ALL DRESSED UP WITH NO PLACE TO FAUX: I don’t know where to begin. On the ballot for Santa Barbara city voters this November is a charter amendment, known as Measure B, which would limit the height of all new buildings to no more than 40 feet in El Pueblo Viejo and 45 feet everywhere else. That’s considerably lower than the current maximum height, which is 60 feet. We are told this is imperative because large, towering skyscrapers-like invaders from outer space-are poised to descend upon our fair city where they will obliterate our historic skylines and utterly demolish Santa Barbara’s distinctive small-town feel. And this, we are also told, is responsible for the millions of tourists who show up, spend money, and otherwise keep us economically afloat. Exhibits A, B, and C submitted in support of this proposition are the three brand-new buildings that recently have sprouted up, like Jack’s proverbial bean stalk, along lower Chapala Street. Each one is roughly the size of a nuclear-powered Navy destroyer. Each of these sprawling edifices comes loaded with a cornucopia of nifty design flourishes. Each could easily be next month’s Architectural Digest centerfold. The latest arrival, El Andaluz, is positively dripping with wit and whimsy. That being said, they’re all on steroids. As architectural statements go, they demonstrate that money these days doesn’t talk, it hollers. And, most critically, they all intrude into my personal space bubble.
At the risk of nitpicking, it should also be noted that some of the very people leading the charge in favor of Measure B actually approved these buildings while they were serving on the Planning Commission. Not only that, but in one instance, they recommended that the building be made taller. And many of the groups now clamoring so urgently for its passage were conspicuously absent when these plans were wending their way through City Hall‘s design review process. Whatever happened to the “if you snooze, you lose” rule?
To deal with these hovering hulks by amending the city’s charter is akin to tampering with the genetic code of Santa Barbara’s very DNA. Some people-mostly architects-have argued that’s too extreme, and have pointed out how similar efforts, undertaken statewide, have effectively precluded the California Legislature from tying its own shoes. It’s a good point, but I’m inclined to go the other way. I say, embrace your inner charter amendments. And why stop with height restrictions?
Has anyone noticed how the Mesa has been overrun with pizza parlors in the past two years? It now boasts the highest concentration of pizza dough and processed cheese anywhere south of San Francisco’s North Beach. Naturally, each slice comes accompanied by a pitcher of ranch dressing. Childhood obesity, anyone? I can feel the onset of Type II diabetes. How can this be consistent with Santa Barbara’s historic character, given that insulin practically was invented here? Of course, the other side will argue that ranch dressing was invented here, too, and that pizza is only a vehicle by which we ingest this salubrious slather. Oh well, that’s why God created political consultants; I say let the people decide.
And what about the proliferation of yogurt shops, now sprouting like commercial crabgrass in every nook and cranny of our beloved downtown? Did the Spaniards eat yogurt? Did the Mexicans? Ever wonder why there are no yogurt booths at Fiesta? Because it ain’t Santa Barbaran. The whole yogurt craze is designed to let people pretend to eat healthily while not moderating their over-amped eating habits one bit. But Santa Barbara is all about living within our resources. Hell, that was written into our charter. Thirty years ago. The impetus for this latest yogurt eruption originated in South Korea and then spread to Los Angeles. Now it’s colonizing Santa Barbara, a city that’s defined itself throughout the centuries for not being Los Angeles. If that weren’t reason enough for a charter amendment, there’s the blatant sexism underlying the whole yogurt economy. Studies have shown that women consume no fewer than 98.6 percent of the six million gallons of yogurt produced in the United States annually. That’s because females are brainwashed in the womb to worry about getting fat. For the dubious privilege of consuming fewer calories, they are willing to pay through the nose. In this regard, yogurt is the mucoid equivalent of the salad bar, which also exploits women’s deep-rooted insecurities about unwanted deposits of adipose tissue. Given Santa Barbara’s powerful matriarchal heritage-nearly 30 years of female mayors, Pearl Chase, and women chiefs dating back to the Chumash period-how can we allow such rank economic sexploitation to continue? Don’t women workers still earn just 67 cents for every dollar a man makes? Given this gaping economic disparity, I’m flummoxed that District Attorney Christie Stanley hasn’t chased these yogurteers out of town. Will Christie’s challenger, prosecutor Joyce Dudley, be any better? Frankly, I don’t think we can afford to find out. We need a charter amendment now.
And what about cupcake shops? Or should I say shoppes? Can we sit idly by and watch a phenomenon inspired by an episode of Sex and the City-a show that positively writhes in exultation of its New York identity-to corrupt the youth of our community? Haven’t we already endured far too much of the smug superiority of people from the Big Apple? (And if they like it so much, why are they still here?) One can only wonder if there’s a connection between the advent of cupcake dens and the rise of medical marijuana dispensaries. I’m trusting that Police Chief Cam Sanchez is investigating; if not, it should become a hot campaign issue during this November’s council elections. I know that Carpinteria Councilmember Joe Armendariz would say we should put our faith in the gods of supply and demand, at whose altar he worships most fervently. But we don’t have time to let the free market run its course. Look how long it took for the Krispy Kreme bubble to burst. In the meantime, how many lives will be left in crumb-caked ruin?
Like I say, I don’t know where to start. Or, for that matter, where to stop, either. Until then, watch out for your own shadow and I’ll see you in the yogurt line.