Last week, the Santa Barbara city Planning Commission, by a narrow 4-3 vote, elected to forward to the City Council a draft “Historical Resources Element” (HRE) addendum to the recently enacted PlanSB General Plan. This HRE contains language that would subject housing intended for rental to moderate income folks, or employer sponsored (for the workforce) or co-op housing to special scrutiny for its impact on a “historic resource” – defined as anything a “historian” says is one. The reasoning is, apparently, that a building of a certain size that contained six luxury units is kosher, but if the same building contained 12-20 smaller units inhabited by (gasp!) “the workforce,” it would present a threat to Santa Barbara’s storied colonial past.

Ironically, the Planning Commission had just spent an hour on how best to create the downtown, moderately-priced housing we need. Their labors were apparently in vain, because the HRE would subject such proposed housing to a level of scrutiny reserved only for such housing.

Nobody wants to tear down the Courthouse to build housing. Genuine historical resources should be honored and protected. But this HRE would have prevented the People’s Self Help Housing near the Granada Garage because it is within 250 feet of the Courthouse, and hundreds of downtown parcels would similarly be off-limits to “dense” (but not luxury) housing because they are within 100 or 250 feet of a building built before, say, 1950.

What is truly of historic value is left undefined – just don’t let folks of modest means anywhere near it. And remember, our “heritage” is Spanish (never, God forbid, Mexican) – ¡Viva La Fiesta!


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