How SB's Latest Rental Development Scheme Could Remake Downtown into a Canyon of Tall Buildings

How SB's Latest Rental Development Scheme Could Remake Downtown into a Canyon of Tall Buildings title=
How SB's Latest Rental Development Scheme Could Remake Downtown into a Canyon of Tall Buildings
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By Jerry Roberts of Newsmakers

Sheila Lodge wrote the book -- literally -- about the history of planning policy in Santa Barbara, and she doesn't mince words about the latest bright idea before City Council to address our alleged "housing crisis."

The proposal, tagged with the beguiling name "Floor Area Ratio" (FAR), says the longtime Planning Commissioner and former Mayor, "should be dropped."

Policy wonk, urban planning author and Pearl Chase successor, Commissioner Lodge responded in a Newsmakers interview to the current City Hall debate over FAR, an abstruse but hugely consequential idea to spur construction of rental housing, being pushed by architects, builders and a few pro-development council members.

As Josh Molina and Nick Welsh both have reported, the debate has been put on hold pending a ....wait for it...new consultant's report about options for where and how to build apartments and condos that the middle class - think teachers, cops and firefighters - actually can afford.

Sheila, wielding Actual Facts, figures and the fundamentals of supply and demand, not to mention the laws of arithmetic, makes a persuasive case that substituting such a system -- in which building size replaces the number of units as the key criteria in approval of multi-unit developments - not only would fail to meet the goals of churning out "affordable" housing but also pave the way for 60-foot buildings that might signal the end of Santa Barbara's unique and carefully curated small town charm, design and aesthetic.

In our conversation, Lodge points to Santa Barbara's high construction costs -- three times the statewide per square foot average -- provides a precise and favorable accounting of the current pro-rental development policy -- that's the AUD, not the ADU, for those trying to keep their acronyms straight -- and offers historical perspective of how the city's housing debate has been underway for over a century -- her slim but indispensable volume "Santa Barbara: An Uncommonplace American Town/How Thoughtful Planning Shaped a City" should be required reading for anyone feeling the need to opine publicly on the issue.

Along the way, she also offers some intriguing political observations -- including her endorsements for Mayor and Council (spoiler alert: it's Randy and Kristen).

Watch our conversation with Sheila Lodge via YouTube below or by clicking through this link. The podcast version is here.

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Voice of Reason Apr 08, 2021 11:28 AM
How SB's Latest Rental Development Scheme Could Remake Downtown into a Canyon of Tall Buildings

"Santa Barbara's high construction costs -- three times the statewide per square foot average" this is why we will not be able to provide any significant increase in affordable housing in Santa Barbara. If a developer can't pencil out a reasonable profit in exchange for risking considerable capital and lots of effort, then nothing will get built. The abnormally high cost to build here, combined with ever increasing affordability requirements and rent caps, only further discourages new projects from being built. In every debate on this issue in city council they need to ask themselves; "will this encourage or discourage developers from building new housing units"? If we want more affordable units we need to really incentivize developers to do so or simply have the city do it themselves. The biggest problem is people want to limit development, limit building heights, and keep our town "small" while also wanting affordable housing for the working class all the while people keep making more and more people. You simply can't have both.

letmego Apr 08, 2021 05:37 PM
How SB's Latest Rental Development Scheme Could Remake Downtown into a Canyon of Tall Buildings

"The biggest problem is people want to limit development, limit building heights, and keep our town "small" while also wanting affordable housing for the working class all the while people keep making more and more people. You simply can't have both."

I think, for the most part, these are different groups, no? Don't they almost have to be? If you employ common sense anyway.

Sensibly Common Apr 08, 2021 12:39 PM
How SB's Latest Rental Development Scheme Could Remake Downtown into a Canyon of Tall Buildings

The risk of listening to people like Sheila Lodge is little housing will get built and the city will fall well short of the state mandated housing production targets. Will the state enforce the new goals? Nobody knows but if they do, we’ll lose all control over local zoning and end up with LA and Orange County quality development. Seems pretty risky to me.

A_Villegas_102 Apr 08, 2021 01:49 PM
How SB's Latest Rental Development Scheme Could Remake Downtown into a Canyon of Tall Buildings

The US Census Bureau estimates the city of Santa Barbara's population is growing at a slower rate than both California and the US as a whole.[1] In my opinion, if you'd like an even slower growth rate than that, you'll need to seriously consider how disincentivize childbirth.

[1] https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/CA,santabarbaracountycalifornia,US/PST045219

a-1617919642 Apr 08, 2021 03:07 PM
How SB's Latest Rental Development Scheme Could Remake Downtown into a Canyon of Tall Buildings

You guys are not watching the state legislation coming down the pipeline. They intend to supersede all local controls to spur building of housing supply in single-family neighborhoods. There's a real estate boom here, and a lot of the buyers are real estate investment trusts. They're not going to be your neighbors or community members. They're going to buy a house, jam 8 units on it, and flip it for multiple times what they paid for it.

a-1617932431 Apr 08, 2021 06:40 PM
How SB's Latest Rental Development Scheme Could Remake Downtown into a Canyon of Tall Buildings

It's state, not federal. We can vote to change the direction of the state which under Newsom and the San Francisco developer pimp, Scott Weiner are dragging us. They are using "low cost housing" as a smoke screen to densify middle class neighborhoods and our low profile cities so that investors can cram more units into their properties. Vote these bums out.

yacht rocked Apr 08, 2021 05:59 PM
How SB's Latest Rental Development Scheme Could Remake Downtown into a Canyon of Tall Buildings

...and they didn't take local costs out of it. Anyone who has done a home improvement or remodel that requires specialized labor, tools, and equipment (think new sewer line, main electrical service panel, concrete retaining wall) knows that those costs along with inspection and permit fees make local construction costs really high. New packed developments pencil out, but keeping existing housing affordable and well maintained is damn expensive.

RHS Apr 08, 2021 06:26 PM
How SB's Latest Rental Development Scheme Could Remake Downtown into a Canyon of Tall Buildings

Sheila Lodge has donned the mantle of the establishment Lodge's of Boston fame. Adopting a better than thou air and style. She offers a Disneyland Santa Barbara that will please her well situated friends and acquaintances. This makes me uncomfortable. But the truth is more dire than her aesthetic pretense. We have too many people. Population limits are all that will protect our earth from ravage. I am always pleased to see reports of the alleged CA exodus (welcome to Texas folks). But the problem is more basic. Corporations want more customers and more labor at less cost. We need to honor labor, give people space to breathe and save our world. Whether CA can do this alone is doubtful (although Europe was moderately successful before the emigration crisis). So what to do" 1. Stop giving benefits for child birth. 2. Establish a guaranteed minimum income for all legal US residents. 3. Fund real reform in the Central American states which means no more US money to support military governments for a start. 4. Make businesses pay a fair wage and comply with environmental rules no matter where they do business. This is for a start. It is not that hard to figure out what to do but almost impossible to do it in the face of huge money opposition. Still I hope.

a-1617939079 Apr 08, 2021 08:31 PM
How SB's Latest Rental Development Scheme Could Remake Downtown into a Canyon of Tall Buildings

Not likely that Arcadia-born Sheila Lodge has "donned (any) mantle of Boston Lodges", especially since her late husband, Joe Lodge, was from St. Paul, Minn., says Wikipedia, psychologically as far from Back Bay Boston as is California, if not further.

I agree there are too many people and it will be interesting to see the next Census figures, how much of a population growth there is in SB, if any at all.

El Barbareno Apr 09, 2021 09:09 AM
How SB's Latest Rental Development Scheme Could Remake Downtown into a Canyon of Tall Buildings

The State mandate is BS. All they want is new housing to get more property tax. Our streets are already packed with cars and near gridlock and these morons want to add more to our population? What made Santa Barbara beautiful and attractive was the open views to the mountains and ocean and set backs (once upon a time) of buildings to avoid the "canyon" feeling. What happened to the great ideal of "living within our resources"?

sbmermaid Apr 09, 2021 09:18 AM
How SB's Latest Rental Development Scheme Could Remake Downtown into a Canyon of Tall Buildings

Local control WILL be taken away if CA SB 9 passes!!

RHNA #s haven't created affordable housing so Scott Weiner & Crew in Sacramento have a new option. Time to wake up and read up on SB 9.

Go to Unitedneighbors.net (or Unitedneighbors.org. ??) for complete explanation of Atkins/Weiner bill & how it will impact neighborhoods. A giveaway/ benefit for investors/developers. Sign up to be informed on action needed to stop this.

Economies of scale can be achieved in SB with lot splits and more units on each lot. All for cause of "affordable housing", yet it will never be affordable in SB just add traffic, out of area students, etc.

Resident Apr 09, 2021 10:52 AM
How SB's Latest Rental Development Scheme Could Remake Downtown into a Canyon of Tall Buildings

The challenge of integrating more housing into the downtown core without destroying the historic ambiance (which Ms. Lodge and others want) could be solved by adopting Form-Based zoning codes like Ventura did more than a decade ago. Such codes specify the streetscape desired (height, massing, setbacks, etc) and the owner decides what to put inside the building envelope. Such codes have been very successfully used in many areas, like Ventura, to preserve the city ambiance while allowing the effective use of the properties. But for some reason, the City staff has been, and remains, unwilling to even evaluate such coding and has instead taken up FAR in an attempt to deal with the challenge. While the use of FARs can solve some issues, it can cause unintended consequences as Ms. Lodge points out.

SBLetsGetAlong Apr 09, 2021 02:22 PM
How SB's Latest Rental Development Scheme Could Remake Downtown into a Canyon of Tall Buildings

Why is it a “right” to live in the City of SB or even the county?
If you choose to move here but can’t afford it, why did you move here?
And this is a coastal issue all over the country, expensive housing that is.
Plenty of land in Bakersfield and Fresno and many other inland areas.
Those areas have jobs, housing, supermarkets, malls, etc...
so why are we trying to make SB a clown car?
And today our infrastructure might be able to handle the current demand, but what is being done to increase those if we are to add thousands of additional housing?

And why is it that if you can’t afford new construction the govt says don’t worry we’ll force the developer to take a pay cut. Why not let free market prevail. Those that can afford the new construction will leave their old housing opening it up to those that can afford “not new”.

It’s like giving a 16yr a new Mercedes. They have t earned it snd can’t afford it. But the govt says everyone should have a Mercedes!

What a joke!

cherplan Apr 10, 2021 11:41 AM
How SB's Latest Rental Development Scheme Could Remake Downtown into a Canyon of Tall Buildings

The main reason we have a 'housing crisis' is that young workers could never afford to buy a house here, as well as afford the rent. So how do we have a thriving city without them? Who is going to serve you at your favorite restaurant or cooking your food back in the kitchen. Who is going to perform the supportive work that we rely on such as sanitation and garbage pickup?

The State has given us a 5 year target to build more housing units (called Regional Housing Needs Allocation or RHNA) and unlike in the past they have more teeth in it (or enforcement). And of course the recent State legislation effectively eliminates single family zoning with the Accessory Dwelling Unit law allowing 'granny flats' or accessory dwelling units on large lots with little or no local review.

There is a proposal for a development at Carrillo and Castillo which will provide housing for the missing middle or those local government professionals and others who want to work here but otherwise could not afford our housing costs.

Yes, housing costs for building materials are up by 20% and of course land costs here are over the moon.
Cities that are suing the state because they do not want to conform to the State's housing laws include Huntington Beach. I don't think Santa Barbara wants to get into a costly lawsuit.

A group of 100 architects and planners and city officials have worked in the last couple of years to envision attractive developments that would be consistent with our beautiful city.

One last comment: Yesterday I walked through downtown in the State St. area and I was so saddened to see all the empty business buildings some of which can be rededicated to affordable housing. We have to look to the future with innovative ideas to address the housing unaffordability crisis.

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