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Ralph Horowitz wanted greater flexibility for his car lots on Hitchcock Way on the off chance Google wanted to build a new electric-bike facility there. That proved too hypothetical for the City Council, which voted unanimously for tighter restrictions to limit commercial expansion.

Paul Wellman

Ralph Horowitz wanted greater flexibility for his car lots on Hitchcock Way on the off chance Google wanted to build a new electric-bike facility there. That proved too hypothetical for the City Council, which voted unanimously for tighter restrictions to limit commercial expansion.


Downtown Core Strengthening

New Rules Discourage Commercial Growth in Outlying Neighborhoods


Thursday, March 7, 2013
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With surprisingly mild opposition from Santa Barbara’s development community, the City Council unanimously embraced broad new rules restricting how much new commercial expansion can take place over the next 20 years, cutting by half the amount that’s been allowed over the past two decades. In addition, the council adopted far-reaching planning guidelines that will direct much of that development into the city’s downtown area while discouraging such growth in outlying neighborhoods.

The new rules will give city planners greater latitude in green-lighting downtown commercial projects, while making it harder to approve new development ​— ​or additions in excess of 1,000 square feet ​— ​on outer State Street, the Mesa, the Riviera, or Coast Village Road. Developers, attorneys, and land-use agents with interests in those areas argued the council should provide greater flexibility to allow such economic expansion, but the councilmembers remained unswayed. The key issue driving the debate was traffic congestion. Because the downtown street grid can accommodate far more traffic without adverse impact, the council majority insisted downtown was the proper venue for such growth.

The guidelines replace the city’s commercial development restrictions first adopted by a popular vote in 1989 in what was known as Measure E, which at the time of passage was a bitterly contentious and politically polarizing issue. Measure E sought to limit new growth in order to limit the number of new jobs created. And that was done to reduce the demand placed by new workers ​— ​attracted by those jobs ​— ​on the city’s obviously limited housing supply. It called for the development of no more than 3 million square feet of new commercial space over the next 20 years, but the real hammer lay in the traffic restrictions Measure E imposed. Under the terms of Measure E, new projects could be approved only if they did not adversely affect the level of service at a single intersection. Given the large number of subpar intersections throughout the city, this effectively killed numerous proposals before they ever got off the drawing boards.

Under the new rules adopted by the council Tuesday, only 1.35 million new square feet of commercial development can be allowed in the next 20 years. While that’s less than half of what Measure E permitted, it’s about the same amount that has actually been approved since Measure E was adopted. And exceptions can be made, as they were under Measure E, for projects deemed to be of “community benefit,” such as a new medical clinic, a school, or a museum. With the new guidelines, however, city planners will calculate traffic impacts differently, effectively allowing projects that otherwise might not have been previously approvable, so long as they’re located downtown and are officially deemed to be “of community benefit.” That same degree of latitude, however, does not exist for projects proposed elsewhere throughout the city. Traffic engineers argue that city streets in those neighborhoods can’t accommodate the same volume of traffic with nearly the same degree of efficiency as the downtown grid.

The new rules also impose tighter restrictions on the transfer of development rights from one property to the next, a bureaucratically arcane but strategically key tool for those in the land-use business. Now, development rights can no longer be transferred from downtown properties to parcels located in outlying neighborhoods ​— ​as happened with the new El Encanto Hotel, which is about to open. Instead, transfers will be allowed to take place within any of the city’s five new designated zones or from any of the outlying zones to the downtown core.

In years past, the changes might well have occasioned a knockdown fight among the council’s rival camps. But the new policies were hammered out in no fewer than four Planning Commission hearings and had been at the heart of two years of intense debate during the city’s painfully prolonged general plan update process.

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yeah, great, but a well-over 1000 sq ft commercial expansion is going up in a pleasant Westside neighborhood on the corner of Micheltorena and Chino Streets: a very small (and sleazy) liquor store is expanding to TWO stories and even the groundfloor area is being at least doubled. So much for any regulations "discouraging commercial growth in outlying neighborhoods". There is an enormous traffic problem there as well as at nearby Dutton Avenue (by Cuca's No. 1).
What the city council apparently means by outlying neighborhoods includes "outer State Street, the Mesa, the Riviera, or Coast Village Road" but not the lower Eastside or the Westside.
Why is the Mesa more important than the Westside? Oh, the homes up there are more expensive.
This is hogwash.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
March 7, 2013 at 1:09 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Is it hogwash or lobbying by commercial real estate investment and the city's interest in increasing parking lot income and the cops interest in increasing income from parking tickets,and Rowse lobbying for his self-interest and the city's mercenary focus on PEOPLE WHO DON'T LIVE HERE (tourists) rather than representing those who pay for the bloated salaries of incompetent city employees and need services and jobs that pay above the minimum wage standard in the tourism industry. I don't think we need more liquor stores, but the small community-oriented businesses on the westside ARE what we need. They're green - many or most customers walk, rather than drive, they're convenient and time-saving for residents, and they reduce the city's costs in (I wish) for street maintenance and traffic management. They may also improve public safety by reducing the need for people to drive, rather than walk, with or without a license and alcohol use, although this is a downside for public safety employees, since public safety is primarily defined as providing income to public safety employees through bogus DUI's and bogus traffic citations and property confiscation. While the rest of the country is focusing on municipal planning to create communities, SB is planning for decreased services for residents, decreased quality of life for residents, new impediments to residents' attempts at innovative business endeavours, and increased emphasis on restricting city residents' options to those offered by a city government composed of people lacking any skill or talent other than selling themselves as candidates and functioning as parasites on local residents. Santa Barbara may be the only city around intentionally promoting reverse Darwinism.

14noscams (anonymous profile)
March 9, 2013 at 9:22 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"Measure E sought to limit new growth in order to limit the number of new jobs created. And that was done to reduce the demand placed by new workers ​— ​attracted by those jobs ​— ​on the city’s obviously limited housing supply." Now the new rules, if I understand Nick correctly, are likely to cut already restrictive Measure E levels in half.
So at a time when unemployment is hurting youths and families, while the rest of the country is doing its best to figure out how to create jobs, our local officials are working as hard as they can to limit the number of new jobs created in SB, so that they won't have to worry their pretty little heads about how to deal with growth and traffic. We wouldn't want to impede them as they return home from the office in their greenwashed Priuses, would we?
Pardon me, but with leadership like that, how are residents supposed to make a living? Oh, I forgot. If you have to ask, you can't afford to live here.

blackpoodles (anonymous profile)
March 11, 2013 at 5:37 a.m. (Suggest removal)

blackpoodles: residents are supposed to make a living by moving somewhere else. SB isn't a democracy, it's a plutarchy, and SB's democrats are hypocritical split personalities who support corrupt union thugs and wealthy real estate investors. Poverty and unemployment are good for crime.

14noscams (anonymous profile)
March 13, 2013 at 9:14 p.m. (Suggest removal)

On one hand we are lucky to live in an area with an establishment that imagines itself "Liberal/Progressive" and there are SOME good people in office and civil service.
But like all establishments in time they've become disconnected, shells of their former idealistic selves, and in some cases indistinguishable from their own "conservative" opponents. Some are so drunk with power they run for specialized offices they have no real qualifications for, think they know medicine better than doctors; they've become lazy seeking solutions on the platforms they run on- because next election they'll have to find a new issue so might as well keep the old ones recyclable.
Time for fresh faces and ideas, people who want to lead - not be career politicians.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
March 13, 2013 at 11:38 p.m. (Suggest removal)

This is an effective means of restricting the economic and political clout of private enterprise and individuals. Increasing the city's emphasis on income from tourism and prohibiting new residential and business development will restrict the city's population, primarily by restricting the population of those who aren't city employees or city contractors, and reduce the city's need for responsibility to city residents. It will increase income to city government without the expense of providing services to residents, and result in a constituency more favorable to city government policies. The hotel/restaurant industry provides transient lodging and contributes to the maintenance of its private infrastructure, and transient occupancy tax is a significant current source of income. The city of Santa Barbara has a long-term policy of opposition to measures that support Santa Barbara as a residential community. In an economy with increasingly scarce resources, restricting the constituency to those dependent on city employment for income and increasing the emphasis on income from tourists who have no voice in local government is an excellent policy for an autonymous, rather than representative government. A power play that promotes city government for the benefit of city government.

14noscams (anonymous profile)
March 15, 2013 at 4:53 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I agree. All other industries in SB have been thrown under the bus to coddle the tourism industry.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
March 15, 2013 at 5:08 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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