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From Our Inbox: Letters to the Editor for Week Ending Aug. 17, 2018

In response to Santa Barbara City Councilman Jason Dominguez’s Aug. 11 commentary, “With Focus on Plastic Straws, Santa Barbara City Council Misses Big Picture,” presumably he wrote it to put into context his recent remarks about municipal government having to regulate people’s lives concerning all aspects of the latter.

The first sentence of the commentary makes matters worse, however, when he refers to East Germany, the former GDR, as an example of “disastrous government overreach of authority.” Would it have been any less “disastrous” if the GDR would have not murdered its citizens at the Berlin Wall, when they tried to mount the border in their search for freedom?

And, what authority? That of the SED, the Socialist Unity Party, running a dictatorship without ever facing democratic elections? Instead, it claimed to have successfully erected “Democratic Socialism,” a term surprisingly peddled today in American politics.

Perhaps local politicians would best restrict themselves to govern the straws and stirrers for their coffees.

Volker Welter
Lompoc

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The Aug. 14 appeal hearing for the property at 501 E. Micheltorena St. in Santa Barbara needs more than a short summation for it to be fully understood by those who weren’t in attendance at the City Council meeting.

Full disclosure: My husband and I scraped together every penny we could to purchase our 1912 bungalow on East Victoria Street in 1993, where we have raised our children and are among the founding members of the Bungalow Haven Neighborhood Association. We participated in the drafting of the “Lower Riviera Special Design District Guidelines,” and wrote and published Pearl Chase: First Lady of Santa Barbara.

On Aug. 14, I was one of several dozen residents to support the appeal. Please note that other than the development team, only one person spoke in favor of the project — a representative from a housing organization who was the first to offer public comment and left immediately after she spoke.

But the issue at hand and the reason for the appeal wasn’t about housing units, it was about the overreaching by a development team that had ignored the many rules in place. And a process that erroneously approved it.

When project and process fail, especially in a cherished, distinctive historic neighborhood that has a long record of civic participation and protection, we residents have a longstanding duty to step up. Those in charge these days might find it hopelessly old-fashioned to invoke the “community mosaic” ideal of Bernhard Hoffmann, or the tireless work of Pearl Chase to ensure architectural compatibility in our community — with the establishment of the Architectural Board of Review, the first one in America.

But that is our Santa Barbara heritage, and good stewardship requires we honor it.

Please note that this neighborhood has absorbed a great deal of housing development in recent years: in addition to small infill units throughout the area, two large housing projects, the 115-unit condo project on the site of the former St. Francis Medical Center and more than 20 units known as Laguna Court.

The development teams of both of these projects (and several others) worked with neighborhood representatives and redesigned their plans from Spanish Colonial to bungalow style to ensure neighborhood compatibility and respect to the streetscape.

In Laguna Court, three historic bungalows were actually preserved and incorporated into the condo project, to great success.

In this case, however, the development team rejected any collaborative efforts in its determination to build a spare, towering project that showed no connection to the surrounding neighborhood.

But the principals argued that it was compatible because the design was inspired by Irving Gill, the father of the modern architectural movement, who worked at the same time the bungalows were built.

A team of architectural historians tried to make the case during the appeal that his spare designs built in San Diego, Long Beach and Santa Monica translate perfectly to a structure plunked down on a prominent, elevated corner in a bungalow neighborhood in Santa Barbara — where brothers Charles Greene and Henry Greene and Frank Lloyd Wright are the more appropriate inspirations.

Maybe they should have emulated the work of noted architect Wallace Neff instead, who actually designed his first home in the Bungalow District. The modest house on Alta Vista Street, in the English Arts and Crafts style, was built for his mother. He later moved to Los Angeles and received great acclaim for his work in Pasadena, San Marino and Beverly Hills, including the mansion known as Pickfair.

But the developers’ insistence that neighborhood compatibility was a moot point — emboldened by the indefensible approval by the Architectural Board of Review — was lost during the appeal once the rules were invoked.

City Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon pointed out multiple ways the project did not comply with longstanding requirements by the ABR and the architectural guidelines in place for the neighborhood.

The Lower Riviera Special Design District Guidelines were adopted after years of careful research, information gathering and collaboration between the neighbors and the City of Santa Barbara. As noted on the city’s website, “These guidelines, adopted in 2006, will serve to assist property owners, architects, contractors, and commissions and design review boards to design projects that will be appropriate, compatible and beneficial to the Special Design District, and to assist the city in reviewing applications for new projects and alterations to structures within, and in close proximity to, the proposed Historic District.”

If only these long-codified guidelines had been implemented during the review process, and all the ABR members had adhered to their responsibility to make findings based on fact, the inappropriate design would have been rejected and sent back to the drawing board months ago. (The seven-member ABR approved the project on a 3-2 vote, with one absence and one unfilled seat.)

That would have saved a great deal of private and taxpayer time and money. But the guidelines and the duties of the ABR were largely ignored while discussing the merits of Gill, the distracting justification for the incompatible style that might work somewhere else, but not at that prominent location.

Thankfully, the appeal process worked this time, with a 7-0 City Council vote in favor of the neighbors. But it shouldn’t have been needed.

In the all-out rush to build ever-more housing in Santa Barbara, there is something that matters more than squeezing in multiple units on every corner. The historic and aesthetic context of these corners, and their place in our community, must be considered.

Those responsible for the review process — too often called the “approval process,” as if it’s a given — members of city staff, boards and commissions can’t cut corners along the way.

Cheri Rae
Santa Barbara

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I am writing about the recent settlement with the Hollister Ranch Owners Association. For the past five years, I have been living in Colorado but I previously lived for 40 years on Hollister Ranch and before that I went by boat to surf.

My father, a geologist, first took me to Hollister Ranch in 1959 when he was doing work for the Hollisters, and it always stuck in my memory until I was able to buy in in 1973. For retirement reasons I chose to sell my land on the ranch — the hardest thing I have ever done. It was like ripping my soul out.

The Hollister Ranch coast is one of the most magical places in the world — unspoiled and pristine, the way California beaches once were. There are vast flocks of birds you don’t see farther south because of disturbance by dogs and people. Sea lions and seals rest on the beaches, again because of no disturbance. Deer, coyotes, turtles, skunks, raccoons, foxes and even bears use the beach to get from one place to another and to forage food.

There is no litter. If the Hollister Ranch beaches were open to the public, they would be picked over and totally spoiled like all the beaches to the south.

I can no longer enter the ranch as an owner but it it remains in my heart, a sanctuary for those who are fortunate enough to get there as owners, guests, boaters or walkers at low tide. Some places need to remain sacrosanct ,and this is one of them.

It doesn’t matter that the ranch is now made up of mostly wealthy people. The Hollister Ranch Owners Association recognizes the value of a pristine environment and is committed to protecting the beaches. Keeping the ranch free of the general public is the best way to protect it. If someone really wants to get there it may be difficult but entirely possible.

Please realize that the current settlement recognizes the importance of protecting this one-of-a-kind stretch of coast.

Paul Kemnitzer
Crestone, Colo.

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How does one of the most beautiful, historical sanctuaries in all of Santa Barbara go from a lush wonderland to war zone-looking devastation?

Trees Click to view larger
The garden at 1436 State St. in Santa Barbara, after five China coral trees were removed. (Wendy Carlson photo)

On a Saturday in June, while in a soothing yoga class, there was an earth-shattering noise (which lasted hours) directly next door. Workers seemed to be trimming the five magnificent China coral trees at 1436 State St., across East Micheltorena Street from Trinity Episcopal Church.

The next Saturday the same-earth shattering noise again interrupted our peaceful class, and for several following Saturdays. Most employees of Village Properties and Merrill Lynch were shocked upon returning to work on Monday morning.

After speaking with several employees, this is what I was told: The owner, who doesn’t live in Santa Barbara (absentee landlord) said the trees were too fragile and a limb might fall on someone.

Not true! If a branch were to fall, it wouldn’t hit anyone the trees were not over, or even near the parking lot, sidewalk or street.

I don’t understand how the Historic Landmarks Commission and the City of Santa Barbara would permit destroying five China coral trees, and the entire sanctuary (containing numerous beautiful species of plants). This spot brought joy to countless employees, locals and tourists, not to mention birds, squirrels, chipmunks, etc.

Seemingly the owner is going to replace what was. How do you replace trees hundreds of years old? I would hate to see this happen again. Maybe it’s time to question the Historical Landmarks Commission!

Wendy Carlson
Santa Barbara

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This is in response to Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley’s Aug. 16 commentary, “Access to Mental Health Services Critical During Early Childhood.”

Placing infants and small children in child care where they are not loved all day is dreadful for their emotional development! As Dudley noted, the brain does most of its development in the first five years. We should be encouraging mothers to be with their children to do the actual work of raising them.

As far as affordability goes, Dad might have to work two jobs for this to happen or a relocation to an area where living is less costly.

As a former teacher myself, I witnessed that, in nearly all circumstances, the better prepared for school and emotionally healthy students were those whose mothers were at home.

Carol Briano McLafferty
Goleta

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You love your dog. You want to share your love of your dog with others.

But please leave your dog at home when going out in public. I do not want to touch or be touched, or be at risk of being touched by your dog. Nor do I want to have to take maneuvers to avoid your dog. Life is made up of choices, many of which are difficult.

Make the difficult choice of being with your dog or with being out in public. Do not take your beautiful, cute, sensitive, intelligent, well-trained (yeah, sure) dog to the store, to the restaurant, the concert, or any other gathering.

I would like our culture to go back 10 years to a period when I could walk the aisles of The Home Depot without the obstacle course of leashes, yappers and pit bulls.

Gary Vandeman
Goleta

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