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103-Year-Old Woman of Mystery

On the Beat


Ty No Buy: A wealthy woman of mystery owns Santa Barbara’s most coveted hilltop-but hasn’t set foot in its mansion for something like 40 to 50 years. Ty Warner reportedly offered a cool $100 million for the Clark Estate a few years ago, but was turned down. Offer too low?

The owner, 103-year-old Huguette Clark, who is said to live in a 125-room, 39-bath Manhattan apartment on Fifth Avenue, isn’t selling. Or telling who she’s leaving the place to. (I phoned her on Tuesday to ask but no one answered.)

Barney Brantingham

The City of Santa Barbara? UCSB? Museum of Art? The Santa Barbara Zoo, just across Cabrillo Boulevard? And for what purpose? A museum? Conference center? Fund-raising facility for nonprofits or schools? What’s unthinkable to a lot of people is the prospect of it turning into something like Clark Heights condos. (Not likely.)

DUI City: The sad talk of the town is about the latest alcohol-related crash on Highway 101, which took the life of a young San Marcos High grad and his mother, and seriously injured his two sisters, current San Marcos students.

The 20-year-old wrong-way driver from Orange County was reportedly arrested there just a week before on suspicion of driving under the influence. He had only minor injuries in our crash and faces a laundry list of charges, including DUI and vehicular murder.

California drunk-driving deaths are up by 49 percent this past decade. What to do?

The Automobile Club of Southern California has a list of suggestions, including revising the current 0.08 threshold for a driver’s license suspension to 0.05. “A blood-alcohol content of 0.05 percent impairs most people’s ability to drive safely and sharply increases their risk of being in a crash,” AAA said.

Offenders at 0.05 would not be arrested “but instead have their driver’s licenses taken on the spot and suspended by the DMV for a fixed time.”

But the basic problem is still the nut that holds the wheel.

Whew! Santa Barbarans, stewed to the gills for months on political snake oil, are still nursing post-election headaches and hangovers. How come voters gave the green light to the canyonization of Old Town by rejecting Measure B, which would have reduced height limits? A major dose of snake oil came in the form of letters to voters from local biggies warning that if a disaster hit town and Cottage Hospital was leveled, it couldn’t (sob!) be rebuilt if Measure B passed.

What, Cottage would remain a big hole in the ground? Santa Barbara wouldn’t have a hospital? Only the most naive of the naive would swallow that, but the scare technique, transparent as it was, apparently worked. Even more crucial to the campaign was the major door-to-door effort by No on B forces, not all of them out-of-work architects.

Texan Randall Van Wolfswinkel spent something like $700,000, but still failed to elect Dale Francisco as mayor. That wasn’t going to happen no matter how many repulsive hit pieces Wolfie mailed. But he can take major credit for booting home to the City Council two people who probably couldn’t have been elected otherwise, Frank Hotchkiss and Michael Self. Also credit the News-Press, which shamelessly promoted them for months. (A going-away present from Travis Armstrong.)

Wolfie has helped create a three-person conservative bloc on the seven-person aouncil. Anytime Dale, Frank, and Michael can lure a fourth vote they can run the city, so to speak. Wolfie’s main objective was not to install right-wing candidates, we were to believe, but to push Measure B and put the kibosh on new downtown buildings over 45 feet. That part failed, but the longtime progressive-moderate-liberal council majority now has seen its ideological ramparts breached.

Was the slow growth-low buildings rhetoric we heard from Wolfie’s people real or just more snake oil? We’ll find out when the next 60-footer condo projects hit the agenda. And how much conservative clout will be exerted also remains to be seen.

Soup Kitchen CEO: As I ladled out corn chowder at the Empty Bowls fundraiser Sunday, October 8, I saw that the guy next to me, with a ladle full of butternut squash soup, was the CEO of Santa Barbara Bank & Trust, George Leis. We both had a chuckle, inasmuch as I wrote about the guy’s troubled bank last week.

Sadly, the stock of its parent, Pacific Capital Bancorp, has fallen from about $20 a year ago to less than $1 at this writing, sick from toxic loans. Critics unhappy with the situation point out that the bank’s directors were paid an average of around $60,000 last year, not counting stock options. Board chair Ed Birch got $160,000. Leis earned $580,769 base pay. But if Pacific Capital is acquired by another bank and he loses his job, the severance agreement that calls for him to collect triple his average base salary apparently won’t be worth a penny. That’s because the bank hasn’t repaid the $180 million the feds invested a year ago. Until then, no golden parachute.



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