A controversial proposal to build a high-density, three-story, 23-unit apartment complex at the corner of De la Guerra and Santa Barbara streets squeaked through the Santa Barbara City Council Tuesday night on a 3-3 tie. Technically, the vote was whether to uphold an appeal of the project, which had been narrowly approved by the Historic Landmarks Commission. Under council rules, the tie vote meant the previous approval stood. For the new council, the deadlock vote underscored the imperative to secure a seventh voting member. That won’t happen, however, until this June.
The council voted 4-2 to fill the vacancy left by former 3rd District councilmember Cathy Murillo’s mayoral win by holding an election, which will take place five months hence. In so doing, the council opted to ignore the advice of City Attorney Ariel Calonne, who insisted the city charter dictated they appoint Murillo’s successor on the council. District election advocates have disagreed, threatening to sue unless the fate of the largest minority-majority district in the city is resolved by election.
Assuming this decision stands, the council — split into two even camps — could experience chronic deadlock. In the case of the proposed housing project — in which issues of density and affordability compete with neighborhood compatibility — the developer already has permits to build six luxury condos, but would prefer to build smaller, high-density rentals catering to people making 120 percent of area median income. Neighbors came out in force, objecting the project doesn’t provide enough parking spaces and is too big and out of character with its surroundings.
New councilmember Eric Friedman cast the last ballot in favor of the project — and against the appeal — but not before delivering an anguished monologue. “I have to make a bet against someone who may be bluffing,” he said, referring to the developer’s option to build condos instead. “I just can’t.” Councilmember Jason Dominguez, who opposed the proposal, said no one has built luxury condos in seven years. Councilmember Gregg Hart disagreed, pointing out such condos were currently under construction on outer State Street. Mayor Murillo said even though she wanted to dislike the project and wanted people in the room to like her, she had to vote against the appeal. “This is one of the worst appeals I’ve ever seen,” she said. After the council deadlocked, she stated, “We did our job.”
Editor’s Note: This story was corrected on January 25 to reflect that the vote to select District 3’s new councilmember by election, instead of by appointment, was 4-2, not 5-1.