What a Week for Westmont; Water District “Torture;” and Getting Kisses from Caruso
Westmont College, Montecito’s normally subdued institution of higher learning, has been a hub of exhilaration this week. In just seven days, the small Christian college announced a new president, won a double-appeal at the Board of Supervisors, and hosted a well-rounded and well-attended discussion about our flat, but never dull, world.
Traffic and parking were at the heart of Tuesday’s BOS appeal issues. The Board of Supervisors unanimously granted Westmont’s appeal, reversing a Montecito Planning Commission condition that set the number of average daily car trips to and from Westmont at 3,350. At a late November MPC hearing, Westmont volunteered to cap the traffic to 3,500 average daily trips but MPC, after listening to neighborhood frustration, thought the 3,500 trips might have too much impact. They reduced the allotment to 3,350. Westmont did not fancy their voluntary offer being chiseled away, so they sought BOS relief, and Tuesday they got everything they asked for.
The three-hour-plus BOS hearing was the last county stop on the seven-year Westmont campus-expansion-permit-march, but there is at least one lawsuit pending, and Montage hears there may be more court-required action in the pipeline. With legal issues still in the air, Westmont cannot begin construction on their dream campus, and the years of frustration and public debate have created plenty of rancors from all sides.
“When there is an institution in a neighborhood, it will always create tension,” said First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal at the conclusion of Tuesday’s hearing. “It is the nature of conditional use permits (CUP) in Montecito. CUPs in a residential area will always have this dynamic.”
As an olive branch to neighbors, who are still smarting from another BOS appeal-loss two weeks ago, Carbajal added language to his final motion that will assure accurate and frequent compliance monitoring, and with strong penalties for infractions.
Another MPC condition, requiring every Westmont student cars have ID decals, was swiftly overturned, but the issue caused a few wry Supe comments. In trying to understand the decal logic, Supervisor Joe Centeno pondered, “I put a sticker on my car so you can come and give me a ticket? As a former law enforcement officer, I wonder if we could do this for peddlers of dope…’I am a criminal, come give me a ticket?’” Supervisor Joni Gray also found MPC’s decal solution lacking merit: “This is an impractical, hair-brain idea…I hope I didn’t offend anybody.”
A PATIENT MAN: Dr. Gayle D. Beebe (pictured) has been selected to be Westmont’s next president and he will assume his duties on July 1. He told Montage that, in spite of Westmont’s years of battle to get approvals, he is looking forward to the challenges of being a part of the college’s 354,000-square-foot campus building project and knows firsthand how a large project can test patience.
“I have just finished a major building phase at my campus in Michigan and know every project always takes longer than you think it will. We are excited to be a part of the next phase of Westmont’s work,” he explained.
Beebe currently serves as the president of Spring Arbor University in Michigan, was a dean at Azusa Pacific University, and actually attended Westmont for a semester in 1980. He also did undergraduate work at George Fox University in Oregon and graduate work at both Princeton and Claremont. Beebe replaces Stan Gaede, who left Westmont last June to return to the faculty of Gorden College in Wenham, Massachusetts. Beebe will be joined by his wife, Pam, and their three children, ages 14, 12, and 8.
CONTINUING ED: With the President’s February 28 Breakfast, featuring best-selling author Thomas Friedman, selling out in three hours, Westmont was determined not to leave pursing minds out in the cold.
So this week the college held an addendum lecture by hosting a provocative panel discussion about the precision of The World is Flat, Friedman’s best-selling, future-think tome. Presented at the University Club last Thursday evening, nearly 100 people attended the “Westmont Downtown” seminar and they all seemed engrossed by the 21st Century world vision described by professors (pictured here left to right) Chandra Mallampalli (history, Westmont), Susan Penksa (political science, Westmont) and Cynthia Stohl (communications, UCSB). The panel was moderated by Deborah Dunn (communications, Westmont; pictured here on the left with Gerd Jordano and Roberta Griffin).
Friedman, we were told, is a master metaphoric story teller whose 496-page book takes on the complex notion that globalization is creating a competitive playing field between industrial and emerging market countries like China and India — thus flattening the world. The professors steered the audience off the edges and through the bumps of some of Friedman’s more complex political economic treatise and challenges.
Considering that the topic could have been a flat-liner, the Westmont team kept the discussion alive and the audience without need of resuscitation. The Westmont Foundation hosts these educational forums (“Conversations About Things That Matter”) from time to time — a welcome refresher course, especially for those of us who still thought the world is still round!
WATER TORTURE: On Tuesday, the Board of Directors of the Montecito Water District (pictured) voted to approve a water rate increase — to get themselves out of hot water! It seems the board adopted a 2007 budget that anticipated the rate increase, so if the hike had not been passed, the district would experience deficit spending.
New board director Sam Frye questioned the reasoning behind such quirky financial planning, but general manager Robert Roebuck responded that the longer the vote was put off, the deeper into budget deficit the budget would go. “If we don’t vote today,” Roebuck warned, “we will lose three months of revenue.”
Martha Smilgis, one on only nine customers to attend the public hearing, said the district’s annual rate hikes were like “water torture.” Some of those attending said they were irked that domestic use will go up from $3.47 per hundred cubic feet to $3.75, while commercial users such Starbucks or the $700-per-night Biltmore Hotel will experience no water rate increase, even at their splashy spa!
More than 75 people showed up and those who attended say Caruso floated a interesting trial balloon about a fractional-ownership concept at the Miramar. In his loosely sketched what-do-you-think scenario, the developer suggested a plan where he might sell a fractional interest in a Miramar cottage to a private owner who gets to use it for, say, a month. The other part of the year the cottage is used as a hotel room. This financial concept allows the developer to raise relatively easy up-front revenue but not lose ownership. Many guests departed, applauding Caruso’s financial dexterity and dubbing him, admiringly, “Slick Rick.” At lunchtime on Friday, Caruso cultivated a different set of admirers. Over pasta at Tre Lune, Lee Luria and several members of Voices of Montecito gave Caruso a full thumbs-up and adamant promises of future Miramar application support.
Caruso’s next planned group love-fest, we hear, will be at Montecito Country Club with a large contingent of nearby Miramar neighbors. Montage also hears Caruso is about is ready to start floating tweaks to Ian Schrager’s old plan. His local dream team is coming together, and the county is well-meaning, but well-known dream busters are poised for a preview.
MONTAGE’S SOCIAL TIP: A Caruso air-kiss is Montecito’s A-list catch this week, so get an in-person squeeze if you can. Otherwise, it’s getting so common-place, a next-week-invite could sink your social status like an elevator.
MONTECITO MEANDERINGS: David Myrick is making a black ball our of Montage’s so-far-stellar crystal ball. Every month since December, I have predicted David will be retiring from the Montecito Association board and every month, just like the Energizer Bunny, Myrick shows up looking very un-retired.
This month Montage was told it was sure bet — but nope, wrong again. Gene Sinser was elected to the board of directors of the Montecito Association — to replace not Myrick as predicted, but Jim Wolfe, the Balance Bar CEO and president, who was just elected to the MA board in January. It seems Wolfe did not check his calendar, and, oops, he was fully booked. So, after a notable double-ballot election, Wolfe resigned his once-used seat faster than you can say energy bar!