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What Kind of Circus Is This?

Is Montecito’s Big Top Going to the Top Dogs?


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Remember last week when I told you Montecito was just two clowns short of a three-ring circus? Well, I found the other two clowns, so come along as we stroll into the Montage big top for another week of thrills and spills!

Look in Ring-Two and you’ll find developer Rick Caruso precariously stranded atop his 51-foot, flag-tagged, story-poled Miramar trapeze. He’s perched there fresh from a jousting bout with some Miramar neighbors over private road relocation. Caruso created a minor gasp when he looked like he’d been thrown off balance by the abrupt end of neighborhood road talks. We hear Caruso wanted to talk road placement, while neighbors had a visions of heights, scale, and mass dancing in their heads.

Caruso was in no mood to change his agenda, so he left the meeting and withdrew his plan from a September 10 and September 19 Montecito Board of Architectural Review hearing, saying he will redesign the Miramar without the neighbor’s road. His action caused breathless on-lookers to ponder the Miramar fate: “Is he leaving? Is he abandoning the project? Is he falling out already?”

Story poles at the Miramar.
Click to enlarge photo

J'Amy Brown

Story poles at the Miramar.

No, as letter from his firm to the county’s Planning and Development staff implied: “This development (the road issue) is only a pause in the project that we remain fully committed to:.It is our intent to resubmit our application within 60 days and acknowledge that you (Planning and Development staff) will have 30 additional days beyond the date of our submittal to review the revised application for complete.” So while Caruso didn’t tumble, his much-ballyhooed January construction date toppled to its much-expected demise.

With the high-wire theatrics in disarray, conspiracy theories spread. “This fortress is a far cry from what Caruso presented at the community meeting at El Mo,” said one. “It makes me wonder if this is a calculated bait and switch a la Westmont’s ‘revised’ designs.”

Rick Caruso
Click to enlarge photo

Rick Caruso

A second theorist proposed Caruso could be a “straw dog” for Ty Warner. “Warner realized he was never going to get his project off the ground, so he sold the project to Caruso so [Warner] could buy it back after a Caruso completion!” He went on. “Caruso has no local ties, no hotel experience, the property closed escrow in an almost impossible 15 days and Caruso now claims not to have done the due diligence on the site, specifically about the salt water intrusion, percolation problems, and the road easements.” (Montage has a firm rule against printing rumors and baseless theories unless, of course, they fan the flames of intrigue and come certified for high entertainment value, as is with the cases above. This is a circus after all.)

Just to make this tight-rope walk have more audience appeal, on September 29 at a Heal the Ocean benefit, Caruso will be perched on the dais near none other than honorary chairs Julia-Louise Dreyfus and husband Brad Hall. They are, of course, part of the Miramar neighborhood collation of jousters who left Caruso stranded up top! How delicious will that disingenuous-smiles dinner be?

AND IN THIS RING: With the high-wire performers in a stalemate overhead, we’ll flip to a pink gel and move the spotlight to Coral Casino, debuting to dazzle and delight. But wait, some members look like sad-faced and are grumbling about a new Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel-imposed guest fee. It seems that members hosting Coral guests, even for a short social coffee klatch, are hit with a $25 entry fee. Add that to a cup of $4 coffee, and you’ll certainly have bitter java jolt to start off your day!

However, a solution is close at hand. We hear those guests can step right up and join Ty-Warner-World! We are swimming in rumors that Warner is within three weeks of offering a bevy of sun-and-fun-filled private club choices. And, just to make his get-up-and-go complete, we hear there is a long list (500 maybe) of wannabes dying to dive in.

Offerings, we hear, will start a minimum of $75K for the Coral and move right on to a $135,000 surf-‘n’-turf package for a Coral and Montecito Country Club combo. There’s also a $250K option, which allows a full four-club swing through Coral Casino, Sandpiper, Rancho San Marcos, and MCC.

THE BIGGEST SHOW ON EARTH: With our eyes dizzy with dollar signs, we spun into center ring last which of course was this weekend’s over-the-top Oprah-Obama $3 million political fund-raiser. Let me offer a peep, from the Montage point of view, of Flying Obama and his one-day Montecito whistle stop swing.

After greeting a supportive crowd at Santa Barbara City College, the star-politician headed straight for Nancy and Larry Koppleman‘s Montecito seaside affair. Billed as a fundraiser, Obama acted like he had landed at a relaxation spa - a tranquility port, if you will, before the up-coming storm. Obama mixed and mingled with about 100 guests on the Koppleman’s umbrella-laced beachfront patio. There he seemed refreshed by an ocean view, salt air breezes, and an al fresco lunch, including an Eli’s Chicago Cheesecake, flown in by the Koppleman’s to give the Illinois Senator a familiar touchstone of home.

One guest told Montage they felt so close to the Senator by the end of the event they were calling him by his first name. “Barack was relaxed and happy, talked with everyone and shook hands,” the guest said. “We all were in love, and we felt like we knew him when he left.” Another Koppleman guest, who attended Oprah’s later, said Op’s event offered a musical treat of Stevie Wonder and Gospel music, but it was the more intimate Koppleman-Obama experience that lingered in his mind.

And who were our who’s who at the 1,500-plus packed Oprah event? First of all, the real community stars in my book were few nearby neighbors, who, un-invited to real O-O event, hosted a block party, complete with cardboard cut outs of Oprah and Obama. A Sheriff’s deputy and the postman, both having fought Op’s happening, lined up for a loving potluck and a real Montecito welcome!

Among the 100 Montecito marquee named at the non-plastic Oprah event were pals like the Towbes, Barbakows, Nickols, and Velozes, who sold Oprah her East Valley home. Obama was seen mixing with Julia Dreyfus and Brad Hall, David and Jan Crosby, Linda Evans, Lois Capps, Marjorie Layden, Gay Browne, Nina Terzian, with her daughter Kristy, Sue Firestone, Mike and Carolyn Balaban, and Kat and Terrance Ladd. And that’s just a few of the folks who lolled on Oprah’s lush lawn on take-home souvenir blankets.

VIEW FROM OUTSIDE THE BIG TOP: Even though I’d already paid my entry fee, I was nixed from the Oprah-do after my article two weeks ago, which is too bad because I could have brought along my very own wet blanket. But I was able to wonder, as this affair unfolded with 25 rolling buses spewing fumes in my face, how many times our tiny 3000-parcel enclave can handle this 2000-plus-guest beating?

J'Amy Brown hangs out with the big Os.
Click to enlarge photo

J’Amy Brown hangs out with the big Os.

Does star-power now mandate thoughtlessness, where a tacky tacked up sign alerts neighbors of weekend road closures and traffic on-slaught instead of a personal call or hand written note? Unnoticed, as required by permit, Oprah’s neighbors were left to scramble to cancel long scheduled yard work, parties and pre-advertised open houses as well and even the mail truck had to fight his way on the road.

Are we now so polarized by issues and so busy climbing some invisible social ladder that we have lost all community graciousness and unified concern? Will the kind of onslaught of a huge mass brought here by Oprah lead to an over-encumbered, ill-equipped police force who, while trying to manage stars, media, and 2000 guests, become over-zealous with locals, no longer knowing us by sight and scaring us with their demeanor and officious reaction?

Initially, this clown was excited and oh-so-proud to welcome the likes of Oprah and Ty and Rick to our neighborhood tent. I thought each one of them understood and loved what we had here - a beautiful, quiet, friendly, thoughtful community.

But today this clown wears a sad face and sheds a tear. This weekend punctuated the fact that the community of Montecito that I knew and loved and fought so hard to preserve is fractured and gone.

There’s a new circus in town and the neon is blinding. Unfortunately, the glare may be too bright for this old barker to go on.

Please contact J.amy.brown@att.net with your thoughts about the future of Montage.

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