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David Fitzsimmons, The Arizona Star

Architecture Creates Attitude

There Go the Neighborhoods


I was walking along the Santa Barbara Street side of the Courthouse. There were people taking down a large sound stage on the far side of the Sunken Gardens. I talked to the owner, who said he had been doing this for 20-plus years and they had just had a weekend for an insurance company of about 600 people, who came to town for a convention. He said that they probably spent about a million dollars.

I noticed that we had about six or so cruise ships in town this year. We gratefully had the Navy invade us not too long ago.

I am told, by where I go for Sunday services, that people travel to Santa Barbara to get married.

Frequently, I talk to people at Stearns Wharf, on the trolley, and on State Street, asking them where they are from. A frequent response is, “Up from L.A. for the day.” I ask, “Why are you here?” “To get away from it all,” they say.

The economic engine of Santa Barbara is the hospitality industry. People come here not only for what it is, but what it is not. We have strict regulations about signs, balloons, building heights, and more to preserve the ambiance of Santa Barbara to continue to attract tourists.

We have a problem. There is little affordable housing. The proposed Municipal Code Amendments for Implementation of the Average Unit Size Density Incentive Program, due for City Council ratification in July, attempts to remedy that by creating more and smaller units and increasing the density and hoping that the market will keep the prices down.

I hear great acclamation for this but see no evidence or other models that says it works. We are depending upon a wing and a prayer.

This ordinance proposal threatens the hospitality industry by increasing the density of already crowded neighborhoods and making it look like Los Angeles, so instead of a place to get away from it all, it becomes a place to get away from.

A project currently before the Architectural Board of Review claims to conform to the yet-to-be-passed ordinance. This project is for the vacant lot on Haley, next door to Catholic Charities and across the street from the bus barn. It is a four-story building in a one-story neighborhood, which will crowd out parking for the merchants, make a therapeutically inappropriate venue of concrete and noise for the dual-diagnosed new renters, change the ambiance of the neighborhood from relaxed to nervous, and set a precedent for what is to follow in all areas. Architecture creates attitude.

Is there another solution that provides for affordable housing and not one more new nail driven for constructing new buildings?

Yes. Santa Barbara has a cottage industry of property owners renting their extra bedrooms and other units in violation of zoning regulations. It is called “hoteling.” Instead of ignoring this, legalize it and tax it like we do with drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes. Go to the utility companies and voter registration roles, and walk the streets one house at a time to see how many cars are parked, and then tax them at the Tax on Transients rate. This would supply an income for the city to buy current houses and buildings to rent at worker rates. Buy high. Rent low. The city sets the rental rates, and not the capricious open market. Families can have houses instead of cramped apartments.

It takes no political courage to push poor people around and crowd them into poor neighborhoods, especially when others profit by building cheap matchstick, tinderbox, thin-walled, noisy, too-crowded, user-hostile apartment buildings.

It takes political courage to face property owners and turn their illegal behavior into quasi-legal, nonconforming use and taxing them.

Is this new density-incentive ordinance the Black Plague that will decimate our fair town? No. But, it is the measles that will pockmark our landscape for the next 50 years.

Santa Barbara is a convention destination.

Santa Barbara is a cruise-ship destination.

Santa Barbara is a people destination.

Deny stuffing a crocodile into a goldfish bowl in our neighborhoods.

Deny cramming poor people into inhumane dog-kennel-sized apartments.

Deny the Los Angelization of Santa Barbara.

Put this proposal on the ballot, and let the people manifest their own destiny.

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