By a vote of 5-to-2, the Santa Barbara City Council approved new regulations guiding new development proposed within 250 feet of Highway 101 — citing health and safety considerations — but not banning it outright, as was first proposed. The proposal drew fire from some community residents who noted that the city’s guidelines were the weakest in the state or the county. Steve Johnson, owner of an affected property on West Figueroa Street, said every other regulating government entity limits development within 500 feet of the freeway. Citing his PhD in mathematics, Johnson said the consultant who concluded 250 feet would be adequate, given Santa Barbara’s unique meteorological and traffic conditions, got his calculations wrong. If the right numbers were plugged in, Johnson said, Santa Barbara would have a 1,000-foot buffer. City planners acknowledged the consultant erred in the narrative portion of his report, but that his modeling numbers that indicated the relative risk of different exposure levels was solid.
The particulates emitted by freeway traffic have been linked to heart disease and cancer. But because newer cars are burning cleaner — not to mention Santa Barbara’s ocean breezes — the council majority concluded the 250-foot guidelines would suffice. Developers will be required to include physical barriers and plantings to screen residents from freeway-borne pollutants. Also required will be double-paned windows and air-filtration systems. Councilmember Dale Francisco argued such a regulation, however softened, was unnecessary; most people understand proximity to the freeway is less than desirable. Councilmember Cathy Murillo — who agrees with Francisco on little — also voted against the regulation but, in her case, because it would make the development of affordable housing more difficult.