Community Development Director George Buell, far left, with City Planner Renee Brooke, center
Paul Wellman

A healthy cross-section of downtown interests — including architects, business owners, construction managers, and private consultants — have joined forces with the city’s planning staff to streamline and improve Santa Barbara’s famously onerous permitting process. Over the course of four lengthy meetings, the group has methodically hammered away at the snags that trip up and delay projects moving through the approval pipeline. Everything’s on the table — land-use rules, density requirements, parking policies, the appeals process, and so on — as the city works on identifying areas of improvement and those in the private sector learn about the functions and constraints of their local government.

Community Development Director George Buell said he’s particularly focused on making his department more efficient, accountable, and better outward communicators, and he’s encouraged by the group’s progress thus far. “I would describe the meetings as very productive, very helpful,” he said. Plum Goods owner Amy Cooper and other members wholeheartedly agreed. “I feel like we’ll be able to make changes that have big positive impacts,” Cooper said. “I really do.” At the same time, Nina Johnson, a senior assistant to the City Administrator, is now considering proposals to hire a consultant to develop a strategic State Street plan, which would include an economic development element. She expects to present options to the council in January.

Amy Cooper
Paul Wellman (file)

Meanwhile, a private alliance of property owners and developers is quietly organizing a downtown revitalization group of their own. The Santa Barbara Leadership Team, as they’re calling themselves, was put together by real estate broker Jason Jaeger and landlord Richard Berti and is being led by former mayor Hal Conklin, who said the effort is still in its early phases as members hold informal meetings over coffee to finalize their roster and objectives. In a September 28 proposal to members, Conklin articulated the team’s objectives as “leading a community-wide consensus-building effort,” being “advisors” to city leaders, and drumming up political support. He budgeted his own consultant’s fee at $240,000 over the next 24 months. Conklin said this week that Councilmember Randy Rowse, Mayor Cathy Murillo, and the Community Environmental Council have joined him and others in some of their initial conversations.


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