Newsmakers with JR
Developer Ed St. George Aims Fire at SB's City Administrator: '"More Than Ever We Need a Visionary"
The website for the company owned and operated by Santa Barbara developer Ed St. George describes his firm this way:
"St. George and Associates is a multi-faceted property management, development, and construction-company focused on single-family and multi-family residential, hotels, student housing, and commercial projects in Santa Barbara County, CA."
When that branding designation was read to him, however, St. George expressed surprise and laughed out loud.
"That must have been somebody from my staff put that together," he said in a Newsmakers interview. "I couldn't spell half those words."
St. George's comment reflects the plain-spoken, blue-collar street guy persona that remained constant through his decades-long evolution, from working stiff carpenter on small remodel crews to his current stature as one of Santa Barbara's most influential developers, commercial property owners and builders.
His battles with City Hall, from the Beach City project on the Mesa to a hotly-disputed plan for a hotel on Montecito Street, routinely make headlines, while his ownership of 100 pieces of real estate in SB (not to mention hundreds of units in I.V.) and his stubborn determination to go over -- or sometimes through -- every bureaucratic obstacle in a city that specializes in creating them, makes him a powerful voice calling for change on behalf of the broader business community.
"The goal posts constantly change with the city," he told us. "It's gone from bad to worse. but it's been bad for the past 15 years, it really has. Now it's gotten to the point where it's just become ridiculous."
St. George makes no secret about his belief that Santa Barbara's business climate will never change unless longtime City Administrator Paul Casey is replaced by someone who is a "true visionary."
Before the coronavirus, he was backing a petition campaign in an effort to put the question of Casey's continued employment on the ballot, a bid he vows to continue once the near-total shutdown of commercial activity because of the public health emergency begins to lift. In the meantime, he told Newsmakers, he is actively trying to persuade members of the City Council, who have hiring and firing power over the position, to see things his way.
"This is an administration problem, this starts all the way at the top and it goes all the way down the ladder," St. George said. "When I started trying to focus in - 'what's the real problem here' -- all roads lead to Paul."
In our 30-minute interview, St. George talked about some of the new economic directions in which he thinks Santa Barbara should move, particularly by melding the resources and clout of UCSB, SBCC, Westmont and other local colleges with aggressive pursuit of the tech industry, coupled with a more imaginative effort to attract tourists.
"We could be the Cambridge (England) of the United States...We have such a plethora of intelligence in our community and that just goes hand and hand with R&D and tech and one of the things I don’t understand is why we’re not pushing to be Santa Barbara the coastal tech area.
"These tech companies come to Santa Barbara – nobody comes to Santa Barbara thinking, 'oh I'm gonna open my tech company down in Carpinteria or open my tech company in Goleta.' Nobody heard of those places – everybody’s heard of Santa Barbara. But they either end up in Carp or they end up in Goleta because Santa Barbara is not friendly to them. I mean we do nothing to invite them here, to make their lives easier or, for that matter, to make it even halfway comfortable."
"Who's gonna come to Santa Barbara with their family for a week? There’s nothing to do, there’s really nothing to do...You can ride the little bikes along the beachfront but other than that …"
"There’s a lot of issues – getting permits, that’s difficult. Frankly Paul Casey has made me a very, very wealthy man by making it so difficult. I have the staying power to hang on to these projects, I can buy projects that most people can't buy because I understand the ins and outs."
"I feel bad for some of these people – you know, their dream, they go in and buy a fixer-upper, they’re going to make it just right for them. They go to do their dream house, they save, they get it, they go to do their dream and by the end of their dream, it's become the biggest nightmare of their lives. It shouldn’t be that way."
Watch our entire interview with Ed St. George by clicking below. The podcast version is here.
Image: Ed St. George stands before one of his properties on the Eastside (SB Independent).