Devon Wardlow has emerged as the Gen Z force on the Santa Barbara Planning Commission.

An unabashed advocate for more housing, more outdoor dining, and a reversal of “archaic” parking rules, Wardlow says it’s time for Santa Barbara to get real.

Santa Barbara needs to make it easier for developers to build housing, she said. 

“We have not done a good job on that for many decades,” Wardlow said, in the latest episode of the award-winning podcast Santa Barbara Talks. “That is part of why we are now in this extreme price crunch, where rents have gone up quite substantially, where the price of housing alone, has doubled in the past three years, since the pandemic.”

The 34-year-old, who moved to Santa Barbara from Manhattan at 13, said she can’t afford to buy a home in Santa Barbara. Click on the YouTube video below to watch.

YouTube video

“I grew up in this community,” Wardlow said. “All my friends, we’re at the age when we are trying to buy a home, and it is a really daunting task. Many of my friends work in the service industry and are supporting this community. It’s unfortunate that we are now in a position where we don’t see a path to home ownership anymore.”

Wardlow has worked at Facebook, Lyft, the U.S. Department of Labor, and in the Middle East. She interned at the White House during the Obama Administration.

She now works as a public affairs professional in the cannabis industry.

She supports maintaining the closure of downtown State Street to cars and working with businesses to help them open safe, clean and attractive parklets.

She also said the Noozhawk story about the Natural Cafe closing, and the suggestion that the parklets were responsible for rats, “broke my heart.” She said she loves the Natural Cafe and it has been one of her favorite lunch spots since she was 13.

“But I really do believe the reason we are seeing a decline in the number of folks going downtown for lunch in the same way maybe they used to is not because of the fact that we have parklets. It’s because of the fact that the nature of work has changed,” Wardlow said.

“No longer is everyone going into the office, and then going on a lunch break together, and going to the Natural Cafe, and that has nothing to do with the design of State Street. That has to do with factors out of our control.”

Wardlow said it is important to be patient to get State Street right. 

“It took a long time, and a pandemic, a lot of discussions in this city, to get to the point where we closed down State Street,” Wardlow said. “So to me, it doesn’t make sense to go backwards in terms of bringing back the cars, and then spending another five years figuring out how to do it just right.”

The commissioner also talks about how her drive and ambition have opened doors to success.

“I think the biggest thing is really just being relentless,” Wardlow said. “I think that is the biggest thing about being successful in something you are trying to do, is to never give up.”

Wardlow said she always had ambition and drive, but not necessarily the resources. 

“For me, I really took a lot of risk and pursued things people told me not to,” Wardlow said. 

Santa Barbara Talks is a podcast created by Joshua Molina to help facilitate community conversation to find solutions to our community’s shared challenges. Consider a contribution to this podcast by clicking here. Subscribe to this podcast by clicking here. Josh Molina has been a journalist in Santa Barbara for 20 years. He also covered City Hall for the San Jose Mercury News. In addition to working as a reporter at Noozhawk, he teaches journalism at Cal State University, Northridge and Santa Barbara City College. Please subscribe to his You Tube channel for more content.