzzing around his head, he said, “A pesky fly can disturb a meeting, and that can happen with a project too - maybe MA can employ the fly swatter.”
Board member Gene Sinser was almost reverent about the Caruso project. “I am joyful of your efforts and we should express our pleasure.” And Land Use Chair Ted Tedesco concurred. “The Association sees nothing that we have identified as a setback or a significant stumbling block,” he said. The next public hearing on the Caruso Miramar project is scheduled for September 10 at MBAR.
Following Caruso’s departure, the meeting rolled on until after 6 p.m. But at the end, Palladini awoke the now-weary board with the tiny seismic announcement that three board members had resigned midterm.
They are Andy Arnold, who is moving; Deanna Wassom, who had business and family conflicts; and past president Bob Collector, for whom no departure explanation was given. Palladini announced a new nominating committee was being created and tasked Deirdre Hanssen, Diane Pannkuk, Dick Shaikewitz, Ted Simmons, Gene Sinser, and Dick Thielscher with the recruitment job.
IF YOU CAN’T STAND THE FIRE:: With the third largest fire in the history of California flaming at our back door, what better defense than to fight fire with fire and head for the stove.
Laurie Tilson opened up her gourmet commercial-grade kitchen to 12 women for a gourmet cooking class led by private chef Roberto Cortez. Roberto, as he prefers to be called, has been private chef to the Rolling Stones, Melanie Griffin, and Microsoft. The Texas native was schooled in Italy, Poland, and Switzerland.
“When you are a private chef,” he explained, “you have to be able to offer a variety of menu choices.” For the ladies of Montecito, with wildfire looming outside, he offered, among other delights, the ever-so-appropriate fireside appetizer: handmade marshmallows on a wooden stick!
POWDER SOFT OPENING: The Coral Casino, closed since October 2005, is scheduled to re-open on Friday, August 24, at 6 a.m. amid the fine powder of construction dust. “We anticipate heavy noise and the potential for dust to impact the open areas,” members were warned in a pre-opening letter. The club, the letter adds, will graciously offer a limited number of iPods to improve the “quality of your experience.”
Returning members will have use of the pool, sunning areas, exercise, and locker rooms, but the banquet, bar, and dining facilities are not scheduled to be completed until 2008. A light poolside menu will be available, including a $12 sandwich, a $6 milkshake, or a $14 glass of champagne.
A Montage Tip: If the pre-opening letter is any indication, you might consider ordering the whole bottle, or maybe two, and then, in an elegant Montecito-Martha Stewart move, use the corks as earplugs.