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Local News

City Council Gives Chapala Project Preliminary Approval — Again

Council also OKs expanding rental assistance program for the homeless

After the city of Santa Barbara Planning Commission gave preliminary approval in 2006 of a proposed three-story, mixed-use condo project on Lower Chapala Street, and the City Council overturned a denial by the Historic Landmarks Commission in 2008, the commission denied the project again in April after the approval expired.

The City Council revisited the issue again Tuesday, and architect Detty Peikert and attorney Steve Amerikaner argued that the initial approval should still be considered valid since they cooperated with various review boards.

The 517 Chapala St. location is currently a used car lot but is adjacent to the Brinkerhoff Landmark District, which brought about the bulk of the opposition. While supporters of the project argued for consistency, neighborhood residents said extending the approval would be unfair.

Developers get 30 minutes to present during an appeal hearing but citizens get only two minutes, one resident said.

In a 4-2 vote to give the project preliminary approval — again — and allow it to move forward, Councilman Dale Francisco and Councilwoman Michael Self argued that preliminary approvals expire for a reason, and the five-year gap has changed the community’s opinion.

Large Chapala-area projects have incited debates over building sizes, culminating in a failed ballot measure in November. Francisco and Self were both supporters of Measure B, which would have limited building heights to 40 feet in certain city areas.

“You’re living in a different environment now,” Francisco told Peikert.

Rental Assistance Program for Homeless

The council also approved expanding the rental assistance program for homeless people, which provides temporary rental subsidies until permanent housing can be arranged. The existing program receives about $800,000 a year from federal funds and an additional $200,000 grant to the city Housing Authority would cover two more years of operation.

As part of the county’s 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness, the programs provide social services and rental negotiations for low-income households. Low income includes incomes of no more than 50 percent of the area’s median income, which is $25,900 in 2010.

Labor Concessions

Council members also passed labor concession agreements negotiated by city staff, though the 4-3 vote brought up many concerns.

The one-time concessions won’t do much to help the city’s systematic issues, Francisco said. The cost savings come mostly from furloughs and suspending vacation cash-outs, and the idea of unpaid furloughs — less time worked for less money — is “the kind of labor agreement that has gotten the entire state — not just the city — into the financial state it’s in,” he said.

Councilman Bendy White said he worried about using furloughs as such a strong negotiating tool, but said he saw the city’s efforts toward a more efficient, smaller organization.

The concessions that have already been negotiated include the general SEIU unit, the city’s largest union.

Next week, the council will vote on the medical marijuana storefront collective ordinance and consider putting the option of a ban on the ballot for November.

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

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