General Plan Update Stalls on Way to City Council
Plan Unveiled for Planning Commission, Which Finds Fault: Report Shows No Change in Jobs-to-Housing Ratio
At the end of an eight-hour meeting on the City of Santa Barbara’s general plan, in which the Planning Commission commented on the city planning staff’s report titled “Draft Policy Preferences,” Planning Commissioner Bruce Bartlett spotted a snafu. It appeared on a table of “growth scenario assumptions,” which presented five alternatives to receive environmental analysis, each alternative positing a different amount of growth. The City Council will choose one of these scenarios to guide the city’s development for the next two decades.
What Bartlett noticed was that all of the choices had one thing in common: The proportion of new residential units to new commercial development was about the same as now. One alternative called for as many as 7,000 new residential units, plus three million square feet of commercial (and other nonresidential) building; another would add only 2,000 new residences and a million to a million-and-a-half square feet of new commercial space. But no alternative seemed to do anything about the jobs/housing imbalance everybody has been talking about, the number of commuters into the city or the shortage of housing for workers.
Bartlett objected strenuously, immediately joined by John Jostes and Bendy White. Though chair George Myers posited that perhaps the numbers were a “baseline” which the new policies would change, ultimately all of the other planning commissioners-even those who do not favor denser housing development-agreed that the numbers should be rebalanced in light of the fact that many of the policies they had been poring over-and which the community had pushed for in a long series of “Plan Santa Barbara” workshops-were meant to create relatively more room for workers in the city.
Planners responded that they could see the commissioners’ point. The problem is, said Project Planner and EIR Analyst Barbara Shelton, that there was “not particularly agreement on what those numbers should be.” In the end, instead of passing the policy preferences straight to City Council after incorporating the Planning Commission’s feedback, the staff and commissioners will continue their discussion on Thursday, September 25, starting at 1 p.m. Once they have had some time to rest and reflect on the numbers chart, City Planner Betty Weiss told the commissioners, “I think you’ll see it for its relative importance.” She indicated that the type of housing units dominating the city-fewer large condos, more small affordable units-might be the thing to change, if not the number of units.
Other than the question of rebalancing the jobs-to-housing ratio, the commission was generally positive about the draft policy preferences, concurring on energy and water conservation and which neighborhoods should receive most of the city’s future commercial and residential growth-with some dissension over whether the Mesa should be among those to be made a walking and transit hub, with denser housing and less parking. Commissioner Addison Thompson asked staff to add a provision for re-investigating the relocation of the Metropolitan Transit Center to the Amtrak station, to make a better train/bus connection. Policies were for the most part conceptual rather than specific, for example, the document calls for the city to “establish the number of acres of parks or open space per increment of population (e.g. 5,000 residents)” rather than doing so itself.