The city’s Community Development Director Elias Isaacson | Credit: City of Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara City Council unanimously voted on Tuesday to amend an ordinance that would allow developers to move forward with project applications even if preexisting code violations are found during the review process. 

Applicants will now be able to choose to correct violations themselves as part of the project, or “defer” the correction — in effect promising to fix the problem later without any delays in permitting or construction.

Planning Division Zoning Supervisor Marisela Salinas provided a breakdown of the changes, saying the amendments were intended to “streamline the review process” for new projects. According to the current city policy, if any violations are found through the review process, “they must be corrected as part of the current project.”

The catalyst for the ordinance, Salinas said, was the Novak Report — a 2020 study assessing the city’s development process. It recommended that “if violations are discovered during review, correcting them should become an enforcement case, not part of the discretionary review or ministerial permit approval.”

Two of the main changes create a more clearly defined policy on abatement and who is in charge of making decisions. The third major change would put the city’s Community Development Director, Elias Isaacson, in charge of deciding on violations and enforcement.

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With the new ordinance in place, staff will review the project applications only based on “completeness.” Even if the applicant does not agree to correct the violations, Salinas said, the application process can still move forward.

Typical violations in residential areas include sheds or structures, fences, or walls that stretch over the city’s height limit. In commercial zones, violations are typically unapproved dumpsters, parking lots that need repainting, or landscapes that need removal.

Councilmember Kristen Sneddon asked if developers could put off corrections indefinitely, but city staff said it would only “de-link” the review and enforcement processes.

“Do we lose enforcement leverage?” Sneddon asked.

City Attorney Ariel Calonne responded, “Absolutely, yes; the use of delay as leverage is a tool we’re essentially taking away.”

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