Ed St. George
Ed St. George is the face of frustration with the City of Santa Barbara these days. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

One look at Ed St. George reveals a man of muscle. Ripped, large biceps and forearms with bulging veins pop out of his white V-neck shirt.

A carpenter by trade, he worked his way up from pounding hammers and cutting wood to become one of the most powerful developers on Santa Barbara County’s South Coast.

But Tuesday at City Hall, St. George will find himself at the mercy of the Santa Barbara City Council, which will decide the fate of his controversial 32-room hotel project proposed for 302 and 308 W. Montecito St. 

“I think this neighborhood needs to be revitalized,” St. George told Noozhawk on Monday. “The only way we are going to get massive amounts of people in here is it’s going to be tourists. Tourists are going to be more acceptable to this than local residents. For local residents, this place erodes you really quickly.”

The unconventional developer wants to demolish the four-unit apartment building on the site and build the 3-story hotel, a 1,674-square-foot coffee shop, and a parking garage with 11 surface parking spaces and a mechanical parking lift system to accommodate 33 more spaces.

The Planning Commission voted 6-1 to deny St. George’s project because members preferred that the prolific developer build housing at the site.

St. George, the developer of Beach City near Santa Barbara City College, said he has developed more than 165 rental apartments for working class families and students, “more than anyone other than the Housing Authority.”

This site, however, is ill-suited for housing, St. George said. 

Across the street from the project is a car wash, The Neighborhood Bar and Grill Restaurant, The Brewhouse, and the original Rudy’s Mexican restaurant.

There’s also a hefty presence of homeless people in the area, some of whom were camped out in the hedges alongside the neighboring Highway 101 on Monday.

A steady stream of people hauling luggage trekked from the nearby Amtrak train station to hotels in the area. 

Only students and one of St. George’s employee live at the Montecito Street site. He said his tenants have been “jumped” and had their cars broken into. 

“I’ve never had girls live down here,” said St. George, pointing to the building. “I only put the football team. Guys who could really take care of themselves. This is not a place for kids to live. It’s certainly not a place for families to live.”

The hotel project meets all the requirements of the city’s zoning ordinance. However, the Planning Commission said there is a greater need for housing than hotel rooms.

According to data from the city, hotel occupancy rates have gone down 2% over the past two years and 5% since 2015.

St. George said building housing at the site would be a disservice for the community because of the condition of the neighborhood. 

“Predators, they are going to see a girl come home, day after day, after day, they are going to figure out her schedules and what’s going on,” St. George said. “You can’t do that. At a hotel you got a lobby. You walk into a lobby, boom, you got security staffed to say, ‘Excuse me, what are you doing here?’ These people are in and out. There’s no way there going to figure out someone’s lifestyle.”

St. George said the Planning Commission is trying to micromanage how he runs his business, adding that he knows the neighborhood.  

“I know what is going on in the streets,” he said. “I work the streets. I work with my men and I work with my tenants. I know what’s going on. I really do. This is not the corner for housing.”

The project hits hard at some of the core issues that Santa Barbara is struggling to overcome.

The city, under pressure from state lawmakers, is scrambling to figure out ways to facilitate housing growth. Santa Barbara has traditionally been controlled politically by slow-growth environmentalists who want to maintain the city’s unique charm, and views of the mountains and the ocean.

But a new wave of millennial city planners and some on the City Council are advocating and creating policies that encourage developers to build more rental housing. 

In that context, the City Council must decide whether St. George’s project meets the city’s current needs — or send him back to the drawing board to design a housing project.

St. George is hoping that his other housing units around town will create some goodwill among the council members. 

“This isn’t a good place for residents,” St. George said. “This is the armpit of West Beach right now. It needs to be cleaned up. And for someone to come in and put a $25 million hotel on the corner, I would think the neighborhood would be ecstatic.”

Tuesday’s City Council meeting begins at 2 p.m. at City Hall, 735 Anacapa St.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.