Already frayed relations between developer Ed St. George and neighbors of his 97-unit Beach City student housing complex on the Mesa unraveled further this week after city officials publicly disclosed a laundry list of construction violations at the property, including the removal of 32 mature eucalyptus trees that provided habitat for overwintering monarch butterflies. City planners also cited St. George — who’s been routinely criticized by nearby residents for hosting noisy, rowdy tenants and morphing the neighborhood into a mini Isla Vista, where he also owns properties — for installing without permits an outdoor gym, exterior lighting, entryway columns, and a street-side stairway. Planners are demanding those additions be removed and that he be fined. Other unauthorized work, such as new landscaping and parking reconfiguration, must now be permitted after the fact, they said. St. George is scheduled to appear before the Planning Commission this Thursday to address the issues.
Neighbor Sue Mellor, one of Beach City’s most vocal critics, blasted St. George for running a bait-and-switch on City Hall. “This tells me he has enough money and enough pull to do whatever he wants,” she said. Mellor said the violations don’t bode well for St. George’s proposal to build housing on the site to accommodate 1,000 more Santa Barbara City College students. “He’s not to be trusted on any future projects,” she charged. Another neighbor, Jeanne Surber, lamented the lack of oversight, as well as the loss of monarch habitat. She had just returned from Earth Day celebrations at Alameda Park when she learned the full scope of the violations. “Earth Day started in Santa Barbara, and we have this idea that we’re so environmentally proactive, but then we let this go at a policy level,” she said. “[St. George] knew full well it was better to ask forgiveness than permission.”
For his part, St. George said the permitting discrepancies center on zoning, setback, and jurisdictional confusion. He explained inspectors have been on and off the property since he started removing trees and making additions over nine months beginning July 2014. “It wasn’t like I was sneaking things by,” he said. St. George also stated the eucalyptus trees posed a fire hazard and were used by homeless to hide their encampments. In their place, he’s planted 60 live oaks. He said he plans to tell planning commissioners this Thursday: “Sorry we did it, but we’re sure you would have approved [the work] anyway.” St. George also aims to make the past Beach City work and the future development proposal as transparent as he can. “We want to get it crystal clear.”