City Passes Ban on Construction Near 101

The Santa Barbara City Council imposed an interim ban on new development within 250 feet of Highway 101 based on recommendations by California Air Resources Board that diesel particulate emissions pose a health risk to residents living within the shadow of the freeway. This will not affect the 13 projects — 33 units — already approved there.

In the meantime, the council will craft new mitigation measures that meet safety thresholds. The issue is sensitive because much of that area has been identified as prime real estate for affordable housing projects. One property manager argued City Hall was too strenuous in its restrictions, noting that cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, and Sacramento have no bans at all. Another speaker argued that City Hall should focus on ways to clean up freeway exhaust by promoting the use of biodiesel fuel instead.

But the council had embraced the new regulations — at least in concept — by including them as part of the city’s new general plan, adopted last December. At that time, some groups — like the Citizens Planning Association — argued the buffer should be 500 feet. Councilmember Dale Francisco expressed considerable skepticism, saying that as a child his family lived in a house close to the freeway. “That’s all we could afford at the time, but it got us in a much better school district,” he said. In general, Francisco said he thinks it should be up to individuals to decide what risks they want to take, but voted for the new plan anyway.

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