Measure B opponents showed up in force Tuesday to form a united front against the Santa Barbara height-limit initiative on the Nov. 3 ballot.
In a news conference outside City Hall, residents and representatives of various organizations expressed concerns about “ballot-box planning” and the impacts of the initiative if it is approved.
Thirty-five percent of Santa Barbara’s most treasured buildings are taller than 40 feet, according to SB4All co-chairwoman and affordable housing advocate Mickey Flacks. “This is not a town of two-story, flat-roofed buildings,” she said.
Many architectural icons are nonconforming, and future ones wouldn’t be built if the initiative passes, architect Joe Andrulaitis said.
Architect Detty Peikert of Peikert Group Architects created a video in which well-known downtown buildings have lines drawn across them at 40-foot heights. Among many theaters, hotels, churches, government buildings and more, some of the tallest include the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, Arlington Theatre and Trinity Episcopal Church.
The petition to put Measure B on the ballot was signed by 11,581 registered voters. The group Save El Pueblo Viejo states on its Web site that lower building heights are needed to “protect public views and the small-scale atmosphere of the city.” It also says the current limit of 60 feet makes it harder to develop lower buildings and affordable housing because of increased land values.
Peikert said the proposed lower limit on building heights would prove challenging for architects. He said it’s possible to get three stories out of a 40-foot limit, but it’s tough. Most likely there would be more flat-roofed buildings so more could fit in the building envelope.
It also could be more difficult for affordable housing and mixed-use projects, said Peikert, who designed the Casas las Granadas affordable-housing project, 21 E. Anapamu St.
Concerns over the initiative’s effects include the local economy, environment and social equity.
“It’s a measure that advocates sprawl,” Peikert said.
Dave Davis, executive director of the Community Environmental Council, said the initiative “will increase our city’s carbon footprint.”
Reducing density in the downtown core would put more pressure on Gaviota and less dense neighborhoods, CEC vice president Kim Kimbell said.
“It would limit opportunity to house local workers downtown near their jobs,” Davis said.
Hundreds of millions of dollars would be lost in property values between immediate effects and potential losses, said Michael Holliday, an architect and Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce member. “It’s flawed and untimely,” he said.
The No on B coalition says “ballot-box planning” isn’t the way to go with an initiative like this. Rather, planning decisions should go through Plan Santa Barbara and have a less simplistic definition, speakers said Tuesday.
Other design considerations such as setbacks, unit size and affordability should be considered, City Councilman Das Williams said. “Good public policy is not determined by one side — it’s better to have both working together,” he said.
Efforts at getting the word out for the fall election will include workshops, phone banks and a debate.
Representatives on both sides of the height initiative will participate in a forum Sept. 9 at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.
Workshops will target low-income families, who tend to have lower voter turnout, Pueblo executive director Belen Seara said. “Low-income voters tend not to vote in these elections,” Seara said.
Other organizations that support No on B include the American Institute of Architects’ Santa Barbara Chapter, the American Planning Association’s Central Coast Section, the Coalition for Sustainable Transportation, the Coastal Housing Coalition, the Democratic Party of Santa Barbara County Central Committee, the Homebuilders Association of the Central Coast, the Santa Barbara Association of Realtors and Santa Barbara Community Action Network.
The mail-only election begins Oct. 5 and ends Nov. 3. Ballots can be dropped off at various locations around Santa Barbara on Election Day or mailed in any time before the deadline.