The Santa Barbara City Council heard and unanimously adopted its first ever three-year Economic Development Plan at its meeting Tuesday.
The 27-page document, which was created by the city’s new economic development director Jason Harris, aims to strengthen the city’s economy, enhance downtown vibrancy, support social equity and environmental protection, and celebrate Santa Barbara’s historic character, cultural resources and art.
The three foundations of the document are to support local businesses and commercial districts citywide, cultivate a business-friendly city government and strengthen downtown as the regional hub of retail, entertainment, art and culture, higher education and business.
Strategies to accomplish these sweeping goals include organizing business assistance training opportunities, ensuring access to services in Spanish, strengthening the local seafood industry, promoting the growth of green/sustainability business sectors, evaluating a permanent parklet program, creating an electronic newsletter and many more.
Council members praised Mr. Harris on obtaining community input in the creation of the document, and the fact that he created the plan to be a living document that can be adjusted bi-annually according to the changing economic landscapes post-COVID.
While the Economic Development Plan was adopted unanimously by the council, Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon criticized what she referred to as a lack of specificity in the document.
“If it’s going to be our guidepost for the next three years, I want to see that level of detail in there,” she said. “It just doesn’t feel like Santa Barbara yet, to me, in full picture of Santa Barbara and all that we are.”
The councilwoman said she wanted to see more strategies and concrete actions regarding environmental protection, open space and views of the mountains, the city’s festivals and parades and housing downtown. She also emphasized the arts and culture aspects of the city.
“I think the conversations have happened with commercial fishermen (and) the conversations have happened with businesses in very great detail,” Ms. Sneddon said. “I think those conversations need to happen with arts as a category, culture as a category, the natural world as a category and historical context as a category.”
Councilwoman Meagan Harmon countered Ms. Sneddon, however, saying that the document needed to move forward for the sake of time.
“I think it makes good sense that businesses and the needs of businesses are prioritized in our Economic Development Plan,” Ms. Harmon said. “I’m very happy to see references to culture and arts and our environmental protection priorities. I think that is appropriate and necessary, but to me, in an Economic Development Plan, business and the needs of businesses and the economy should be centered. And I think that’s what’s been done in this document.”
In other business, the City Council unanimously voted to add back in an amendment to the Average Unit-Size Density Incentive Program Ordinance to clarify that the AUD Program development standards did not apply to mobile home parks. This was added back to ensure that existing mobile home parks, which provide an alternative and typically affordable housing source, are protected from redevelopment.
However, members of the council were split on increasing the inclusionary requirement outside the Central Business District to help meet the city’s affordable housing needs. In October 2020, the council directed staff to consider requiring 15% of all units in a project to be restricted to moderate-income households for rental projects outside the CBD. The current requirement is 10% inclusionary units.
However, in April of this year, the Planning Commission recommended to wait on determining the inclusionary housing requirements until the city receives a pending economic feasibility analysis and study of floor-to-lot-area ratios. Those studies are expected to come to council in a few months.
A few public commenters supported waiting for the studies, including Dale Fathe-Aazam, the director of property, development and administration at the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara.
“We believe that data should drive the city’s decision regarding increasing the inclusionary rate to an appropriate level,” he said during public comment.
John Campanella, a former Santa Barbara city planning commissioner, agreed, saying one of the most important things to make sure of is that the city has the right percentage for moderate housing and to establish what the floor-to-lot-area ratio is.
“The FAR is going to be the basis upon which you calculate the inclusionary, and we don’t know that yet,” he said.
Mayor Cathy Murillo and Council members Mike Jordan and Alejandra Gutierrez agreed to wait for the economic feasibility studies, but Mayor Pro Tempore Oscar Gutierrez and Council members Eric Friedman and Kristen Sneddon felt that they should stick with their own original recommendation.
“Yes, (decisions should be) always data-driven, but when it (the studies) comes back, there may be some time, just like this, before we actually move on it and make an action on it,” Ms. Sneddon said. “So, I don’t want to wait for another study again, and without having acted on what we already know. Frankly, that last study confirmed what we already knew.”
Because Ms. Harmon was not yet present at the meeting, the council ultimately decided to prolong voting on the measure until next week until she could review the data and public comment and make an informed decision.
In other news, the council held a public hearing and unanimously supported proposed increases to city water rates for fiscal years 2022, 2023 and 2024, and solid waste rates for Fiscal Year 2022. The necessary overall water rate increase the city determined was a 5% increase for each fiscal year, and the total rate increase of solid waste for Fiscal Year 2022 totals 7.5%.
The new rates for both trash and recycling and water will be effective July 1.