Friday, November 16 , 2018, 2:49 am | Fair 48º


Bill Macfadyen: With State Street Stagnant, Santa Barbara Tide Shifts to a New ‘Lagoon’

NoozWeek’s Top 5 deals a bungalow blow to an apartment project, studies downtown to death, rides a spin cycle to fitness, and finds the Bellosguardo Foundation still hiding its asset

Haley Street Click to view larger
Walk this way. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Rest in peace, Aretha Franklin; I say a little prayer for you.

The indelible, magical singer of “Respect” and so many other American classics had one of the most powerful voices of all time, female or male, and it was remarkably impervious to age.

Weirdly, it seems somehow fitting that the Queen of Soul should share a death date — Aug. 16 — with Elvis Presley, the King of Rock ’n’ Roll who died 41 years before.

Since you’ve been gone, however, Noozhawk had an audience of 107,642 readers this past week, according to our Google Analytics.

This is my take on your Top 5 stories during that period. At this point, I shouldn’t have to remind you that this is my opinion column, and not a news story, but — chain, chain, chain — I must. Thanks for reading.

1. As State Street Stumbles, Santa Barbara’s ‘Lagoon District’ Soars

Nature abhors a vacuum, life moves on.

With the City of Santa Barbara still fumbling around with the downtown debacle known as State Street, looking for a silver-bullet solution everywhere but in the mirror, the community has drifted to new, more inviting and enjoyable environs.

First, the Funk Zone sprouted up, largely organically, but more recently propelled by the completion of MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation, and the gleaming, decades-in-the-making Hotel Californian complex.

Over the last few years, a stretch of the Lower Eastside along East Haley Street has been undergoing a gradual gentrification that has been a surprising sight for sore eyes.

The eclectic, decidedly mixed-use neighborhood — roughly bounded by Anacapa, Cota, Milpas and Montecito streets — includes single-story residences, a few apartment buildings, some townhomes, restaurants, wineries, industrial spaces, small and locally unique shops, the perpetually bustling Santa Barbara Home Improvement Center, offices, a handful of nonprofit organizations, and a refreshing buzz and energy.

In fact, over the last 18 months, the area has seen 21 sales valued at an impressive $47.3 million, according to Hayes Commercial Group.

If my friend, Jacob Tell, has his way, the neighborhood will be permanently branded as “The Lagoon District.” Tell, the CEO and co-founder of the local digital marketing agency Oniracom, co-coined the phrase as a take on nearby Laguna Street.

He and his company, now at 216 E. Gutierrez St., created a website, made stickers and information sheets, and encouraged any neighborhood business to join the district.

“We want to shine a light on a really cool part of Santa Barbara,” Tell told our Josh Molina. “We see it as the next generation coming in and mixing with what had been in this area.”

There’s nothing wrong with that, but I really, really despise that “Lagoon District” moniker.

This being Santa Barbara and all, Laguna, not Lagoon, is a perfectly fine etymological starting point for a neighborhood nickname.

There are even historical roots in the long-ago demolished Laguna Park. The ramshackle wooden stadium was the former home of the former Santa Barbara Dodgers, a minor league affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers — the baseball team that currently is doing just about everything it can not to win a World Series for the 30th straight year.

But I have another aversion to the naming convention. Like Home Improvement Center owner Gary Simpson, who adamantly opposes the featuring of a flacked lagoon, I still have vivid memories of the Jan. 10, 1995, deluge that submerged blocks and blocks of the area under about 18 inches of water. In addition to creating — literally — a “lagoon district,” the storm caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage.

That’s not something I wish to enshrine, especially since it’s only a matter of time before it happens again. There’s a reason, after all, why sandbags are piled permanently around many doors in the district, and why the United Way of Santa Barbara County even sports flood gates around its building at 320 E. Gutierrez St.

Regardless of the name, however, those responsible for the district’s emergence are to be commended for the vision and determination to create something from nothing. In Santa Barbara, that’s a remarkable — and improbable — accomplishment.

2. Neighbors Fight Apartment Project on Santa Barbara’s Upper Eastside

House Click to view larger
Try, try again. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Residents of Santa Barbara’s “Bungalow Haven” neighborhood successfully trained their ire on a proposed new apartment project in the shadow of where the old St. Francis Medical Center once stood on the Upper Eastside.

In a bit of a switch, the neighbors weren’t opposing the concept of the relatively small, four-unit project at 501 E. Micheltorena St. Rather, they based their objection on the design, arguing that the look and scale were incompatible with the neighborhood of mostly Craftsman bungalow-style homes.

After getting an earful at its Aug. 14 meeting, a unanimous City Council sided with the neighbors who had appealed the Architectural Board of Review’s 3-2 approval.

“We take great issue with the height and architectural style proposed, as the project is, in our opinion, totally incompatible with the surrounding neighborhood,” the opponents wrote in their appeal letter.

“Well over half the homes within a two-block radius of the project site are bungalow style, with the rest a mix of Victorian- and Spanish-style structures.”

The site, on the corner of East Micheltorena and Olive streets, is currently home to a 1,743-square-foot, single-story duplex with a detached two-car garage. A two-story medical office building and a surface parking lot are nearby.

St. Francis Medical Center, which was purchased by Cottage Health and closed in 2003, was in the next block up. The hospital was torn down and replaced by mostly Craftsman-style workforce housing built by Cottage Health. Within months, the Cottage cottages blended into the neighborhood as if they had been there forever.

This new apartment project is being pitched by DesignARC architects Ken Vermillion and Mark Kirkhart on behalf of property owner Roscoe Villa. The proposal includes a three-bedroom, a two-bedroom, a one-bedroom and a studio unit ranging in size from 575 to 1,335 square feet, but the contemporary modern design and its 22-foot height are the real sticking points.

“Any structure proposed for this elevated site should blend into the hillside and be in a style compatible with the historic neighborhood,” said Steve Dowty, president of the Pearl Chase Society.

Betsy Cramer, president of the Citizens Planning Association, made a similar case.

“We think that the proposed adjacent four-unit building on this important corner neither satisfies the ABR-mandated role of protecting and preserving the natural charm and beauty of Santa Barbara, nor is the architecture at all appropriate for the neighborhood,” she said.

With the council’s sweeping rejection, it will be back to the drawing board for the architects. Whether the Architectural Board of Review fully appreciates the sting of the council’s resounding rebuke remains to be seen.

3. Ideas to Fix State Street Drive Residents to Santa Barbara City Council Meeting

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The latest episode of the downtown Santa Barbara talk show. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

In what appears to be an attempt to get ahead of the train pulling away from the station, the Santa Barbara City Council devoted much of its Aug. 14 meeting to the issue of revitalizing the downtown core.

Residents and stakeholders packed the council chambers to give their feedback on how the city can turn downtown around. State Street, in particular, has been deteriorating before our eyes — at an alarming pace over the last few years.

As Noozhawk has been outlining in our Reimagine: Santa Barbara series, there is no shortage of innovative ideas and practical, replicable examples to deal with the challenges.

There has been a frustrating absence of leadership, however, and I’m not just talking about elected local officials. When it comes to bureaucracy, the struggle is real, y’all.

One dynamo has been Nina Johnson, the enthusiastic senior assistant to City Administrator Paul Casey. She got the ball rolling for Mayor Cathy Murillo and Councilman Randy Rowse, who put the afternoon’s exercise on the agenda.

Johnson had a list of projects already underway, either by the City of Santa Barbara itself or via public-private partnerships like Downtown Santa Barbara. Those efforts include temporary pop-up shops in vacant storefronts and weekend street closures for special events.

While public sentiment was supportive, those in attendance — including a large and diverse group of stakeholders that had submitted a long list of recommended actions — appeared to be thinking bigger. Much bigger.

Among the public’s suggestions were more downtown events, more downtown housing, turning parts of State Street into a temporary or permanent pedestrian mall, and reforming the city’s ridiculous planning and permitting procedures.

Most of the day’s speakers complained about the glacial and excruciating journey required to open a business, make tenant improvements, or otherwise endure the punitive permitting process in which progress is measured in years, not weeks.

“It’s a horrible process,” said Bob Stout, owner of the Wildcat Lounge and Little Kitchen in the first block of West Ortega Street, across from the hulking shell of the abandoned Macy’s building.

Unfortunately, the city’s grand solution was to hire an outside consultant and convene a subcommittee.

That’s right. A consultant. And a subcommittee.

I’m as underwhelmed — and flabbergasted — as you are.

I did console myself with an image of Casey as the obstinate Maj. Eaton in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Leaning forward in his chair, he takes a long and deliberate draw on his pipe (smokeless, of course), before assuring, “We have top men working on it right now.”

When asked “Who?” by the public, he replies with exasperation, “Top. Men.”

And we all know what happens next in that film, right?

4. BizHawk: ClassCyc Fitness Opens on State Street in Santa Barbara

ClassCyc Fitness Click to view larger
ClassCyc Fitness owner Celeste Turbeville, left, and general manager Amy Patten are spinning their wheels to good health. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Fulfilling a lifelong dream, Celeste Turbeville has opened ClassCyc Fitness at 3005 State St. in Santa Barbara.

The center — near the Calle Laureles intersection — offers bicycle spinning, boxing and kickboxing classes. Unlike many other fitness facilities, ClassCyc Fitness doesn’t require a membership fee, opting instead for single classes at $20 apiece and unlimited classes for $200 a month.

“We just want to encourage people who are intimidated to come by and try it,” said Turbeville, an accomplished beach volleyball player and competitive tennis player.

5. Bellosguardo Foundation Plans Fundraising Event at Clark Estate in Santa Barbara

Bellosguardo Click to view larger
Nobody’s home. (Bellosguardo Foundation photo)

The Bellosguardo Foundation, formed to steward the oceanfront estate of the late Huguette Clark, is holding an exclusive fundraiser at the landmark Santa Barbara mansion. If you were thinking of going, you’re already too late. The Oct. 13 event sold out almost immediately.

The intrigue surrounding Clark’s life is understandable. The reclusive mining heiress died in New York City in 2011 at age 104, leaving behind a $300 million fortune, a contested will and a host of questions over substantial unpaid gift taxes.

She also left behind the nine-bedroom, 21,666-square-foot home she had not visited in nearly 60 years — but was kept at the ready should she decide to pop in for a whirlwind weekend in Santa Barbara.

As outlined in the New York settlement of Clark’s will, the 24-acre property at 1407 E. Cabrillo Blvd. was awarded to the hastily formed Bellosguardo Foundation, which officially took control in March.

Bellosguardo, the estate, has long stoked the curiosity of locals, whose only real access thus far has been through the pages of the best-selling book, Empty Mansions, co-authored by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bill Dedman and Clark’s cousin, Paul Clark Newell Jr.

Bellosguardo, the foundation, has been even more shadowy, however. The initial Board of Directors was nominated by then-Mayor Helene Schneider, although many of that first cohort were uncharacteristically vague on what their responsibilities were supposed to be and what the foundation’s mission was. Several abruptly quit.

Even more mysterious was the choice of Jeremy Lindaman to be the foundation’s generously compensated president. A career political operative, Lindaman has no evident experience as an administrator, a nonprofit executive, or a cognoscente of the arts, culture and society — high or otherwise.

He does count Schneider as a longtime client, though, and the two remain ... close. And who thought connections were only for the hangers-on in President Donald Trump’s circles?

Information and records pertaining to the Bellosguardo Foundation remain elusive, and the organization’s brand-new website is laughably vapid and nonspecific.

Someone associated with the foundation did assemble an A-list of prominent community members to lend their names to the upcoming charity affair. According to the aforementioned website, the benefit will help “maintain the house, grounds and collections, as we move forward with our larger vision and open the property to the public.”

Speaking for the public, I think it’s long past time for the Bellosguardo Foundation to begin explaining that larger vision, specifically as it relates to its own viability and intended future community impacts. Maybe those A-listers can start asking those questions once they’re inside since the foundation clearly doesn’t answer to the hoi polloi outside the gates.

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Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? After Neighborhood Complaints, Santa Barbara Planners Halt Shoreline Drive Remodel.

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Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

Just know there’s no app for this: Amish Man Starts “Uber” Ride Service with His Horse and Buggy.

                                                                 •        •        •

Best of Bill’s Instagram

After reviewing my Instagram feed from this past week, a diet may be in order. There sure were a lot of #bestofbillrecommendation photos.

                                                                 •        •        •

Watch It

They may just be horsing around, but the Westmont College women’s volleyball team is already firing on all cylinders in preseason pool play. Check out sophomore libero Lauren Friis slide in a bucket with an assist from sophomore outside hitter Brooklynn Cheney.

(Noozhawk video via Instagram)

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— Bill Macfadyen is Noozhawk’s founder and publisher. Contact him at [email protected], follow him on Twitter: @noozhawk and Instagram: @bill.macfadyen, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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