The Santa Barbara City Council voted to send the plan for the use of the property at 3237 State St. back to the Planning Commission for a conceptual review.
After a lengthy discussion in its regular meeting on Tuesday, members of the council expressed that they were not ready to initiate a specific plan and general plan amendment to allow medical clinic uses, affordable housing and public uses for the building by American Indian Health and Services.
AIHS will gain ownership of the property, but the council was unwilling to change the zoning designation from parks and open space to office/medium density residential, due to lack of specificity from AIHS, mainly focusing on the project’s price tag that has yet to be determined. Members said that they don’t want to change the designation if there’s not a guarantee that enough funds can be raised by AIHS.
“This particular parcel is a very important parcel within our city as a whole, so we need to do our due diligence in asking questions,” Council member Eric Friedman said. “I’m just not convinced this time that there is, based on the answers tonight and just the scope of the project and the background, that moving forward with a request tonight is something I can support.”
Council member Mike Jordan agreed, saying, “I don’t want to shut the door to a project that benefits a clear underreported and underserved part of our community in their health care. If we can play a role in that, whether in a project being here or a shared project, I think that is advantageous to this community … I am uncomfortable with all the moving parts at council level at 8 o’clock at night.”
Mayor Cathy Murillo, however, was ready to move forward and initiate the specific plan, but voted to send it to the Planning Commission. The vote was 6-0, with Mayor Pro Tempore Oscar Gutierrez abstaining.
“It’s an independent health clinic. This is a group that has been functioning,” the mayor said. “I’m surprised to hear that there is reluctance to it … It could be something else if it doesn’t work out.”
She added, “I’m more concerned that these folks went through the process and this is going to be their property and we should be helping them.”
Also on Tuesday, the council members shared their thoughts on loaning $30,000 to start a Coast Village Community Benefit District.
While it wasn’t an action item, members had a few concerns with the proposal, which would require commercial property owners on Coast Village Road to pay property assessments to fund special services above and beyond general municipal service levels.
One issue was that the Coast Village CBD survey response only had a 30% support threshold.
“If people say this is a ‘great way’ (to raise money), I don’t understand why your percentages aren’t much higher preliminarily,” Mr. Jordan said. “Make no mistake — the organizers of this district do not own the decision if there’s negative fallout. We own that decision. We will hear from the owners that don’t want to participate. We will hear from the tenants that don’t want to participate.
“The acceptance number of 30% to me, personally, just seems unreasonable.”
He proposed 50% acceptance plus one parcel, and Council member Megan Harmon agreed.
“It does give me pause that we will be hearing from folks who are not in support of this, perhaps, the other 70%. It’s an odd thing to me to try to reconcile why this number is not 50% plus one, something that’s more clearly representative of the majority,” she said. However, she added, “This could serve as a model for the rest of the community, certainly, and it seems like a great place for this to work, so I’m really looking forward to seeing how it evolves.”
Other requests to staff from the council included ensuring flexibility of an ordinance so that it could be applied to other areas of town if desired, such as the State Street or Milpas Street corridors, and breaking down where the assessment funds would go.
“Thirty percent, for me, is too low on a weighted vote,” Mayor Murillo said. “That means a small amount of people could make this happen and we would hear from the people not that excited.”
She requested a “robust public outreach process” engaging business owners and patrons in the area.
In other business, council members unanimously approved a Community Wildfire Protection Plan presented by staff.
The plan aims to reduce wildfire risk to the city, inform and educate stakeholders about wildfire risk, provide guidance for future vegetation maintenance activities, and provide a policy framework for property owners in areas with wildfire risk to work with private insurance companies on issues of coverage and cost of insuring private property, among other things.
“This is a really significant and welcome document,” Council member Kristen Sneddon said. “We’ve been waiting for this. It’s award worthy.”
However, Ms. Sneddon proposed keeping “Foothill” and “Extreme Foothill” in the plan so as not to introduce any confusion in identifying the locations. The plan as recommended would have changed the Coastal Interior Zones to the city’s “High Fire Hazard Severity Zone” and the Foothill and Extreme Foothill Zones to the city’s “Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone.”
Ms. Harmon suggested making the switch to be consistent with CAL FIRE’s naming convention.
“I’m comfortable leaving it in, though it occurs to me that if we are making this transition to the CAL FIRE terms, it is incumbent on us to figure out how and where to make that transition in our documents as well,” she said. “It seems to me that the right approach wouldn’t necessarily be to keep it in this document, but to transition all our documents to the appropriate CAL FIRE designations.”
The council ultimately decided to keep the Foothill and Extreme Foothill designations in the plan, and to add mapping of the city’s parks to the plan. Members discussed potentially not using expanded vegetation management units to allow for more outreach to property owners in those areas, but they decided to use the new map.
“We’ve tasked our fire professionals with putting forward the best plan for our city. This is, according to them, in their expertise, the best plan for our city,” Ms. Harmon said.
“There’s got to be a couple fire professionals cringing off screen when they hear the words ‘compromise’ or ‘delay,’” Mr. Jordan said. “We trust our fire professionals to put in front of us the best methods and best plans to help protect us.”
The city council also received an update on the Enhanced Urban Water Management Plan project and unanimously approved three water supply policy recommendations presented by staff: 1) implementing EUWMP recommended actions for existing water supplies; 2) executing the EUWMP Adaptive Implementation Plan; and 3) continuing ocean desalination as part of Santa Barbara’s water supply portfolio to support drought preparedness, response and recovery.
The abandoned shopping cart ordinance discussion was postponed on Tuesday due to time constraints.