Wendy Ups Ante to $25 Mil: First, News-Press
owner Wendy McCaw filed a $500,000 arbitration claim against former
editor Jerry Roberts, claiming breach of contract and that he
somehow damaged the paper. Then, it was revealed earlier this week,
Roberts filed a $10 million counterclaim, presumably alleging that
her statements and actions put a multimillion-dollar dent in his
reputation. Now, I’ve learned that McCaw has trumped that by upping
her demand to (are you ready?) a cool $25 million.

So what’s next? Roberts raising her to $30 million? Probably
not, but who knows where this will end? And who will get what out
of this besides headaches, except the lawyers? After Roberts
resigned July 6 and was speedily ushered out of the building, McCaw
filed the arbitration action, the details of which are supposed to
be as top secret as the A-bomb formula.

Yet here was NP attorney David Millstein telling New York Times
reporter Sharon Waxman about Roberts’s counterclaim, as reported in
Monday’s paper and my online column in The Independent. Choice line
from Waxman’s story: “When asked why Mrs. McCaw has consistently
chosen legal action when she has felt wronged, rather than engaging
in dialogue with readers or her news staff, [Millstein] said, ‘A
cease-and-desist letter is a form of dialogue.’”

And when I phoned Roberts’s attorney, Andrine Smith, to confirm
the $10 million story, Smith said that since Millstein spilled the
beans she felt free to tell me about McCaw’s $25 million upgrade.
Meanwhile, no replacement for Roberts has been hired, despite
reports of News-Press offers to well-known names, dangling annual
salaries beyond the two hundred grand mark.

Pep Boys Staying: Contrary to unfounded
speculation, Pep Boys auto store in the 400 block of State is not
moving, the landlord assured me. Pep Boys, a fixture there for at
least three decades, sold the building a few months ago but has a
lease and plans to remain. More Mesa for Sale: The 265-acre More
Mesa is the last large undeveloped coastal property in the Santa
Barbara area and also may be the next battleground. The property,
reportedly with six lots of varying size, is being advertised at
$110 million. Preservationists are watching.

Levy Out of Levytown: So what’s the future, if
any, of Bill Levy’s time-share commercial project at the foot of
State Street? He’s out of it and so local investors and creditors
are left “holding an empty bag of $90 million worth of promises,”
as my fellow Indy columnist Nick Welsh put it. Will they now file a
blizzard of suits against Levy, asking questions such as why he
spent $11 million of investors’ funds without permission over the
years, including a $60,000 monthly management fee? Or was it
mismanagement? And will Levytown-La Entrada-Ritz-Carlton ever be
built, at least according to the approved plans? Some say that
estimated construction costs of $140 million are too high for the
project to pay for itself and that the City Council would have to
okay more rooms. Highly unlikely.

War Is Hell: Even if you’re horrified by
McCaw’s management of the paper, you’ve got to respect her taking a
strong editorial stance against the Iraq war. Over the years,
whenever an anti-war editorial appeared, cancellations came flying
in from North County archconservatives. In this era of melting
circulation among most papers around the country, when owners are
struggling for every subscription, it takes courage to take a
controversial position.

$140 Million for What? An L.A.-based investor
group has paid a reported $140 million for 25,000 undeveloped
coastal acres of the Bixby Ranch in North County. Beyond continuing
cattle ranching for the time being, the new owners “have no
preconceived plans” for the prime property. Hmm. Let’s see. A bunch
of investors toss $140 million into the pot and then decide to take
a look at what the heck to do with it?

Shut Up: After my interview with former
News-Press financial honcho Randy Alcorn appeared in The
Independent, he got a billet doux from the NP. As a former company
officer, he dare not reveal inside dope, or suffer the
consequences, NP lawyer David Millstein warned. So Randy isn’t
giving any more interviews, innocuous or otherwise. Many people in
and out of town are fearful of getting hit with one of Wendy
McCaw’s legal actions, and she has deeper pockets and more lawyers
on her speed dial than practically anyone outside the White

Barry, Barry: Contrary to NP attorney Barry
Cappello’s claim in an Independent letter to the editor that the
News-Press was losing money and facing “insolvency” when McCaw
“saved it,” blogger Craig Smith has a different story. According to
a “bid book” provided by the New York Times when it was selling the
paper in 2000, the NP was making 11 percent profit, “higher than
most Fortune 500 companies” and was “enjoying record profits,”
Craig said.

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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