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Consensus Elusive on Updates to Santa Barbara’s General Plan

Housing density, spurring varying community opinions, remains the biggest sticking point

After an hours-long discussion that has become characteristic of any General Plan update meeting, the Santa Barbara City Council decided Tuesday to push the matter to next week.

The elusive finish line is mostly related to housing density, or units per acre, which is the crux of disagreement in making goals for 2030. The seven-member council’s difficulty at finding consensus is representative of the varying community opinions, and a lot of specific decisions have to be made.

A subcommittee made up of Councilmen Dale Francisco, Frank Hotchkiss and Das Williams met to nail down some consensus in the past few weeks and will meet again Friday to — hopefully — make final recommendations that enough votes can get behind to adopt the plan.

“We have to be really careful not to nitpick this to death,” said Councilman Grant House, who perceives broad support for the current version.

If the council can find consensus on a general direction, he said, details can be worked on during the implementation phase.

On Monday, a community coalition sent recommendations to city staff, who have been redrawing and rewriting portions of the land use and housing elements as opinions change.

Affordable housing is a priority for the group, which encouraged rental housing in the medium-high density areas in the downtown core and suggested a buffer on either side of the freeway where density can’t increase, given the environmental concerns. For the most part, the suggestions lined up with the Planning Commission’s “hybrid” growth model.

Also involved were the American Planning Association, the Citizens Planning Association, COAST, the Coastal Housing Coalition, SBCAN, SB4All, the League of Women Voters, PUEBLO and the Community Environmental Council.

“You go along with something that may not be 100 percent what you want, but brings you toward the common goal (of more affordable housing),” said Mickey Flacks of SB4All.

Some felt differently, and Cathie McCammon said the Allied Neighborhoods Association couldn’t support the coalition though the group is “not opposed to looking at proposed changes.”

Architect Gil Barry and Planning Commissioner Sheila Lodge said they opposed the high-growth areas proposed — on the Haley corridor, for one — and that high density growth never did a small town any good. Lodge said that Goleta and Carpinteria have lower density, lower housing prices and lower crime.

Staff said there has been an average of 90 units built per year, though Francisco noted that many of those came from Redevelopment Agency funds. The 2015 sunset of the city’s RDA means an upcoming drop in government-subsidized housing, so the units per year probably will drop, he said.

On Tuesday, Nov. 23, the subcommittee is likely to consider some of the community coalition’s suggestions and bring recommendations to the City Council.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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