Sunday, July 15 , 2018, 3:12 pm | Fair 75º


Local News

Building Height Citizens Initiative All Alone on Ballot

The Santa Barbara City Council won't add a competing measure to the November mix

As a result of the Santa Barbara City Council’s divided 4-3 vote Tuesday, proponents of a citizen’s initiative to limit building heights will see their issue on the November ballot — without a competing measure from the city running alongside.

For months, the city has been mulling over how it should respond to the group, Save El Pueblo Viejo, which gathered approximately 11,000 signatures of voters who favor capping building heights at 40 feet in the downtown corridor and 45 feet elsewhere. Meanwhile, the city wants to preserve flexibility, which would allow certain projects like rental developments, those deemed as having community priority status, and affordable housing to qualify for a 60-foot height limit, which is currently in place.

The issue has been a contentious one, and resulted in a marathon public comment period at Tuesday’s meeting, where the council heard from 35 speakers on both sides. Dave Davis, executive director of the Community Environmental Council, said he was speaking in favor of a city charter amendment for the ballot and on behalf of his board members — who had voted unanimously, with one abstention. Davis said the citizen’s initiative would freeze the community so it could not respond to needs of the 21st century.

“This community will need a maximum amount of flexibility to deal with its future,” said Davis, who called the Save El Pueblo initiative “backward looking, inflexible, very short-sighted to today” and “emotionally manipulative and intellectually deceptive.”

Steve Yates said Santa Barbara had bigger issues at hand than building heights.

“We’re measuring the wrong things,” he said, citing homeless deaths, violence near schools and businesses closing on State Street. Yates encouraged the council to put a city initiative on the ballot, because “it provides you the opportunity to exercise your discretion in the coming months and years.”

Save El Pueblo Viejo supporters spoke before the council, donning matching day-glo T-shirts with “Save EPV” emblazoned on them.

“The architects, however well spoken, ask you to do their bidding,” said Michael Self, a vocal advocate of the citizen’s initiative. “They had every opportunity to spend their own money, to write their own initiative, to gather their own signatures.”

She said architects and developers were using the council and taxpayer dollars to express their will. By putting a competing measure on the ballot, “you would be muddying the waters,” she said, adding that voters already had a choice: to vote yes or no on the initiative.

Resident Richard St. Clair said he had moved to Santa Barbara six years ago from Santa Monica, where he said building densities and heights had changed the whole quality of life.

“I would hate to see the legacy of this council be where they allow this growth to go on,” he said, expressing support for Save El Pueblo Viejo. “This is why you have this grassroots movement right now.”

Opinions expressed at the council dais were just as divided, with four voting to reject the city’s amendment. While Councilmen Roger Horton, Grant House and Das Williams all supported adding a city measure, Mayor Marty Blum and Councilwomen Iya Falcone and Helene Schneider said they wanted to see the SEPV measure go forward alone.

Councilman Dale Francisco said he felt a city charter amendment might not be clear to voters.

“I think there will be a lot of people confused by that, and that’s not an insult to their intelligence,” he said, but rather a complex issue borne out of a rush to get a competing issue on the ballot.

House said he felt the conversation belongs with Plan Santa Barbara, the city’s general plan, which was being updated when the citizen’s initiative was brought forward.

“I believe that the voters do deserve a choice,” House said, adding that the alternative was “truly a compromise.”

The last to speak on the issue before voting, Blum expressed support for lower building heights, and said that the burden of proof would be on the citizen’s initiative in November.

“It’s up to the people who wrote this, who drafted this 40-foot limit in the El Pueblo Viejo to make their case,” she said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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