Early this month, I retired as a City of Santa Barbara employee. I was hired as an entry-level employee in 1983, but since 1995, I have been able to help shape my community as a city planner. I learned a lot about our local history, the city’s architectural heritage, and why Santa Barbara is such a special place.
Public service also taught me that I could have a role in helping my fellow citizens. I enjoyed being a public servant for the past 34 years, helping our English- and Spanish-speaking permit-seeking applicants understand all the city’s (at times) complex regulations and helping them get through our design review process. Government workers are often criticized as lazy bureaucrats. But I can tell you that I have seen many dedicated city staff work tirelessly to assist the public.
Why is Santa Barbara so special, besides its overwhelming natural beauty, architecture, and location? It is special because we have a long history of civic duty and people who volunteer their precious time to help shape their community. This is reflected by the number of citizens who sit on all the city’s various advisory boards. I have supervised the Design Review and Historic Preservation Section for the city for the past 22 years. I have seen architects, landscape design professionals, contractors, and concerned citizens all volunteer on various design review committees, including single-family building design and signs, using their expertise to try to guide this city to grow, change, and become better.
It’s an overwhelming and underappreciated task at times, and I admire those who take on the challenge. I have been proud to have worked with these true citizens in my role as a planner.
I like that in Santa Barbara we ask for quality buildings to be designed and constructed to last the test of time, that we do not allow large signs to overwhelm and pollute our architecture, that we don’t overbuild, and that we cherish our past by fostering historic preservation when it is not always convenient to do so, so that we leave the city not lesser but greater and more beautiful than we find it. That is what we do here.
Currently, many significant development applications are pending review in our city. I know my fellow city planners, board and commission members, and decision makers will continue to protect our city’s unique natural beauty and strive to enhance Santa Barbara’s built environment. But citizen involvement and public input, too, guide change. No one expects a city to stop growing or changing, but we can make sure that overdevelopment doesn’t occur and change respects the “look” and “feel” of our city.
Citizens need to be vigilant. Attend and participate in public hearings and demand that the architectural style and scale of our new projects be consistent with what is special about Santa Barbara. Remember that any new building will likely be around for at least a hundred years. Our city review process and design guidelines require that it fit. We should always make it fit. This city is small, historic, understated, and elegantly beautiful, not overdeveloped, sprawling, or ostentatious.
The city has grown and is better (with only a few exceptions) than when I started my city planning career. It has been guided by dedicated, hardworking, and smart individuals.
Now, I leave that daily charge to protect what is special about this city and that commitment to always strive to make it better to all my colleagues. I leave that charge to the people of Santa Barbara, too. Monitor development in your neighborhood. Step forward and participate in the public review process. Public comments can and do influence project outcomes. Let us continue to make good planning decisions. Keep Santa Barbara special. And thank you for the opportunity to serve.
Jaime Limón was presented the John Pitman Memorial Award from the Santa Barbara Conservancy and a Certificate of Appreciation from the local American Institute of Architects chapter in gratitude for his assistance and many years of work.