Perhaps, as they say, the third time really will be the charm
and the community of Montecito is rooting for those short odds.
Rumor has it that Los Angeles bling-mall developer, Rick
, may become the third developer in less than 10 years to
try to bring to life the dilapidated Miramar Hotel. Montage hears
Caruso has offered to purchase the blue-roofed Montecito derelict
Ty Warner
, who purchased it from Ian Schrager in 2005.
miramar.jpg While this rumor has not been confirmed
by the Warner Group or the Caruso
, Montage has received five substantial confirmations from
as far away as L.A. and as close as practically next door!

If true, it’s fortunate because Caruso knows how to bring glam
to the down-trodden. He is best known for revitalizing LA’s aging

Fairfax District
into the basin’s premier outdoor shopping
experience, The Grove. He
has also developed other village-like malls, which he calls
“lifestyle centers,” in Westlake Village (the Promenade) and Glendale
(The Americana at

At 48, the USC alum (with a law degree from Pepperdine) is among
the youngest powerbrokers in Los Angeles, ranked in the elite club
of members included in the
2006 L.A. Times West 100
, the one hundred most influential
people in Los Angeles—a city of well over 10 million!

Born into influence and affluence, Caruso is the son of the
founder of
Dollar Rent-A-Car
and he grew up in Beverly Hills. He became a
developer at the age of 27, buying vacant land near LAX and leasing
it to car rental agencies. Later he moved from parking lots to
malls. His shopping centers are usually open-air affairs, with
amenities such as polished brass topped garbage cans, ambient
flowing fountains, and promenades featuring instantly matured

While Caruso seems to prefer eye-catching design embellishments
(and lots of them), he is no lightweight. He has taken on some
fights in his development career and he rattled a few swords as the
former head of the Los Angeles Police

He is known to be heavy player in Republican politics. He is a
friend and major contributor of fellow Brentwood neighbor, Gov.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, and he raised $1 million in one night for
the Bush Reelection campaign by throwing an elite dinner party at
his home. We are told that Caruso is “a down-to-earth family guy”
who, along with his wife Tina and their children, are frequent
visitors to Montecito, and well acquainted with its lifestyle and

“We are lucky that there is a buyer who visits Santa Barbara and
understands the Santa Barbara dynamic, and that he is on a par with
Ty Warner as far as quality,” said one local leader, who had met
with Caruso last week.

Before tying the knot with Ty, we’re told Caruso and his team
spent several days visiting Montecito to do some final due
diligence and meet with locals. At the top of Caruso’s “concern”
list was how much community opposition might crop up should the
Miramar try to rise from the ashes. Caruso’s team spoke with
community representatives from varying local-vocal protectionist
groups, including the Montecito Association
and the Voices of
, along with several private parties to get insights
on possible logjams.

From what Montage hears, rather than opposition, most of those
contacted reacted with enthusiastic cooperation, practically
offering to pick up shovels and start digging if Caruso would seal
the deal! We are also told that part of the zeal is being generated
by the fact that, except for some minor changes, Caruso may be
willing to accept the existing permits and plans, granted, after
numerous community hearings back in 1999, to then owner Ian

Another reason for the enthusiasm is Caruso’s personal
philosophy about community power. In a revealing and timely

December op-ed pieced in the L.A. Times
, Caruso wrote,
“Competition among developers for usable land is fierce, which
enables communities to be more demanding of developers. They cannot
enter a community and presume to know what it wants and have a
realistic hope of being received with open arms. Quality costs
more, but every community will value a quality project….giving a
community a sense of ownership is a very powerful concept.” That
fresh development approach finally may be the key that opens the
long locked doors at the vacant and forlorn Miramar Hotel.

UPDATED: Wednesday Noon

MONTECITO LOVE: After an hour and a half of
unison “We Love Montecito” from every imaginable perspective,
Montecito Planning Commissioners Bob Bierig,
Michael Phillips, and commish-in-waiting,
Sue Burrows (pictured) MM%209%20Sue%20Burrows-MPC%20Comish%20near%20nappers.jpg waltzed out of the political slew
and on to the MPC dais, obtaining “delayed” but unanimous
confirmation by the Board of Supervisors.

After waiting for several years for the tap, and then several
weeks in some convoluted political maelstrom, Burrows sat in
disbelief that her appointment had been truly been solidified. “Was
that it?” she asked Montage. We told her that we had taken her
picture, so indeed, that was it!

It was a long morning, long enough to lull anyone into disbelief
— 18 speakers took to the podium and the hall was packed with
pilgrims wanting to give an homage to Montecito. Each member of the
Board of Supervisors ponied up accolades about the divinity of the
tax-revenue rich community, while members of the Montecito Association
sang the old school song and the Voices of Montecito muted their
previous vociferous roar to a less audible mew.

In the final analysis, and in spite of some marginally
entertaining rhetoric mud slinging, all of Supervisor Salud
’s appointments to MPC sailed through and
discussion of the future jeopardy of the MPC seem to waft away in
the wind.

The longest and strongest air punches of the day were thrown by
Supervisor Joni Gray, who seemed driven by a need
to understand Montecito’s encroachment permit process. She even
asked that if she started a “Joni Gray Loves Brown Rocks
Committee,” would it too be put on the Public Works’ Montecito
roadside must-sign to approve list? (The rocky issue, Montage
believes, lies in the fact that the Montecito Association has for
many years been included on the County’s Road Encroachment form as
a “courtesy” review entity. This fact stirs up Voices of Monecito,
so Gray, no doubt, was looking to find a level lane on this pothole
filled political artery.)

So, who attended this rock-kickin’ good fun? More than 40
Montecitans suited up for the early morning meeting: Sixty percent
of the Montecito Association Board showed up; then there was the
old guard (Wells, Kinsell, Eidelson, Hovey);
MM%209%20HDF%27s%20Sally%20Jordan%20and%20Judy%20Ishkanian.jpg and the new guard (HDF’s Jordan
and Ishkanian [pictured above], along with SBCC Trustee Morris
); and of course, the Voices (Luria,
Metzler, Snow, Sue Colin, (sans J.) and Luria-Budgor

Everyone’s favorite Dish,
Martha Smilgis
was there, along with Kate Firestone (and my how
Brook’s face light up when she enters the room — Montage just gets
plain valentiney!). Kate was seated near retired MPC comish
Meghreblian and Thielscher. Montage noticed, of course, that all of
the current MPC commishes (around whom this controversy swirls)
were MIA, as was the entire Montecito Board of Architectural
Review. Former Santa Barbara County Planning Commissioner
Parker Montgomery was there with his wife, and,
while previously vocal about eliminating the MPC, on Tuesday he was
mum on the issue.

There was one new face in the crowd, and, of course, Montage
just had to know, so we sallied up and introduced ourselves to
Matt Middlebrook, who turned out to be the vice
president of government relations for the Caruso Group (see the
Miramar story above). Matt had come to the meeting to rubberneck at
S.B. County politics in action, and he certainly got a good initial
bounce from the Montecito’s Who’s Who.

So, with a morning of many mutual missions mastered, Matt and
Montage watched Montecito mosey away, meeting and greeting each
other as if they were departing a sunny Sunday social — and closing
yet another exciting chapter on “As the MPC Turns.”

MONTECITO MEANDERINGS: Montecito is revving up
for the Santa Barbara International Film
. Not wanting to be in the wrong queue for the wrong
event (how embarrassing would that be?), nearly 100 movers and
shakers showed up Monday at the Biltmore to get “The Native’s
Primer” from SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling. Among the scene
stealers were SBIFF Prexy Jeff Barbakow and wife
Margo, along with Oprah’s pals Penny Bianchi, Jelinda
Devorzon, and Marlene Veloz
. (No Oprah though?)

There was a bevy of beautiful blondes, who could cut into any
line with ease, including SBIFF boardmembers Linda Hatch,
Betsy Moller, Serena Carroll, and Nora McNeely Hurley
, the
member who, we’re told, created the luncheon’s fun floral
centerpieces from real film reels. Some of the smoldering brunettes
paying rapt attention to the Film Festival Cliff Notes were
Phyllis De Picciotto, who founded SBIFF 21 years
ago, seated near Doralle Jacobson, Judy Engenolf, and
Lorraine Wilson

But blondes and brunettes beware, because when it comes to the
entertainment business of hair there is really no competition —
Roger Durling walks away with the award year after year. For 2007,
he’s sporting Tuscan Sunset undercolor, splashed with sunflower
seed noir — a combination that puts him heads above any

MONTAGE SBIFF TIP: If you want to be in the
right place at the SBIFF, just treck after any of the above
mentioned stars, but, please Montage Readers, try not to look like
your stalking!

ACT QUICK: Last week Montage let you know that
Thomas L. Friedman,
one of the world’s most highly respected commentators on
international affairs, was coming to town.

Now we can confirm that he will speak at Westmont’s second
annual President’s Breakfast, on Wednesday, February 28. He will
discuss “The World is Flat: Speaking on the Next Phase of
Globalization,” at 7 a.m. in the Grand Ballroom at Fess Parker’s
Doubletree Resort.

Tickets are $75 and can be purchased starting, Friday, Jan. 26,
at 8 a.m. by calling 565-6895. Seating is extremely limited and the
breakfast is expected to sell out quickly. Friedman is a syndicated
columnist for The New York Times and a three-time winner
of the Pulitzer Prize. Vanity Fair has called him “the
country’s best newspaper columnist.” His latest book is the
international bestseller The World is Flat:
A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century
, which has
been on the Times best-seller list for more than 90


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