Bellosguardo | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

The California Attorney General’s Office is demanding an independent audit of the Bellosguardo Foundation for its last three tax years after the nonprofit repeatedly failed to file complete financial records with the state Registry of Charitable Trusts.

In a letter sent this Monday, October 25, officials gave the foundation until November 29 to conduct the outside audit. In the meantime, they said, Bellosguardo has been listed in the registry as “delinquent,” meaning it is “not in good standing and is prohibited from engaging in conduct for which registration is required, including soliciting or disbursing charitable funds.” While the foundation is registered in New York, it still must comply with California transparency laws that govern any nonprofit that fundraises in the state.

The notice comes two weeks after the Santa Barbara Independent published an opinion column outlining local concerns over an apparent lack of progress by the Bellosguardo Foundation ― which formed in 2014 and officially took possession of Huguette Clark’s 23-acre cliff-top estate in 2017 ― in transforming the historic property into a public destination to “foster and promote the arts,” as Clark’s will dictated. It has instead been used exclusively as a high-dollar venue for parties, weddings, and private tours with little outward communication from its president or board. Bellosguardo’s defenders say proceeds from these events will help the organization carry out its mission of opening the grounds to all. 

In March, foundation president Jeremy Lindaman submitted an application, which was previously approved by the city’s Historic Landmarks Commission, to its Planning Division to begin offering guided tours. Longer term, Lindaman said, the property will be turned into a museum. Planning staff said they were in “general support” of the tours proposal but were struck by its lack of detail, including how and when they would be conducted, how parking would be accommodated, where restroom facilities would be located, and so on. “You have not directly answered any of our questions,” staff said at the time.

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In an email to the Independent this Tuesday, Lindaman said he will “likely” submit a revised application to the city “in the next week.” Meanwhile, the foundation’s website is asking local supporters to sign a petition in favor of the pending plan. “We are nearing the point where discretionary approval by the Planning Commission and possibly the Santa Barbara City Council is necessary,” the site reads. “It is critical that we are able to say how many of our supporters are Santa Barbara residents.”

The foundation has also announced that a selection of artwork by Clark, who was a painter as well as a collector, will be lent to the Santa Barbara Historical Museum for an upcoming exhibition. “Revealing Mrs. Clark’s artwork for the first time in 90 years is just the beginning, with much more to come,” promised Sandi Nicholson, a member of the Bellosguardo board, in a prepared statement. “Our goal is to open the estate to the public as a center for the arts.”

With regard to the audit, Lindaman said he’s deferring to the “advice and expertise” of the foundation’s accountant, Judy Dolan Holehouse with the financial firm Nasif, Hicks, Harris & Co. Holehouse has asked the Attorney General’s Office to reconsider its order, and if it does not, to give her longer than a month to comply.

Publicly accessible records from 2018 and 2019 ― the most recent available ― show the foundation controls $86.9 million in assets, approximately $23 million of which is tied up in Clark’s 27-room summer mansion, though the aging building has depreciated in value by $1.5 million since 2017. The land it sits on was valued this year at $53 million and the property tax bill was $563,000, according to the County Assessor’s Office.

Bellosguardo’s promotional and event expenses for 2018 and 2019 totaled $472,098, while event rentals only generated $190,650 in income, the records show. One of the nonprofit’s primary expenses, in addition to insurance, maintenance, and utility costs, is Lindaman’s $150,000 annual salary, a raise from previous years, as well as the $60,000 and $55,000 salaries of a house supervisor and groundskeeper, respectively.

Clark’s estate contributed $850,000 in cash to the foundation (her private funds are still being released from probate) as well as a $1.6 million doll collection, which has since been auctioned off. Private donations totaled $978,796. Some of the larger donors include Susie Bechtel, wife of Montecito billionaire Riley Bechtel, who gave $75,500; Law & Order producer and foundation board chair Dick Wolf ($50,000); tech investor and entrepreneur Richard Janssen and his wife Lucille ($27,500); board member Gary Tobey ($25,000); Lady Leslie Ridley-Tree ($25,000); the Busch Family Foundation ($25,000); and the Armand Hammer Foundation ($25,000).

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