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Cognitive Dissonance at City Hall

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150For a community that usually seems so liberal, so socially conscious, and so caring about the needs of others, the hours-long hearing about short-term vacation rentals was particularly jarring. Not surprising was the number of green-ribbon-wearing individuals speaking in support of their lucrative entrepreneurial enterprise of turning their homes into hotels.

But what was surprising was their absolute insistence that they are providing a much-needed service that allows them to house short-term visitors to Santa Barbara—and their right to pocket plenty of cash, even though the current laws on the books do not allow it in most residential neighborhoods in town.

What they didn’t address was how making these properties available for out-of-towners eliminates those properties from the supply of rentals that would traditionally house local residents.

After all, they can make a lot more money by ignoring the ordinance. And making money—as much as they can, however they can—is all that matters, right?

One after another, these happy homeowners expressed how their newfound VRBO/Airbnb good fortune has enhanced their own personal lives—and the lives of well-heeled travelers who want to visit Santa Barbara from across the nation and around the world.

Those who live here, work here, and can’t find a house to rent for more than a month at a time? Mmmm, not so much.

For as long as I can remember the mantra of “workforce housing” has been chanted around here. Good heavens, we have allowed all kinds of changes in density, required low-income units in luxury projects and even thought it was fine to knock down a hospital to provide it—and now there’s less of it than ever available to locals.

But travelers from distant lands? Put out the welcome mat and give them a hug.

Some even told the oft-repeated story—known to everyone—about how living in Paradise comes at a price. Renting out their home is their only way to stay in place, they asserted time and again.

But the idea that the newly fattened bank accounts of those homeowners-turned- hoteliers has come at the expense of residents who rent—making it impossible for them to stay in place—certainly wasn’t on the minds of those who waxed poetic about their new solar roofs, fine amenities and newly landscaped properties.

It’s survival of the fittest—and the savviest with a computer and a piece of property—in Santa Barbara these days.

They asserted there are virtually no complaints from neighbors about their endeavors, and even spoke of their own nobility in serving as ambassadors to Santa Barbara and in providing work for housekeepers, gardeners and handymen. Although that might talking point have been undercut a bit when a hotel manager pointed out that these largely cash, under-the-table transactions are unfair to legitimate lodging businesses that play by the rules.

Ultimately, that’s what really rankles about this whole sad situation that has grown so out-of-control in the past decade: the rules don’t matter anymore. Even the City has said so, when it made the unwise decision to simply charge TOT and issue business licenses to skim its own money off the top of this activity prohibited by existing zoning ordinance.

A former City Council Member told me years ago that when this subject was broached with the City Finance Director as an unethical practice, it was treated like a big joke. Now it’s gotten serious: When the lawmakers became scofflaws, why shouldn’t the homeowners?

The City has lost its moral authority on this issue and the law of unintended consequences is now in play. There was plenty of defiance expressed by so many of those benefitting from this illegal activity: time after time, they asserted, if you ban it, we’ll just “go underground” and keep doing it anyway.

Ultimately, the City Council decided last night that the laws on the books that prevent renting homes as hotels should actually be enforced—and directed staff to examine permitting some sort of home-sharing short-term rentals with the owners on the property.

So what happens now is a question of what does this community—and its citizens—truly value? Will the City really spend the estimated $300,000 to enforce the ordinance it ignored for so long? Decisions made years ago turned this place into one that depends on tourists for everything, even keeping a roof over our heads and money in the bank, even at the expense of those who have worked a lifetime just to stay here.

Dealing with the vacation rental mess is just the beginning, if City Hall really wants to get serious about the need for “workforce housing.” It’s time for them to take a look at what else they’ve ignored for so long: how many homes have been turned into turned into office space for doctors, insurance brokers and all sorts of small businesses. And while they’re at it, they need to confront the complexity of how recruiting international students has affected the ability of our own kids to ever even consider getting an apartment of their own. And the real irony is the only way they’ll be able to stay here is to move away.


Big Brother on the Coast

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150Before graduating from Santa Barbara High School last week, one of the last assignments my son had was reading “1984” for his Senior English course. I remember reading George Orwell’s classic when I was in high school—before 1984—when it was still a rather chilling, prophetic read.

In contrast, my son merely shrugged it off. It was tough to get him into a mindset fearing bureaucracy: he’s has been raised at a time when cameras and constant surveillance are a given; when the line between public and private information is blurred all the time; and when “news” is shaped by the newsmaker.

Our generational perspectives loom large. While he shrugs off the cautionary tale, my sensibility is more alert to any hint of Orwellian power structure.

And the latest information about the recent Santa Barbara Oil Spill at Refugio seems very Big Brother-ish to me.

From the beginning, all the “official” news about the spill has been distributed by the “Unified Command,” that monolithic-sounding group of “stakeholders” that includes executives from those responsible for the spill, Plains All American Pipeline, as well as individuals representing the government agencies charged with the cleanup. Seamless, all-powerful. In Charge.

Even those first televised press conferences looked orchestrated, as one uniformed spokesperson after another took turns speaking banalities at the podium—providing neither heat nor light, just perfunctory statements designed to reassure the public that everyone was doing their job, and everything would go according to plan.

imageIgnoring, of course, that the “incident” that so inconveniently released thousands of gallons of oil into the environment—killing more living creatures than will ever be counted—should not have happened, and should not have happened if everyone was doing their job in the first place.

And, thanks to a story written by Kelsey Brugger of the Independent, we now know that nowadays only certain reporters are “invited” to attend the press conferences.

Reporters who are considered “neutral to positive” are selected to spread the news about how well the cleanup is going. And the Joint Information Center provides the information and selects the reporters who parrot it back to their satisfaction. Er, who write the stories the Joint Information Center and the Unified Command approve of, since, as Brugger reports, they are concerned primarily with “transparency.”

We’re heading seriously into Doublespeak with that one—because the news is supposed to be gathered not for how well the newsmakers think the story is told from a particular point of view—but for how well it tells the Truth.

Remember, there was a time, well before 1984, when the local daily had a motto that defined the job of the journalist: “without fear or favor of friend or foe…” But as we all know, that was a very long time ago.

Good for Kelsey Brugger for writing about how she was approved by the Powers-That-Be—and it’s likely now that she has asserted her journalistic independence by telling the story behind the story they want told, she won’t be invited to any more of their little get-togethers.

Something tells me that the Unified Command might just as well change its name to Ministry of Truth, and none of us would be any the wiser—or more well-informed. We’re not allowed to get anywhere near the site where all the damage was done, and now, the 2015 Thought Police will tell us what to think, and who will tell us.


Slick and Dirty: A Local Mess

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150A year ago, the Los Angeles Times reported on a 10,000-gallon oil spill: “The leak was caused by a valve malfunction, and firefighters found a 20-inch break in an above-ground pipeline.” Sound familiar? It happened in Atwater Village in a diverse neighborhood near Griffith Park in Los Angeles.

The town’s streets were flooded with oil—knee-deep in some places—due to a ruptured pipeline that sprayed oil 20 feet into the air. The smell was so strong that individuals were confined to their homes; some were hospitalized. At least none of the oil spilled reached the nearby Los Angeles River.

The company responsible was identified as Plains All America.

It wouldn’t have taken much for any investigative reporter to look at the record of Plains All America just to see what kind of company it is, and where it operates. Especially an investigative reporter who lives in any place where oil is Big Business and pipelines are numerous. A place like Santa Barbara.

But investigative reporters are in short supply here, there and everywhere, especially in Santa Barbara, where they are all but nonexistent and our media situation has become downright discouraging.

I’m kicking myself now that I didn’t spend an hour or two back then, just looking up to see if Plains All America had any presence in Santa Barbara—maybe it would have helped shine a light on the company that created what the local television station has called the “Crisis on the Coast.”

As we now know, the Texas-based company has an abysmal record of pipeline spills all over the country, has received fines of more than $41 million to upgrade their operations, and yes, operates many miles of pipeline in in close proximity to a formerly pristine area of the California Coast—where two beautiful state parks have long been set aside to allow the public access to camping, hiking, and all sorts of water activities.

And we now know that the Plains All America pipeline was terribly corroded; it ruptured a quarter-mile inland and, unthinkably, flowed straight into the ocean.

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The more we learn about this mess is that it was an accident waiting to happen, and that the company charged with monitoring itself had every reason not to bother.

It’s interesting to watch the local outrage expressed against this Texas company that has shown so little regard for the local environment—and gotten a free pass while doing so.

But it’s hardly the first time this lack of oversight has occurred around here. Some years back, when I still believed in the power of the media to make a difference, I investigated a leaking underground storage tank, circa 1920 and contaminated soil found during the excavation work for the condos under construction on the site of the former St. Francis Hospital.

Although established protocol called for the Project Environmental Coordinator (PEC) to immediately notify the City and the County about the discovery, the findings were not reported in required daily and weekly records. In fact, the existence of the tank and the contamination were hidden for weeks—while the construction company brought in its own out-of-town experts to take a look at the situation and deal with it on its own.

You see, the City allowed the same corporation that was managing the project to be responsible for its environmental oversight. It happens all the time. When questions were raised about the environmental records that failed to mention the existence of the tank and its contamination, and brought to the attention to city officials, the inaccurate reports were glossed over, ignored and allowed.

The city planner on the project even acknowledged that the PEC did not properly report or monitor environmental conditions on the site, yet the City had no intention of investigating what went wrong or changing monitoring personnel or policies.

So excuse me if I’m a little cynical about local officials expressing their indignation about the actions of oil-rich Texans when they tolerate the same kind of skirting of the rules, and look the other way and allow local companies to conduct their own “oversight,” public and the environment be damned. It goes on all the time.

It’s been five years since I researched and reported about this stomach-turning behavior. It made no difference then, and it makes no difference now. The interests of Big Oil, Big Business and Big Government are just too powerful for we the people and our Little Media. Not much independent oversight actually protects our interests or our environment. By the time it all comes to the surface, it’s just too late.
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Photo Credits: Environmental Defense Center and The Trailmaster


Learning Ally Returns to Santa Barbara

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150There was a time, some years ago, when the organization known as Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic was one of the most popular non-profits in town, their annual Record-A-Thon one of the coolest ways to volunteer, and the annual luncheon one of the hottest tickets in town.

Changes in technology, the economy and the service model led the national organization to change its name and its approach to providing audiobooks to those who struggle to read the written word.

Today, the organization is known as Learning Ally—retooled, modernized and refocused—as a friend to all who depend on easy access to audiobooks, recorded textbooks, novels and other printed materials.

learning ally sb flyerMaterials recorded by Learning Ally feature human voices, not computer-generated ones, which helps listeners develop fluency and understanding. And access to this valuable service has been proven to improve critical skills, comprehension, and to introduce individuals to materials they might not be able to access in print, but can successfully deal with using their auditory skills.

Learning Ally will be presenting information about their new partnership with Santa Barbara Unified School District at the monthly Dyslexia Dialogue, Wednesday May 13 at the Central Public Library, from 5-6:30 p.m. This is a unique opportunity to meet with principals of Learning Ally and of the grassroots organization, Decoding Dyslexia-California, who will be leading the discussion and group activities.

I’ve written frequently about the issue of dyslexia—difficulty in accessing the printed word—that affects 1 in 5 individuals. I am so encouraged about this new development: Learning Ally offers so many resources and so much information for students, educators, parents and community members, it is a big step forward for Santa Barbara to once again have access to this valued friend, Learning Ally.


Newsman Makes News: Rob Kuznia, Former Santa Barbara Journalist wins Pulitzer Prize

By Cheri Rae

EzpbtQQlCongratulations to reporter Rob Kuznia, who won the Pulitzer Prize for local reporting, along with his colleagues, Rebecca Kimitch and Frank Suraci at the Torrance Daily Breeze. It is the first Pulitzer ever for the newspaper, for a series of investigative reports about excessive financial rewards for the former superintendent at the Centinela Valley Union High School District.

After Kuznia was one of the many reporters fired in the News-Press “meltdown,” he covered school district issues here in Santa Barbara for the online publication Noozhawk. His notable series of articles there shined a light on problems in the district’s special education department, and led to the hiring of an outside agency to investigate and analyze ways to improve services.

I had the pleasure of working with Kuznia briefly at a local magazine, where both of us landed—along with a few other disenfranchised reporters—during those difficult days of local journalistic upheaval. He was soft-spoken, conscientious, thorough, and most of all, fair in his approach to his subjects.

We often used our lunchtimes to walk around the neighborhood near the office, always talking about writing, research and responsibilities to the reader. How wonderful it is to learn this news about a genuinely nice person and fine journalist who suffered personally and professionally at the hand of amateurs in the publishing business. His rise to the top of his profession is proof of the old phrase, “you can’t keep a good man down.”

Congratulations, Rob Kuznia, for this great honor based on your good work.


Opening Day: Reflections of a Santa Barbara Baseball Mom

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150They say that diamonds are a girl’s best friend. For me, the diamonds I like most have nothing to do with jewelry and everything to do with beautiful green fields, a scoreboard, base-paths and home plate.

Opening Day 2015 has special meaning for me, as the mother of a high school senior who has played baseball most of his life, now midway through his last season in Santa Barbara. I’m imagining that most of those MLB players we cheer for started out playing in the same ways my son did, and watching them play is a celebration of a special way of life.

Looking back, I wish I’d saved that first pair of cleats, the ones I had to lace up and tie for my little boy so many years ago. I never imagined that signing him up for a youth baseball team would affect our lives so much, for so long.

His first experience was on a City Rec T-ball team with several of his friends from his first-grade class—and they were all thrilled when their enthusiastic teacher came to watch them play at the old field at Franklin School. Other than the camaraderie of playing on the team, the game of T-ball had no appeal for my active little guy who could already hit a ball when pitched, who thought it boring and silly to hit a stationary one.

T-ball soon gave way to real baseball in PONY League play. PONY stands for “Protect Our Nation’s Youth,” the program at MacKenzie Park. There on those Mustang and Bronco fields of dreams, generations of young Santa Barbarans have learned to play America’s Game. And their parents have learned to become sports parents while spending countless hours in the bleachers at those fields—inning after inning of watching, waiting, hoping, praying, cheering, some yelling, arguing, stressing about every play, every call, every game.

In those years we chauffeured and car-pooled kids from school to practice fields; became acquainted with a wide new circle of families and spent days, weeks, months, seasons as volunteers working together to benefit the program that meant so much to our children—and ourselves.

While mostly dads coached, maneuvered to draft winning teams, and taught valuable skills and drills, moms flipped burgers, grilled hot dogs, sold snacks and learned how to get grass stains out of baseball uniforms. (Hint to the uninitiated: scrub and soak with bars of Zote Soap!) We took care of the homeless population at the park and gave them plenty to eat whenever we barbecued. We became a team of supporters—of our sons and each other.

Those early days of coach-pitch and wobbly plays gave way to the development of skilled players who learned the game, stole bases, and hit, pitched and caught the ball, playing with a competitive spirit. The regular season rolled into All-Stars, where little boys proudly represented their hometown, wearing jerseys with “Santa Barbara” emblazoned across their chests.

Back in those days, equipment was everything, and my husband and his dad would often sneak off together to buy the newest bat for their favorite little player, three generations of males enjoying the sport for all ages. Once I found one of those pricey new bats tucked under the covers next to my sleeping son, dreams of home runs surely floating though his head.

Those young players got a taste of winning, and they liked it—moving up from Mustang to the big Bronco field to playing even more competitive club baseball. They traveled together to “Big League Dreams” fields around Southern California—commercial establishments built to resemble classic stadiums—and they played in tournaments in Arizona, Colorado, and best of all, in Cooperstown, N.Y. –the home of the baseball Hall of Fame. My own son even had the opportunity to travel with a local team to play in Nicaragua, a life-changing experience. He caught a huge fish that fed his whole team for the evening, gave away a prize bat, and worked with local kids during that eye-opening adventure that helped him appreciate his luck at growing up with comparative privilege.

Along the way, some players came and went, but a solid core of Santa Barbara players continued to play together year after year, one level to the next. Today, that group of little boys who first played All-Stars together on the Mustang and Bronco fields—whose names and accomplishments are on display on boards at the MacKenzie fields—now comprise seven of the starters on the Santa Barbara High School Dons Varsity baseball team. They are young men now, highly skilled and playing at a level that have people other than their parents taking notice of their abilities in the high-stakes world of competitive baseball. This impressive group of boys who have grown up together still have many more games to play together, and their bond of shared experiences will remain with them as they move on to pursue their winning ways on and off the field.

Now they’re planning their lives after graduation. Some players have been scouted regularly; at least one is a top pro prospect, and several others expect to play college ball in prestigious programs. Others are still are weighing their intriguing academic offers and opportunities near and far. Whether they play into the big leagues or never step foot on the field again, their parents couldn’t be prouder of them and their accomplishments that go far beyond all the trophies and medals they’ve collected.

Our boys’ lives have played out on the baseball diamond. It seems to have passed in a flash, all those balls and strikes and drama-filled moments all run together in one big wonderful All-American game. They started out chewing bubble gum, in the back seats of mom’s car, and now they’re expertly spitting seeds before they climb in their own drivers’ seats, ready to take on the world.

This timeless game has been a backdrop for a great group of kids as they’ve grow up, one that has taught them the value of competition and cooperation, of individual achievement and working together as a team, and most of all, the character-building benefits that come with forging strong relationships over time.

All those teams, all those games, tournaments and travels gave a rhythm to our lives, a sense of belonging. Baseball players have been called the boys of summer, but ours have been players for all seasons. There were times it may have seemed like too much, but right now it seems like hardly enough.

As these baseball days grow shorter, the memories seem to stretch back forever. And one thing for sure, baseball has been so much more than a game for our boys, it’s been a solid foundation for their lives. And right about now, I’d be happy if it went into extra innings.

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Growing up Together. Before they were 2015 Varsity Dons starters: Kevin Gowdy (pitcher) on the ground Right to left: Daniel McKinney (RF), Bryce Morison (SS), Trevor Moropoulos (1sr Base), Cristian Loza (Catcher), Dalton Schroeder (CF), John Jensen (3rd Base)


Ice Ace: The Clear Vision of John Rodrigues

“Sculpture is the art of the intelligence.” –Pablo Picasso

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150Take one 7,200-pound block of ice, add an assortment of power tools—including a chain saw and a drill—put them in the hands of one uniquely talented individual and you’ve got art. Ice Art. Crystal-clear and freezing cold, it lasts only until the sun comes out.

John Rodrigues just returned from competing in the World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks, Alaska, where he worked for days on a massive chunk of ice, turning into two large and graceful swans featuring intricately feathered wings.

ice art birdsThat experience is just another chapter in the interesting life of this author/teacher/artist/high-school dropout/college graduate/inspirational speaker. One more interesting aspects about Rodrigues: like 1 in 5 people, he has dyslexia and it’s anything but a disability.

Rodrigues struggled in the classroom—so much so that he dropped out of high school, but not before he learned the skill of ice sculpting in a special Culinary Arts program. As a teenager with this unique talent, he landed a job on a cruise ship making thousands of dollars a month as he traveled to exotic ports of call around the world. Despite all that money and all that travel, the desire to earn a college education burned within him. And he decided to return to school. “Ironically, the key to getting into college was not in trying to change my dyslexia,” he noted, “but in embracing how I learned to its maximum potential.”

from high school to harvardHe started taking classes at his local community college, eventually transferred to University of California, Berkeley, and studied at Harvard University. Today, he teaches high school math in Hemet, CA.

As part of the Santa Barbara Unified School District’s regular “Dyslexia Dialogues,” Rodrigues, author of “High School Dropout to Harvard: My Life with Dyslexia,” will be speaking at the Santa Barbara High School Auditorium on Thursday, March 26 at 7 p.m. He will share the story about his uniquely inspired pathway to success, and his recent competition in the World Ice Art Championships in Alaska. The event is free and Spanish interpretation will be available.

“John Rodrigues is an uplifting, rebellious voice who will strike a chord with anyone who has ever had a hard time marching in step in a culture of

conformity. His book is not just about how John found personal success after growing up with severe learning differences (Dyslexia and ADHD), it’s the story of his journey to accept himself by finding others labeled ‘disabled” or “not normal” who survived and even triumphed.” -Entertainment Weekly


The Last Word: Comments after Attending the Single Family Design Board Hearing

by Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150I have a book titled, “The Place You Loved is Gone.” More and more it feels like that’s what’s happening in Santa Barbara these days.

In this City, the birthplace of Earth Day, we are supposed to be environmentally aware and sensitive. We can’t even get a plastic bag in the city, and “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is supposed to be our mantra. This is a place where sustainability, smart growth, affordable housing and small, efficient housing is all that’s been talked about for years.

209 east islayBut if you want to demolish a perfectly good house and replace it with one that’s bigger, better, and way more expensive, go right ahead.

Just one of those oddities about Santa Barbara.

The demolition of the old house at 209 E. Islay will happen. And it will be replaced by the property owners’ beautiful new dream home, a Craftsman-style mansion more than twice its size.

The property owners get to build exactly what they want, and have the money to do so. Lucky for the Upper East neighbors that they don’t want to build an ultra-modern structure, but as members of the Single Family Design Board pointed out, they probably could.

What’s ironic to me is that I live in a 1912 Craftsman home in “Bungalow Haven.” It’s not nearly as grand, as large or located in as nice a neighborhood as 209 E. Islay, but it’s not in and danger of demolition, even though it’s on an R-3 lot, because we neighbors have worked together—and with the City—as good stewards, we will likely keep the historic working-class neighborhood intact. Our homes are a century old, in fine repair and lovely to live in and look at.

Money talks these days, and McMansions are big business everywhere, including the Upper East Side of Santa Barbara, coming soon.


Waiting for the Wrecking Ball: Demolition Planned for Classic 1904 Upper East Craftsman

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150When does a piece of property become more important than the home that’s built upon it?

Decades ago when visionary Santa Barbara leader Bernhard Hoffman spoke of our “community mosaic,” he knew that every piece was part of the whole. Last week, we discussed how a traditional Santa Barbara cottage was replaced by a starkly modern structure, and how it violates the artful cohesiveness of a lovely Westside neighborhood.

209 east islay 2Now let’s turn our attention to the east side of town, and a grand old Craftsman home about to be demolished and replaced by a super-sized mansion at odds with the character of that neighborhood.

It’s just a matter of time.

On March 23rd, the Single Family Design Board is scheduled to give final approval to this project that begins with the demolition of a graceful old home at 209 East Islay Street. Built in 1904, it stands on a bit more than a half-acre lot in the heart of the Upper East.

This old house is an enormous one: a 5-bedroom, 4-bathroom 3,817-square-foot gem with the kind of original details you don’t find anymore: elegant woodwork, stained glass, old-growth redwood and fir; decks and porches, an outdoor stone fireplace, plenty of open space surrounding it. It’s been lovingly cared for and is in fine shape.

209 east islayBut the new owners don’t want the house, only the piece of property on which it stands. And they want to replace it with a new one more than twice the size.

Current plans call for 5,792-square feet of house above ground, a 2,843-square-foot habitable basement, and a 719-square-foot 3-car garage. Plus a pool and pool building.

Total it all up, and the project’s 9,379-square-feet of new development exceeds the City’s maximum floor-to-area ratio by 123 percent. That’s Planner-Speak for way too much building even on that half-acre lot.

And the City approves. Out with the old, in with the new.

According to the Historic Structures Report, the City Historian, and the Historic Landmarks Commission, there’s nothing historic or worth saving about an original Craftsman-era home that has sheltered several generations of fine Santa Barbara families. And no one sufficiently famous lived here to consider preserving it.

The last time this home was up for sale (in late 2012) it was described on Zillow: “Situated In Prime Upper East, This Charming 1900’s Craftsman Rests On A Rare 1/2 Acre Lot. Secluded & Set Back From The St. W/Lush Landscaping & Stone Walls This Wonderful Home Features An Outdoor Fireplace & Brick Pathways. Historic Features In This 5 Bed, 4 Bath Home Include Leaded Glass Windows, Sun Porches & Classic Woodwork. Formal Dining, Parlor, Office And Remodeled Kitchen W/Large Breakfast Area.”

But there was this additional line that may have sealed the deal and the fate of this home: “The lot itself is reasoned to be worth $1.4 million. Consider some of the stellar homes on the street, imagine the potential of this property…”

Just imagine.

Or just imagine NOT demolishing a stately 11-room house and a Santa Barbara family living happily-ever-after in a classic home, in a classic neighborhood.

But that kind of imagination is in short supply in modern-day Santa Barbara.


Modern Day Santa Barbara

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150Last week I attended a meeting at La Cumbre Junior High, situated in a neighborhood I don’t often visit anymore. When my children were much younger, they had many friends who lived in the quaint little homes on and around Gillespie Street, but the day is long past when they’ve needed me to drive them anywhere.

modern house 3So it came as a bit of a shock to see the house at the corner at Gillespie and Mission, a sleek and ultra contemporary structure that resembles nothing else in the neighborhood—or in much of the city either. Then I remembered this is the one that was the subject of so much contention a while back.

Seeing this building reminded me of the opposition of neighbors as the project wended its way through the city’s approval process. And how it somehow got the approval of the Architectural Board of Review and the City Council when the ABR approval was appealed. And there was a complaint filed and a $5000 fine levied against the architect by the Fair Political Practices Commission.

Time was when I—and many other neighborhood advocates—monitored these kinds of incompatible developments. We spoke at hearings, wrote letters, shared strategies and information. Back then, I could have told you line and verse just about everything that was going with a particular development in a particular neighborhood—especially my own. We sometimes even had some success, some effect on scaling back some projects. But as mere volunteers, we were simply overwhelmed by the coterie professionals who make their living pushing projects.

modern house 2Individual citizens became exhausted and disillusioned from the time, effort and feeling of futility of opposing the inevitable go-go development that has taken hold. And as a result, the once-active organizations that had a moderating influence in keeping inappropriate development in check—such as Citizens Planning Association and Allied Neighborhood Association—have seen their days of power and influence wane.

At the same time, the powers-that-be in the city have grown stronger, more powerful and more determined to take the city in a direction that just doesn’t feel like much like it respects our town’s legacy of graceful architecture and citizen involvement.

Assuring architectural neighborhood compatibility or appropriate size, bulk and scale, adhering to zoning regulations, heeding the concerns of residents—none of this seems to be too important anymore.

Doesn’t much matter, what happened in the public hearings downtown—the reality is that the fight is over, and the building is now a reality. And it will be here for a long, long time.

No doubt it will be used as an example for other architects to emulate in the future. The sweet little cottages with the pitched roofs and graceful curves located across the street and throughout the area will disappear from here and from our memory—just like the lovely old home that once stood here is long-gone, with this hard-edged, boxy, post-industrial design that now takes its place.

I suppose some call this progress.

I just don’t know what to call it. Santa Monica chic, maybe. “Modern Cottage” is what the architect terms it. And he’s doing work all over town. Whatever it is, it’s not the Santa Barbara I know and love.
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