High density housing development might be encouraged in certain areas of Santa Barbara as a quasi-experimental way of determining whether the so-called “smart-growth” agenda—greater housing densities in exchange for greater affordability and smaller unit sizes—can deliver as promised without overrunning the affected neighborhoods with crime and congestion.

This tentative step emerged out of a Santa Barbara City Council subcommittee working to find any compromise over a politically deadlocked General Plan update process. While key details of the potential compromise remain far from certain, it appears Councilmembers Dale Francisco and Bendy White have agreed, at least in principle, to a dramatically scaled-back approach in a last-ditch effort to salvage something from the five years and $3 million spent on the planning exercise to date. Last year, a majority of the council voted to create new incentives to target high-density, low-slung, more affordable development in certain downtown neighborhoods, but they lacked the five-vote super-majority required. Since then, the council majority has shifted to the right, and there’s even less support for what council conservatives term “social-engineering” and “experimentation” with the city’s historic character.


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