The owners of High Sierra Grill — the now-closed restaurant that operated next to Santa Barbara Municipal Airport — have filed a claim for damages against the city of Santa Barbara.
The restaurant’s owners and manager are alleging that the city “constituted numerous contractual breaches resulting in substantial financial losses,” according to a statement.
High Sierra operated in the city-owned building with rent relief from the city from May 2018 until the end of May 2019. After the rent relief ended, High Sierra ceased to break even and began to operate at a loss. Manuel Perales and Mario Medina, owners of High Sierra, assigned the remainder of its 10-year lease to restaurant manager Warren Butler, who had a plan to open up an airport-themed restaurant called Flightline.
The city, however, was hesitant to approve the lease assignment. The concern stemmed mainly from who was backing Flightline: aviation company ACI Jet.
Airport Business Development Manager Deanna Zachrisson told the News-Press in August, “Our concern was that their (ACI Jet’s) interest in this restaurant is that the property is a part of the redevelopment project.”
The airport, including the northeast portion where High Sierra operated, is undergoing a redevelopment project. According to Ms. Zachrisson, the aviation companies operating at the airport will have to submit new offers in a competitive process by mid-2021 to continue working at the redeveloped airport.
The claimants, however, allege that the city is not cooperating because of alternative plans.
“It could only repurpose the property if High Sierra Grill shut its doors,” said A. Barry Cappello — who represents High Sierra and Flightline — in a statement. “(Warren Butler) went out of his way to comply with everything the City asked of him. When he met all its demands, the City manufactured false pretexts to deny the assignment. The High Sierra Grill owners lost thousands of dollars waiting for the City to approve the assignment to Butler.”
Mr. Cappello says in the statement that the city is liable for several million dollars in damages to both parties.
Ms. Zachrisson, however, told the News-Press that the land on which the restaurant sits was “not a part of the development area for the new fixed-based operator. … At this point, we just are hoping to get the restaurant back so we can lease it out. …They still maintain possession of the restaurant. …They haven’t paid rent since July.”
Assistant City Attorney Tava Ostrenger said the city has 60 days to address the claim.
“We disagree with many of the claims,” Ms. Ostrenger said.
The claim is necessary before a lawsuit can be filed, If the city chooses to deny the claims, the claimants can sue the city.