Housing proposal at Santa Barbara’s La Cumbre Plaza
According to a new housing proposal, this is Santa Barbara’s La Cumbre Plaza as you’ve never seen it before. Credit: The Cearnal Collective rendering

Macy’s in Santa Barbara’s La Cumbre Plaza shopping center won’t be around after 2028.

The loss of the iconic department store is one of the changes in store for La Cumbre Plaza, a 31-acre site at the center of a community controversy over housing, planning and transportation.

“There is going to be redevelopment of La Cumbre Plaza,” Councilman Eric Friedman told Noozhawk. “It is going to happen.”

Two weeks after the Santa Barbara County Association of Government board of directors rejected a $1.1 million funding request from the city of Santa Barbara to redesign La Cumbre Plaza, the community is still buzzing over what will become of the South Coast’s biggest and most important mall.

Santa Barbara planners and Mayor Randy Rowse want to create what’s known as a “specific plan” for the mall, and work with developers to build up to 2,000 housing units on the land.

But the father-and-son team of Matthew and Jim Taylor have other ideas for the 15 acres of the site that they own. They want to build their own project with nearly 700 units, separate from the city’s specific plan process.

A rendering shows a portion of the proposed housing project for La Cumbre Plaza. The Taylor family has proposed 685 units on the side of the mall facing State Street.
A rendering shows a portion of the proposed housing project for La Cumbre Plaza. The Taylor family has proposed 685 units on the side of the mall facing State Street. Credit: Courtesy of the Cearnal Collective

The other half of the mall is owned by Riviera Dairy, a family-owned company that also wants to construct housing with its half but is in no rush to do so.

Further complicating matters, Macerich Company holds a long-term lease on the mall, which goes through 2077.

Riviera Dairy owns the former Sears Building and the Taylor family owns the Macy’s building.

With two major property owners and a third operator of the mall, city officials had hoped that a comprehensive approach to developing the property would work best for the community.

“The redevelopment needs to be done comprehensively, and we need to make sure all of these parcels work together,” Friedman said. “That is what the specific plan would have done, was look at these entire 31 acres.”

Friedman, whose council district includes La Cumbre Plaza, said new traffic patterns would be created with any major housing development, and the city also need to look at not only traffic and water use, but the impacts on the Hope School District.

The SBCAG board’s dismissal of the grant application, led by then-chair First District Santa Barbara County Supervisor Das Williams, was a missed opportunity for the community, Friedman said.

A map show the location of the proposed Taylor family housing project in the context of the current mall configuration
A map show the location of the proposed Taylor family housing project in the context of the current mall configuration Credit: Contributed

“The SBCAG board declined to follow its staff recommendation, but we still have a city planning process they have to follow,” Friedman said. ” The opportunity for the specific plan was with the SBCAG board. The timing was there.

“We would have had the funding to do that, and we would have been able to go forward with it.”

Matthew Taylor spoke with Noozhawk on Monday and explained how his project would work.

His family owns the parking lot area facing State Street and the actual Macy’s Building. They also own the parking lot area between Macy’s and Chipotle.

Essentially their property goes in a straight line from in the middle of Macy’s and the Lure restaurant, all the way to the driving lane in front of See’s, Wing Stop and Chipotle.

The rest of the mall is owned by Riviera Dairy, which is in talks with Alliance Housing for a development on the other side of the mall that includes the parking lot area, and the former Sears building.

People at the La Cumbre Plaza Shopping Center.
La Cumbre Plaza Shopping Center was busy during the holiday season. In recent years it has moved from mostly retail to a mall that offers art galleries, salons, workout locations, and other experiences. Credit: Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo

The actual mall is controlled by Macerich. Multiple calls and emails to Macerich over a two-week period were not returned.

However, sources have told Noozhawk that the future of the mall includes experiential destinations.

Over the last few years, La Cumbre Plaza has evolved into an area with art galleries, hair salons, workout spots and restaurants.

So essentially, the mall would exist without Macy’s, if the Taylor project moves forward.

Bristol Farms and the other restaurants and stores on that side of the mall would also stay.

“We have been very explicit and clear with our issues with the specific plan,” Taylor said. “This is a daunting process. We do not believe it is necessary on this parcel. We don’t think it is preventing any other part of the specific plan.”

The Taylors have proposed a project that faces State Street and Hope Avenue called “The Neighborhood.” It has varied heights, but the tallest reaches about 70 feet.

The 43-page pre-application includes dozen of digital renderings and offers promises of fun features including farmers market events and movie nights.

The Taylors purchased the property the day before Thanksgiving in 2021 and are ready to go.

A day before the pivotal SBCAG meeting, where Rowse lost on a 10-1 vote, and Williams called planners “idealistic,” the Taylors submitted an application under Senate Bill 330.

Also known as the Housing Crisis Act of 2019, the law limits the number of design review meetings to five and puts other handcuffs on the city process.

But the city will still have many opportunities to review the project, and will likely focus on the height of the building.

While the mood of the day is to build housing, Santa Barbara has historically held a strong commitment to keeping buildings below 60 feet, and even at that height, the City Council must grant a community-benefit designation.

The Taylors want to build 685 units, a mix of mostly studios, and one- and two-bedroom apartments. About 56 of the units would be for below-market renters. Some of the units would be set aside for seniors.

Rowse, city planners and Friedman were not happy with Williams and the SBCAG board’s denial of $1.1 million in REAP 2.0, Regional Early Action Planning Grants to fund “equitable, affordable housing and sustainable transportation projects.”

Making the SBCAG’s board’s vote more peculiar was that a scoring team recommended the specific plan funding, and the SBCAG board overturned it.

Instead, SBCAG submitted a project list totaling $5.3 million. It took the $1.1 million away from the La Cumbre Plaza specific plan and threw it at some other projects, including North County charging stations.

Friedman told Noozhawk on Monday that the SBCAG’s decision might thwart the entire Santa Barbara specific plan for the area and the city’s ability to plan for housing in a holistic manner. It’s less attractive to create a specific plan with only half the property.

“At this point, a specific plan isn’t on the table now unless something changes,” Friedman said. “We as a city need to look at what is the best planning process going forward, and how do we engage in that.

He said the possibility of securing $1.1 million in funding was missed.

“I am not sure that having a specific plan for one portion of the mall is viable right now,” Friedman said. “Ideally it would be for the entire 31 acres.

The best way would be to look at the area “comprehensively,” he said.

“Redevelopment is needed there,” Friedman said. “It is just a matter of working with the community. This is going to be there for decades and decades, and we want to get it right.”

Joshua Molina

Joshua Molina, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com.