Judge Rules on ‘High-Rise’ Meaning

Supporters of Measure B, the Santa Barbara ballot measure that would lower maximum allowable building heights from 60 feet to 40 in El Pueblo Viejo-won a key semantic argument in court Tuesday, when Judge Thomas Anderle upheld their right to use the term “high-rise” in ballot arguments soon to be mailed out to city voters. Measure B proponents with Save El Pueblo Viejo submitted ballot language arguing that only by passing more restrictive building heights could Santa Barbara’s historic skyline be saved from encroachment by “high-rise” development. Architect Brian Hofer, an opponent of Measure B, sued on the grounds that a high-rise is defined by state and local building codes as any structure 75 feet high or more. Because the city’s charter has prohibited construction of anything over 60 feet since 1972, Hofer contended the language was false and misleading and should not be published or mailed out to prospective voters. Anderle disagreed, concluding that the meaning of “high-rise” was inherently relative and could vary greatly from place to place. In political discourse, he ruled that common usage-however imprecise-trumped building code precision, noting, “Our laws permit the citizenry to pass laws on very technical issues without the benefit of legal, or in some cases even relevant, practical knowledge. For good or ill, the debate in the formation of laws necessarily focuses on common-usage terms.” Anderle also dismissed the contention that voters would be misled by the term “high-rise,” arguing that anyone who read all the ballot arguments, both for and against Measure B, would have a clear idea of what the measure would and would not do.

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