First female mayor of Santa Barbara shares her thoughts on how it should develop
The longest-serving mayor in Santa Barbara history, and the first woman to ever hold the office, Sheila Lodge, shared her 100-page perspective on the way the city should grow, and what made it the city it is today.
Combining nearly 70 years of living in Santa Barbara and more than 20 years serving it as a Planning Commissioner, City Council member and mayor, Ms. Lodge attempts to answer the question of why it has become increasingly difficult to develop housing.
The answer? It always has been.
In her book, “Santa Barbara: An Uncommonplace American Town — How Thoughtful Planning Shaped a City,” the former mayor wrote about the city’s interest in preserving the character of the city, stemming all the way back to 1909, when the Santa Barbara Civic League was formed.
Charles Mulford Robinson prepared Santa Barbara’s first city plan, where he “commented on the extraordinary beauty of the town’s setting and on the fact that the health of the city’s economy depended on the enhancement of its attractiveness.”
“As I continued to do research, it became clear that if it had not been for certain individuals, Santa Barbara would be a very different place,” Ms. Lodge wrote in her book.
Certain individuals she referenced included Pearl Chase and Bernhard Hoffmann, who both guided Santa Barbara to use the Spanish Colonial Revival architectural style.
Mr. Hoffmann was secretary to the city’s first planning commission and a member of the United States’ first municipal architectural board of review.
Around the year 1925, he said, “It has been my hope that Santa Barbara’s rapidly growing prestige as an architectural gem might become so well known that when the place was mentioned people would say, ‘Oh, yes, Santa Barbara — that’s the place where they are so fussy about their architecture.’”
Ms. Lodge wrote about multiple attempts to stray from the Spanish Colonial Revival architectural style, along with attempts to block ocean access, prohibit mountain views and more, and how a few individuals and a few decisions kept that from happening.
“Through the actions and generous donations of many civic-minded private citizens, voter approval of bonds to pay for the land and state grants of tidelands the city acquired its 4.2 miles of beautiful public waterfront, all of it having open views and access,” Ms. Lodge wrote.
The City Council adopted Santa Barbara’s first General Plan in 1964. It began with, “Dedicated to the preservation of the beauty and the harmonious relationship between the natural and manmade resources so that Santa Barbara may continue her historic role as home for those who seek refuge from the commonplace.”
According to Ms. Lodge, Santa Barbara avoided many developments that may have made it a commonplace, including two 107-foot condominium towers in place of what is now Alice Keck Memorial Park; a thousand-room hotel and a two thousand-person conference center creating a half-mile of buildings blocking views of the mountains from the beach; and a 10-acre artificial lake.
The city once even had a population goal of 85,000, to maintain the quality of aesthetics, noise, park access, air quality and more. This goal limited new non-residential growth to no more than three million square feet over 20 years.
The same Task Force that created the planning document with the population goal found that Santa Barbara had the second-highest sales prices and the fifth-highest rental costs of 115 similar cities Santa Barbara was compared to in the 1970s.
“When people were asked what they loved about Santa Barbara they said its small-town feel, diverse population, scenic beauty, distinctive architecture (especially downtown), preservation of historic character, and its vibrant and dynamic culture,” Ms. Lodge wrote. “The major problem was the lack of affordable housing to rent or to buy. This was not a new issue.”
In all, the author concluded, “Careless development can alter the character of Santa Barbara. Its difference and distinction must be maintained…
“We who live here and those who come after have a right and a responsibility to maintain the high quality of life that comes from our unique natural environment and our carefully considered and crafted built environment. … It is in everyone’s interest — including those of the city’s ‘practical’ people — to help protect and enhance this special, still ‘uncommonplace,’ American town.”
In an interview with the News-Press, Ms. Lodge echoed this sentiment and attributed it to why she wrote the piece.
“One of the reasons I wrote it is to rouse people who care about Santa Barbara to get involved,” she said. “This is a special place, but it takes people being involved speaking up at City Council meetings, at the Design Review Board meetings, to keep it that way, so I’m hoping that some people will, as a result, see what they can do about keeping Santa Barbara an ‘uncommonplace’ American town.”
She said that in order to maintain all of the many reasons tourists and residents of Los Angeles come to Santa Barbara, the local residents must speak up when they see development proposals that may harm that.
“It’s to everyone’s advantage to keep the quality of life here as high as they can and to devote energy and money and time to it,” Ms. Lodge concluded.
The former mayor’s $15 book is available at Chaucer’s Bookstore, The Book Den, Santa Barbara Company, the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, Amazon and through its publisher, Olympus Press.