<b>MR. UBIQUITY:</b>  Architect Detlev Peikert is changing the face of Haley Street.

Paul Wellman

MR. UBIQUITY: Architect Detlev Peikert is changing the face of Haley Street.

Height Shock’ for Haley Street?

Low-Rent Housing Trumps Neighbor’s Objection

Thursday, December 5, 2013
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What was either trumpeted ​— ​or reviled ​— ​as a “first of its kind” low-income rental housing development slated for Haley and Salsipuedes streets got the green light from the Santa Barbara City Council last week despite the vigorous objections of a nearby property owner who complained the three-story, 40-apartment project would be way too big for the neighborhood. Though the vote was 6-1 in favor of the housing project ​— ​and against the appeal ​— ​the outcome was much closer than the split might suggest. Most councilmembers emphatically agreed the project promised exactly what the city needs ​— ​seriously affordable rental housing ​— ​but many had second thoughts about the project’s size and mass, not to mention the path by which it got in front of them.

Peoples’ Self-Help Housing Corporation is proposing to build 40 subsidized family apartments ​— ​ranging in rent from only $500 to $1,000 a month, well below market rates ​— ​by availing itself to a brand new zoning tool known in bureaucratic lingo as “AUD” which stands for the equally impenetrable “Average Unit Density.” The AUD is designed to encourage developers to build lower-cost rental housing by allowing them to build more ​— ​though smaller ​— ​units than traditional zoning would allow and without the encumbrances of traditional parking requirements.

Under the new scheme, such housing projects are to be decided by the city’s Architectural Board of Review, which traditionally fixates on design details and not parking sufficiency or flood-plain issues. In this case, the Haley Street development went before the ABR three times before securing a 3-2 approval. Initially, the plans called for a four-story structure with 47 units and 47 parking spaces. But in response to concerns over size ​— ​raised by White’s Pet Hospital owner Arthur Posch and several ABR members ​— ​architect Detlev Peikert agreed to lop off the fourth story and its seven units.

While that change proved compelling to the council, Posch remained decidedly unimpressed. How could such a seemingly dramatic concession, he demanded, yield such a meager reduction in overall height by only three feet? Posch also called into question the amount of toxic chemicals buried in the soil, predicting when the rains hit, the area ​— ​only a few feet above sea level ​— ​would be awash in chemically tainted waters. Five feet of dirty soil, it turns out, had been scraped off the site with three feet of clean dirt taking its place. As for flooding, the development was designed to withstand a 100-year event.

Councilmembers were concerned about the parking impacts the housing project could have on the neighborhood. With only one space required per household ​— ​to hold down costs ​— ​traffic planners predicted residents or visitors would park on nearby streets. But councilmembers were also assured in how tenants at similar downtown housing projects used only a fraction ​— ​on average two-thirds ​— ​of their available parking spaces. Cars, it turns out, are simply too expensive for many people who could qualify for such housing.

But the dominant debate was size versus affordability. Councilmember Cathy Murillo first proclaimed the city’s negligible vacancy as being “brutal,” adding, “And I’ve lived through it.” Then she expressed concern about “height shock,” asking, “Will that corner shock people?” Although Murillo would vote for the project, her answer to her own question was equivocal. “For what I can tell, I think it will be okay.” Councilmember Randy Rowse worried whether projects following suit might lead to the “canyonization” of Haley Street. Councilmember Dale Francisco argued the project should be sent back to the ABR with instruction to lower the building front further. When it appeared Councilmember Bendy White would support that, Mayor Helene Schneider, who normally waits until all councilmembers speak first, uncharacteristically jumped in. “This is what we need,” she argued, reminding her colleagues that the AUD emerged out of nine grueling years of debate over density and affordability. To send it back would send the wrong message to other developers exploring ways to give City Hall what it asked for.

Everyone agreed that the Planning Commission should weigh in on similar projects in the future and that story poles would have served the decision makers and public better than the 3-d rendering provide by the architect. In the meantime, Posch is weighing his options whether to sue.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Earth to one-termer Randy Rowse: 2008 called and wants its hyperbolic vacuous rhetoric back.

John_Adams (anonymous profile)
December 5, 2013 at 7:38 a.m. (Suggest removal)

How will the city control availability of the housing (i.e. to those who qualify) and prevent abuses (i.e. a qualified person subletting or selling at market price to an unqualified person)? What city organization has the directive to monitor and pursue offenders?

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
December 5, 2013 at 8:54 a.m. (Suggest removal)

So the question is......does the AUD apply to low income housing only?
If not, then the parking issue is huge since one parking space per unit will definitely hammer our streets with parked cars.
Anybody know the answer??

JHL (anonymous profile)
December 5, 2013 at 10:22 a.m. (Suggest removal)

And the answer is in this news article:
"But councilmembers were also assured in how tenants at similar downtown housing projects used only a fraction ​— ​on average two-thirds ​— ​of their available parking spaces. Cars, it turns out, are simply too expensive for many people who could qualify for such housing."

Head-exploding fact: Not everyone with lower incomes has nor wants a car if they reside downtown, with sidewalks, bike lanes, and bus routes.

John_Adams (anonymous profile)
December 5, 2013 at 10:42 a.m. (Suggest removal)

So do we now have 20% or 25% of our housing stock permanently dedicated to low-income residents?

This makes for an interesting economic future for out town and especially our promises made to city employee future pensions, salaries and benefits which depend upon ever increasing city tax revenue bases.

Surely there is a tipping point where there will be no new city revenues once a critical percent of the housing stock has been permanently taken out of the market economy. City employees, plan accordingly. City residents, plan on even more degraded infrastructure.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
December 5, 2013 at 10:57 a.m. (Suggest removal)

John Adams
I'm not assuming that all people living in smaller units are low income. My question remains unanswered. Can a developer build smaller, higher density units with fewer parking requirements in higher rent markets?

JHL (anonymous profile)
December 5, 2013 at 5:29 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"Less discussed, however, are other facets to human health and it is important to consider the results of research on the association with high-density living of mental illness, children’s health, respiratory disease, heart attacks, cancer and human happiness.

A significant health issue relates to the scourge of Mental Illness. There is convincing evidence showing adverse mental health consequences from increasing density."

Georgy (anonymous profile)
December 6, 2013 at 9:10 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Fact is, these high-density units are not selling. While houses in the suburbs, that require community do sell. You can't social engineer human choices to do what a group of addled-headed planners want and social utopian council nanny-staters want.

You have to sell housing that people want. to pay for and value This business of attempting to create a windfall for the few as a token feel-good effort, at the expense of the many must stop as an inherent unfairness and exercise of political cronyism.

The city needs to step back and survey the measurable impact and current status of their entire mandated "affordable" housing schemes before they encourage one single more unit in this town to suffocate the necessary healthy market forces that will keep this city alive.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
December 6, 2013 at 9:24 a.m. (Suggest removal)

When the average 2 bedroom apartment rents for $2,000 a month while close to 50% of households earn less than $50,000 a year, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that we have a housing affordability issue.
However, story poles should be a standard part of the review process.
Also, what about affordable business rents as part of the mix? Might just generate jobs and reduce the need for subsidized housing.

blackpoodles (anonymous profile)
December 6, 2013 at 9:46 a.m. (Suggest removal)

That is great that there will be more affordable housing for low wage workers. All these service workers are needed to serve the tourists which is what the SB economy entirely depends on. The workers deserve a place to live in town and it will lessen the congestion on the freeway due to commuters to Venura, Lompoc etc.

islanddolphin (anonymous profile)
December 6, 2013 at 9:55 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Also, it is a very industrial area adjacent to where the buses park at night, so I don't know what the nearby businesses are complaining about ( I used to live a block away). By bringing people to that area it will make it more of a neighborhood and make it less dangerous to go to.

islanddolphin (anonymous profile)
December 6, 2013 at 9:58 a.m. (Suggest removal)

As long as people rent apartments at $2000 a month or buy homes costing a million, you don't have an affordability problem because people can afford these prices.

If the tourist industry needs to charge more to attract service workers or provide them housing, that is their problem. It is not ours, get it?

You really need to pencil these things out before you destroy this town with so much permanent boondoggle low-income housing that creates a windfall for the few at the expense of the many.

If commuters don't want to take the bus and cut down on crowded highways, that is their problem. Not ours.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
December 6, 2013 at 4:38 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I hate foo. I like Foofighter. I want to join in the fight against foo by supporting Foofighter. The only foo I like is egg foo young.

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
December 6, 2013 at 6:45 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Here we see Detlev Piekert whincing in pain as he delivers a karate chop to his own stomach.

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
December 6, 2013 at 6:47 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Congratulations - SB has now caught up its very own version of 1970s housing projects. High density, tiny appts and inadequate parking.

Everyone knows this is a recipe for success.

Poor people will ride bicycles and skateboards pulling trailers with their cleaning, plumbing and construction equipment and will never, ever park a car on the streets around the neighborhood (that would cause more global warming, which is top of mind for the working poor).

They will also feel a pride of ownership in their new micro-units piled on top of each-other as they step aside for medical pot deliveries, recovering gangbangers bringing milk and cookies to dinner and then smile as they realize their wages are further depressed since with cheap rent, there is less upward pressure on employers to pay them more.

Meanwhile, back on the upper East-side, our fearless white, feel good liberals will continue paving our road to hell with their good intentions.

realitycheck88 (anonymous profile)
December 10, 2013 at 10:13 p.m. (Suggest removal)

They'll pay less in housing, but they'll make up for it in parking tickets.

Botany (anonymous profile)
December 10, 2013 at 10:25 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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