Sheila Lodge, former Santa Barbara mayor and current planning commissioner, held a no-frills press conference in front of City Hall Tuesday to voice her support for incumbent Councilmembers Dale Francisco, Michael Self, and Randy Rowse, citing — among other reasons — their resistance to increasing residential densities as a strategy to expand affordable housing opportunities.
Lodge, a liberal Democrat and iconic slow-growther and preservationist, took exception to the “conservative” label tagged on the incumbents by their critics. Rowse voted for Barack Obama, she said, Francisco donated to Democratic Congressmember Lois Capps, and Self is a registered Independent. Besides, Lodge argued, city government should not be so partisan, referring to the Democratic Central Committee’s avowed goal to “Take Back City Hall.”
While Lodge got in a few licks about the slate challengers being too tight with public employee unions, her key concern was housing densities. Increased densities, she said, would not “provide the kind of housing we need in Santa Barbara while it runs the risk of damaging what we all love about this special place of ours.” To the extent density increases should be allowed, she said, it should be targeted for rental housing. Density advocates counter that developers are simply not building rental housing in Santa Barbara, and dismiss rental housing — when discussed by preservationists like Lodge — as an empty gesture.
Lodge served as mayor from 1981 to 1993 and for six years before that on the City Council; during that time, City Hall experienced two major down-zonings. Since Lodge’s tenure, a new wave of younger liberal Democrats have become politically active and pushed hard to expand affordable housing options. To differing degrees, the three challengers backed by the Democratic Central Committee — Cathy Murillo, Iya Falcone, and Deborah Schwartz — fall into that camp.