Monday, April 20, 2009

On Earth Day, Armstrong Avoids Some Inconvenient Truths

On the day that Santa Barbara celebrated Earth Day, the News-Press' Travis Armstrong was busy doing some recycling.

Armstrong, used his Sunday op-ed page column, which was ostensibly devoted to the environmental celebration, to talk yet again about "Helene-gate." "Helene-gate" is Armstrong's assertion that city council member and mayoral candidate Helene Schneider once failed to disclose that she had applied for a permit to enlarge her home.

A search for the phrase "Helene-gate" on the website reveals that Sunday's column was the ninth time he has written about this non-incident since he first invoked the term on October 30, 2007.

Never mind that in the year-and-a-half since then, this "story" has failed to go anywhere.

And never mind that there's a simple explanation as to why only her husband's name and not Schneider's appeared on the permit application.

By the way, Schneider has since told me that she and her husband eventually abandoned their plans to remodel their lower Westside home, so the addition was never built.

On Sunday, Armstrong used Helene-gate as an example of the reluctance of city officials to investigate questionable situations.

Which raises the question, if the News-Press thinks there's a story there, why don't they assign one of their reporters to "investigate" it?

Then again, an investigation might reveal that there is nothing more to this than what has already been reported elsewhere, in which case, Armstrong will have to find something else to write about when Earth Day rolls around again next year.

The Helene-gate mention wasn't the only instance of Armstrong's selective use of facts on Earth Day.

Armstrong also used Sunday's column to mention a court ruling that came late last week in which Superior Court Judge Tom Anderle awarded the Citizen's Planning Association their attorney's fees for their successful attack on the City's environmental analysis of the proposed Veronica Meadows housing project. Armstrong wrote: "A judge last week in a tentative ruling ordered the city to pay more than $175,000 in legal fees to the winners of one of those lawsuits."

But that's not quite the whole story. As reported by the Independent's Nick Welsh in his article about the ruling, the original project approval required Veronica Meadows developer Mark Lee to agree to indemnify the city from any attorney's fees award.

So the amount owed CPA's lawyers will be paid by Lee and not from City coffers as Armstrong would have us believe.

I can only assume that Armstrong dispensed with the explanation of who is ultimately responsible for the bill so as not to detract from the outrage he was hoping to engender in the reader.

Armstrong is seldom one to let the true facts get in the way of his opinion.
© 2009 by Craig Smith and