Tempest in a Chimney

The Hatfields and McCoys, S.B. Style

by Martha Sadler

Has a fireplace chimney ever been so passionately detested as
the one that Scott and Katrina McCosker built at 1464 La Cima Road?
A years-long dispute culminated at Tuesday afternoon’s Santa
Barbara City Council meeting in a bruising final round — unless the
neighbors decide to continue the fight in court. While Mayor Marty
Blum called the disputed chimney an “abomination,” she and her
fellow councilmembers felt they had no choice but to allow it to
stand, a perpetual thorn in the sides of John and Kathy Cook, who
can see it from practically every room in their house. To the
Cooks, the 11-foot-tall chimney is a monument to arrogance and
spite. To the McCoskers, it’s a fireplace on a deck overlooking a
fabulous panoramic view of the coast.

The combatants arrived at the meeting armed with attorneys,
timelines, and aerial photos of the structure. Representing the
McCoskers was Steve Amerikaner, who was the attorney for the City
of Santa Barbara before he began a more lucrative private practice
specializing in developmental law. Amerikaner attempted to put the
chimney into perspective, pointing out that it blocks only 3
percent of the Cooks’ 223-degree view. Moreover, he claimed that
the McCoskers might have built not just a chimney, but an entire
room over the deck, which would have nearly obliterated the view.
He presented an Architectural Board of Review (ABR) timeline as
evidence that neighbors had ample opportunity to object to the
chimney and other aspects of the McCoskers’ renovations in a timely

Attorney Tony Fischer, representing the Cooks, charged that his
clients did not understand the McCoskers’ plans until it was too
late. Fischer argued that plans submitted to the ABR were
misleading; unless the reader was trained in architectural
drawings, they seemed to indicate a shorter chimney, he said.
Insisting on this point, Fischer interrupted and gesticulated so
much while Amerikaner and the councilmembers were speaking that the
mayor warned she would send him to another room to watch the
proceedings on TV unless he calmed down. Kathy Cook was even more
emotional. The chimney “dominates every single room, 24/7,” she
grimly informed the council, which had taken a field trip the day
before to see it for themselves. “You guys all get to go home to
some nice place,” added her husband, “and not have to look at it.”
Several other neighbors expressed their disapproval of the chimney
as well, describing it as “a god awful looking thing” and “an
extra-large packing crate.” One charged that Santa Barbara “will
look like a war zone if this is what you’ll permit.” The chimney in
question is a masonry box with a steel flute, made by Isokern.

While Mayor Blum and Councilmembers Das Williams and Brian
Barnwell agreed the chimney was an eyesore, Councilmember Roger
Horton declined to comment. The remaining three councilmembers were
absent Tuesday. Barnwell firmly reprimanded the McCoskers and Cooks
for failing to resolve their differences in a more neighborly
fashion. “I want to say to everybody, ‘Chill,’” he said. Barnwell
added that the council could reject the McCoskers’ other proposed
modifications conditional upon their removing the chimney, but felt
that would be a childish “neener-neener-neener kind of thing,” not
an indication that the other modifications deserve to be rejected.
“Is that an ugly chimney?” he asked rhetorically. “No doubt about
it.” Nevertheless, he concluded the chimney was built lawfully and
had a right to stay. The city has to uphold its laws, Barnwell
said, and a fair resolution was possible only through the
neighbors’ cooperating with one another.

Williams agreed that granting the Cooks’ appeal would undercut
the city’s due processes, though he wondered whether the
architectural plans may have been “disingenuous.” He abstained from
the vote and concluded that the city needs to strengthen its visual
resource policies. Blum pointed out that the ABR has been reviewing
residential buildings for only about a decade. “Not that that
excuses what happened here,” she added. The ABR’s consent process
involves only one boardmember, who reviews plans with the
applicant’s architect and considers input from neighbors — if they
care enough or are informed well enough to offer it. As every
current ABR member denies any involvement in the chimney project,
it remains unknown who first approved the chimney in July 2003.

Mayor Blum agreed with the councilmembers that the city had no
legal reason to uphold the Cooks’ bid to remove the chimney, but
admonished the McCoskers for leaving it there. “[It’s] just a
terrible thing to do to your neighbors,” she said. “I’d get a
barbecue grill if I were you.”


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.