The recent spectacle at the City of Santa Barbara’s Architectural Board of Review would have been amusing if not for the incredible impotence shown by the mayor and the progressive majority of the City Council.
Exposed by this episode are really three scandals.
First, at the ABR we have a panel of unelected volunteers, serving at the City Council’s pleasure, who decided that their personal political beliefs have something to do with architectural and landscape design. Rather than do their job they decided to impose an ideological litmus test to the merits of a proposed project.
The chosen method of expressing their disapproval of the applicant’s personal beliefs says a lot about them. Instead of voting to deny the applicant’s permit, they courageously abstained. Profiles in Courage, indeed. Those members who were absent or feign ignorance of the political context were complicit in the action by not immediately condemning it. The videos shown of the ABR meeting suggest obvious collusion among all abstaining members.
Are those who abstained for personal political reasons capable of understanding that they themselves were committing bias and bigotry in abusing their power? Do they think the public can take seriously any of their professional design expertise again?
The mayor and the other progressives on the council think that more “training” and better “guidance” for volunteer board members will suffice — as if there has been a training devised to instill common sense.
The City Council’s refusal to remove or punish any of the abstainers shows an appalling lack of leadership. If the mayor and council are unable to exert some control over their own subordinates and the city’s bureaucracy they are useless. They have sent a signal to city staff and board members that they are welcome to discriminate against individuals and businesses on the basis of their personal political and social beliefs.
Future transactions with city government may be based, not on clearly defined rules, but on politics. It is a question of trust and good governance. The majority of the council has sent a message to Santa Barbara that, to do business here, you must pay homage to the gods of political correctness.
The council meeting last week highlighted another scandal. The Chick-fil-A permit approval timeline presented by Councilman Dale Francisco showed that it has taken the city’s various regulatory agencies more than a year since application without final approval or a permit issued.
One year to gain approval to turn a former fast-food restaurant into a new fast-food restaurant? Something is seriously wrong with the city’s regulatory apparatus.
Anyone who has dealt with this process can testify to its onerous nature. Board and staff members are frequently imperious and unconcerned with the financial implications of their decisions. Applicants tread carefully in fear of more delays or requirements.
Residents and businesses have to navigate through the city’s many regulatory hurdles, pay thousands of dollars in excessive fees, fines and time lost waiting for approvals or revisions. Why would anyone want to open a business in Santa Barbara? Who could afford to?
We have a City Council unwilling to lead a bureaucracy run amok. We have residents waiting months and paying thousands of dollars for permission to remodel their houses. We have companies retaining expensive legal representation to guide them through the complex development process. It is a complete misallocation of time and money.
And now we are to have our personal beliefs examined to get a landscaping permit?
The third, and possibly more serious, scandal is the blatant disregard for the constitutional and civil rights of the applicant. The effective intent of the ABR abstentions was to stop the permit process. By its inaction, the City Council voted to support the city’s violation of the applicant’s due process rights under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
The majority of our elected representatives showed absolutely no concern for those rights. The City Attorney sat quietly as they did so, apparently oblivious. In fact, the council seemed far more concerned with the rights and feelings of the abstaining ABR members.
We must ask ourselves if we want to continue to elect and employ politicians and officials who are unwilling to uphold the laws of this country and recognize the constitutional rights of its citizens.
This is what “liberal fascism” looks like. Do you have thoughts that are not what Orwell termed “goodthink”? If so, you may soon be visited by the thought police and given a chance to correct your thinking. In the meantime, be prepared to wait for months to find out whether you may plant yellow or red kangaroo paws in your garden. Welcome to 1984.
— Kevin Boss is a Santa Barbara business owner.