The Santa Barbara City Council approved final renovation plans to build a small, two-story, metal-paneled, industrial-chic, box-like house at 903 West Mission Street despite a strenuous and exceedingly thorough appeal raised by neighbor Pamela Brandon. Brandon complained not only that the new designs were out of character but that the owner’s architect, Clay Aurell, had gone above and beyond the ethical limit in lobbying city planners.
Brandon argued that Aurell, who serves on the Architectural Board of Review (ABR), fought in favor of the project with city planners at a time in the review process when the planners were leaning against the proposed changes. According to City Hall’s own rules and regulations, such conduct constitutes a conflict of interest. Councilmember Dale Francisco said such conduct, while perhaps not illegal, was certainly unethical. While other councilmembers expressed concern over Aurell’s contact with planners, four argued Aurell’s client — Heidi Ferguson — had made many modifications in response to Brandon’s concerns and had made every change recommended by the City Council itself when Brandon appealed the project’s preliminary approval a year ago. Councilmember Randy Rowse said it would be wrong to deny a project whose applicant had done everything asked of her. Brandon noted how the ABR and city planners had rejected Ferguson’s plans when she was working with a previous architect.
But after Aurell was hired — along with another member of the ABR — the committee was split in favor of the project. One member of the ABR also noted that the project design had changed as well. As blistering as Brandon’s attack was, some councilmembers noted that she never raised the issue of neighborhood compatibility until recently. And given how architecturally eclectic the neighborhood is, they wondered if any proposal could be said to be compatible.