Citing Santa Barbara’s crisis-level housing shortage, the City Council on Tuesday denied a proposal to convert a fourth-floor condominium at 101 West Anapamu Street to a short-term vacation rental. The 5-2 vote, with councilmembers Frank Hotchkiss and Randy Rowse dissenting in the strongest possible terms, upheld a previous and unanimous denial by the Historic Landmarks Commission (HLC), which similarly argued the project was “not consistent with the principles of sound community planning” as it would remove valuable housing from the market by moving the property from residential to “hotel” use.
Property owner Dan Cattaneo and his planning consultants argued the HLC decision was arbitrary and capricious and that the design review board — normally tasked with vetting the aesthetics of development projects— overstepped its bounds by wading into land-use territory. They asked why the city would lay out a path for property owners to legally convert their units to vacation rentals— spending many hours and thousands of dollars in the process— if one of its lower-level discretionary boards was ready to deny even a single-unit proposal. Cattaneo claimed he wasn’t given due process at the HLC hearing and stated to the council, “As your constituent, I feel betrayed.”
HLC member Anthony Grumbine was clear with the council that while vacation-rental conversion proposals were a fairly new phenomenon for his board to study and consider, he was confident in its authority and ability to rule properly on their merits. Given the state’s Accessory Dwelling Unit program and the city’s Average Unit-Size Density initiative, Grumbine said, it’s clear there is a concerted effort at all levels of government to eat into California’s housing imbalance. The HLC is part of that effort, he said.
Councilmember Jason Dominguez stated there’s been a housing shortage in Santa Barbara since the Chumash were the predominant residents. But now, he said, we’re in a housing crisis with teachers, nurses, and police officers unable to live where they work. That’s why even a single unit matters. Mayor Helene Schneider agreed the conversion process should be clarified. But, she explained, there still will be no guarantee that just because a property owner enters that process they will come out the other end with an approval. “It’s called discretionary for a reason,” she said. The council will hear two more home-to-hotel conversion appeals in the coming weeks.