Friday, September 7, 2007

Warner Warning

The widely reported $120 margarita at the San Ysidro ranch got me thinking again about Ty Warner's effect on the quality of life in Santa Barbara. Walking by Ty Warner's various sea-front properties in Montecito last spring, I witnessed an army of laborers building, renovating, beautifying. Some might point out how many jobs "Ty" is creating, how much money he's pumping into the local economy (though I wonder how much of the reported hundreds of million actually stays in the local economy and how much goes to imported luxury items and materials). But to me, the significant fact is that so much capital and so much human labor, skilled and unskilled, lower class and lower middle class, is being devoted to the exclusive benefit of rich people.

Consider the local Warner properties, not including his multi-lot bluff-top estate, and not including the cost of actual purchase, only the renovation cost:

  • Biltmore Hotel, recently renovated for a cool $240 million (for 233 rooms). Rooms "start at $550" a night.
  • San Ysidro Ranch, recently renovated for $130 million (for 40 cottages and suites), plus an additional $25 million for the Stonehouse restaurant. Accommodations available for $800-$4,000 a night.
  • Coral Casino, currently completing a $35 million renovation. Enrollment fees more than $20,000, plus monthly and other fees.
  • Montecito Country Club, renovation plans in the works, with Jack Nicklaus designing the golf course. Membership, $10,000 plus fees.
  • Sandpiper Golf Course, $124-$144 for a round of golf.
  • Rancho San Marcos, currently a relative upper-middle-class bargain at $65-$85 for a round of golf, though changes are expected.
Apologists might point to the $1.5 million he donated to the Sea Center on Stearns Wharf or the $500,000 to renovate the path in front of his bluff-top estate. But I'm not impressed. He invests hundreds of millions of dollars, probably more than a billion dollars, in properties that benefit exclusively rich people and gives two local donations worth roughly.2% of his other local investments, just barely enough to get his highly visible name on a highly visible public building, plus, of course, the aesthetic satisfaction of beautifying the view from his estate (even changing the color of the Sea Center).

Ty Warner epitomizes the worst of contemporary capitalism. He makes a fortune selling frivolous beanie babies to kids and crazed collectors, then invests that fortune in luxurious playpens for the rich and super-rich. His idea of public spirit, his contribution to making the world a better place, begins with personal aesthetics and ends with public relations, little more than individual aggrandizement with an impoverished sense of larger purpose.


Queen Whackamole said...

Well, there is _some_ benefit to the community in the form of building permits and property taxes... right?

Anonymous said...

Well that is true to some extent. In fact, Ty Warner is personally in the top 5 of all property tax payers, which includes businesses and corporations.

Anonymous said...

What a huge stinking vat of sour grapes!!! And of course all of your socialist/communist propensities have done so much for so many when put into practice....

Anonymous said...

you also forgot to take into account the amount of money the bed tax at the local hotels bring in. And do you know his exact charitable donations are? If you dont know the exact amount isnt this kind of a unfounded attack you already didnt take into account the tax benefits to local coffers it dosent seem like you really researched this very well at all. Perhaps you should do that next time before you blog as it is you just come off looking like a ill informed person who is angry others are wealthy.

frank said...

I disagree with Big Table. I work at the Biltmore and it's the best, most competent classy management I've ever worked for. It's a pleasure to work there and part of the pleasure is the beauty of the surroundings

RP said...

By all reposts, Warner is a great employer. The original issue was how many locals benefit by Warner's actions, charitable or otherwise. I think the concern expressed has some foundation, even if the specific focus is a bit presumptuous.
Warner's personal aesthetic is not traditional Santa Barbara, but 'over the top' and aristocratic in a European sense, not Californio, nor the more refined unpretentious hedonism of latter day SB.
The way this plays out in the public space is the Butterfly Beach steps controversy, where the concern of local planning volunteers was that the Warner team plan to put a brick walkway across the street (making it easy for Biltmore guests to find their way to the beach) and make the steps match the Biltmore design book, would confuse the public which would also use this access.
The resulting manipulation of the process to portray Warner and his team as persecuted by an irrational process threatens to upend the very longstanding mechanisms by which SB has come to have its design charm.
The suggestion that a sign designating public access ( the solution that has been implemented) could not be made at the time the concern was brought up because the Warner team presented this design in a timing which tied the hands of the review board.
And in fact, when you go look at the work done so far, the result does make the beach access look like it is part of the Biltmore.
Warner is investing a lot, and it will benefit the community in various ways, but I think the question of what trade-offs are being made by the community deserves more open, and detached discussion. Calling the original poster 'socialist' for having a concern for the rest of the community suggests a less encompassing definition of self interest, at the least. The commons, including the law, the government, and the shared resources of air land etc. is what makes a market, and thus a Warner, possible. Disrespect of the commons is implicit in the "the rich should be able to do what they want" attitude.
The irony is that it was rich aesthetically trained people who did the work required to set up the zoning and ABR back in the early 20th century. Their idea of being wealthy was driven by a sense of responsibility to the community, not self aggrandizement. Pearl Chase didn't donate to put her name on a building, but to get work done. There was no financial benefit to speak of until the 90's. It was all aesthetic up till the beginning of the real estate boom.
If the looming shortfall in revenues for both the city and county are to be addressed, it will be in creating more high paying ( as opposed to retail or yard and maid service) jobs here, not building mansions, clubs or restaurants. This makes the tax money aspect of how the community benefits from Warner's actions something of a red herring.

Trekking Left said...

I think RP makes some good points. Santa Barbara is at risk of becoming (as the News-Press of old coined) a "geriatric ghetto," where the only people who live here will be the wealthy and the people who serve them. In that sense, Ty is not really helping all that much. Santa Barbara needs to focus on getting and keeping a middle class.

And how much do you want to bet Anonymous (8:05 AM and 11:38 AM) are middle class conservatives? They always vigorously defend the wealthy and vote against their own economic interests in the process. Ty isn't looking out for you, but Big Table is.

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