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Transportation, Climate Change at Core of City’s General Plan Updates

Santa Barbara council hears an overview of the environmental documents, with members differing on how much policy change is needed

While the big decisions about Santa Barbara’s future are months away, the City Council is giving direction to staff as to how much growth should be considered and what measures should be used to lessen the impacts.

On Tuesday morning, city attorney Stephen Wiley and project planner Barbara Shelton presented an overview of the General Plan update’s environmental documents, focusing on Plan Santa Barbara’s impacts to the community.

Of all the effects, only two were considered significant even with mitigation measures: transportation, in the form of peak-hour traffic congestion at major intersections, and climate change, in the form of increased greenhouse gas generation.

Staff said the output for Santa Barbara is 1.3 million tons per year in greenhouse gases, and expected an increase with the proposed General Plan update.

Transportation mitigation measures, including cutting down on causing more congestion in intersections and freeway interchanges, were further discussed at an afternoon meeting.

Members of the City Council, who will make the final policy decisions and vote to adopt a General Plan update, had differing opinions on how much change the city’s policies need. As the discussion turns to growth models, they’ll need to find consensus.

Wiley said that if the project is approved, decision makers must make findings that the benefits override significant effects.

“You do not blow the procedural requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act,” he said, referring to the necessary environmental impact report.

Overall, the city Planning Commission preferred a hybrid growth model over the project’s four alternatives: no growth (keep existing policies), Plan Santa Barbara, lower growth and the additional housing model.

Residential development for the three models would be 2,795 units for no project or Plan Santa Barbara, 2,000 units for the lower growth model, and 4,360 for additional housing.

Commercial, institutional and industrial development is greatest for the no-project alternative, at about 2.29 million square feet, and a suggested 2 million and 1 million square feet for the Plan SB project and other two alternatives, respectively.

Overall, the status quo has the greatest environmental impacts, and the lower growth alternative has the least amount of impacts, according to Shelton.

The council questioned staff about recommendations and suggestions included in the EIR, saying that some were written with unclear language and sounded more like mandates than brainstorming.

Many of the included recommendations are based on upcoming or existing state legislation, such as an item on banning disposable grocery bags, while others come from staff experience.

The acceptable exterior noise level has been proposed to increase from 60 to 65 decibels, which some council members questioned. While most development in noisier areas — such as near the freeway — protect outside areas such as patios from noise, some do not, and Shelton said residents are living with 65 decibel-noise already.

“We understand (it) not to be intolerable,” she said.

The issue of water supply was brought up by most public speakers at the meeting, and Councilman Bendy White said he was disappointed that the topic hadn’t received its own hearing.

“I’m happy that we have a water community that is feisty and is knowledgeable,” he said. “There’s an active, edgy engagement with staff, and I’m glad for it.”

Members of the public questioned the document’s baseline data, and Shelton said the EIR was merely the first step to a more detailed, long-term water supply plan.

Principal planner John Ledbetter presented an adaptive management program, which would consist of methods to monitor the adopted policies and implementations to see if any changes needed to be made along the way.

Next week’s discussions will center on growth and density models for both residential and commercial development. Meetings will be at 6 p.m. July 27 and 9 a.m. July 29 in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 735 Anacapa St. in Santa Barbara.

Connie Hannah, who spoke for the League of Women Voters, said those policy decisions should be made first, as they underline many other policies.

“I’m afraid anything built downtown will be too expensive for city workers,” she said.

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

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