Santa Barbara City Council has passed a measure to eliminate Zoning Information Reports, but councilmembers have nine days left until it is official.
The measure passed 5-2 during Tuesday’s City Council meeting, with Mayor Cathy Murillo and City Councilmember Kristen Sneddon casting the dissenting votes.
“It would be the wild west if we didn’t have this check,” said Ms. Murillo. “People would build whatever they wanted to if they knew that there was no one keeping an eye on things.”
Ms. Murillo told those present at the meeting that with the real estate prices in the Santa Barbara area, eliminating ZIRs could increase non-approved constructions. These constructions may pose safety hazards.
Even Councilmember Oscar Guttierrez agreed with Ms. Murillo, saying that eliminating the ZIRs “may unintentionally enable homeowners to build things that they shouldn’t.”
Ms. Sneddon, meanwhile, wanted to see an analysis from city agencies regarding the reports’ impact on the zoning process before taking action to do away with them.
“I don’t want to be hasty,” she said, although she expressed very clearly her doubts about the ZIR process.
A main concern of Ms. Sneddon was the inconsistency between the reports. Since ZIRs ceased to be a mandatory part for residential property transfers less than five years ago, the quality of these reports have varied. Inspectors could only conduct internal analyses with the home owner’s permission. Otherwise, the inspector must do what Community Development Director George Buell called a “drive pass,” surveying the private property from outside.
These “drive pass” inspections fail to take stock of the inner workings of a residential property, whether or not it has built additional dwelling space without permit, for example. The fact that the home owner denies inspectors access to set foot inside the property, however, serves as a red flag for interested buyers, according to Ms. Murillo. But the inconsistency is not the only problem ZIRs pose.
In addition to the inconsistency of reports, ZIRs also produce a financial burden. According to City Attorney Ariel Calonne, conducting the reports costs the city $270,000 per year. When Councilmember Eric Friedman asked how much homebuyers and sellers have to pay for the reports, Santa Barbara Association of Realtors President Thomas C. Schultheis stepped up to the podium to answer. According to Mr. Schultheis, a “drive by” report costs about $400 and an interior analysis, about $500.
Mr. Schultheis told the News-Press that there are better alternatives to ZIRs, such as physical inspections, private land use planners and land use consultants. Overseeing the certification of these inspectors and planners, he said, are groups like the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors.
When asked about the perception that Santa Barbara’s realtors want ZIRs to go away in order to generate more business, Mr. Schultheis replied, “That is simply not the case.”
“It’s really not about selling homes,” Mr. Schultheis said. “It’s about educating clients.”
Tuesday’s council meeting set off a 10-day countdown until ZIRs are repealed. Next week’s meeting falls within this 10-day period.
If even one of the five who said yes has a change of heart within these 10 days, then the decision will be placed in the hands of Santa Barbarans. If nobody changes their minds, ZIRs will be put to rest starting July 26.