On the Beat 11-9-2006

New Hotel or Maybe Dorm? Seems as though the
Spearmint Rhino strip joint might give way to a 50-room budget
hotel, or even a 100-unit City College dorm. At least that’s the
thinking of property owner Bernie MacElhenny. When I called to
check out a rumor, Bernie cheerfully claimed that he has
preliminary city okay (the city denies this) to strip the Spearmint
Rhino to the ground and build a hotel there on Montecito Street on
the ocean side of the freeway. He’s even dubbed it Hotel

But nothing can happen until the lease is up in two years at the
Rhino, where, I am informed, naked women dance around a maypole.
Patrons in search of healthy beverages swill fruit juice, since the
imbibing of strong drink would require state regulation of the
joint. In California, the serving of sinful John Barleycorn
involves strict measures, while the flaunting of naked flesh, lap
dancing, and the like are entirely legal at the Rhino, which meets
the city “visitor-serving” zoning as a juice bar.

Back in my days at the University of Illinois, my buddies and I
would occasionally, solely in the interest of sociology studies,
venture into the fleshpots of Calumet City, outside Chicago. Total
nudity was not allowed. G-strings, now so passé, were the limit for
dancers. Young women would approach our table with heartrending
stories of having to work their way through college in order to
become brain surgeons.

The Spearmint Rhino, even without liquor sales, is doing a
bang-up business, according to Bernie, and the owner of the Rhino
chain is begging him to renew. “They are really doing well.” Proof,
perhaps, that you don’t need to drink to have fun.

But Bernie, always with an eye toward civic needs, said he
prefers to build a budget hotel, with room rates of $100 to $120.
In fact, he claimed, “the girls at city planning” were
enthusiastically backing his plan because they detest the strip
joint. But Bernie is holding back on the hotel plan because he
wants the city to kick in $1.4 million. That’s the dough Bill Levy
is putting up for budget housing as compensation for his plan to
replace the California Hotel’s low-cost rooms with time-shares for
the well-heeled. But the city, Bernie said, is somehow reluctant to
hand over the money. Bernie said he’s also talking to an East Coast
developer about using the land as a badly needed dorm for City
College students (the Rhino women, I understand, often claim to be
college students). On the other hand, Bernie said if the Spearmint
Rhino guy comes up with enough dough-re-mi, he might even extend
the lease. How else would all those college girls get through

But Paul Casey, city community development director, said that
while Bernie submitted a preliminary application, which is a sort
of “testing of the waters” to get planning department feedback, he
hasn’t made a formal application for the hotel. A hotel is allowed
under the visitor-serving zoning and “isn’t a bad concept,” Casey
told me, but he sounded highly dubious about the city turning over
the $1.4 million mitigation fee to Bernie. Casey said he’d heard
about the dorm idea from City College people, but said there are
zoning issues. So for the present, the women can keep dancing
around the maypole and the guys can keep swarming the place in
search of health-giving juice.

NP Candlelight Vigil: Santa Barbara
movers and shakers attending the News-Press Lifetime
Achievement awards dinner this Saturday night at the Biltmore will
be greeted by a 5:15 p.m. candlelight vigil led by newsroom
employees and friends. The vigil is “to protest the increasing
attacks on journalists” under News-Press owner Wendy
McCaw, the employees said. “In recent months, 28 journalists have
left the News-Press because McCaw was interfering in the
news and violating basic rules of journalism ethics. Thousands of
readers have cancelled their subscriptions in protest.”

Craig Smith’s Top 10 Reasons Why Wendy McCaw Sued
The Santa Barbara Independent:

10. She likes feral pigs better than Angry

9. Was mad she never got invited to The Indy
holiday party.

8. Wants to own a non-union paper.

7. Was afraid that the News-Press
building would feel like a ghost town if all of her lawyers
suddenly had to leave.

6. The Indy was threatening to scoop
the News-Press on the next fresh basil shortage story.

5. Said to her lawyers, “Hey, break me off a
piece of that copyright infringement action!”

4. Was pissed off when she found out the $100
million-plus she paid for the paper didn’t buy her the whole damn
town too.

3. Wants to snatch the couch from Indy
Editor-in-Chief Marianne Partridge’s office.

2. Thought that having her deposition taken
would actually give her a chance to get out of the office and talk
to somebody.

1. Wendy would rather make the news than print

You can reach Barney at 965-5205 or via barney@independent.com. He also
writes a Tuesday online column at independent.com and
Barney’s Weekend Picks on Fridays.


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