After years of delays and debates, the Santa Barbara City Council may finally make a decision Tuesday on charging impact fees or requiring inclusionary housing for new residential developments under the Average Unit-Sized Density (AUD) Ordinance.
The mayor, Cathy Murillo, has sought to exempt the vast majority of projects in the pipeline from ever paying a penny in fees or providing a single unit of inclusionary housing for those in the “workforce” earning $63,680 to $159,200 per year. This is despite the many development concessions given away to promote the construction of rentals for this group. Her tactics? One delay followed by another.
First, there were years of claims that it was too early to call the AUD a failure or make changes when the city knew that to rent a one-bedroom apartment at The Marc, the city’s first large-scale AUD development, a renter would need an income of $98,000 a year to afford the monthly rent of $2,450. Then there was a year of meetings with their own delays followed by the final receipt of the long anticipated Nexus and Feasibility studies. The studies happened to be released the day after Ms. Murillo was elected mayor.
For all her talk of being a strong proponent of housing affordable to the city’s “workforce,” one of Ms. Murillo’s first moves as mayor was to delay critical decisions on the AUD. Along with Councilmembers Eric Friedman and Randy Rowse and former Councilmember Gregg Hart, Mayor Murillo spearheaded the effort to punt sound policy decisions recommend by the two studies, along with a host of other issues, to the Planning Commission for further review. After 13 long months, the Planning Commission finally looked at the issues. But in the end, they too sought to punt these critical decisions. They said that they needed the item to return to them so they could further “study” the impact fees and inclusionary requirements while they looked at additional changes to the AUD Ordinance.
The same decisions that could have been made 15 months ago are again in front of the City Council Tuesday. Will the impact fees be the maximum for the zone ($25-$30 per square foot) or less? Will the inclusionary percentage be a measly 10 percent, or the maximum per the zone?
For perspective, San Francisco has had impact fees and inclusionary housing requirements since 2002. This year, their impact fees are $199.50 per gross square foot while their inclusionary requirements range from 20 percent to 33 percent.
Besides the questions on impact fees and inclusionary housing, the most important decision Tuesday may be the cut-off date, which applicants have known was coming for years. This date will define which projects are exempt and which are not. The mayor wanted to exempt any project where the applicant had turned in paperwork (not those in review, with final approval or with a final building permit) as of Sept. 13, 2017. This date would effectively provide little in the way of inclusionary housing or impact fees. My hope is that the council will surprise residents and choose to change the cut-off date to June 4, 2019, for projects that do not have building permits. This would include the most projects. Other decisions can be made later, but these critical decisions should not be delayed further.
To weigh in on these critical decisions email SBCityCouncil@SantaBarbaraCA.gov.