Density Deal Gone in a Blink

General Plan Update Delayed Another Two Months

Efforts to update the City of Santa Barbara’s General Plan for the next 20 years — a process five years and $3 million in the making — will be delayed at least two additional months at the instigation of Councilmember Dale Francisco, who expressed concern that a thorough discussion of the planning issues would intrude upon the council’s ongoing budgetary deliberations.

At issue is how much additional housing density can and should be allowed to accommodate more affordable housing. It appeared this week that a compromise map showing where increased densities would be allowed under quasi-experimental conditions might have enough votes to pass through the council’s ad hoc subcommittee. Councilmember Frank Hotchkiss, normally wary of any plans to increase allowable densities, expressed enthusiastic support. Francisco — who initially had pushed for the limited approach — could not bring himself to endorse the plan. Instead, he proposed meeting later to go through the voluminous planning document, line by line.

Members of the council’s liberal minority argue that housing zoning rules should be changed to discourage the development of large luxury mixed-use condos. Instead, they contend, zoning rules should give preferential treatment to developers trying to build smaller, more affordable housing units. Increased densities, they argue, are necessary to achieve that end. Their critics worry that such densities will generate urban congestion and crime without achieving the affordability sought.

To break the deadlock, Francisco suggested trying out the increased densities but only in certain neighborhoods. When it came to specifics, however, he remained hesitant. As a result, the council will defer consideration on the polarizing issue for at least two months. In the meantime, this July, the American Institute of Architects will host back-to-back planning charrettes to explore just what the new zoning rules would look like on the ground. By the time their results are in, election season will be getting into full swing, and Francisco will be running for reelection.

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