On the Beat 2-22-2007

Losing Our Town? City Councilmember Brian Barnwell, warning that Santa Barbara’s downtown is losing its unique character, wants to ban any more four-story buildings.

Case in point: Those two monster monoliths on lower Chapala Street, not only four stories high but battleship bulky.

How many more are on the drawing boards? Barnwell, a real estate appraiser by profession, is calling for an advisory vote by the public to ban more three- or four-story buildings in El Pueblo Viejo, the old town district, or an ordinance change by the City Council.

“We have to make a change,” he told me over coffee. “It’s just too much for me. We’ve come too far. Whatever is unique about Santa Barbara is being lost. I think we’ve reached the limit. I want to honor the feeling of where we came from,” a village ambience of two-story buildings in downtown. “I don’t want to lose it. That’s the reason we are so desirable. We wanted a vital, vibrant downtown and we’ve got it.” But Barnwell added, “Have we maxed out? In downtown, I think, we’ve reached our limit.” Pointing out that the two Chapala behemoths are basically condos with commercial space on the first floor, he charged, “We are evolving into a suburb of the Los Angeles wealthy” for whom $1 million condos in Santa Barbara make for a weekend getaway.

Our proximity to L.A. and the new rich there has “changed the face of Santa Barbara real estate,” Barnwell said. A city Planning Commission member for nearly eight years before being voted onto the council, Barnwell said he’s conferred with some past and present members of the Planning Commission and the Historic Landmarks Commission who agree with him on the need for some sort of downtown height limit.

“If we do this, in 100 years the town will still be desirable.” However, he pointed out, city charter permits four-story commercial buildings. Even if a three-story maximum were imposed by ordinance, it could be “changed any Tuesday” by a council vote, he said. Perhaps a charter amendment is necessary, he suggested.

As for affordable housing, the city of Goleta needs to shoulder its share of the weight, Barnwell said. While Santa Barbara has about 14,000 approved affordable units, Goleta has about 400, he said. Barnwell estimated that another 10,000 or so people are living in illegal units around Santa Barbara, such as converted garages.

Tuttini-Speak: Tuttini’s coffee shop and bakery, 10 E. Carrillo St., has one of those closed or open signs, except instead of “Open,” it reads “Openini.”

Roasting Jerry: Jerry Roberts, former News-Press editor who’s battling both cancer and Wendy McCaw’s $25 million arbitration claim, will be the subject of a roast at the San Francisco Giants’ AT&T Park March 13. The purpose is to raise funds for the Santa Barbara Lawyers Alliance for Free Speech Rights, which is helping NP journalists hurt by the News-Press mess. Reagan biographer Lou Cannon is among the speakers at the club-level event. For info about donating to the fund, visit

Kwirky Kwiz: Steve Hyslop at Chuck’s Waterfront Grill poses this question in his regular newsletter: “Name all the players in their positions in Abbott and Costello’s famous comedy routine, ‘Who’s on First?’ What was the one position that was never mentioned in the routine, and what would be your suggestion for the name of that player?” Bring your written answers to the restaurant, with your name and address. All correct answers will win a $5 gift certificate on your next visit. Best suggested name(s) are eligible for a $50 bonus gift.

Drummer Man: With the first Santa Barbara International Guitar Festival going strong, host Santa Barbara Symphony has decided to stage an International Percussion Festival next January. Stars lined up include legendary drummer Roy Haynes. There’ll be Caribbean steel drummers, drum circles, and a Scot star. With the Oscars coming up Sunday, the Santa Barbara Symphony is doing one of its pops nights Friday, playing music from classic scenes of Academy Award winners. Call 963-4408.

Here’s to Jim: The late Jim Ryerson would have been 61 on Monday, but the memory of this passionate environmentalist lives on in the form of the Jim Ryerson Environmental Memorial Award. On his birthday, his wife, Christine, announced that the first award is going to the Environmental Defense Center in honor of its chief counsel, Linda Krop. “She and Jim were good friends, and he had the highest admiration for her. Jim’s mother, Pat, wanted to give this first award to someone who was involved in preventing further oil drilling and expanded oil leases off the Santa Barbara coast, knowing how important ocean quality was to him,” Christine said. “Jim became committed to improving ocean and air quality while he was helping clean up the beaches during the big oil spill of 1969. Thus, through this award, Jim is continuing to improve the quality of life in Santa Barbara, a town he loved.”

Barney Brantingham can be reached at or 965-5205.

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