An initiative set to appear on November’s city-wide ballot has put the focus on an oft-ignored topic: building height restrictions.
If passed, Measure B would limit the maximum height of buildings within Santa Barbara city limits to 45 feet, while buildings in the El Pueblo Viejo district would be restricted to 40 feet. The current maximum height for buildings in Santa Barbara stands at 60 feet.
Proponents believe the measure will preserve Santa Barbara’s unique small town character, while its opponents argue that the measure is excessive and environmentally irresponsible.
Daraka Larimore-Hall, chair of the Democratic Party of Santa Barbara, said she fears how the measure would affect affordable housing in Santa Barbara.
“We think the current 60-foot height limit served us well in the past few decades and kept Santa Barbara a livable, beautiful city,” Larimore-Hall said. “All advocates of affordable housing in our organization are against it.”
But for Bill Mahan, a 25-year resident of Santa Barbara and founder of the advocacy group Save el Pueblo Viejo, the recent influx of larger buildings was a cause for concern.
“We became inundated with big buildings, and when we learned there are 10 more in the pipeline, we got concerned about it,” Mahan said.
After the Santa Barbara City Council denied Save El Pueblo Viejo’s pleas to lower the current maximum height from 60 feet to 40 feet, the organization collected enough signatures to place the initiative onto this year’s Nov. 3 ballot.
“We had support by many grassroots organizations and have a strong and positive grassroots message,” Mahan said.
The Santa Barbara Democrats, however, claim the proposed measure would have a negative environmental impact on the city of Santa Barbara.
“Anyone who studies climate change will tell you we need more density in downtown areas,” Larimore-Hall said. “We need to live close to where we work and play.”
However, Mahan said Measure B would prevent overcrowding of the city and dismissed the idea that it would be detrimental to affordable housing.
“The City of Santa Barbara is essentially built out to the city limits,” Mahan said. “It is totally false that affordable housing will disappear.”
Members of Save El Pueblo Viejo also contend that opponents to Measure B are motivated strictly for financial reasons, citing considerable donations from big developers outside of Santa Barbara. Save El Pueblo Viejo’s donations, Mahan said, have come from Santa Barbara residents.
“Most of the people who are saying ‘no’ to Measure B are people who want to make a lot of money,” Mahan said. “We don’t have any financial interest in this. We just love Santa Barbara and want to keep its small town character.”