Santa Barbara City Council passes ordinances to customize lot-split bill
Santa Barbara City Council narrowed Senate Bill 9 — which will allow urban lot splits statewide beginning Jan. 1 — to the unique geography and concerns of its city Tuesday.
Some have lamented the impending end to single-family zoning, and Santa Barbara traditionalists have wondered if the state’s broad brush might stain the fabric of neighborhoods they cherish.
SB 9 doesn’t supersede the Coastal Act, and municipalities can enact ordinances to further restrict the state law.
The city did just that while keeping a watchful eye on legality.
State law allows cities to restrict SB-9 development in extreme fire hazard zones, unless there are building standards that mitigate the risk of wildfire.
Santa Barbara has such a code, so city staff justified the exclusion of the “foothill” and “extreme foothill” areas in the interest for the health and safety of residents.
City staff and the council separated the forest-adjacent high-fire areas from the zones of concern near the coast, citing the treacherous exit routes in the foothills.
Councilmember Kristen Sneddon, whose district encompasses the foothill area, read from the Community Wildfire Protection Plan and called on Fire Marshal Ryan DiGuilio to speak about risks.
“The elements are there for another fire to occur in our community, so we’re trying to keep especially those extreme and foothill zones as safe as possible for residents,” he said.
Community members shared stories about evacuations in the foothill area, riddled with dead-end streets, during public comment.
Mayor Pro Tem Oscar Gutierrez paused and braced for pushback: “Is there anything we can do as a governmental body to try to regulate the age of people or the health conditions to try to regulate where they live out of their safety? Is that something we can actually do or is that just discriminatory?”
Mayor Cathy Murillo quickly swatted his question away as housing discrimination.
The mayor had questioned early in discussion whether the foothill area could be opened for development as a way to encourage rental housing throughout the city, but she abandoned the idea.
The city championed affordable housing in its ordinance, an initiative silent in the state’s law.
Pre-existing coastal development ordinances set standards for rentals resulting from a lot split. One of the two primary units of a lot split in the coastal zone must be affordable to low-income tenants.
A new ordinance adopted by council establishes that lot splits inland are limited to rentals at or below moderate-income levels.
Parcels in the coastal zone must be double the average size of the area to qualify for a lot split. They must also provide two parking spaces per unit.
The Planning Commission voted 3-2 for a recommendation to deny the ordinance because it said it did not match the General Plan.
“They did not think it was fair that in the coastal zone, we’re able to say it’s inconsistent with the coastal land use plan, yet we can’t make that same finding inland,” Allison DeBusk, senior planner, said.
There are a number of small exclusions, set at both the state and local level, that may disqualify a property in Santa Barbara from splitting under SB 9.
Properties used as a rental in the last three years may not be split, and lots near environmentally sensitive areas are also excluded.
SB 9, which could give homeowners a shortcut to establishing an income property, has a laundry list of requirements.