Credit: Courtesy

Dear Planning Commissioner Members:

I write  as a 20-year hotel developer and operator (Spanish Garden Inn), as an emeritus professor of  Site and Urban Design, and Community and Environmental Planning.

Two hundred and fifty rooms is a very large hotel for Santa Barbara. It would create unavoidable problems in our housing supply, traffic and parking, water and waste management, and natural coastal resources. Its size and scale would overwhelm the one- and two-story buildings of the neighborhood.

FEW BENEFITS TO CITIZENS  There are few benefits for locals with this new hotel — a decrease in housing stock, and increase in traffic, and worsening of our carbon footprint. New hotel employees put stress on the current housing supply, raising rents, and displacing existing tenants. Hotels are notorious low-wage employers, requiring the city to subsidize some of their employees cost of living — like childcare, food, health care, shelter, etc.

WHERE WILL THE EMPLOYEES LIVE?  The hotel will probably have 300 employees (industry rule of thumb is 1.2 employees per room for a 3.5- to 4-star hotel). Three hundred employees — most new jobs — will put an unnecessary pressure on an already housing short city and a tight work force. Some will live in Santa Barbara, but most will live in Ventura or Lompoc and drive to work, clogging the streets and parking. Meanwhile, 22 percent of the hotel is likely to be vacant (assume a 78 percent occupancy), while housing vacancy is around 3 percent.

The developers should provide affordable housing (Policy 2.1-1, -2, -3) — it is part of the cost of doing business. For our 23-room hotel, we added eight new housing units in town — or one new unit for every three rooms. Some newer hotels are providing employee housing (Ojai Valley Inn, Tereana Resort) or adding to the below-market-rate housing supply.

WHERE WILL THEY ALL PARK?  Unless adequate parking for both guests and staff is provided, the already parking-starved Funk Zone will suffer more chaos, and traffic jams. The area is poorly served by bus, and the hotel should not depend on Public Parking lots.

The 1983 Specific Plan requires 395 parking spaces for the 250-room hotel, not the 267 proposed (a 128-space shortfall). Three hundred and ninety-five  spaces is in line with current hotel needs. Zoning requires 250, and the 7/24 staff requires at least one car per three employees (100), for a total of 350 cars. A restaurant/bar requires extra extra spaces. The hotel could provide employee bus service to Ventura and Lompoc like other employers in Santa Barbara do.

CLIMATE CHANGE  The hotel violates Policy 2.1.4 (Sustainability) of the Coastal General Plan.

Hotels are notoriously energy intensive. Most guests do not conserve energy — long showers, deep soaking tubs, romantic gas fireplaces and fire-pits, continuous air conditioning, etc. There is a daily mountain of laundry to wash, using thousands of gallons of water, and large amounts of energy for drying and ironing (yes ironed sheets). Hotel guests consume on average 100 gallons of water daily, while a family of four uses 25 gallons per day. Control is impossible — guests perceive they can waste. It is far different than housing, where the owner or tenant pays the bill, and is careful to conserve.

Ninety percent of guests arrive by car, most from the south. Only a small percentage of those are electric. Add delivery trucks, and the number of miles driven attributed to this hotel could be over 30,000 per day. This carbon footprint adds to the city’s already lackluster performance in reducing carbon. To offset it is very difficult in Santa Barbara, but the Operator should be made responsible for and certify a negotiated offset.

THE 1983 SPECIFIC PLAN is meant to refine the General Plan (Policies 2.1 to 2.1-8) — like including affordable housing, supporting sustainability, pacing land development, matching resources like water and waste, achieving  sustainable transportation, being Coastal Dependent, etc. This project does not refine them, it ignores them.

How does a 450,000-square-foot market and a 235,000square-foot hotel refine the General Plan.  Calculating coverage, 685,000 total square feet amounts to a three-and-a-half-story building over the entire 4.5-acre site. Contrast that to the Funk Zone’s small scale, mostly remodeled buildings, originally supporting maritime uses.

While the city wanted hotel rooms in 1983, the developer didn’t provide them in a timely manner. In the 40 years since, hundreds of hotels rooms have been constructed, but not enough housing. The developer’s  time has run out. Our city needs housing, not hotels.

WHY DENY THE LOT INTEGRATION  Santa Barbara is a small lot city. Its character, scale, and charm derives from the smaller buildings constructed on smaller lots. This hotel is a massive building — made possible by combining the six lots. With small lots, there could land preserved for future development (Policy 2.1.6), be protected against future economic shock, have variety, different architects, different uses and styles, spaces between buildings, etc. The site would be attractive for many users — including a small hotel, but predominately housing,   

The developer’s complaint that they can’t make enough money to afford the project seems way off! In Santa Barbara, near the beach, and with a smaller hotel, some housing, it is a gold mine. But, profitability is not the city’s problem — the city has a right to reasonably decide what goes where.

Please do not approve of the 250 room hotel on Garden Street.
Please do not combine of the six separate lots into one.
Please do not allow 685,000 square feet new development.

Instead, direct the developers to plan a beautiful community of housing, a scaled down hotel (like 70 rooms) and maybe some marketplace.


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