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Local News

Santa Barbara Council Shoots Down Updates to General Plan

Meanwhile, city leaders approve a new contract with the Police Officers Association and increased parking ticket fees, but opt to keep the living wage ordinance as-is

The Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday night held off on approving updates to the city’s General Plan.

Councilman Grant House, Mayor Helene Schneider, Councilman Bendy White and Councilman Das Williams agreed that although everything in Plan Santa Barbara may not be perfect, the council should find consensus on a general direction so details can be worked on during the implementation phase.

“If we can approve it knowing it’s not perfect, then we can get to the meaty issues of it,” Schneider said. “The real issues are the details behind the ordinances,” such as changing the zoning ordinance and changing inclusionary housing.

House moved to approve the plan, but despite trying to amend the law to appease Councilman Dale Francisco, it wasn’t passed. Three members voted against the approval, asking for further study and a re-evaluation of density issues. It needed a super majority to pass.

“A grand compromise is a plan that has to work together in one package,” Williams said. “I don’t believe that it’s something you can pick and choose elements that suits yourself and doesn’t go along with your partners in negotiation.”

The “smart-growthers” supported rental housing around the medium-high density areas in the downtown core, incorporating a buffer on either side of the highway where density can’t increase, to address environmental concerns. The suggestions mostly lined up with the city Planning Commission’s hybrid growth model.

But Francisco outlined reasons such as public disclosure of the council’s plans, specifically about development along Haley and Cota streets, more accurate renderings of what the housing will look like and further study of density issues.

“That is the sentiment of a lot of people in this town — not hearing a clamor for high-density development in Santa Barbara,” Francisco said. “The thing that makes Santa Barbara different from most coastal cities is that it isn’t high density.”

He told the City Council he preferred a segmented implementation of high-density housing, requiring a cap and evaluation after some units were built.

“We need to give the city a chance to evaluate if it’s in their interest, by allowing some small number of projects to be built and see them in action,” Francisco said.

Despite House amending an adaptive management plan, Francisco, Councilman Frank Hotchkiss and Councilwoman Michael Self voted against the motion. It will be revisited in February.

“We need more time on this,” Francisco said. “The fundamental issues aren’t really changing here. Williams, whether you are present or not, I understand your desire to see it completed before you leave, but no offense, I don’t think your replacement on the council is going to change much of the outcome.”

It was the last day on the council for Williams, who was sworn in as the 35th District state Assemblyman.

“What Mr. House and I put out there is what you just said, a cap on number of units, and if that’s not enough, it’s really hard for me to trust where you are coming from,” Williams said. “It seems you are using delay tactics unless you are able to move forward.”

In the afternoon session, the council adopted a new contract with the Police Officers Association that includes two years of concessions, including paying part of their pensions and then a third-year raise. The extent of the two years of concessions equates to a 6 percent cut in salary, Francisco said.

“This will save money to the city to enable us to balance the budget for the current year and upcoming years,” Williams said. “It’s important to deal with in difficult economic times and provide city services at a lower cost.”

In addition, with state budget constraints forcing the city to pay Santa Barbara County an extra $3 per parking citation, the council approved increased ticket fees to compensate. It equated to about a $300,000 hit, which either had to be absorbed by ticket fees or the General Fund.

It will apply to both street sweeping and non-street sweeping fines, effective Dec. 1. Parking tickets are now in the $45 range.

The council also decided to reject an update with recommendations from staff on the living wage ordinance, leaving it at the status quo.

The ordinance requires businesses to pay their employees $15.45 to $12.14 an hour if they have contracts with the city worth more than $16,000. The rate fluctuates depending on benefits provided.

Another recommendation was to do away with the more than $16,000 threshold, which would require all companies who do business with the city to pay the living wage. The committee also wanted the ordinance to cover more than 700 part-time employees, which would cost an estimated $1 million. Eighty-three workers benefited from the ordinance last year, to the tune of $171,725.

Finally, the council rejected a proposal by the city staff to hire a company that specializes in trash-hauling competitive bidding, which would have cost $152,000.

Noozhawk staff writer Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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