Tuesday, January 16 , 2018, 10:14 am | Fair 60º


Proponents Tout the Benefits of Building-Height Initiative

Panelists at a meeting hosted by the League of Women Voters discuss Santa Barbara's history of efforts similar to Measure B

All it takes is one.

At a pro-Measure B meeting Wednesday hosted by the League of Women Voters of Santa Barbara, it became more apparent that citizen ballot initiatives to lower building-height limits often have been reactions to buildings residents don’t like.

In the 1920s, it was The Granada. In the 1960s, it was the nine-story condominium complexes proposed for the area that is now Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens. Now, it’s the Chapala One complex.

Historian Mary Louise Days and three other panelists spoke before an audience of about 60 people about Santa Barbara’s planning history and why the League of Women Voters supports the new height-limit initiative. Members of the organization also have gathered signatures and funds for the measure.

“The issue of land use is always on our minds,” said Linda Phillips, president of the local League of Women Voters. The league is 70 years old and has contributed to the City Charter and General Plan over the years.

Days gave a brief history Wednesday of Santa Barbara’s building-height ordinances. Tall buildings in the downtown area, such as The Granada, and heavy development after the 1925 earthquake contributed to more stringent limitations, she said.

Plans for nine-story condominium buildings initially were rejected by the city but then allowed by the City Council. They were rejected by a judge in the 1960s after citizens sued the city for acting against its ordinance, she said.

Now, Chapala One and other structures have prompted some residents to create another height-limit ballot initiative.

The current ordinance, which assigns height limits by zone, has been routinely amended since its inception but keeps a 60-foot maximum height for any zone. Variances have been granted, however, which often lead to controversy.

Former Mayor Sheila Lodge, current Mayor Marty Blum and architect Gil Barry also spoke Wednesday on behalf of Measure B.

They addressed the concerns of opponents, but argued that a 40- or 45-foot height limit would not negatively affect affordable housing, the environment or sprawl.

The initiative would lower the height limit to 40 feet in El Pueblo Viejo, which is the main downtown area, and 45 feet in commercial and industrial zones where the limit now is 60 feet.

“We want to plan in a very good way — in a careful way,” Blum said. She compared being on a design review board to being the parent of a child asking for a cookie. The child asks and asks, getting no as an answer. Then, if a yes is given, asks for more.

The Planning Division manages building permits, and the city may allow variances to the ordinance. For example, Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital is specially zoned and is about 80 feet high in some areas.

Blum said having shorter, smaller buildings would decrease the number of luxury apartments and condominiums being built. With the current economy, the market for such homes has declined substantially. “Now is the time, with the economy the way it is, to do good planning,” she said.

Barry and Lodge said smaller buildings are more environmentally responsible and sustainable and would contribute to a smaller carbon footprint.

Barry also said that opponents want to “supersize our city,” including doubling the population.

The issue of increased population density and affordable housing was briefly discussed. The census population is much lower than the daytime population because of commuters.

“It’s easily understandable why people who work downtown want to live outside of the South Coast,” Lodge said. There are single-family homes priced at $250,000 in Lompoc and Ventura, she said. There are condominiums and luxury apartments that go for much more in the city of Santa Barbara.

Affordable housing is a goal for people on both sides of the debate, and the economy has made it more imperative, they say.

Barry said the city needs to think about the long term and what kind of community Santa Barbara will be in 20 years, or even 200 years.

“Those who are against (Measure B) are against the path the city’s been on for the last 100 years,” Barry said.

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

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