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Letter to the Editor: Plan Santa Barbara Getting Ahead of Itself

Downtown Organization committee believes city take a break with new programs and proposals.

The following comments reflect the opinion of the Downtown Organization’s Government Relations Committee (GRC) as they pertain to the proposals set forth in the most recent Draft Policy Options Report for Plan Santa Barbara. In addition, we are forwarding suggestions to our mayor and City Council members to be included in the “Scoping” process for the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR).

While the GRC recognizes that community plans must be updated periodically in order to comply with state law and that tremendous amounts of resources have already been
expended to develop this plan, we have grave concerns about the further expenditure of funds at this critical and highly unsure time in our local and national economy. Our city’s security, cleanliness and fiscal solvency must take priority over new programs and proposals. We request that you consider delaying the initiation of the DEIR process — and the corresponding expenditure of $1.2 million for a minimum of six to nine months in order to allow the economic horizon to clear so that we may more accurately evaluate our planning options. To that end, this committee stands ready to meet with the council to express our sense of priorities essential to promoting and enhancing the current economical and cultural vitality of the downtown corridor.

Economic sustainability, given the specter of limited, if not declining population growth in our community, is the keystone to the success of any future plan. The concept of restriction of traffic circulation and diminished customer and residential parking in favor of greater residential densities is of great concern to our established business and cultural community. Tremendous financial resources have been allocated in an effort to keep our community competitive with neighboring business and cultural districts in the last few decades, and that model involves the ability to conveniently and reasonably move individuals who elect personal modes of transportation. To wit: the downtown businesses in the parking zone of benefit will contribute $880,000 toward subsidizing the 75-minute “free” parking period during the fiscal year 2008-2009 via the “PBIA”.

The development of more Affordable/Workforce Housing and Enhanced Public Transit are essential to the draft plan. However, with the expiration of the RDA in 2015, the source of funding for low-cost housing subsides is neither forecast nor identified. Our current public transit system is ranked well above most communities of this size in both service and fare box recovery performance. The justification to further expand this system is unclear and the source of funding for expansion is not spelled out. Both the housing and transit elements will require perpetual subsidies. The further levying of taxes and fees would greatly imperil the economic recovery and sustainability of our city.

Environmental sustainability would be compromised by dramatically increasing the population densities in the downtown corridor. The size, bulk and scale of the residential units required by the plan would affect the aesthetic environment, as well as increase the “hardscape” nature of the downtown. The adequacy and treatment capacity of our current water resources is in question. The new buildings on Chapala Street, once applauded by former planners and City Councils as the wave of Santa Barbara’s future for commercial development and workforce housing, are now reviled as massive, imposing and not in keeping with the “human scale” of the community.

The GRC’s scoping suggestions would include, first and foremost, an accurate census of downtown employees. The lack of accurate data on this very basic statistic has led to numerous and costly policy blunders historically, and has rooted itself in what we feel are misconceptions in the current proposed plan. In addition, the location and feasibility of proposed “workforce housing” in terms of economics as well as current neighborhood desirability need to be identified. Lastly, we would request that the scoping be clearly identified and limited as much as possible to help contain costs and perhaps be re-bid through another RFP process.

Sustainability is more than a concept; it is an economic and environmental imperative in these times. Through this committee’s involvement with the planning process, we have
come to consensus about the ultimate goal of sustainability, but as citizens, business and cultural leaders, we have substantial reservations about the methods proposed to achieve these goals.

Randy Rowse, acting chairman
Representative of the Government Relations Committee
Santa Barbara Downtown Organization

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