Individual speakers at Santa Barbara City Council meetings will only have two minutes to comment on an item, according to a proposal on the agenda on Tuesday.

The item is on the consent calendar, which means it will be voted on along with a group of other items as a package. 

Currently, people are allowed to speak for up to three minutes on public comment

“It’s a council decision to return to what we had before,” said Mayor Randy Rowse. “In this way, we can hear from more people in the half-hour designated for general public comment, 15 vs. 10. So it’s all about greater public access.”

For items on the agenda, outside of public comment, speakers will be able to pool time from others, for a maximum of 5 minutes total to talk on one topic. 

The decision to move back to two minutes is consistent with how the city did things prior to 2018, when former Mayor Cathy Murillo led the effort to extend time to three minutes, but also halted people from pulling time during public comment; they previously were able to do it for up to 10 minutes.

There is no plan to allow people to return to pooled time during public comment. 

New Housing Direction

The Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday will also talk about ways to encourage developers to build rental apartments and affordable housing. Among the ideas on the table is to allow development based on the size of the units, using a floor-to-lot area ratio. 

“Regulating by building size would accommodate more and smaller units, and provide clear building-size limits based on location,” according to a city staff report. 

Staff will also give a presentation on the controversial average unit-sized density (AUD) incentive program, which gives developers bonus density for building apartments. 

The AUD program has produced 539 market-rate units and 206 affordable units. Another 499 market-rate and 101 affordable units (63 low-income and 38 moderate-income units) are pending review and approval.

The program has been extended several times, and is expected to expire in February 2024.

The City Council is struggling to find ways to build affordable rental housing at a time of increasing pressures from the state of California, including SB 9, which allows homeowners to split their single-family home lots into four units. 

“Tuesday’s discussion of FARs and the AUD program is both incredibly complicated and incredibly important to the future of housing production in our city,” said Mayor Pro Tem Meagan Harmon. “The zoning and planning policies we put in place now, including the methodology by which we regulate multi-unit housing, will have the effect of incentivizing, or disincentivizing, the kind of housing development we need, in the areas where we need and want it, for years to come.

“It is imperative that we achieve the right balance of reasoned, sustainable growth that serves the needs of Santa Barbara’s renters.”

New Police Oversight Positions Proposed

The Community Formation Commission will be discussing the recommended creation of an Office of Police Oversight, which would include two new staff positions, according to a city staff report prepared for the meeting. .

Those positions would include a director of police oversight, and a community ombudsman. In addition, the commission has recommended a $400 stipend per month for commissioners and $50 per meeting for child/elder care. 

The proposed new staffing and additional costs would range from $250,000 to $600,000 per year, and would be paid for from the General Fund.

The commission will also be requesting a one-month extension to complete its recommendations to the council 

Bjork Headed Toward Top Job?

Rebecca Bjork will likely be named the next city administrator on Tuesday. 

The City Council is set to meet at a special meeting at 12:30 p.m. and then consider appointing her to the job permanently. She took over for former City Administrator Paul Casey in August, and would be the first female city administrator since Sandra Tripp-Jones retired in 2001. 

Bjork was previously assistant city administrator, public works director, and acting community development director.

The council meeting begins at 2 p.m. at City Hall

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.