While I certainly think the debates over AUD (Average Unit-size Density program) and urban density in general are necessary and urgent, I also want to point out that there are many perspectives from which to view any particular example of housing in Santa Barbara. What the local press has recently called the “Nightmare on De la Vina Street” could also be called “Dreaming Green in Santa Barbara.”
When I found out about the “green” or sustainable features of these three apartment units at Hawkes Court, I decided to take my Green Building class (in S.B. City College’s Construction Technology program) on a field trip. We were pleasantly surprised at what we saw: whole-house ventilation (necessary for healthy air quality in tighter, energy-efficient homes), tight building shell (to conserve energy and reduce utility bills), on-demand water heating, and participation in the S.B. Built Green program.
Another phenomenon our class has been studying lately that figures into the urban density issue is the new interest in small, compact, and efficient homes. These units on De la Vina are around 800 square feet each. This relatively small size allows more urban density, keeps price of construction down, keeps rent or mortgage down, and makes space heating almost unnecessary.
Santa Barbara is full of old housing stock that is unsafe or unhealthy or leaky or expensive to cool or heat. These units will obviously be replaced over time, and gradually replacing them with smaller, well-built (earthquake safer), more efficient (cheaper to operate), and more comfortable units seems to me a worthwhile option to pursue. And of course we must make sure, as a community, that this transition is not unreasonably hard on the residents involved.
Patrick Foster is chair of SBCC’s Construction Technology Department.