With Election Day rolling closer, more shots were fired Tuesday in the debate over Measure B, Santa Barbara’s building-heights initiative.

The reconstruction of buildings affected by disaster has been a core issue in the height-limit debate, and it was addressed at a news conference Tuesday by Yes on B.

Proponents of Measure B spoke of the concerns, saying the real problem rests with the city’s ordinance on reconstructing nonconforming structures.

Currently, nonresidential, nonconforming structures can be rebuilt or repaired only if less than 75 percent of the structure’s market value is destroyed. If disaster destroys more than 75 percent, “no repairs or construction shall be made unless every portion of such building is made to conform to all the regulations for new buildings in the zone in which it is located.”

Disasters are defined as “fire, flood, wind, earthquake, other calamity or act of God or the public enemy.”

Councilman Dale Francisco called Measure B opponents’ advertisements and discussion of the reconstruction issue a “back door” and “sneaky” attempt to stop the initiative.

Many of the buildings people are concerned with, including Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital and the Arlington Theatre, are more than 60 feet tall so would already face challenges to rebuilding should they be destroyed, he said.

“The scare tactic the No on B crowd is using is an ordinance that’s existed for years,” Francisco said.

Francisco said he and Mayor Marty Blum, both strong proponents of Measure B, would take the reconstruction ordinance back to the City Council.

It takes two members to request that an item be added to the agenda, and they would work on amending the ordinance to allow a rebuild in the event of destruction for historic or vital buildings for the community, he said.

While Measure B would change the City Charter, which can only be amended by citizen vote, ordinances can be reworked by the city government.

Council candidates Dianne Channing and Michael Self also were in attendance Tuesday and stressed their support for Measure B.

Self characterized the Chapala One buildings and following controversy as “chaos” and said the initiative was necessary because planners “didn’t follow the script.”

“There are only two weeks left until the election, we want the correct information out there,” said Bill Mahan, chairman of Save El Pueblo Viejo.

“We’re thankful the No on B people brought the problem to our attention,” Francisco said.

Members of the No on B side didn’t attend the news conference, but said it admitted concerns they’ve had all along.

“It acknowledges that Measure B was written with problems,” said Dave Davis, the Community Environmental Council’s executive director and former community development director for the city.

It would take four to six months for a revised ordinance to take effect, between the Planning Commission, Ordinance Committee and City Council, Davis said. Zoning ordinances need a super majority vote — five out of seven members — to pass.

“We don’t even know who will be on that council as of now,” he said.

Davis and Brian Robinson, a local architect, expressed disappointment that the issue of exemptions for reconstruction wasn’t included in the initiative. 

The two sides of the debate met in March and April when signatures were gathered to try to create a new ordinance, which ultimately failed.

“If they drafted a better initiative, we wouldn’t have this problem,” Robinson said.

If Measure B passes, nonconforming structures will include buildings that are taller than the shorter limits of 40 or 45 feet, depending on the zoning area in question. 

Residences that are destroyed by disasters could be rebuilt exactly as they were, regardless of current zoning ordinances. If the design is altered, the building must conform to new ordinances, Francisco said.

The reconstruction of damaged nonconforming structures ordinance is located on Page 960 of the Municipal Code.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at gmagnoli@noozhawk.com.

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Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Managing Editor

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at gmagnoli@noozhawk.com.