Wrong Thing, Wrong Place: I never liked Bill Levy’s La Entrada project on lower State Street. In fact, I hated it. Too big and in the wrong place. Besides, it was a time-share.
It was also one of the city’s major mistakes of the last decade. Most of those on the City Council 10 years ago who approved it are gone and we’re stuck with their mistake. No way would the current council approve LevyTown.
But a new, improved plan will come before the Planning Commission on Thursday, October 8. The planning staff and commissioners will offer comments but no decision and send it to City Administrator Jim Armstrong. He’ll decide if the revised plan is in “substantial conformance” with the one the city okay’d a decade ago. If he says yes, it gets the green light.
My guess is that the city will quickly hug this baby to its breast to keep owner Mountain Funding from going ahead with the old, much-criticized plan. For one thing, it’s no longer a time-share. It’s a hotel (with nine time-share units), which means that the city stands to gain mucho dinero from bed taxes. No name yet or an operator selected, but that’s what’s proposed by Mountain Funding, a California lender that took over the property when developer Levy couldn’t pay off his loan ($42 million with interest, fees, and the like) and went bankrupt.
The major change, aside from the hotel, is that a huge tree-lined plaza will be created covering most of a city block, with shops and restaurants along an arcade where the current hole in the ground is located at State and Mason streets. The public space will be created by putting the public parking underground on one level instead of two levels above-ground. Mountain Funding wants to start work on the parking garage next June, planners say. The prior plan called for only part of the parking garage to be available to the public. In addition, the hotel units on that site will have a lower profile, allowing better mountain views. Across the street, the old, unreinforced Californian Hotel, now an earthquake disaster waiting to happen, will be rebuilt. It’s part of the hotel project, too, along with a third nearby site with underground parking.
Since Mountain Funding specializes in short-term loans to developers and isn’t a developer, there’s speculation that it will try to sell the project once it wins city approval.
The new plan calls for 123 rooms, including the nine time-shares, in contrast with the existing plan’s 62 time-shares (which were reduced from 112). But city planners say that since the hotel rooms will be smaller than the huge time-shares, some of which would have had two or three bedrooms, the overall mass will be less, allowing for better mountain views.
But one controversial aspect hasn’t changed: Narrowing State Street to one lane in each direction past the hotel to Cabrillo Boulevard. A key aspect of the new plan is to build it as one project, rather than in phases. The old plan left the four-story Californian ’til last, raising concerns that it could have been left a white elephant.
Tony Romasanta, outspoken owner of the nearby Harbor View Inn at State and Cabrillo, insists that not putting the revised plan through the same lengthy review process that Levy’s underwent is to “shortcut the process.” The new plan is “entirely different” and can’t be properly analyzed by a “substantial conformity” consideration, Romasanta told me. The city should require a new application and hearings, he said.
Sleazy Poli-Tricks: Funny thing happened when backers of ballot Measure B, which would reduce building height limits downtown, held a press conference last week to protest one of those sleazy “push-poll” phone surveys. Measure B opponents acted as though they had no idea who would do such a thing. But the News-Press learned that the National Association of Realtors commissioned the poll, which critics said was far from objective and loaded with false statements aimed at turning Santa Barbarans against Measure B. The Santa Barbara Association of Realtors is opposed to Measure B.
Meanwhile, Texas developer and part-time Santa Barbaran Randall Van Wolfswinkel has dumped a whopping $243,000 into the election. But it may not make a dime’s worth of difference. Wolfswinkel backs Measure B, which at this point figures to win anyway, and four candidates who look like they’ll lose anyway: mayoral hopeful Dale Francisco and council candidates Frank Hotchkiss, Cathie McCammon, and Michael Self. (Mayoral candidate Steve Cushman is reportedly rising in the polls behind Helene Schneider.)
It Had to Be You: She’s zany, needy, and been looking for love in all the wrong places. Watching Tiffany Story zoom around the stage in a pink negligee in It Had to Be You last weekend was one of the highlights of my theater-going life. Sean O’Shea is her Mr. Right but doesn’t know it. Great fun at the Circle Bar B Dinner Theater.