Op-Ed: In Open Letter, Sheila Lodge Schools Das on Planning, Rents and Building Costs for Housing

By Jerry Roberts of Newsmakers

(Editor’s note: Inflaming the conflict over construction of new housing, Supervisor Das Williams on Dec. 15 biliously attacked Santa Barbara’s planning process, as he led an effort to deny the city a grant to develop a comprehensive plan for building new units at La Cumbre Plaza. Last month, former Mayor Sheila Lodge sent him a letter, deconstructing his critique, but did not receive the courtesy of a response. After receiving permission from Lodge to publish the letter, we reached out to Williams; a few minutes after Newsmakers posted, he sent a text, asking for equal space to reply. We’ll publish his piece when it comes in).

By Sheila Lodge

Dear Das,

You may remember that I was very much involved in the city’s General Plan Update (GPU) process as a member of the Planning Commission GPU sub-committee. While it is true that it was long and arduous, I beg to differ with you that the planning process “went nowhere.”

In an effort to reach a compromise between those who wanted to upzone Santa Barbara and increase density everywhere, and those who didn’t want to increase density anywhere, I suggested that an experiment be made.

In a very limited part of the city’s commercial and light industrial areas, I suggested that densities be increased for rental projects for the life of the building. Presumably, units would be affordable by design. You thought it was an excellent idea.

In October of 2010, I drew the first map of where this high density overlay zone should be. It included La Cumbre Plaza. The development community said that, given this higher density, rents would be middle-income affordable. The program was adopted in 2013.

However, the city learned with the first AUD high density project to be completed that there is no such thing as affordable by design. At top density of 63 dwelling units per acre (du/acre) the rents were almost double what the development community said they would be.

Rents will be and are what the market will bear.

How economics works. The AUD high density program has been very successful in that it did stimulate the construction of apartments.

Almost none had been built for decades prior to its adoption. As of August 1, 2022, 314 high density overlay units had been completed. Another 560 have building permits issued, have been approved or are pending.

To further stimulate construction of apartments, the city allowed for zero parking for projects in the Central Business District.

Presumably, the lowering of construction costs would result in lower rents; I asked the developer of one such project if rents would be lower because of the lack of parking.

His reply? “Rents will be what the market will bear.”

Because no middle-income affordable units were created, the city council adopted an inclusionary ordinance, requiring 10 percent of the units in a project to be priced at that range. Before such an ordinance could be adopted, state law required that a nexus study be done, an analysis to show the impact of the new units in creating demand for even more affordable units.

The study showed that an almost 20 percent inclusionary requirement would be needed, simply to keep up with the additional demand created by additional residents in the city. (More people living in the city generate an increased need for a range of services from janitors to doctors.)

It sounds counter-intuitive, but the more units are built the worse the jobs/housing imbalance becomes. The city is faced with an insolvable conundrum.

How planning works. When you said the city’s design review boards were “horrifying”and that they had “run amok” I assume you were referring to high density projects which come in for preliminary applications, asking for feedback regarding size, bulk and scale and which come back with a reduced number of units in response to the boards’ comments.

If the number of units is reduced, it is because the applicant is voluntarily trying out different proposals. They are exploring their options. The boards know that they cannot reduce the number, and they do not.

Some projects have come back with fewer units. Even so the density is often still two to three times the density allowed in your jurisdiction, the County of Santa Barbara at 30 dwelling units per acre, and the city you live in, Carpinteria at 20 du/acre. (Santa Maria’s maximum density is 22 du/acre; Goleta’s is 30 du/acre).

Bottom line. The city has gone out of its way to encourage development of rentals. Hundreds have been built at densities unheard of in our neighbors. They have not reduced the affordable housing problem.

Beyond locating financing for public housing authorities, and other non-profit housing providers, I do not know what will.

Sheila Lodge, a longtime city Planning Commissioner, is former Mayor of Santa Barbara.

Read more news at newsmakerswithjr.com


Written by Jerry Roberts

“Newsmakers” is a multimedia journalism platform that focuses on politics, media and public affairs in Santa Barbara. Learn more at newsmakerswithjr.com

What do you think?


0 Comments deleted by Administrator

Leave a Review or Comment


  1. Some neighborhoods are set up with cc&rs that require properties to be owner occupied, or at least they were set up that way at one time. However, the modern thinking is this type of restriction creates “exclusionary zoning” and prevents housing from being available to rent. That’s why progressive state leaders passed the ADU laws which allow splitting single family homes into multiple units, and single family properties into two lots with multiple units on each. These laws void any “exclusionary” cc&rs that would prohibit this sort of development and renting out the units, and they also void any cc&rs that would make the process unduly burdensome such as architectural review requirements. In addition, the adu laws void any local zoning or development restrictions, taking away the local government’s ability to regulate these types of projects in addition to the HOA’s ability to do so. The bottom line is, it’s no longer legal to enforce the type of owner occupancy requirements you are suggesting.

  2. The New Zoning Ordinance actually reduced useable lot area for most homeowners. The setbacks increased across most urban zones from 20′ to 35′ and from 5′ to 10′ on interior setbacks. Her “work” on the NZO has made it more difficult for homeowners to build or add-on, so they now have to go UP!? Thanks Sheilah, for making it twices as expensive to build in SB!

  3. Not only that, but the adu process shortcuts the subjective architectural review process and public comment periods. The city has 60 days to issue a permit, and if they can’t review the plans in that time period to respond then the permit is considered issued. Also, the JADU process makes a garage conversion a piece of cake. The city and county used to prohibit garage conversions in many areas, now they can’t. Kind of funny the city wouldn’t allow a remodel/modest addition in years past, or they would drag it out for months or years with burdensome review processes, and no they must approve the construction of large detached ADUs with 4’ setbacks within a 60 day window.

  4. yall are forgetting the biggest part of this math equation….our population. do you really think that we can keep growing, building, reproducing, planting, harvesting, factories, ranches, etc forever? We have limited space, we have over sized homes, cars, tiny narrow roads built for carriages.
    We can’t keep populating and expect to have a lot of room to house everyone. we are at the limits of what SB can provide. Without building north towards Gaviota, we just can’t sustain more people, more cars. More people = more housing needs and we just can’t do it. Also, writing a letter publicly to someone you’ve had conversations with in person is just really poor communication and judgement. Take it back to the source. IDC if you didn’t get the answer you wanted. You got an answer of reality. Look, i can’t afford anything here and i’ve lived and worked here since 1982. All of my family have moved away (they are smart), 75% of my friends have moved away (also smart). SB isn’t the city it once was, nor will it ever by that city again. SB now only caters to the $$ tourism industry and with poor city management and poor financial arrangements, we’re in a bad hole to where we scoot out retail and usher in more hotels, more touristy restaurants, and expensive townhomes and condos that very very few of us can readily afford without going broke.
    SB is completely out of control with rental prices. I’m sorry, but $4000 a month for a two bedroom one bath apartment in a crappy neighborhood isn’t acceptable. The city and land barons are squeezing every cent from hard working families and individuals. I’ve been a leaser, renter in town since the 90s. It’s REALLY out of control and for those that say it’s not, you’re either new here or not a renter. You can’t rent in SB even with 3 jobs. Its not possible.
    we have serious problems here and the more people stick their collective heads in the sand and ignore it, and i’m talking to the leaders too, we are going to have thousands of people sleeping in the parks (which will give a lot of you criers plenty to cry about).
    I’ve already seen several elderly people displaced. Familes too. At SBCC on thursday evening, a little old lady was sitting on the stairs at Cliff and Rancheria. She had suitcases and all sorts of stuff. We asked her if she needed help. She was shaking, lost her home, was evicted and she went to Rite aid to get her meds and the owner had all of her stuff thrown out. Owners son did it in front of her. Heartless bastards. We brought her home, made a lot of phone calls, found her family and also found a place for her in town for a few nights until her family came to help her.
    THIS IS WHAT OUR LAND BARONS ARE DOING TO US. This is serious BS. You ever have a little old lady cry on your should because she was kicked out? I have and it hurts like hell. She’s a retired teacher. She taught our kids, your kids, probably YOU. Thrown out like trash on the street. I hate this city, the money behind it and the crappy installation we have at city hall. every last one of them and Randy too, need to go.

  5. She is right, Santa Barbara has greatly increased densities, traffic, water use, utility use to appease the development community. It was supposed to encourage lower cost units, but, “rents will be what the market will bear”. Forget the “liveability” of low density communities, or “living within our resources”. Rich developers come in to our beautiful area and using every angle, “zone up” to density that the majority of us don’t want.

  6. “It sounds counter-intuitive, but the more units are built the worse the jobs/housing imbalance becomes. The city is faced with an insolvable conundrum….. Beyond locating financing for public housing authorities, and other non-profit housing providers, I do not know what will.” – I think they’re finally picking up on the fact that 1) they’ll never solve the supply/demand imbalance of people wanting to live in Santa Barbara vs. places available to live, and 2) no private developer is going to invest in a project with a significant number of units with fixed, below market rents, that barely increase each year, while the cost to maintain the building – something the landlord is required by the leases to do – increases uncontrollably.

  7. I agree with Sheila Lodge: “Rents will be what the market will bear”. I disagree with “there is no such thing as affordable by design”. Most approved AUD units are unaffordable by design: 9′ ceilings, wet bars, recreation rooms, parking spaces. I would like the City to approve some AUD projects within a half mile of AB221 transit corridors with NO 9′ ceilings, wet bars, recreation rooms, nor parking spaces. I am confident the rents for such units will be significantly less than previously constructed AUD units. Further note: “10% affordable” units are basically an extension of the Lottery. And in some sense renting one is like voluntary imprisonment. It would be very difficult to switch from an “affordable” unit to a market rate unit. And what incentive does a landlord have in maintaining “affordable” units? About as much incentive as a prison warden has in maintaining jail cells.

  8. Santa Barbara is such a contradiction. Wealthy, elite residents claim to support affordable housing for regular folks, like the service workers they rely on. These wealthy elites elect politicians who pass legislation stripping local governments of the ability to regulate development, abolishing “exclusionary zoning” that only allows luxury housing, and requiring rapid development of high density housing with stiff penalties imposed for failure to comply. Then, the same wealthy elites complain about new housing developments in their community. You can’t have it both ways.

  9. You’re never going to be able to build build build so that everyone who wants to live here can afford to. It’s impossible. It’s completely illogical. Sac’s post at 09:51 is classic – you can’t have it both ways, my friend. “Make” housing affordable and comfortable so we can all stay on our homes and never have to move? We want it like to good old days! AND I want to pay penny’s on the dollar property taxes compared with new families that move to the area?
    I don’t think so.

School District Updates Board on Solar Projects

Detectives Searching for an Attempted Murder Suspect