IF YOU’RE NOT DRUNK, YOU’RE NOT PAYING ATTENTION: We live in heroic times. This morning, I had to struggle to maintain a stiff upper lip — anatomically located immediately adjacent to the Isles of Langerhans — as I weathered the downstream consequences of the global cream cheese shortage. This, we have been told, has been wrought by a cyber-attack coupled with all the usual “supply chain issues” that have become a one-size-fits-all excuse for every occasion.
Likewise, I’ve been forced to suck it up because the inflow of avocados from Mexico — which accounts for about 80 percent of the U.S. market — has been blocked by the vast Guacamole Curtain Joe Biden has imposed just because a few American safety inspectors got threatened by members of some cartel seeking to diversify, albeit clumsily, into new and unfamiliar legal enterprises.
I’m sure it was all a big misunderstanding.
Worse yet was what was not in the newspaper. Sure, there were stories about how the sea level along our coast is now expected to rise by eight inches over the next 30 years, raising the credible prospect for the first time in epochs of experiencing floods and fires simultaneously. Then, this Tuesday, Santa Barbara experienced hail balls the size of, well, hail balls. This anomaly comes in the midst of one of the state’s epic mega-droughts and certainly one of the hottest Februarys since Gregory invented the Gregorian calendar.
I had hoped to be reading about the legal throwdown between Ty Warner — better known as the Beanie Baby Billionaire — and Angelo Mozilo, another billionaire with a checkered present. They were fighting over the insufferably happy noise coming from the pickleball courts Warner illegally constructed at the Montecito Club — which borders Mozilo’s residence.
It would have been Godzilla versus King Kong, pitting Warner, the colossal tax cheat — fined $53 million and 500 hours of community service for hiding assets the feds alleged were worth $107 million — versus Mozilo — who was fined $67 million by the feds for abusive foreclosure practices in one of the great mortgage scandals of the 21st century. Criminal charges were never filed against Mozilo, but according to details gleaned by the New York Times, his company, Countrywide, had charged some of its foreclosees $300 for mowing their lawns.
Late last year, Warner blinked. The pickleball courts had been built without the necessary city permits, and Warner would have been slaughtered in a court of law. He agreed to move the pickleball courts to a less acoustically intrusive location and this time got the permits before — and not after — construction commenced.
But think of the distraction such a trial would have provided. In these trying times — without cream cheese and trying to track down black-market guacamole — it would have been good for the soul.
It’s worth noting that the hundreds of workers at Warner’s flagship hotel — the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore — still remain in a financially cruel legal limbo, neither gainfully employed nor terminated. Among the firmament of Santa Barbara’s hotels, the Biltmore alone has remained dark throughout the pandemic. Other hotels have reopened, including his San Ysidro Ranch, and are making money hands over fists.
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Warner, a brilliant recluse who waltzes to the beat of an inaudible drum, would rather not. According to the lawsuit filed on behalf of Biltmore employees, Warner, the Four Seasons, or both are seeking to deprive the workers of the severance pay packages explicitly called for in their contracts. Attorneys for the employees claim the combined severance payments would total $6 million to $8 million.
It’s worth noting that Warner is embroiled in an identical dispute with workers at the Four Seasons in New York, which he also owns. Nearly 500 workers there also remain painfully out of work, though they, at least, have gotten their severance payments. It helps to have a union. Last week, I erroneously suggested the hotel lights were going back on in New York. I have since gotten communications from several workers there assuring me the facts remain grimly otherwise.
Warner’s decision to keep the lights off at the Biltmore — where some suites go for as much as $11,000 a night — is denying the County of Santa Barbara untold millions a year in bed taxes. In the same breath, Warner has also filed an appeal with the county, complaining its property assessment of the Biltmore is five times higher than it should be. I have since learned that Warner filed similar appeals back in 2016 and 2017 in which he claimed the property was worth only half of what the county claimed. He eventually withdrew both appeals.
The fact is Warner paid twice what the hotel was worth at the time and everyone knew it. In so doing, he established the market value he now claims is unjust.
With the Biltmore left so gratuitously in the dark, one can only wonder at the windfall reaped by Rosewood Miramar Beach, Montecito’s other hotel, the one next to the railroad tracks. It’s owned by Los Angeles parking lot magnate, developer, and now that city’s mayoral candidate Rick Caruso. Caruso, who just re-registered as a Democrat, looks sharp in a suit and has a granite smile. Oh, and he’s a billionaire too. (He briefly bought downtown’s Paseo Nuevo mall, saw the handwriting on the wall, and sold it on to some other fool.)
On a more comfortably downscale note, Goleta’s Kimpton Goodland hotel — where non-guests were allowed to loiter poolside while nursing their cans of beer — was just sold to new owners. They issued a press release announcing the hotel’s new name would henceforth be “The Leta.” As in Go-Leta.
That won’t be in the paper either. And where’s my cream cheese?