Landlord and developer Edward St. George announced he would not pursue plans to build 1,500 rooms of intensely managed, highly programmed student dorms in the 97-unit apartment complex — now known as Beach City — located on Cliff Drive right between the east and west campuses of Santa Barbara City College. St. George said he would suspend his proposal — dubbed Playa Mariposa — because neighborhood opponents have attacked him in personal terms. “You can call me a ‘slumlord,’” St. George said. “You can even call me ‘despicable.’ But when you bring my family into it, that’s going too far.”
St. George said he was told by a friend that critics of his project — who collect signatures for a petition against his proposal from a table they’ve set up at Shoreline Park — said that St. George had been run out of Isla Vista, run out of the country, had illegitimate children “all over the world,” and caroused with his tenants. St. George emphatically said none of those statements were remotely true. “Normally I don’t care what people say about me, but my wife and I just adopted an 8-year-old girl from Brazil. This is the kind trash she and my 11-year-old son really don’t need to hear right now,” he said. A key reason he hatched the Playa Mariposa vision, St. George said, was to show his son what it meant to work: “I didn’t want him to be a trust-funder.” St. George said he remains committed to the idea of Playa Mariposa and said he’ll pursue the project when his kids get older.
Several weeks ago, St. George threatened to sue Mary Turley, an outspoken critic of his project, for slander and libel. Turley had sent out a letter addressed to “Dear Lovely Neighbors,” seeking petition signatures and to rally neighborhood sentiment against St. George. In it, Turley attached a blog post describing St. George as “demonstrably unscrupulous.” Turley responded to the cease and desist letter sent by attorney Robin Unander by accusing St. George of harassment and intimidation tactics. Turley denied making any such personal statements herself and denied hearing any of the kind described by St. George. She did say that many people who signed the petition at Shoreline Park had “wild stories to tell about St. George,” mostly having to do with his rental practices.
St. George has been among the biggest landlords in Isla Vista. Even after selling off many properties to buy Beach City in 2013 for $34 million — then a record sales price for an apartment complex in Santa Barbara — St. George said he still owns 40 rental units there with 800-900 tenants.
Upon buying the Cliff Drive property, St. George waged an aggressive campaign to rejuvenate what was a worn-out rental property. All apartments would be furnished and equipped with big-screen TVs, and group activities among residents — many from Sweden, Brazil, and other countries — would be enthusiastically encouraged. Most rooms have two beds; a handful have three. Rents are $800 per bed. Along the way, however, St. George made several exterior changes without getting the necessary city permits. In addition, he chopped down 32 canopy eucalyptus trees, not just home to monarch butterflies but also an environmentally sensitive habitat. In response, the City Planning Commission said it would fine St. George, but in the meantime, he’s replaced the eucalyptus with 60 60-inch boxed oaks. The eucalyptus, he said, provided cover to a homeless camp. He worried about possible fires and the safety of his women tenants.
Sometime this month, St. George was slated to submit his first formal application for his Playa Mariposa proposal. ’Til now, the plans have been conceptual. He was also scheduled to appear before the Planning Commission August 8 to review his efforts to secure after-the-fact permits for the changes he already made and some he’d like to make.
Turley said she’d collected 1,118 signatures for her petition against the project, which she said would concentrate the “partying, drinking, and drug use” of City College students into nearby neighborhoods. St. George, she said, had “an idealistic view” of how he would control student behavior when, she said, he didn’t with his properties in Isla Vista. For his part, St. George said he remains committed to creating a sense of community and engaged, responsible students at Beach City. To show it can be done, he said, he’s already rented out bedrooms to 28 City College football players and 24 baseball players, not to mention women soccer and water polo players. “I’m not saying there won’t be issues,” St. George said. “But I am saying we can make it work. It can be done.”