Imagine the tedium of a one-note symphony or rock concert. Santa Barbara could become such a mundane performance, a monotone city with no rhythm or architectural variety, if Measure B should pass.
Santa Barbara’s regional context is one of diversity, within its population, cultural offerings, and architecture. The orchestrated variety of structural shapes makes Santa Barbara one of the most beautiful and compelling cities in the world. This same diversity in architectural form, allowed under the existing 60-foot height limit, enables a diverse population to reside here.
Imagine if our founding patrons were limited to a 40-foot high building envelope. We would not have the Courthouse, the Arlington Theater, the Lobero Theater, and other remarkable buildings that define the architectural character of our city. Those that are asking you to vote “yes” on Measure B are asking you to limit the vision, variety, and character that makes our city beautiful.
Do you think proponents of Measure B have thought through the bigger picture? After the next big earthquake, if we lose our Courthouse, our performing art halls, our hospital, or our steepled churches, the passage of Measure B would mean that not one of these architectural gems could be rebuilt without going to a ballot. Also, we could never build a new theater or hospital in this town without going to the ballot. Years could pass while the language was crafted, and the city would stand bereft of its traditional architectural treasures, pulled inevitably toward that one-note symphony.
Imagining Measure B passing, I see a city chasing its youth away, without succession, leaving an aging population to support our charities. The measure’s 40-foot height limit dramatically impacts the ability to create affordable housing-for our artists, our craftspersons, our nurses, our fire fighters, our janitors, our librarians, our schoolteachers-in essence, people that keep the city healthy and functioning. The existing 60-foot height limit enables inclusion of more attainable housing in the mix, for a variety of socio-economic levels, which keeps our city socially sustainable and vibrant. Market rate units in taller building enable private subsidy of more affordable units, creating a diverse neighborhood within the same buildings in the downtown corridor of El Pueblo Viejo.
Imagine our citizens who are philanthropic gift-givers, who desire to live in the downtown corridor, being told that 1600 square feet of living space and an 8-foot ceiling make for a luxurious, artful space in which to live. A 40-foot building height would create such limits. The leaders proposing Measure B believe this is a good solution.
The citizens who are in support of Measure B feel they are helping preserve the Santa Barbara we love, when in fact they are helping to destroy it. In a recent meeting, proponents of Measure B, when asked what the city would be like if the citizens started to move away, said that tourism could support the downtown. Some of our citizens believe this is healthy. In other words, those behind Measure B imagine a city frozen in time, without an eye to the future, with no heed to the principles of sustainability or livability.
Imagine our citizens and trained professionals, who gift their time on architectural boards and commissions, being told they don’t have the talent to judge the future architectural texture of our city under the rules that exist today. Imagine decisions being made based on a one-issue ballot measure, unable to consider the texture of the surrounding built environment. The result would be a bland repetition of massing, rather than a city of romance with punctuated form and varying heights.
The existing legislation in the city of 60-foot maximum building height allows the architectural boards and architects to orchestrate a building that has a potential of having a lower profile than 40 feet at the street. Smaller in form at the street level and higher at the center, these buildings feel in scale with the neighborhood, and create a concerto of form that breaks up the mass, bulk, and scale of the building. In addition, planners and architectural review boards would never allow an entire building to loom 60 feet straight up in the air from the street. Without the ability to vary their heights, the 40-foot limit is going to economically force structures to maximize their allowable footprint, which will lead to a static, uniform skyline.
There is already a well-thought-out process being presented to the citizens of our city through Plan Santa Barbara, which considers comprehensive issues rather than simplistic solutions such as Measure B. DonÂ¹t fall prey to the few voices without vision and knowledge of economic sustainability attempting to scare the voters with misleading language referring to buildings over 40 feet as “high rises” or “canyonization.” Santa Barbara today is more beautiful than it was 10 years ago thanks to those with vision.
Barry Berkus is a Santa Barbara architect.