DOUBLE-DISSED: Within one 24-hour period this week, I managed to get swacked across the face with a cold, dead steelhead at least twice. Maybe three times, depending how you count. The first arrived late Monday evening in the form of a blue-glittered gift bag, with plumes of sparkled tissue paper billowing forth. Inside was the ageless mini-tome, How to Grow Old — its pages alternating between English and the original Latin — written by Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero back in 44 BCE. Accompanying this unsolicited life advice was an electric nose and ear trimmer. “Gifting” me this package was landlord-developer Ed St. George, who until recently had been proposing to turn his 97-unit apartment complex at Loma Alta and Cliff drives — known for years as Harbor Heights and now more festively as Beach City — into a 1,500-bed gargantuan Über-mega dorm for City College students. These plans — and St. George’s gale-force sales pitch — galvanized white-hot opposition from some neighbors. In response, St. George announced a few weeks ago he was withdrawing the aforementioned plans even before submitting them. His critics had gone too far, he charged; they’d gotten too personal. In fact, he threatened one with libel, slander, and defamation litigation if she didn’t cease and desist. She, in turn, accused St. George of harassment and intimidation. And she denied any trash-talking other than to include a blog post describing St. George as “demonstrably unscrupulous” in an all-hands-on-deck letter mailed out to neighbors.
In Santa Barbara, all this qualifies as Big Deal news. Accordingly, I wrote about it.
I interpreted the St. George’s swag bag as a masterpiece of backhanded congeniality, a rictus smile gleaming with fresh lipstick. No doubt I had it coming. St. George is just a little older than me, and during our interview, I suggested he must have had bowling balls surgically implanted into his calves and forearms. For the record, I admit to being unduly aware of hi-def pulchritude when it comes to the calf muscles of others, and I was being genuine, sincere, and curious. But how was he to know? The nose-hair trimmer will no doubt come in handy, but I’m not so sure about the Cicero book. Based on Ed’s multiple inscriptions, he’d clearly given it away before. The first giftee, apparently, gave it back. Cicero, among other things, was the ultimate buzzkill. “Nothing is as detestable or pernicious,” he wrote, “than sensual pleasure.” Little wonder that one year after publication, Mark Anthony had Cicero’s head and hands summarily chopped off and put on public display for all to see. That, apparently, did not get the message across. Mark Anthony’s wife reportedly yanked the tongue out of Cicero’s decapitated head and gouged it repeatedly with her hairpin.
Is there some subliminal message I should be getting here?
By contrast, there was nothing remotely subliminal about the emails I got early the next morning from St. George’s critics. “Shame on you, Nick, for missing the real story,” wrote neighborhood activist Sue Mellor. I failed to note, she explained, the genuine grass-roots nature of neighborhood opponents who had collected 1,118 signatures to stop St. George and his dragon. Not to quibble, but I made explicit mention of 1,118 signatures. Normally, I reply “Thanks for writing” to such notes and move on. But I allowed myself to get bit, bent, and butt-hurt. I shot off a huffy, high-horsey response reeking with the bad cologne of righteous indignation. Mellor shared it with coconspirator Mike Bono, who suggested via email that St. George “fabricated” the alleged personal attacks and that I allowed myself to become St. George’s stooge by “reporting” such unsubstantiated allegations. (I did, in fact, interview the woman St. George threatened to sue.) “I don’t think you are ‘in St. George’s back pocket,’” Bono wrote. “I just think you were (are) LAZY.” To demonstrate just how lazy I truly am, Bono noted with keen disapproval that I didn’t capitalize the first letter of the first word in any of my sentences — or even the pronoun “I,” or as he put it, “you know ‘the first person thing.’” For the record, I stopped capitalizing in email communications. It saves time.
I get it. We all desperately want rental housing until such time someone actually offers to build any. Then it becomes way too much of a good thing. Given the size and intensity of St. George’s proposal, this is especially true. And he’s hardly the only one. City Hall has systematically and programmatically allowed unprecedented densities and waived parking requirements to encourage developers to build rental housing that’s affordable to working families. So what do we get? At The Marc — an 89-unit exaltation of the Retro ’50s Hipster George Jetson Moderne School of Architecture located at State and La Cumbre — the starting rent for a 646-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment is $2, 445. Yikes! The most spacious two-bedroom goes for $3,125. Admittedly, The Marc is so “amenity rich” it offers three outdoor courtyards. According to the promotional literature, one — the “Game Court” — offers a place where residents can “commune with a fire pit.” What does that even mean? The Marc demonstrates that City Hall needs to reserve the big breaks it dispenses, and the high densities it allows, for developers building genuinely affordable housing. As long as City Hall is willing to give away the store, we’ll get all the problems of high density with none of the benefits of affordability.
In the meantime, I discovered that one of my critics, Bono, works as an electrologist, meaning he’s trained in making unwanted body hair permanently disappear by zapping it electronically. Maybe if he can dispatch the unsightly hairs emanating from my nasal orifi, I can return the electric nostril-and-ear-hair trimmer St. George so generously gave me. The bad news is that I would still be “LAZY.” The good news is that I will no longer be in St. George’s hip pocket.