Architect, developer, and former City Councilmember Gil Garcia sat at the center of a Tuesday storm over high-density gentrification on Santa Barbara’s lower Westside. The City Council gave final approval to plans for a seven-unit condominium project on San Pascual Street, denying an appeal by neighbors who warned it would create too much traffic and set a bad precedent for overdeveloping their block, which is now mostly single-family homes, though it is zoned for higher density.
The project replaces a house and two granny units that sheltered several singles and families, according to neighbor Caroline Rice. The three city councilmembers opposing the project said that, despite the designers’ best efforts, the small, high-density condos did not comprise workforce housing. Garcia and development partner John Blankenship are among the few developers willing to build such small condos, intended to be “affordable by design” as an alternative to subsidized housing for the city’s workforce. However, neighbors and dissenting councilmembers argued that the low-priced end of the Santa Barbara market is no longer affordable to the city’s workforce. “Frankly, the term ‘affordable by design’ is a bogus term,” Helene Schneider said. Councilmember Das Williams called the project “beautiful” but noted that people buying $750,000 condominiums were less likely to use buses or walk to neighborhood stores. (The availability and promulgation of such services is considered one justification for adding density to already dense areas like the Westside.) Williams added that only the smallest condo, at about 700 square feet, might be affordable to middle-income professionals. The others average about 1,000 square feet. Mayor Marty Blum joined Schneider and Williams in voting against the project. The majority of councilmembers voted to approve because the project conformed to existing city policy; members of the council recommended that Westside neighbors get involved in the General Plan Update if they want to change density rules.