Leaders Changing Places

Puddicombe Passes, Cronk Retires, and More

This week are changes blowing in wind of Montecito’s leadership landscape — some planned for, others not. mm%20half%20staff.jpg

The death of 21-year Montecito Water District (MWD) board veteran, Robert Puddicombe, left a large and unexpected void in Montecito’s water service agency. Puddicombe, a civil engineer and longtime public works specialist, was re-elected to the board at last November’s general election. He was installed as MWD vice-president in December, but became ill shortly thereafter, passing away on January 1 at the age of 85.

“Bob enjoyed mentoring and he was happy to share information. He had a tremendous amount of knowledge and he was generous with it,” said MWD President Jan Abel, who has worked closely with Puddicombe, sitting next to him for all of her 16 years on the MWD board. “The chair to my right will be forever empty—he was a very special friend,” And, indeed, at the Montecito Fire District meeting on Tuesday, Director Puddicombe’s chair, to the right of Abel’s was empty, a simply floral bouquet marking his spot.

The remaining board, who, along with Abel includes Sam Fry, Dick Shaikewitz and Larry Wilson, resumed business and voted on Tuesday to elect Wilson as the replacement vice president. Puddicombe’s board position will remain unfilled until the board has an opportunity to publicize the vacancy and seek qualified candidates. Abel said applications would be accepted by the MWD until 5 p.m. on February 12.

She said the only absolute requirements for candidacy are that the applicant lives within the boundaries of the Montecito Water District and that they be registered to vote at that address. However, she added other qualifications could enhance the applicant’s odds of being selected.

“While it’s not required, a desirable candidate would have experience in engineering, finance, planning, or other suitable training,” Abel said. She added MWD board members are expected to attend monthly meetings (scheduled for 2 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month) and serve on auxiliary committees. The appointed candidate will fill Puddicombe’s seat for two years until the next general election in 2008.

“While it’s not a requirement, we will certainly give preference to someone willing to run for the seat in 2008. Experience helps keep the board solid, because it takes some time to learn about the tapestry of water in our community,” Abel noted.

Along with professional experience and teamwork weaving, water board candidates might be advised to have good swimming skills. Water boards notoriously face controversial community issues, including upstream paddles over issues such as MWD’s newly proposed rate hikes, getting its first public comment airing on February 20 at the Montecito Fire District Community Hall.

IN THE LEAD: Newly announced leadership positions in other in other community organization include Deirdre Cannata, elected president of the Montecito Sanitary District; Roy Jensen, staying on as the longtime president of the Montecito Fire District; and Troy Harris, new head of the Montecito Emergency Recovery and Rescue Action Group (MERRAG).

After 22 years of balanced budgets, cronk.jpg Westmont vice president of finance Ron Cronk retires from the VP position, but stays on as a special advisor to the college’s president. Cronk is well known for podium power, advocating in public meetings on behalf of Westmont various expansion needs.

And, while the members of the Montecito Planning Commission were sent to the bench last week by the Board of Supervisors pending further review, First District Santa Barbara Planning Commissioner Michael Cooney’s reappointment sailed through without a hitch. The Montecito statesman (often sent to calm Montecito’s troubled waters by Supervisor Salud Carbajal) has been elected chairman of the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission for 2007.

MUSIC TO THEIR EARS: When Santa Barbara harpist Mary Jane Barton died in February 2005, few knew that a harmonic building music she owned on Coast Village Road would be creating such a euphony. It seems Barton sold her building at 1111 Coast Village Road and donated the $2 million proceeds to Curtis Institute of Music. The Philadelphia college says the bequest came as no surprise, because Barton frequently showed the building to Curtis visitors.


Barton was an accomplished harpist, under contract to MGM and 20th Century Fox, and playing the harp in such films as Victory at Sea and Sayonara. She also played as soloist for the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Now the building houses a symphony of stockbrokers from Smith Barney, whose tunes, we hear, go up and down with the market.

OUT OF THE FOG: Several columns ago, I mentioned new Montecito neighbor Priscilla Presley was a longtime supporter of the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Montage must have been in a fog because I was quickly apprised she is better known for her work as the Dream Foundation’s ambassador.

The Dream Foundation makes wishes come true for terminally ill adults, and Priscilla became involved with the Dream Foundation in 1997, when she hosted a dream recipient whose final wish was to go to Graceland. Other local celebs that support the Dream Foundation include Jeff Bridges, Rob Lowe, Kenny Logins, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, John Cleese, David Cosby, Kathy Ireland, and Michael Douglas.

For more information on this organization’s good works visit

MONTECITO MEANDERING: Montecito’s Santa Barbara International Film Fest insiders are buzzing that Tom Cruise will be on hand for the Film Festival along with Golden Globe-snatcher Sacha Baron Cohen….

Montage will not tell all, but dust off your copy of Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat because you could get it personally autographed very soon …

Our TV remote control screeched to a halt this week to find Montecito resident Rob Lowe mugging with Calista Flockhart in the new TV hit Brothers & Sisters. Lowe, who plays a senator (is he rehearsing for a real-life run?), recently decided to stay on with the show. Meanwhile natural history film maker Michael DeGruy, who’s in charge of the Reel Nature sidebar for the film festival, was mugging underwater with killer squid on the Discovery Channel….

dawg.gif If you, however, are left to pucker up with your friendly pooch, you’re in luck! DAWG’s photographer is taking appointments for family portrait sittings (both human and canine members) just in time for Valentines Day! The $100 cost will benefit DAWG’s medical fund. Email for info or see


LOWDOWN ON COUNTY SUPESMPC REVERSAL: At the Montecito Planning Commission on Wednesday morning, Planning and Development Director John Baker said the Board of Supervisors’ blockage of Montecito Planning Commissioner’s appointments has been resolved. Baker said MPC incumbents Bob Bierig and Michael Phillips and new appointee, Sue Burrows, will be confirmed via administrative agenda at the Board of Supervisor’s meeting on January 23.

Phillips, who was present at the January 6 showdown where he and the other MPC appointees’ approvals were delayed by the BoS, asked Baker for clarification. “The Board of Supervisor asked for a discussion of this item. Does this mean there will be no hearing? Is it just an administrative item?” Phillips inquired.

Baker said County CEO Michael Brown had asked the same question, and the BoS’s clear direction was that the appointments be placed only on the administrative agenda for simple and routine approval.

This action is a 180 degree reversal of the BoS’ January 6 mandate, in which Supervisors Brooks Firestone, Joni Gray, and Joe Centeno requested that a discussion of the MPC, it’s appointees, and its future be placed on the BoS’ January 23 agenda. At the time Supervisor Firestone, in particular, expressed concern and wanted public discussion over prior MPC actions. He sited particular angst over a controversial decision about a Ty Warner / Biltmore Hotel seawall staircase design, which the MPC denied. Their action was reversed by the BoS at a spirited, well attended public hearing.

While the MPC seemed visibly surprised (and relieved) by turn of events, Carbajal seemed confidently nonchalant about the board’s hasty retreat. “I think my colleagues had some time to reconsider the importance of the appointments and they were happy with them,” Carbajal said, adding he had personally spoken with Firestone concerning the issue. “I did have meeting with him to try to understand his concerns and educate him on my insights on the Montecito community.”

Carbajal said he has worked a long time with the Montecito community, both as a supervisor and as a staff member under former Supervisor Naomi Schwartz. He said his experience has afforded him a unique appreciation of the community — one that his fellow supervisors may not be privy to.

“I am not new to controversy in Montecito. Dissent and discussion are healthy and part of the normal decision-making process in any community, and Montecito has always had healthy debate,” explained Carbajal. “It is par for the course, and I am not new to bringing together and working with divergent viewpoints in Montecito.”

He added emphatically, “I try to review issues in depth, and listen and meet with all constituents and try to find a balance and common ground. Then, as I was elected to do, I make a decision on behalf of the entire district. The Montecito Planning Commission is constructive for the community.” He then he reconfirmed that the BoS’ prior enthusiastic interest in discussing MPC policy has been calmly and summarily eliminated from the agenda, proving experience and education may go a long way in local politics.

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