Last month, when Oprah Winfrey hosted a political lawn party for Barack Obama and nearly 2,000 people at her home in Montecito, I pretty much flipped my little red wig. I’m a big fan of Oprah’s, but what ignited me on this particular occasion is why she, or anybody else, would be able to circumvent a zoning ordinance that prohibits parties of more than 300 people at any private Montecito residence.
How this plus-size O-O party glided under the county permit radar unnoticed is being investigated, but an Oprah spokesperson told me that Montecito Fire and the Sheriff’s Department assured her she was not violating any Montecito ordinance. Unfortunately, the information given her was incorrect and failed to account for zoning restrictions. While little can be done to erase the past oh-oh, Supervisor Salud Carbajal and the Montecito Association are hoping to seal up the apparent chasms of departmental and community miscommunications that allowed for this very conspicuous slip-up.
Why is Montecito so uptight about such a party? The guest restriction rule exists because Montecito is a small, fragile residential community. It’s pretty hard for a community of 10,000 people to absorb an additional one-fifth of its population, even for one day, and even if it’s for Oprah.
Take parking, for example: Those planning the event decided to eliminate guest traffic by hiring buses to transport the O-O guests from parking slots at Earl Warren Showgrounds to Montecito. These 25 very-non-residential vehicles drove up and down Santa Rosa Lane for seven hours trucking guests and spewing fumes. As if that weren’t bad enough, their road-hogging size necessitated that Santa Rosa Lane be closed-an action that occurred in spite of improper neighborhood notice-leaving Oprah’s neighbors with their own Saturday plans unexpectedly askew. Add to that some unusual neighborhood parking restrictions, enforced only that day, and the environmental question as to where the very fancy porta-potties got dumped, and you may start to see how a big party in a small community can get kind of crappy.
“Come on, J’Amy, where’s your party hat?” you may be thinking. Well, I hate to be the one to throw the wet blanket on the lawn party, but I left my party hat perched on a tree in Brentwood, where I grew up.
In 1960, Brentwood was a lovely, rustic suburb of Los Angeles. My father served on the Brentwood homeowners’ association and worked hard to preserve and protect the semi-rural community in an urban metropolitan area. He failed. Today, Brentwood is a traffic-snarled, wall-fortressed, gate-blocked, overbuilt, zero-lot-lined, unfriendly urban jungle, devoid of any sense of community or civility.
In the end, it was the chop of the helicopters chasing a former football star around Brentwood that chased me out too-and it was darn personal. Circa 1974, my childhood home was sold to its new owner: O. J. Simpson. That’s me in the photo, circa 1951, perched on a limb in front of my childhood home, 360 North Rockingham.
When O.J. left the neighborhood-not the white Bronco departure, but a post-murder trial, less dramatic escape-the house was torn down and rebuilt with a new, less infamous address. My home, my address, and my neighborhood all disappeared with big, bad O.J.!
When I found refuge in Montecito in 1995-a place so special, so well-preserved, and so protected-I knew it wasn’t that way by accident. I jumped in to try to aid in the preservation of this community, because I knew firsthand what happened when people didn’t crawl out on that protection limb.
Limb-survival demands some brassy, bold, aggressive, and assertive skills. It’s not gentle, nor gracious. But I’ve lived in a community that lost its character when neighbors were too polite to speak up. So as long as I have a voice to whimper with, or a red wig to flip, it’s simply my self-appointed, Rockingham legacy to go out on a limb to try to preserve and protect what’s left of Montecito. Oh, oh, oh!
For more Montecito Montage, which comes out every Wednesday online, see independent.com/montecito.