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2 Santa Barbara Council Members Propose Growth-Management Ordinance

The nature of housing in Santa Barbara received a passionate dissection Tuesday by the Santa Barbara City Council, which discussed a proposal by councilmen Bendy White and Jason Dominguez to slow the rapid expansion of new residential units in the city and charge developers mitigation fees via a new growth-management ordinance.

The proposed ordinance, aimed at multi-family residential developments in the planning stages, is intended to slow the recent, rapid onslaught of housing proposals and help finance city infrastructure.

“What we’re seeing here is obviously a huge bulge of development,” White said. “And why are we seeing that? I think we’re all aware that this was because of the AUD change that came as a result of changes in Plan Santa Barbara.”

“I had expected that more units would be in the pipeline than 250, but it certainly has exceeded anything that I could have imagined.”

The Average Unit Density program, created by an ordinance approved in 2013, came in response to the squeezing out of middle-class residents as higher-income, tech-oriented professionals flock to Santa Barbara.

The program stipulates that after 250 units are ready for occupancy, existing developments are reviewed, halting any new development applications. As of May 12, only four AUD units have been constructed, according to the city.

The goal is to construct smaller and more affordable housing near commercial services, parks, and public transit.

AUD is the affordable-housing cornerstone of Plan Santa Barbara, a city program calling for “growth management, environmental stewardship, affordable housing, historic preservation, and design compatibility.”

According to a memo from White and Dominguez, the normal housing growth rate is around 100 units per year; over 1,300 units have entered the pipeline since August 2013 with AUD.

The proposed growth-management ordinance would limit the number of building permits issued each year, addressing the councilmen’s concerns of new developments’ water usage and their impacts on traffic, noise, and parking.

The development-mitigation fees would help pay for infrastructure maintenance and improvement, funds for which have increasingly fallen short of city needs.

“Our streets, our sidewalks, our parks, our park buildings are all starved for funding, and new projects do impose impacts on our infrastructure,” White said.

“What’s a fair share that new development should be required to pay to move forward using all of the infrastructure that’s there?”

An ordinance, he said, could be tailored to specific policies, such as supporting low-income housing by exempting explicitly affordable housing developments from the fees. The city of Goleta levies fees in the five-digit range, he said.

Dominguez added that a particular concern of his was the AUD program’s effect on the city’s housing–jobs balance. People moving into these new residences may not necessarily have local jobs that support the overall growth that they are helping to facilitate by moving to Santa Barbara in the first place.

Enacting such an ordinance would be tricky, said City Attorney Ariel Calonne, because the state’s requirement that cities ensure the availability of affordable housing must be given priority. A growth-management ordinance would have to work with that requirement.

The proposal received mixed reviews from the public. Many representatives of neighborhood associations welcomed the idea of limiting the growth, while developers warned of unintended consequences.

“On the idea of imposing development fees, I can tell you that if you want to do anything to cause the rents to go up and have less units be built, start imposing more fees,” said Mark Kirkhart, an architect with DesignARC.

Deborah Schwartz and John Campanella of the city Planning Commission argued that such an ordinance should not be enacted so hastily, and requested that the commission consider it first and then provide council with its own recommendations.

Councilman Gregg Hart laid into his colleagues’ proposal, echoing the assertion of a handful of residents that the need for more housing is more pressing than the issues a growth-management ordinance seeks to address.

“The rents are so high because the vacancy rate is so low,” he said.

The AUD program has been the most successful effort in decades, he said, to provide housing for the 60 percent of Santa Barbarans who rent.

“If any of you have been even close to this process that people are going through to see what’s available on the marketplace with the prices that are available, and to understand what the economic impact is on people, you would get that we need more rental housing,” he said.

Hart insisted that the city should allow the AUD program — the development of which was a considerable undertaking in itself — a chance to fulfill its purpose before shaking up the housing landscape again.

While Hart argued that the fees would amount to a drop in the bucket compared to what’s needed to solve the city’s dearth of infrastructure funding, White insisted that it would at least take a bite out of that deficit.

Councilman Randy Rowse acknowledged the need for more housing, but warned the council to keep in mind that housing development without adequate parking and other supporting infrastructure was imprudent.

Councilwoman Cathy Murillo argued that the discussion only “scratched the surface” of all the issues that arise and multiply when tinkering with the housing landscape.

Too much of the blame for these urban problems gets laid at the AUD program’s feet, she said.

Murillo voiced support for a more in-depth and comprehensive analysis of the housing situation.

Five of the seven council members would have to vote to move a growth-management ordinance forward, and seeing three impending nays in Hart, Murillo, and Rowse, White declined to continue pushing his proposal.

The ordinance’s “metering out” the AUD program is essential to the program’s long-term survival, he insisted.

An evaluation of the AUD program will be discussed in a joint City Council–Planning Commission meeting in the fall, city staff said.

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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