DID YOU KNOW? Bonnie Donovan
Did You Know that it looks like Santa Barbara City Council member Alejandra Gutierrez just sold the look of Milpas for a “promise” of 16 moderate priced apartments? Manhattan was sold for about $22. We wonder how “moderate priced” will pencil out when the project is finished.
Ms. Gutierrez and fellow council member Eric Freidman did the bidding for the owners of 711 N. Milpas St. when they went to the City Council with their two yes votes to circumvent the established process.
They got their way. They directed City Administrator Paul Casey and the city attorney to work with the applicants and then proceed to the Planning Commission. Developments that change the design and alter the project, must go to the Architectural Board of Review. Those are the rules that all must follow. (They must think that they are exceptions to the rules.)
Council members Alejandra Gutierrez and Eric Friedman overreached their position by thinking their trade-offs are worth the changes. Mr. Gutierrez beat the incumbent for his seat by a mere eight votes — evidence she doesn’t know all her constituents that well, but she knows the “right” people. Those who can fund her, school her and direct her.
If there is to be a liaison between the public and the developer Ms. Gutierrez just championed, she clamored to be the go-between. Priceless — especially for the developer. What’s in it for her? She is a quick study in the ways of politics.
These “trade-offs” mean adding 10,000 square feet to the size of the project! This translates into six more units, 22 more parking spots and an increase in the height of 7 feet, from 45 to 52 feet. This oversized development caused such neighborhood opposition over the 45 feet height that it resulted in an appeal by the Eastside neighbors in March 2019. We question why 52 feet for 82 units at 711 N. Milpas, when the Marc managed 89 units within the 45 feet height limit.
Without public input, equity cannot exist. However, this revision in process was allowed, and it appears the elitism of a project in which Ed St. George is involved, goes to the front of the line and gets special treatment.
They use the vernacular — “development agreement” — and voice the expectation of “certainty” as one of their perks for the “trade-offs.” Council member Mike Jordan asked if the return of Ortega Street was on the table. We ask if there was fair compensation for the city street now that St. George has provided the funding. We understand previously it was a rush for HUD financing for this work force housing. What happened? Too many HUD regulations?
Mr. St. George’s “altruism” is illustrated by his statement that teachers and cops are his prospective tenants for his moderate priced units. The problem is Ed St. George doesn’t follow up on his promises. For instance, the mostly Latino tenants he evicted on San Andres Street were told his remodel was to create more room for their aging relatives. Instead, when the project was completed, St George rented to students, not the former tenants.
Ms. Gutierrez claims a win because although there are the trade-offs for the neighborhood. The Paseo Nuevo-size building will bring, she says, moderate income rentals to alleviate the housing crisis. What housing crisis? Just because you call it a crisis doesn’t mean there is one.
Added to the new terminology is the label “Community Benefit.” It is used to justify no height limits in building and gargantuan out-of-place, out-of-scale projects. Only the developers and architects benefit.
The sky is the limit, but our view of mountains, sunshine and clouds are gone. (Unless your AirB&B faces east towards the Riviera or south towards the ocean. )
It was said in City Council that the Planning Department was “broken.” Let’s not forget: The process and the fees are agreed to with the blessing of the City Council. How often has City Administrator Paul Casey said to the Council: “… I await direction from you.” We have also heard the council say, “Good job, we so appreciate the hard work of the city staff and their presentation. Our vote is unanimous with your recommendations … ”
The City Council is responsible for these debacles.
The biggest crying shame is that the precedent-setting changes of the due process contribute to the horrifying and everlasting consequences to our city.
And because most people aren’t paying attention, the outcry and “I told you so’s” will hardly matter. The developers like locust will ride off to the next hamlet with another city government that can be “had” just as easily as SB. It appears after all that we have, to quote Will Rogers, “The best politicians money can buy.”
Bonnie Donovan writes the “Did You Know?” column in conjunction with a bipartisan group of local citizens. It appears Sundays on the Voices page.