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More Mesa’s Nine Lives

Mega-developer Khalid S. Al Shobily Plunks down $25 million.


YOUR INTENTIONS, SIR? The lovely expanse that is More Mesa has dodged more than its share of bulldozers over the years, but it now faces a new development threat, this one from far-off Saudi Arabia.

I wondered why Saudi mega-developer Khalid S. Al Shobily plunked down $25 million on the 265 acres last December when only 40 acres can legally be built on. Isn’t he busy enough with his $1.6 billion project on prime real estate back home?

And will More Mesa pencil out? A Santa Barbara developer I talked to thinks it could be feasible, even though Mr. Shobily is restricted to only 70 units.

Barney Brantingham

Why not? Big houses, huge backyard, a virtual ecological paradise on over 200 acres overlooking the sea. After I emailed Saudi Arabia seeking comment on the More Mesa deal, I heard from a Shobily associate there: “Although the development of the property is still under studying, I assure you that every party involved in this development process is taken under consideration.”

Could he fence off the rest of his 265 acres? The prior owner, Robert Earl Holding, who bought it from Columbia University in 1984, wanted to put up a six-foot fence with three rows of barbed wire, according to Valerie Olson, board president of the More Mesa Preservation Coalition. But he had to back down.

According to the Goleta Community Plan, when development begins, the owner would have to dedicate a minimum of 20 percent of the property, or about 53 acres, for public use, including bluff-top land and access from the road, she said.

Even if he builds on those 40 acres along the east side, next to Hope Ranch, it’s a vast reduction from two other major projects, which failed, one due to scandal and jail.

In 1965, oilman Sam Mosher, friend of News-Press publisher T.M. Storke, UC regent, and owner of the vast Dos Pueblos Ranch, proposed the 800-unit Buena Vida development, with a 20-acre golf course, tennis club, beach club, pools, and some residences built in just below the bluff, so as not to cut off views from above.

But even Mosher’s clout and bucks couldn’t make it happen. I recall covering County Planning Commission hearings on it, back at a time when the county was approving anything and everything in sight.

I wondered about those cliffside homes. Due to erosion, they’d probably have crumbled to the beach below by now.

After Mosher died in 1970, an Iranian developer named Said Halimi proposed the 750-unit Tyrolian Village. The $2.5 million deal was financed by Columbia University, for reasons lost to history. It had an 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, and pools galore.

Promoters lined up three votes on the fivemember Board of Supervisors, enough to okay the project. Tyrolian Village could very well be sprawled out there right now, but supporter Phil Regan, singer, Hollywood entertainer, and ex–New York cop, wanted a fourth vote. He offered newly elected supervisor Frank Frost a bribe.

Frost blew the whistle, Regan landed in prison, the project was voted down, and Columbia foreclosed, according to Olson. Regan was apparently acting on his own. Halimi was not involved in the bribe attempt.

A group of Sierra Clubbers then proposed public ownership of More Mesa, but that fell through. Columbia leased the land to developer Donald Simonsen in 1978 but he couldn’t make a go of it either, according to Olson.

This past year, a group that included local developer Jack Theimer proposed a plan preserving 85 percent of the land, but that came to naught.

The More Mesa Preservation Coalition had hoped somehow to buy the land, so the sale to Khalid S. Al Shobily last December came as “a very big surprise to everyone,” Olson told me.

Shobily was offering cash, “and there was no way we could have paid cash.” Besides, she said, Holding, developer of projects in Sun Valley and elsewhere, “was not comfortable with the idea of saving land just to be saving land,” and not building on it.

More Mesa has at least nine lives, but how many are left? “It’s a very beloved piece of land,” Olson said.

EMPTY MANSIONS: In September, journalist Bill Dedman will publish Empty Mansions, about the mysterious life of the late Huguette Clark.

MUSIC MAGIC: All of us at Hahn Hall Friday night got a surprise when the stage filled not with Camerata Pacifica’s top professionals but black-clad students from the Ramón C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts in L.A.Adrian Spence’s Camerata Pacifica has taken the L.A.-area public school’s string orchestra under its wing. The kids did a beautiful job with Vivaldi, with Spence on flute. Then Camerata regulars took over.

MAHLER’S SECOND: Kudos to the Santa Barbara Symphony, conductor Nir Kabaretti, the Choral Society, and the Quire of Voyces for last weekend’s stunning production of Gustav Mahler’s “Resurrection.”

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