Although the Santa Barbara City Council is scheduled to deal with Plan Santa Barbara — five years and $3 million in the making — just next week, it’s growing increasingly likely that final action on the intensely debated planning document could be delayed another 18 months. Two councilmembers, Frank Hotchkiss and Michael Self, have expressed concern to city planning czar Paul Casey that they haven’t had enough time to properly digest the sprawling document — approved three weeks ago by the Planning Commission by a 6-1 vote — which will determine how much growth the city should accommodate, what kind, and where.
Hotchkiss and Self are part of a three-person council minority opposed to some of the new residential densities called for in the new plan to accommodate more affordable housing. Because Plan Santa Barbara calls for major zoning changes, a five-vote supermajority is required for approval. Given the political split of the council, it’s unclear what menu of compromises, if any, might yield the five votes needed. Should Hotchkiss and Self successfully delay the vote, they could effectively minimize whatever impact Councilmember Das Williams — an ardent supporter of increased densities they oppose — might have. Williams is now running as the Democratic candidate for State Assembly, an election he’s expected to win. Should that occur, Williams would step down from the council this December, one year before his term expires, leaving the council deadlocked 3-3 on a host of issues. His last day on the council would be November 23.
In this scenario, it’s unlikely the councilmembers will agree on whom they should appoint to fill Williams’ vacancy. Without such an appointment, Williams’s successor would have to be elected next November. As to whether Hotchkiss and Self have had enough time, Casey noted that the council received all the essential — if voluminous — documents in March. The Planning Commission managed to digest them and render a vote, and eight special council sessions were scheduled to allow the council to vet the material.