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Measuring B

Wall of Resistance to Measure B


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Voters in Santa Barbara are being asked to make a critical choice this fall about Measure B, a proposed charter amendment that would lower building height limits downtown.

To be fair, some of the individuals and groups supporting Measure B have helped to protect Santa Barbara from the detrimental effects of rampant growth over the last 40 years. We have often been their partners in that effort, and we are proud of the benefits those measures have had in controlling the growth of our City. Unfortunately, Measure B ignores today’s need to limit growth in a way that also provides for a sustainable future for our City. As long time local environmentalists, we believe that Measure B would lead us in the wrong direction:

1. Measure B will not help Santa Barbara live within its resources.

A simple reduction in buildings heights downtown will actually cause more per capita resource use by encouraging sprawl development and increasing commuter traffic and parking problems. To live within our resources, we instead need to promote compact development, public transportation, energy, water and resource efficiency, and renewable energy production.

2. Measure B will not preserve the city skyline and protect views.

The proposed building height reduction will encourage flat-topped buildings, decrease the variety in the city skyline and could decrease views by encouraging buildings with solid facades, property line to property line.

3. Measure B will not make Santa Barbara’s buildings more sustainable.

Despite claims that smaller buildings require less material and use less energy to build and maintain, the opposite is likely to occur. Efficiency should not be measured by building, but by dwelling unit. Comparing two buildings of the same size, the building with more units is likely to be more efficient because it uses less material and energy per unit. If building heights are reduced there will be fewer units in each building and more wall and roof area per unit. The result will be more material and energy use per unit. Santa Barbara should not encourage this inefficiency.

4. Measure B will not safeguard the city’s small town character and charm.

The character and charm of Santa Barbara includes its unparalleled natural setting and its built environment, but it also includes its people. This measure fails to truly protect our community because it does not address the need for affordable housing and low cost transit. We can create a better vision for the future of our city that maintains its character and charm without sacrificing its vitality.

Do we really want to prevent the next generation of Santa Barbarans from enjoying theaters like the Arlington, Lobero and Granada, essential facilities like Cottage Hospital, and other important buildings like our beautiful churches and hotels that exceed 40 feet? To ensure a vibrant, diverse and sustainable Santa Barbara well into the future, we urge voters to Vote No on Measure B.-Dave Davis, executive director, Community Environmental Council; Karen Feeney, president, The Sustainability Project; John Kelley, vice-president, The Sustainability Project; David Landecker, environmental executive; Nathan Alley, environmental attorney

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My first exposure to the preservation of Santa Barbara came in the 1950s, when I would answer the phone and Ms. Pearl Chase would be on the line for my mother. The call would be to ask my Mom to help on one of Ms Chase’s many causes. My mother was a member of Ms. Chase’s Scorpio Club.

Subsequently, I have devoted a good part of my adult life to Santa Barbara preservation. I was one of the Founding Members of the Pearl Chase Society, a Charter Board Member of the Courthouse Legacy Society, a Life Honorary Trustee of the Trust for Historic Preservation, and currently, very proud of the fact that our City Council passed The Mills Act - for historic property tax relief - which I shepherded through.

I have many friends of both sides of the Measure B issue, and I have respect for their views and concerns.

It is interesting to consider that what initiated most of the concerns about building heights, were the two large structures on Chapala Street. Contrary to many of the TV ads, these buildings were actually approved by the Planning Commission and were never appealed to City Council.

When we look at the expressed concerns, we see that the concerns are mainly about lack of setbacks, size, bulk and scale, none of which is covered by Measure B.

I have spoken with the drafters of Measure B, and to a person they have all said that they were limited to a single issue, due to the rules of the California Public Initiative Law. Thus, matters of design, setbacks, green space, in addition to size, bulk and scale, could not be addressed.

It’s even more interesting to note that when folks talk about what they like about Santa Barbara architecture, it is in fact the architectural variety we have, with varying roof heights, setbacks, and interesting design features.

I fear that the unintended consequences of Measure B would not support this type of design, but would further encourage flat roofed, lot-line to lot-line buildings, with limited setbacks and design features, as this would maximize the profit from each piece of buildable land.

Further unintended consequences of Measure B are potential environmental impacts such as loss of open and green space, and for me, most key, less opportunity for family work-force housing.

As well intended as Measure B may be, we must do better for the city that we all love!-Roger L. Horton

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I’ve lived downtown for 15 years. I think I understand the sentiment behind Measure B. People want to protect a Santa Barbara they feel is being lost. But if proponents of the measure actually lived downtown, they would see that the the real loss is due to increasing gang activity. Everyday there are more stabbings, taggings, intimidation, and groups of teens making their feelings of disenfranchisement known in a destructive way. In light of this, Measure B seems like a distraction and a counter-productive exercise in denial. What does it matter if a residence is 40 feet high or 60 feet high when there is violence at the front door? Further, who in their right mind would spend $1 million on a condo in gangland anyway?-Russ Spencer

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The Architectural Foundation of Santa Barbara has within our mission “the goal of enhancing our community’s awareness and appreciation of architecture and the built environment… The Foundation seeks to promote quality in design and preservation, and to foster an understanding of excellence in the urban environment.” We therefore have decided to offer the following position in regards to the upcoming Measure B ballot initiative.

The planning of Santa Barbara is an important and serious undertaking, one with many important factors, including density, height, sidewalk widths, setbacks, arcades, courtyards, paseos, variable facade heights and other important architectural features that make for a vibrant, livable and beautiful city.

In considering the future vision for our city, we believe these issues should be discussed, studied, prioritized, and analyzed in the current ongoing General Plan update process. We believe that the passage of Measure B precludes and eliminates this essential process. Therefore, the Architectural Foundation endorses a “no” vote on Measure B.-Mark Wienke, president, Architectural Foundation of Santa Barbara

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Whether you like or dislike the buildings on Chapala Street, Measure B is not the solution to creating beautiful architecture in Santa Barbara or to guaranteeing public affection for our built environment. I share a passion for preserving Santa Barbara’s uniqueness with the well-meaning promoters of Measure B but the measure was hastily designed and lacking in detail.

There is no provision to “grandfather” one-third of our cherished over-40-feet-high landmarks within the El Pueblo Viejo district downtown. If an earthquake were to severely damage one of these icons, the owner would have the added burden and uncertainty of mounting an election campaign to have voters to fix Measure B before even considering re-building. A building would need to be considered 75-percent damaged in order to be subject to Measure B. A building, like a car can be a “total loss” without appearing devastated. Most seismic damage is concentrated at a building’s foundation and ground level. In many cases repairs would require the building to either be suspended, or carefully dismantled and rebuilt. The rebuilt option would be prohibited by Measure B. Sky hooks are yet to be perfected.

At a recent forum on Measure B at the Museum of Natural History, even a former mayor and ardent Measure B panel speaker admitted (barely audibly) “That’s a problem” when a Cottage Hospital official asked her if Measure B would prevent the hospital from completing the its fourth wing. There are undoubtedly many other negative unintended consequences yet to be discovered.

Given current economic conditions, we are not facing a building boom any time soon; there is time to thoughtfully craft new ordinances to address building heights, setbacks, open space, and density. I like a streetscape with variety. Architecture, like music, needs highs and lows, periods of intensity, and periods of rest. If, say, a 40-foot average building height is desired, there could be low one-story elements carefully sculpted to preserve or frame desired vistas. Other portions could be higher and more dramatic. Our beloved Santa Barbara did not come to be through legislating uninspiring height limits. Please join me and send poorly designed Measure B back to the drawing board for further study and revision.-Gordon Brewer

I think Measure B, if passed, will turn out to be a mistake. The 40-foot height maximum no-matter-what is too confining, too constricting, too inflexible, and yes, too authoritarian. It would prevent the Arlington, the Court House, the Mission and the Granada from being built had this measure been legal at the time of construction.

Think about it. The most beautiful buildings in the city would not be here. There has to be a connection between the idea of Measure B and a loss of artistic potential. I’m not saying big is best and certainly there have to be city controls to prevent the Chapala Street from becoming a downtown Glendale. But to tie the hands of the architects, builders and financiers from up-sizing along Chapala Street is to prevent the possibility of any architectural good coming from higher buildings.

I have no idea how Measure B started but I assume it had something to do with a reaction to the three-story condo/retail buildings and then morphed into a battle cry of “Give me back my Santa Barbara.” Well, I lived downtown for 25 years and my memory of Chapala Street before the multi-levels is of car lots, one after the other, barreling down to five or six barn-like auto repair buildings by the freeway. I don’t want that Santa Barbara back, useful as it once was, and I find it strange that preservation of Chapala used car lots would be a goal behind Measure B.

Personally I like the idea of people living downtown, and in the case of El Andaluz, 531 Chapala (the only new building I’ve been in), they will be living in a true work of art — architecture that is as creative as it gets.

The process to get something like El Andaluz built should be not just allowed, but promoted and encouraged. Measure B inhibits this process. I’m hoping people will see the preservationist reflexology of “Give me back my Santa Barbara” as well-intentioned but misplaced.-Henry Null

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