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Friday, February 22 , 2019, 3:17 am | Fair 46º


Panelists Debate the Pros, Cons of Measure B

Two proponents and two opponents face off in a forum on Santa Barbara's building-height initiative

About 150 people turned out Wednesday night for a town-hall forum at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History to hear the pros and cons of Measure B, the city’s building height-limit initiative.

Four speakers — Sheila Lodge, Gil Barry, Joe Andrulaitis and Dave Davis — discussed their positions on November’s measure, which will ask voters to approve a 40-foot height limit on buildings in the downtown corridor.

Lodge, a former Santa Barbara mayor and current member of the city’s Planning Commission, was first up on Wednesday. She began by showing the audience a map of the El Pueblo Viejo District location, where the 40-foot limit would apply.

She also showed a picture of a mammoth 107-foot-high project that came before the City Council in the 1960s. The council approved the project, but residents vehemently opposed the decision and eventually passed an ordinance to limit building heights to 60 feet, which is the height limit today.

“It illustrates why this should be in the City Charter and not left up to the council,” said Lodge, also a member of Save El Pueblo Viejo, the group that spearheaded efforts to get Measure B on the ballot.

That project would sit where Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens is today, she said.

Lodge also showed images of some of the larger building projects that have made their way through the council, including a favorite target of the group, the Chapala One buildings that sit on the corner of Chapala and Gutierrez streets.

She also said that 11 percent of the city’s housing has a permanent affordable designation, possibly making it one of the highest in the state. Save El Pueblo Viejo argues that shorter buildings are more sustainable by design.

Sheila Lodge, a former Santa Barbara mayor and Measure B proponent, was the first to speak at Wednesday's forum and said building heights should be in the City Charter and not left up to the council.
Sheila Lodge, a former Santa Barbara mayor and Measure B proponent, was the first to speak at Wednesday’s forum and said building heights should be “in the City Charter and not left up to the council.” (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Barry, a local architect and real-estate broker, also spoke in support of the measure and said shorter building heights have preserved the character of the city. “A 60-foot height limit is not necessary,” he said. “Excessive growth is hardly environmentally sustainable.”

Davis, CEO of the Community Environmental Council, opposes Measure B. He said that building more efficient buildings with better land use would mean more compact, infill development that is “appropriate” in scale.

“For 50 years, we’ve built our cities on the basis of cheap fuel and cheap electricity,” he said, adding that building around the town’s core would prevent sprawl and result in a more environmental approach. “This measure moves in the opposite direction from what society needs to do.”

Davis acknowledged the large buildings from Lodge’s presentation and called them “mistakes,” but he said the city needs to move forward to avoid another oversized development.

“Ballot-box planning is not the way to bring community consensus,” he said. “This is a really bad precedent.”

Davis showed a video that’s been circulating on YouTube that outlines Santa Barbara buildings that are higher than 40 feet, including the Santa Barbara County Courthouse and the Granada Theater.

Andrulaitis, another local architect, also spoke out against the measure.

Dave Davis, CEO of the Community Environmental Council and an opponent of Measure B, said building around Santa Barbara's core would prevent sprawl and result in a more environmental approach.
Dave Davis, CEO of the Community Environmental Council and an opponent of Measure B, said building around Santa Barbara’s core would prevent sprawl and result in a more environmental approach. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Building fewer stories would raise the cost of individual units, he said, making affordable projects less economically feasible. He also took issue with Lodge’s statement that three stories could be more environmentally friendly than four.

“In what context would this ever ring true?” he asked, adding that using less land to house more people would always be more sustainable, showing a picture of a sprawling Los Angeles suburb as a visual.

After the presentations, audience members were allowed to ask questions of the panel.

One person expressed concern that if a 60-foot height limit stays in place, the possibility would exist of building more buildings like Chapala One, which was approved by the City Council. “It’s been my experience that architects and developers usually get what they want out of the planning process,” the man said, and the crowd broke out in applause.

Davis, the first to respond, said approving the measure would be backpedaling on a process that’s been 50 years and more in the making. “We’re saying forget your General Plan process, forget your zoning or your Architectural Review Board,” he said. “It is undermining the credibility of the government process.”

Barry disagreed. “If we keep 60-foot height limits, we are going to get, over the next 20 years, dozens and dozens of big, monster 60-foot buildings,” he said.

Much debate has centered on whether four stories can fit in a 40-foot building and still comply with the city’s building code.

Lodge said it can be done and would result in a more sustainable building to boot, but Andrulaitis said it’s not feasible to do four stories in 40 feet and have the units be marketable to the public.

Another question asked was why Measure B proponents were bypassing the planning process and environmental review, of which citizen initiatives are not subject.

“Simply, because we got Chapala One,” Lodge said flatly, garnering applause from the audience.

Davis disagreed, saying a lack of environmental review would not give voters a clear picture of the issue. “You’re not going to have all the information to make an informed decision,” he said.

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

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