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Architect Loses Legal Challenge to Measure B Ballot Language

A judge upholds use of the term 'high rise' in election materials for the height-limits initiative

Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Thomas Anderle on Tuesday denied architect Brian Hofer’s petition to remove the term “high rise” from ballot language for Measure B, Santa Barbara’s height-limits initiative.

Hofer’s lawyer, Jonathan Miller, asked the judge to reconsider, saying the use of “high rise” — which proponents of Measure B used four times in their “Argument in Favor of Measure B” for November’s voter registration guide — is “misleading, it is false, it is verifiably untrue.”

Hofer filed a petition for a writ of mandate, claiming that in the California Building Code, a high rise is defined at 75 feet or higher — therefore, technically, high rises have been illegal to build in Santa Barbara since 1972, when voters amended the City Charter to lower building-height limits to 60 feet.

Proponents of Measure B argued that voters would refer to the common definition of high rise instead of the technical definition. The dictionary definition differs slightly from source to source, but generally is considered a multistory building with the use of elevators.

Proponents also argued that changing the language would interfere with the printing schedule of voter materials, scheduled for Friday. Their motion to quash the petition was denied.

In his tentative ruling that was upheld Tuesday, Anderle wrote that the issue of being misleading was based on one question: “Is the term ‘high rise’ to be construed for ballot argument purposes in light of its common meaning or in light of the meaning ascribed to it in the California Building Code?”

It’s not usually architects or lawyers who make laws regarding building restrictions, and since legislators don’t always have prior technical knowledge of the issues, common terms are often used, Anderle wrote. “For good or ill, the debate in the formation of laws necessarily forces common usage terms,” he said in his ruling.

Anderle also decided that Hofer didn’t provide convincing proof that a Sept. 1 writ wouldn’t interfere with the scheduled printing of election materials.

“I disagree with his ruling, but it’s one judge’s opinion,” Hofer said afterward. He was visibly disappointed, but he said it’s “doubtful” that he’ll continue his fight.

“This was his last chance,” said Miller, his attorney. With the issue going to print on Friday, there’s no time to petition changing the language again.

“I hope people will look at (the initiative) with enhanced scrutiny,” Hofer said.

Proponents of Measure B, including members of Save El Pueblo Viejo, said Tuesday that they were pleased with the ruling and plan to continue to carry out their campaign full throttle.

They believe that the term high rise is appropriate, and City Council candidate David Pritchett said the use of persuasion or rhetoric is perfectly acceptable in ballot arguments.

“I’m pleased with the decision, because a ballot argument needs wide latitude to argue,” he said.

Sheila Lodge, a former Santa Barbara mayor, said the definition of a high rise is relative.

“It doesn’t take much to feel like a high rise here,” she said. “It’s unique — if you take away the unique qualities, you harm the environment and the economy.”

Some developers want to “smother Santa Barbara with large buildings” and multimillion-dollar condominiums, said Bill Mahan, among those listed in Hofer’s lawsuit.

The No on B campaign, which launched its campaign Aug. 18, has argued that lowering building heights would increase sprawl and decrease the opportunities for affordable housing, as a limit of 40 feet could make the difference between a three- or four-story building.

Despite the huge demand to live in the area, growth is slow, Measure B supporter Gil Barry said. “No matter what we do in downtown Santa Barbara, it won’t change demand in (the rest of the county). We have no control over development in the rest of the country.”

Representatives on both sides of the issue will participate in a debate at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History on Sept. 9.

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

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