An unlikely coalition of developers, architects, environmentalists, affordable housing supporters, and social justice advocates thronged the front steps of Santa Barbara City Hall to denounce Measure B, the proposed ballot initiative that would reduce the maximum allowable building height to 40 feet downtown and 45 feet elsewhere throughout the city. Current law allows a maximum building height of 60 feet downtown.
“Thirty-five percent of our most treasured buildings are over 40 feet,” objected Mickey Flacks of progressive group SBCAN. Flacks and others have contended that Measure B would discourage affordable housing, promote urban sprawl, and discourage ecologically sustainable development. Measure B supporters, who qualified the initiative for the November ballot by collecting 11,500 signatures, contend that City Hall failed to take any action in response to their concerns over the three new large buildings that sprouted up on Chapala Street. Architect Brian Cearnal acknowledged, “There are lessons to be learned” from the Chapala Street buildings, most notably the need for greater setbacks from the sidewalk. But Measure B, he argued, lacks any such language.
Das Williams, the sole Santa Barbara councilmember attending the press conference, noted that City Hall adopted clearer design guidelines that would empower members of Planning Commission, Architectural Board of Review, and Historic Landmarks Commission to reject proposed developments they deemed inappropriate. Council efforts to craft a more nuanced alternative measure for voter approval-with new limits at 45 feet-were blasted by supporters of Measure B as an attempt to subvert the democratic process, and it was subsequently withdrawn.