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.