Housing forums strike environmental nerve

Nowhere is the mass of contradictions that make up the South Coast’s collective consciousness more evident than when the topic of housing opens its rickety gate.

In response to “some apparent, deep-seated conflicts among usual allies in the South Coast,” where “the long tradition of ‘no (or slow) growth’ seems to be at odds with housing advocates’ efforts to provide more low-, moderate-income and workforce housing on the South Coast,” Santa Barbara County Action Network recently sponsored a series of community forums on housing and the environment.

“We can’t have it both ways,” said SBCAN Board member Mickey Flacks. In summarizing what she learned at the forums, Flacks said, “We want affordable housing but only for the right kind of people … we want ag lands but we don’t want density … The community will have to decide what is most important and what we are willing to give up in order to get (that).”

What is most important was much debated at the forums. For some, such as Barbara Greenleaf, protecting agricultural land is a priority. She described the county’s plans to develop the San Marcos Growers property (near Hollister and Turnpike avenues) as “where environmental and affordable housing interests clash.”

“Ag land in Goleta is incredibly well-suited to be retained. (It is) a very valuable part of our community and I don’t think we want to lose it, said Linda Krop, a panelist, who is senior counsel for the Environmental Defense Center.

Activist Dan Ancona countered, “We are not in an Ag land crisis … we’re not even in a view crisis … we’re in a housing crisis.”

Jobs, housing and transportation all have to be handled together, said Bob Ferris, a panelist and the executive director of the Community Environmental Council. While panelists agreed on that notion in concept, they differed in terms of the steps they recommend.

Gerry DeWitt called for banning market-rate housing. “It would be great if people would start talking about rent control again,” said Krop, who also advocated targeting major employers to help get their employees out of cars. “It can be done, but it’s not going to happen overnight,” she said.

It may not happen overnight, but “part of the answer is political activism,” said moderator Pedro Nava, SBCAN’s president, who is running for Hannah-Beth Jackson’s 35th-District assembly seat.

Prompted in part by the state-mandated process for the City and County Housing Element Updates, as well as the recent incorporation of Goleta, the discussions were sponsored by the Citizens Planning Association and the South Coast Livable Communities group, along with SBCAN.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on December 23, 2003.

Franceschi plan draws split crowd

If the Franceschi Park Master Plan fails to deliver planned improvements to the park, it certainly won’t be from a lack of community input. More than 100 people filled the Santa Barbara City Council chambers Tuesday night to give their comments about the plan, which has been in the works since 1998.

“The park is really a great horticultural treasure,” said Mayor Marty Blum, who approved the plan in a unanimous vote. “I hope I live long enough to see it in all its glory.”

The most debated element was the Pearl Chase Society‘s proposal to start a $250,000 endowment for the rehabilitation of Franceschi House, with an eventual plan to raise $2.1 million for the building that would then be used as a museum/library, a staff residence and for small weddings and events. While the social functions would be limited to one per weekend and only 30 guests, that seemed to be an area of great concern to some.

The granddaughter of the park’s benefactor, Dina Franceschi Fenzi, said, “The house must be a place for the study of botany, not weddings … The El Encanto is right down the road.”

“The uses outlined seem to go against the vision of the man for whom this park is named,” said Ann Beth, vice president of the Riviera Association. “He was more concerned about growing a zucchini than serving one as crudites.”

Of the 41 people who spoke out, 21 were opposed and 20 in favor of the master plan, according to Mayor Blum’s tally.

Ultimately, the council agreed with neighbors like Wendy Hawksworth, who spoke in support of the master plan. “It’s not going to disrupt the character of the park … really, its going to enhance the character of the park.”

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on December 18, 2003.

Case against art dealers hinges on technicality

The fate of a pair of local art dealers may rest on Judge Frank Ochoa’s ruling on a legal technicality that will determine whether the People versus James O’Mahoney and Ronald Gillio goes to trial.

After a lengthy pretrial hearing during which they were accused of taking advantage of the late Josef Muench, an internationally known photographer, the judge is expected to rule whether case law regarding “theft from an elder by a caretaker” is applicable. The more broadly defined elder-abuse statues were not in effect when the incident involving transferring of the rights to Muench’s photographs took place in 1996.

During closing arguments on Dec. 15, Deputy District Attorney Gordon Auchincloss argued that Muench, who was 92 when he met the defendants, suffered from dementia and that “it was obvious this man could not handle his own business affairs.”

Characterizing the defense arguments that the art dealers ended up losing money on the deal as “like saying that a drug dealer that went out and bought $10,000 worth of heroin and sold it for $5,000 isn’t guilty of dealing drugs because he didn’t make a profit,” Auchincloss made a number of allegations against the two, including claims that the original agreement with Muench was forged.

Admitting that the case against Gillio was more problematic than the one against O’Mahoney, Auchincloss nonetheless contended, “Both defendants should be held to answer as charged.”

“Lack of evidence is not evidence,” said Stephen Balash, Gillio’s attorney, who argued that the case against his client did not hold up to scrutiny.

O’Mahoney’s attorney said, “In the area of his photography, Muench was as sharp as a tack.” He also stressed that his client’s relationship to Muench was not that of a caretaker, prompting Judge Ochoa to request a brief on the matter from the District Attorney. Ochoa is expected to rule on whether the case will go to trial today at 1:30 p.m.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on  December 18, 2003.

Holiday bonuses fall out of season

Marley's ghost, from Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. With Illustrations by John Leech. London: Chapman & Hall, 1843. First edition. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Marley’s ghost, from Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. With Illustrations by John Leech. London: Chapman & Hall, 1843. First edition. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

More employers instead tie cash gifts to worker performance

Scrooge is alive and well and working in the business world. According to a recent study by Hewitt Associates, the Grinch will quash the “visions of bonuses” in many workers’ heads this year, with nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of U.S. organizations saying they would not offer holiday bonuses.

For people who used to count on a little extra cash around the holidays, this serves as yet another reminder of how much the traditional relationship between workers and employers has changed. A generation ago, many business owners were likely to consider workers part of the family and gave them gifts of certain rewards around holiday time. Nowadays, rewards have been replaced by the idea that employee bonuses should reflect productivity and profits, said Roger Herman, a workplace consultant and futurist. “It’s a cultural shift,” he said.

The number of companies offering variable pay or pay-for-performance plans has increased from 51 percent in 1991 to nearly 80 percent in 2003, according to Hewitt’s data. With companies placing greater emphasis on performance, Hewitt’s Ken Abosch is not surprised by the resulting shift in bonus philosophy.

“Companies continue to move away from entitlement awards to awards based on performance,” he said. “In fact, most organizations are seeking a direct connection between performance and awards, and are now focusing on variable pay incentives, which are designed to help employees concentrate on company goals and objectives, while eliminating entitlement issues that often arise with a holiday bonus plan.”

Locally, the Santa Barbara Human Resources Association (SBHRA) found that 45 percent of companies surveyed don’t offer a year-end or holiday bonus/gift, said Jenni-Marie Peterson, citing statistics from a benefits survey conducted in 2002.

While bonuses might be fading into the sunset, the office holiday party tradition endures. Hewitt found that 68 percent of companies plan to host a holiday party this year, with $11,050 as the median amount spent on parties.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on December 18, 2003.

Entrada project takes step forward, back

The renovation of the Californian Hotel took center stage last week in the long-debated Entrada de Santa Barbara project. A partnership between developer Bill Levy and the Ritz-Carlton, the timeshare project was approved by the Planning Commission on Dec. 11, 2001 after more than 36 public hearings and failed appeals to both the Santa Barbara City Council and the California Coastal Commission. The developers — known collectively as Santa Barbara Beach Properties — have yet to apply for building permits to begin scheduled construction in January.

Pending now is a determination by Community Development Director Paul Casey as to whether proposed revisions to the project are in substantial conformance with the project that was approved for the lower part of State Street, near the beach.

While the revisions include a reduction in units, an increase in commercial/retail space, some design changes and relocation of the lobby and valet areas from the Californian Hotel property to across the street, staff has labeled those changes as “either beneficial or benign.” The plan to phase the building permits, with the Californian Hotel property renovation taking place third, instead of first as initially anticipated, “is the major issue in question,” according to Casey.

At the Planning Commission meeting on Dec. 4, community members and some commissioners expressed concern that there were no guarantees in place that the Californian Hotel would ever be built. “Everything that needs to be done has to be done,” said Assistant City Attorney Steve Wiley regarding assurances for the project. “There’s no such thing as bonded for something like this.”

Wiley also pointed out that the Carrillo Hotel — which remained leveled at the corner of Carrillo and Chapala Streets for several years — is a completely different situation, where the city required the demolition of the property, for safety reasons, before the renovation funding was in place.

The Californian Hotel is also seismically unfit, but is not eligible for demolition as long as there are approved plans in place, said city officials.

The city has hired an independent consultant, at the Levy group’s expense, to analyze any other factors that will affect the probability that the Californian Hotel property will be developed. The consultant is “just kind of getting started on the report,” said Casey, who would not commit to a date that he expected to make the ruling on substantial conformance. We are working on how to protect the city’s interest in the best way we can, he said.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on December 11, 2003.

Schneider, Williams and Barnwell take City Council seats

The certified final numbers for the Santa Barbara City Council race are in, with no real surprises. As projected, Helene Schneider took first place, followed by Das Williams and Brian Barnwell. The three incumbents are going through training this month, said Mayor Marty Blum. They will take office Jan. 6.

An analysis of the precincts showed that Schneider had steady support all over town. Williams had his strongest showings in the Eastside and Westside neighborhoods, which have not historically had strong voter turnout. Barnwell had the strongest appeal in the areas dominated by homeowners, the Mesa, San Roque and Rivera in particular.

Write-in candidate Bruce Rittenhouse’s final vote tally was 2,638, placing him seventh behind incumbent council members Schneider’s 8,597; Williams’ 8,169; and Barnwell’s 7,955 votes; and well as fourth place finisher Babatunde Folayemi’s 6,933 votes; Scott Burns’ 6,622; and Michael Magne’s 6,557. Rittenhouse ended up ahead of Carlos Quintero’s 1,337 votes; Bob Hansen’s 1,011; and Robert Cawley’s 721 votes.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on December 4, 2003.

Youth Council voices frustration

Members upset they were not consulted in decision to create services center

What’s the point of having a Youth Council to advise the Mayor and the Santa Barbara City Council if they don’t even consult us when they make a decision involving teens? That was the question recently voiced by members of the Santa Barbara Youth Council (SBYC) with regard to the City Council’s Nov. 11 decision to turn the former Unity Shoppe building at 1235 Chapala St. into a Youth Services Center that would consolidate the administrative offices of various city departments that serve the youth of the community.

“We don’t have anywhere to go,” said Kevin Spracher, a San Marcos High School junior who serves on both the SBYC and as an intern with the Parks & Recreation Commission, part of the city department where the recommendation for the building use came from.

Despite attending Parks & Recreation Commission meetings, Spracher said he initially learned about the decision when watching the City Council meeting on TV with fellow SBYC members Autry Liggett and Melinda Radsliff. The trio took their concerns directly to the City Council on Nov. 25.

“I’m upset and disappointed,” said Radsliff in her address to the City Council “… it makes me feel like the Youth Council exists to make you feel like you’ve done something for the youth of Santa Barbara. (But you are) just downsizing space. … In no way does (the proposed center) benefit teens or the youth of Santa Barbara,” said the Santa Barbara City College student.

Council members Iya Falcone and Babatunde Folayemi were apologetic to the teens and requested that the item be put back on a City Council agenda for discussion.

At its Dec. 1 meeting, the SBYC voted to hold special work sessions this month to prepare a presentation in favor of opening up a Teen Center for themselves instead of a Youth Services Center for city employees.

This could be the biggest thing we’ve done in years, said Spracher, who has served on the SBYC since 8th grade and was involved in advocating to get the skateboard park built.

“We need to cover this really big at our schools and try to get as many kids as we can there,” said Liggett, a Santa Barbara High School senior who’s served on the Youth Council since he was a 7th grader. “On August 20, 2000 (the youth and the City Council) formed a bond to create the skate park,” said Liggett in his Nov. 25 comments to the City Council. “On Nov. 11 it seemed as if the bond and connection were cut in half … what troubles me most about the decision … is that we were not consulted.”

While Liggett, Radsliff and Spracher were under the impression that Falcone’s request would automatically put the item back on a City Council agenda, according to the City Clerk’s Office, as of Dec. 2 the item had not been placed on an agenda for this month. Calls to the Parks & Recreation Department were referred back to city administration.

Despite the bureaucratic hurdles, expect the Youth Council to make their voices heard at City Hall in the very near future.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on December 4, 2003.