After more than 100 General Plan update meetings, the Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday sent staff back to work up final documents for the environmental impact report, housing and land use elements.

Even now, consensus was hard to find on the dais, as debate continues over residential development densities, downtown parking and affordable housing.

No decisions are final, but there has been scattered support for the Planning Commission’s hybrid model, which is a patchwork of the various growth alternatives.

Specific densities — calculated in dwelling units per acre — are undecided, but council members supported pushing for smaller units and more rental housing. Luxury, bulky projects and “steroidal” studios, as Councilman Bendy White called them, have resulted in a shaky consensus of pushing future development toward workforce housing for more moderate incomes rather than large, expensive for-sale units.

Realistically, rental housing is the only affordable housing in town, Councilman Dale Francisco said. He and others said they doubted that affordable or inclusionary housing would be built in the downtown area where land is the most expensive. Already, more than half of the city’s residents are renters.

There were also concerns with parking space allotments for new residential developments and increased downtown parking congestion.

While there will be no changes to the low-density, single-family neighborhood areas of the city, the higher density parts of the city (especially the west downtown area) and rental areas are likely to be the focus of development.

The staff will return to the council with final documents in a matter of weeks, when the city’s elected officials will need to find five votes among them to adopt the updated general plan and begin the implementation process.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at

Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Managing Editor

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at