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It was a bad night to be landlord Dario Pini (center) when the City Council sent his project back to the drawing board in response to neighborhood opposition.

Paul Wellman

It was a bad night to be landlord Dario Pini (center) when the City Council sent his project back to the drawing board in response to neighborhood opposition.


Pini-Proofing Chino Street

Neighbors Win Appeal Against Notorious Landlord


Thursday, March 21, 2013
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Landlord Dario Pini’s bigger-than-life reputation as a serial offender when it comes to Santa Barbara’s health and safety codes clearly preceded him into the City Council chambers Tuesday night. This proved his undoing in a showdown with impressively well-organized Westside residents opposed to his plans to transform an old Chino Street bungalow into a two-structured, two-story rental property.

The neighborhood activists, who live near Pini’s property at 1911 Chino Street, not only secured a unanimous vote by the City Council to send Pini’s proposal back to the Architectural Board of Review to essentially start from scratch, but they unearthed obscure city codes ​— ​passed 10 years ago ​— ​that gave City Hall powerful discretionary authority to reject Pini’s plans based on his history as a repeat building-code violator. Not even City Attorney Steve Wiley ​— ​Pini’s avowed arch-nemesis ​— ​understood how much latitude these codes gave City Hall, nor did city planners or members of the council. Going into the meeting, it was unclear what legal justification, if any, could be cited to reject Pini’s proposal. Going out of the meeting, it was equally unclear if Pini will ever build anything on the site. That’s because before he can secure any permits, he must first resolve a massive number of building-code violation claims involving 30 other rental properties he owns throughout the city, now the subject of a major lawsuit between Pini and City Hall.

On the table were plans to build a new two-story apartment and garage in the backyard of 1911 Chino Street. When complete, the property would boast six bedrooms and five bathrooms. Neighbors, led by Evelyn Lee, objected that the structure would intrude into the privacy of their backyards, block mountain views, and create a parking nightmare. They pointed out Pini’s propensity to pack his properties with as many people as possible, and suggested that the roof deck Pini proposed to build on top of the new garage would become party central for reveling renters. Patrick Burns noted that court records contain 713 legal actions involving Pini. “Fool me 713 times and shame on you,” he said. “Fool me 714 times, shame on all of us.” They complained that since Pini bought the property in 2011, he’d used it as a staging ground for his many construction crews. Two 55-gallon drums of contaminated waste stood in the front yard, they complained, and the two-bedroom house in the front was advertised on Craigslist as a four-bedroom home, renting for $3,300 a month. All this, they argued, made Pini’s plans incompatible with the existing neighborhood.

Pini’s architect Gil Barry countered that Pini has developed more workforce rental property than anyone on the South Coast, even the Housing Authority. He disputed Pini’s reputation as a slumlord, arguing that he has developed some of the “most beautiful” properties on the South Coast. Pini sought no modifications or special exemptions for the Chino Street project, he argued, and went above and beyond the changes initially sought by the Architectural Board of Review in order to appease the neighbors. The review board, Barry reminded the council, described Pini’s responsiveness as “exemplary,” before voting 4-3 to approve it. And city planners backed Barry up. Pini acknowledged he had his difficulties with zoning enforcement but credited Wiley for getting him on the right track. In response to the lawsuit filed by Wiley last year, Pini said he got into full compliance within eight days. As for the Craigslist ad, he said that was a typo; the four-bedroom unit he sought to rent was actually on the Eastside. When pressed by Mayor Helene Schneider, he admitted that some students had converted a den and a living room into bedrooms, but he insisted that they did so without his consent and that he evicted them. As for all the lawsuits, he said the vast majority involved evictions.

If Pini looked for any love from Wiley, he was looking in all the wrong places. “There’s no question that Mr. Pini is the definition of scofflaw in Santa Barbara,” Wiley told the council. Councilmember Bendy White expressed grave concerns about Pini’s past, but he was equally troubled that the proposed blueprints appeared to be designed to maximize abuse. Pini’s proposed design, he said, asked the question, “If you were a slumlord, how would you chop it up?” The number of bathrooms coupled with multiple French doors serving as windows, he argued, could be used to further subdivide the property into even more living quarters.

Many councilmembers worried whether it was legally permissible to withhold approval for Pini’s Chino Street project based on past violations. But Westside resident Burns dredged up the city code language empowering city officials to refuse to process plans from applicants with unresolved violations. Wiley argued that because there were no outstanding violations at 1911 Chino Street, the language did not apply. Burns disagreed. When Mayor Helene Schneider read the language out loud, it was evident it gave City Hall sufficient authority to link all Pini’s outstanding zoning violations with the Chino Street approval. Councilmembers gave clear instructions that the new plans be designed with a keen eye to prevent future slumlordification; the garage deck had to go, as did at least one upstairs bathroom, as did as many square feet as Pini and Barry could trim.

Comments

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Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

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Special to Pulitzer Prize Committee,

Please note -- Alliterative Sentence of the Year:
"They pointed out Pini’s propensity to pack his properties with as many people as possible, and suggested that the roof deck Pini proposed to build on top of the new garage would become party central for reveling renters."

binky (anonymous profile)
March 21, 2013 at 8:45 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I am so happy that our City Council came through on this by doing some real investigating on this guy!!!! Earning so much money and not willing to spend a penny of it on doing the right thing! Thank you so much City Council! I knew you knew the right thing to do!

aquariusanne (anonymous profile)
March 21, 2013 at 11:15 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Sounds like the neighbors are the ones who did their homework, and the City Council was left catching up.

blackpoodles (anonymous profile)
March 21, 2013 at 7:25 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Oh my god, this is rich:

"Burglary Arrest

Dario Louis Pini, age 63, a well-known Santa Barbara landlord, was arrested for burglary.

On March 17, 2013 at 4:25 p.m., Santa Barbara Police Department Officers Mike Little and Bruno Peterson responded to a call of a burglary investigation at a construction site at 316 W. Carrillo Street. Upon arrival they contacted the victim who is the owner of the house there.

https://local.nixle.com/alert/4976726...

Obviously part of his selfless plans in helping lower income folks with their housing needs.

Chester_Arthur_Burnett (anonymous profile)
March 22, 2013 at 2:10 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Dario Pini, like Jim Delmonte and others of this ilk, are symptoms of a much greater problem which SB continues to stubbornly refuse to admit exists. The cost of housing is absolutely ridiculously expensive, and the kind of money needed to afford that housing is available to relatively few people. SB wants service people, but doesn't want them LIVING there. Groups of low-income earners, working poor, seniors, students and the disabled cramming into substandard shelter is not new behavior; it's been going on for decades. I have traveled all over the world, and I have never seen such shelter insecurity in an allegedly civilized society anywhere as I've seen in this part of the country. So.Cal is ridiculous, SB is ridiculous. You get what you pay for.

Nature abhors a vacuum: Dario Pini, et al have rushed into that vacuum with their predatory behavior...this is simple science at work. An environment which isn't hospitable to someone like this will not find him doing business there. SB has done this to itself. The chickens have come home to roost, (and poop) brought in by the "I got mine, screw you" approach to things. Dario Pini isn't fouling a city where people can afford to live...why would he? Why would anyone pay thousands of dollars per month in rent for the rest of their life to squat in a roach-infested, filthy space when they could instead purchase a modest home of their own?

In other places, workers can afford to pay their rent, AND save a little for a home purchase...and eventually actually purchase that home. The So.Cal sense of entitlement, that "you're lucky we let you people live here, now shut up and hand over all your paycheck and be grateful you're allowed to live in Paradise" approach, has brought us right here: with vile parasites like Pini, Delmonte, et al taking advantage of the situation.

Ironically...it is their ruthless approach to business and the "screw you" philosophy which is so admired here...as long as it's coming from someone with power, influence, and an upper-echelon name. The rules don't apply to them; they only apply to the little people, to paraphrase the late, unlamented Leona Helmsley.

SB has to figure out which it wants: a healthy city populated by people of all socioeconomic strata, or the current rigid caste system perpetuated by stratospheric costs of shelter, and unequally applied rules. Want to get rid of Pini and his ilk? Simply remove his incentive. I'd be glad to buy his first tank of gas out of town!

Holly (anonymous profile)
March 22, 2013 at 4:15 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Pini is like a leopard. There is no way to change the spots. His latest theft is more proof of his criminality.

Herschel_Greenspan (anonymous profile)
March 22, 2013 at 4:53 p.m. (Suggest removal)

It's really creepy, it opens up so many questions as to whether tenants were ever burglarized?

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
March 22, 2013 at 4:55 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Well said, Holly.

realitycheck447 (anonymous profile)
March 22, 2013 at 9:31 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Holly def digs to the root of the problem.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
March 22, 2013 at 11:17 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Help me out here fellows, as it seems I'm missing the admired insight as provided by Holly.

What I see is a rant long on pitchfork waving, an occasional keen observation, but a little shy on proposals or direction.

1st paragraph: Santa Barbara is expensive. Check.
"SB wants service people, but doesn't want them LIVING there." What is the suggested fix for that?

2nd. paragraph: Scum like Pini can thrive here because it's a desirable place to live and Santa Barbara is somehow hospitable to... him? Apart from his apologists in the comments section here, isn't the city fining Pini, denying his project, and enforcing Pini's violations? Is this Holly's call for stiffer laws, tougher enforcement, and locking the bastard up longer?

3rd and 4th paragraphs just provide more of the second.

But the final 'graf is Holly's call to arms which is particularly bombastic with the False Dilemma of "a healthy city populated by people of all socioeconomic strata, or the current rigid caste system perpetuated by stratospheric costs of shelter, and unequally applied rules."

Ummm... I choose the good one.

So how do we do it, Holly?

"Simply remove his incentive." What can that mean? Ban him as a landlord? Or any other current and scofflaws? A fine idea, but a couple hundred years of property rights law and free enterprise decisions would bog down such a heavy governmental hand.

Perhaps you can expand your thesis and point out a bit clearer where we should be heading.

Chester_Arthur_Burnett (anonymous profile)
March 23, 2013 at 12:10 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Jeez Chester chillax.
Holly isn't the Slumburglar,
Pini is.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
March 23, 2013 at 12:19 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Who needs Netflix when I can tune in to the blogs? Great stuff.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
March 23, 2013 at 2:30 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Pini deserves all he is getting.
Holly could use an axe-wielding editor.

Draxor (anonymous profile)
March 23, 2013 at 7:25 p.m. (Suggest removal)

(Sung to the tune of the Lidseville hat band) "Have you heard the latest, Draxor is the greatest, Draxor says he's number one"

billclausen (anonymous profile)
March 23, 2013 at 9:35 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Lidsville?

billclausen (anonymous profile)
March 23, 2013 at 9:37 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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