Grand Jury Determines Lack of Leadership in Community Development Department

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Source: Santa Barbara County Grand Jury

City of Santa Barbara Community Development Department

The 2019-20 Santa Barbara County Grand Jury investigated the Community Development Department and its planning permit process, the effect of the current fee structure on development, its management, the culture within the department, its approach to customer service, and the growth philosophy of the City of Santa Barbara.

The Jury determined that there is a lack of strong leadership at several levels, insufficient coordination and communication between the Building and Safety Division and the Planning Division, an impression of a slow growth policy, inconsistent customer service and a fee structure which could be a deterrent to building development. Now more than ever, considering the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for a vibrant local economy requires that the Community Development Department be an efficient, can-do agency, working to get Santa Barbara revitalized. The leadership needs to shepherd the department toward promoting vibrant growth in the City of Santa Barbara.

The complete reports with agency responses are posted on the Grand Jury’s website: www.sbcgj.org [and can be read in the attached below].

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Eggs Ackley Jun 02, 2020 01:21 PM
Grand Jury Determines Lack of Leadership in Community Development Department

RHS please confirm with facts your offensive statement. Do you think having a masters degree in business administration demonstrates lack of qualification for GJ?
Grand juries get ignored because the problems are systemic and politicians and management fail to act. That whole status quo thing.

DBD Jun 01, 2020 04:50 PM
Grand Jury Determines Lack of Leadership in Community Development Department

I swear the Planning Dept took 5 years off my life, lol. What a terrible experience. If you have property and you are thinking about any type of improvements or maintenance, think long and hard before going down that path. Not sure if its a good thing or a bad thing that my experience seems to be the norm.

a-1591057364 Jun 01, 2020 05:22 PM
Grand Jury Determines Lack of Leadership in Community Development Department

Perhaps Edhat could change the caption under the photo so that it doesn't suggest these three people are part of the problem. The sentence below -- Permit Counter in the Community Development/Public Works Building (Photo: City of Santa Barbara) -- might be more appropriate.

420722 Jun 01, 2020 05:38 PM
Grand Jury Determines Lack of Leadership in Community Development Department

How about no more rampant building for starters since we ARE already supposed to be a slow growth community. What we’ve seen in the last 5-10 years is an explosion of growth. Santa Barbara has not gotten better as a result, the quality of life has actually gone down if you ask me.

Sam The Dog Jun 02, 2020 01:45 PM
Grand Jury Determines Lack of Leadership in Community Development Department

@ Eggs, if we don't build, housing will only become less and less affordable. It's basic supply and demand. More people want to live here than there is housing available, people keep making more people, and if the number of available housing units doesn't increase the cost of the housing will increase.

Chip of SB Jun 02, 2020 01:46 PM
Grand Jury Determines Lack of Leadership in Community Development Department

The population of Santa Barbara has grown rapidly for decades. Until approximately the 70s, construction and development was not so restricted and kept pace with demand. For example, consider the rapid expansion of suburban neighborhoods in this area in the post-war boom of the 50s. Landscapes like the Mesa were transformed forever. Coincidentally, up until the 1970s rents and house prices in Santa Barbara were reasonably affordable. Then development was restricted, the population continued to grow, and prices correspondingly increased. If the city allowed property owners to develop their land as they see fit, there would be rapid growth in the types of housing under the greatest demand and rents would quickly decline. The city will never let that happen.

a-1591060077 Jun 01, 2020 06:07 PM
Grand Jury Determines Lack of Leadership in Community Development Department

As an architect, I don’t find the Planning (or Building) Department particularly difficult or cumbersome. The first step of the design process is to determine the approval process and applicable regulations, then proceed accordingly. Part of the reason Santa Barbara looks and feels like “Santa Barbara” is due to this regulatory process. Without this process, SB would resemble Houston-by-the-Sea, and would really be crowded and ugly. It isn’t cheap and it isn’t fast, but those both put a necessary damper on out of control development.

a-1591111110 Jun 02, 2020 08:18 AM
Grand Jury Determines Lack of Leadership in Community Development Department

0821 - Your vocation explains it all! Most property owners going into planning aren't ones who are there many times a year and have a working relationship with the people at the department. They NEED you because you represent HUGE fees to the city vs Joe Homeowner who wants to do a garage addition or build a fence, or...

Chip of SB Jun 02, 2020 08:55 AM
Grand Jury Determines Lack of Leadership in Community Development Department

If the "look and feel" of Santa Barbara is scores of vacant buildings, a thriving population of street dwelling drug addicts, and trash and filth for decoration I would agree the community development department is doing its part to help maintain the special character and charm of our community.

greytfull Jun 01, 2020 09:34 PM
Grand Jury Determines Lack of Leadership in Community Development Department

At nearly the same time as the pandemic closed down the City offices, making them accessible only by phone and email, and new regulations, permitting processes, and substitute office workers began. Simple permits take a month to clear now, and fees have skyrocketed. Exaggerated paperwork and extended deadlines have made it increasingly more difficult to explain to clients why they are being asked for more patience and fees for relatively simple projects.

SBLetsGetAlong Jun 02, 2020 06:54 AM
Grand Jury Determines Lack of Leadership in Community Development Department

Having outsiders examine the process is a good idea. Other cities and areas have a much faster & less expensive process than SB.
I understand maintaining the aesthetics of SB, in commercial areas. But homeowners should be allowed the build within objective guidelines.
For example, a neighbor performed a full remodel. City said no to a metal roof. Yet the city allows metal roofs in other neighborhoods, in fact 4 blocks away is a new metal roof.
Another person was told they couldn’t put up a wood fence, the ABR wanted to see metal. After redrawing the new ABR guy said he’d rather see a wood fence.
Who profits from these revisions and Re submissions? They are not complaining about the City’s processes.
Also a person shouldn’t have to spend thousands on conceptual drawings and plans for the City to say no they cannot build.
For a long time many people have complained about the City’s process & fees. The only ones who support the City have been people who profit from the multiple submissions, architects, planners, etc.
I have not met one homeowner who has said the City was easy & affordable for their remodel or building.
Look safety guidelines are objective, zoning is objective (or they should be). The ABR should only get one chance to offer suggestions for changes, not multiple.
This is why people build without permits.

PitMix Jun 02, 2020 08:41 AM
Grand Jury Determines Lack of Leadership in Community Development Department

As far as I know, the Grand Jury reviews don't require any actual action by the department. They just have to respond and pretend they are doing something. I seem to remember multiple reviews of the Animal Services Depart and nothing changed there either. So what is the point?

angryjoe Jun 02, 2020 09:05 AM
Grand Jury Determines Lack of Leadership in Community Development Department

I’d like to see the permits for the bum’s camps! Part of the reason Santa Barbara feels like “Santa Barbara “ indeed. They want certain paint colors on buildings in the El Pueblo Viejo district yet when I submitted plans the desk person never offered me the city approved colors. During the approval hearing, one condescending jerk from the ABR yelled at me for not having the right shade of off-white, “why didn’t you pick an approved color?” stormed out to the planning desk to find the color wheel (wasn’t there-I was never offered one) Returned to the room and then produced said wheel from True Value Hardware. The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. That said, most of the desk people are helpful, but many lack knowledge of what the other departments require. Unless you’re an architect, it’s difficult for the average Joe to navigate even simple requests. Having had to go through the process opening two businesses over the years (won’t even get into the signage issue) I will never attempt to open another business on State street should I be forced to move.

a-1591114795 Jun 02, 2020 09:19 AM
Grand Jury Determines Lack of Leadership in Community Development Department

I gave up trying to open a downtown business here. The concept was hopefully going to be a vibrant wine and food operation, offering occasional live jazz and catering to both locals and tourists. After spending $9000 on beginning architectural fees and some basic demolition permits, I got nowhere with the city. I was finally able to hire an attorney and had the long-term lease rescinded. The building still sits empty after two years. Both the owners of the building and I lost a sizeable sum of money for nothing, but who actually lost was the city in all of the taxes and other fees they could have collected. I will be taking my concept and business to a city and state that encourages small businesses because I have had it with government bureaucracies that seem to relish power and implementing delays and useless restrictions "because they can."

gnusman Jun 02, 2020 09:53 AM
Grand Jury Determines Lack of Leadership in Community Development Department

Come to Ventura! We have some empty spaces downtown at much lower prices than Santa Barbara and we are a growing community. Recently the Ventura Land Trust acquired thousands of acres in the hillsides (for hiking, biking etc), the Promenade along the beach has a makeover, and the link between the beach and downtown is walkable and easy. We have craft beer stores, Patagonia's original store and Tin Shed and an environmental ethic.
I was a long-time resident of SB and love it still, but moved to Ventura and it reminds me of SB of, say 20-30 years ago, when local businesses were more prevalant than Chain Stores. Nevertheless, sorry to hear that SB is having these problems. I visit it often and sad to see so many storefronts empty.

a-1591116832 Jun 02, 2020 09:53 AM
Grand Jury Determines Lack of Leadership in Community Development Department

Every encounter I have had with the Government agents at the counters has been confusing, demeaning, and costly. All along the way I encountered opposition to minor improvements, and was ushered into the rabbit hole of "approved" providers of services. I currently run my business without any signage because it was such a nightmare getting approval for a frontage sign. Did you know that the font used on the city street signs is NOT allowed for a business sign because it is illegible? I rest my case.

a-1591390802 Jun 05, 2020 02:00 PM
Grand Jury Determines Lack of Leadership in Community Development Department

Anyone who is considering opening a business in Santa Barbara should ask the building owner for the latest CASp report (Certified Access Specialist). Any alterations or tenant improvements that a new business wants to construct must meet the latest building codes and ADA.

SDP Jun 11, 2020 12:01 PM
Grand Jury Determines Lack of Leadership in Community Development Department

There's a problem with keeping up with building codes that change every three years and become too cumbersome for small business to undertake renovations that building owners should address. It's simply too expensive. What should a tenant have to invest all that money into a building they don't even own? But they can't get a building permit without it. The building owners don't seem to care whether they have tenants or not which means they surely aren't going to maintain their buildings to current codes. Energy codes, structural codes, seismic safety, ADA, design standards, parking standards, lighting standards, storm water management, the list goes on and on...

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