The gates at John Cleese's Montecito ranch
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More Mesa for Sale: So far, there appear to be no offers to buy the seaside spread of More Mesa, one of the last sizable pieces of coastal open space hereabouts.

The asking price is $110 million. Somehow, over the years, More Mesa has dodged a few development bullets, and may survive this marketing move and find a preservation angel. I recall one proposal in the 1960s for a huge golf course development of bluff-front homes that went to the County Planning Commission, but eventually fizzled out.

Then, in the 1970s, a bribery scandal scuttled a housing project that might very well have been approved otherwise. Phil Regan, a former “singing cop” movie and radio star, dabbled in California politics upon his retirement and endorsed Ronald Reagan for governor. He somehow became involved with a Lake Tahoe developer named Halimi, who had an option on More Mesa.

According to Wikipedia, “Regan was aware that three of the five supervisors were in favor, but he wanted to find a fourth vote for Halimi to avoid an appeal. He approached Frank Frost in December of 1972. Frost had just been elected to the Board of Supervisors and would take office in January. Frost perceived that an attempt at bribery was being arranged and reported his suspicions to the district attorney and sheriff. A ‘sting’ was planned and Regan passed $1,000 to a friend of Frost’s who posed as a go-between. Testimony at Regan’s trial established that he had promised an additional $5,000 for Frost’s vote. Regan was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to two years in prison. The formerly friendly supervisors made a good show of indignantly voting down the development of More Mesa.”

“Regan was arrested about a week before I actually took office and the More Mesa vote came up at my first supes meeting,” Frost, a retired UCSB history professor, told me Thursday. There was no evidence that Halimi was aware of the bribery attempt and he was not charged.

Ironically, Regan was a New York City police detective before going into show biz. Assigned to guard a vaudeville party, he impressed a radio producer who was present with his talents as a singer and piano player. Regan was soon after put on the radio and later made the leap to the big screen.

McCaw Leaving Envoy Post: Susan McCaw, wife of Seattle billionaire Craig, who just bought coastal land here, is stepping down as Ambassador to Austria. She’s informed President Bush that she wants to end her assignment by the end of the year. (To facilitate their move to Santa Barbara, maybe?)

Susan, former investment banker and Harvard Business School grad, was appointed ambassador in 2005, when she was overseeing two of Craig’s investment firms. Craig is the former husband of News-Press owner Wendy McCaw.

Santa Barbarans are wondering if this by any stretch of the imagination means that Craig and Susan might just want to buy the paper, get Wendy off the hook, and put it into professional hands. There’s no sign of that happening, at this point anyway.

As for Craig’s $20 million purchase in May of 60 acres next to Bacara Resort & Spa, my sources believe that he plans to build a home on the beach property, rather than develop it as a resort. He reportedly bought a Montecito home in recent months.

Cleese’s Horse Ranch: Funnyman John Cleese’s Montecito horse ranch (on sale for $28 million) has a history of owners that might surprise you. Rich equestrian Cynthia Wood built it in the 1960s, shocking people who saw that her horses were living far more luxurious lives than most people. Then, colorful developer Ron Uhles bought the 16-acre spread on East Valley Road so his daughter could ride. The ranch’s next owner was Diandra Douglas, ex-wife of actor Michael Douglas. British-born Cleese, of Monty Python fame, and his wife, Alice Faye Cleese, bought it in 1999. It’s listed with Bob Lamborn and Lisa Loiacono of Sotheby’s International Realty in Santa Barbara. They’re also the listing agents for actor Christopher Lloyd’s (Back to the Future) Montecito home, which was once owned by New Orleans-born heiress-philanthropist-social activist “Kit” Tremaine. Tremaine, who built the Coyote Road home in 1972, died in 1997 after donating well over $30 million to charitable causes, according to Lamborn and Loiacono. It’s listed at $10,275,000.

Huffington (Michael) Due: The man who came close to being elected U.S Senator from Santa Barbara, former Congressman Michael Huffington, will MC a gathering tonight of the Republican Leadership Council at the home of Tom and Mary Belle Snow. Guests include Christine Todd Whitman, who, according to a report in the current issue of the New Yorker, was in effect forced to resign as EPA chief by VP Dick Cheney. According to a Washington Post series, Cheney dictated, “a rule that excused refurbished power plants and oil refineries from installing modern pollution controls.” Whitman is quoted as telling the authors, “I just couldn’t sign it.”

The now closed Summerland Market
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Lucky Chef: Alex Castillo is the new chef at Lucky’s, a friend reports. He was at the Wine Cask, then Joe’s Cafe. Restaurateur Gene Montesano was reportedly dickering to buy the now-closed Summerland Market, but I understand that the deal is kaput.

NP Meltdown Documentary: Former News-Pressers have produced a documentary about what’s occurred there during the past painful year. It’ll be aired Saturday at 11 a.m. on Channel 17. Check for details.

Reagan Sailors: Sailors from the USS Ronald Reagan were bused into town this week to tour the Reagan Ranch, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, and be hosted at a barbecue at the Hope Ranch home of Carolyn and Robert Duncan. The aircraft carrier itself, docked in San Diego, didn’t make the trip. But rumor has it that the ship might visit Santa Barbara sometime this year.

Barney Brantingham can be reached at or 805-965-5205. He writes online columns on Tuesdays and Fridays and in print on Thursdays.


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