Council Approves Condos, Promises New Rental Protections

by Nick Welsh

Despite tearful entreaties by tenants to save their moderately
priced homes from demolition at an older 10-unit apartment complex
on north La Cumbre Road, members of the Santa Barbara City Council
denied their appeal and approved plans — by a vote of 4-1 — to
replace the apartments with eight new condominiums, which will sell
from $700,000 to $850,000, plus one affordable unit priced at
$216,000. Throughout the council’s three-hour deliberations, many
of the tenants urgently addressed the councilmembers in Spanish,
describing through an interpreter how many jobs they already work
and the hardships they anticipate in finding new accommodations
they can afford. “Please, don’t destroy the place we are living,”
pleaded Fernando Guzman, who has lived with his wife and daughter
in their La Cumbre apartment for the past 11 years. “Please save
our building.”

Other tenants expressed fears that they’d have to leave Santa
Barbara if they were forced to move. Despite the concern all
councilmembers expressed at the imminent loss of affordable rental
housing, four of the five present argued it would be unfair to
break new policy ground on the backs of developers Richard and Ryan
Richards, who have played by the rules and offered more than city
guidelines require in the way of tenant relocation assistance and
the provision of one affordable unit. Buttressing the council
majority’s concern about fair play was a conviction that if they
ruled in favor of the 30 tenants — as well as affordable housing
advocate Mickey Flacks of SBCAN and PUEBLO — the developers would
sue City Hall and almost certainly prevail.

Flacks cited chapter and verse from the city’s general plan and
housing policies that definitively frown on replacing modestly
priced rentals with more expensive condos. Councilmember Das
Williams embraced this argument and came up with one of his own: He
argued it was hypocritical and unfair to ask an unwilling public to
accommodate the increased densities necessary to achieve affordable
housing, while simultaneously allowing developers to tear down
existing affordable rentals and replace them with upscale condos.
While some councilmembers may have been sympathetic to Williams’s
arguments, he was ultimately alone in his vote against the

The other councilmembers cited state law and court precedent
that makes it illegal for municipalities to require landlords to
stay in the rental property business against their will. The
evening saw much hand-wringing about the glaring insufficiency of
current city policies to stem the conversion of apartments to
condos, and much talk of reforms to be enacted at a later date. In
the meantime, however, Councilmember Grant House managed to secure
an agreement from the developers to double the amount of relocation
assistance they initially offered, increasing it from one-to-three
months’ rent to two-to-six months’.


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