DID YOU KNOW? By Bonnie Donovan
Editor’s note: Bonnie Donovan’s column normally appears in the Voices section, but is being published in the A section today for logistical reasons. Her column will return to Voices next Sunday.
Santa Barbara did it!
We collectively voted out the DCC and elected an independent candidate, Randy Rowse, as mayor.
He’s the one who ran on fixing our sidewalks, our roads — a self-proclaimed “pothole politician” That’s what we want and need, someone who will take time to take care of the city, do the maintenance, and lead us in a direction that protects and serves Santa Barbara. Enough of the distractions by outside influences! Congratulations, Randy, and thank you, Mrs. Rowse, for sharing Randy with us for the next five years.
Thank you to all the candidates who took the time and energy to campaign. It’s grueling to care.
Now we can return to concentrating on the vital issues in our own backyard. The pendulum has swung, and the campaign signs and fliers, and accusations can be put to rest.
Think about it. We rail against so many things wrong worldwide, that we cannot, at this moment do anything about.
Yet look at what is happening in our own backyard, and we can do something about that.
We have spoken about this before, this house of horrors planned for student dorms at UCSB – Munger Hall, under the guise of Charlie Munger’s philanthropy and a weak attempt to provide needed housing for the overexpansion of the student population, which has become everyone’s housing crisis.
As proposed, Munger Hall would be 11 stories and house 4,500 students with 512 units on each floor.
Ninety-four percent of the rooms would be without windows, fresh air or natural light.
How much energy would go into the mechanical systems required to keep the student rooms ventilated properly?
Additionally, hasn’t COVID just taught us that natural air is so important for our health. Not to mention our circadian rhythm.
We are blessed as a community. We live in what is arguably one of the most beautiful and temperate places on Earth, where the mountains meet the sand. The geographic and architectural beauty, as well as, our mild climate attract some of the globe’s wealthiest and renown individuals.
And it is the reason that those who are less affluent or influential remain — regardless of the struggle to do so. We have an abundance of philanthropic organizations that are supported by those who graciously choose to give, and our community is made up of many who either have the means to maintain and improve their high-end properties or have the knowledge and local resources to be able to do the same for their modest residences. There has and always should remain a mutual respect in our town between those of means and those who serve because each needs the other.
But something has shifted in our little piece of paradise.
Much like the temperature of the air in the last weeks, something feels colder.
As a result of shifting global wealth and the pandemic that has driven people out of the density of the cities, we are seeing a plethora of newcomers move into Santa Barbara.
Why are they here? Because of the weather, the beauty, the history, and the people. But rather than moving in quietly, remaining humble and getting to know their new town, how it functions and respecting those traditions, more and more it feels like the newcomers are here to give and be seen.
While this is already evident when driving and engaging with the newbies around town, it becomes even more obnoxiously evident when one looks at the shift in philanthropy and projects in the queue that are being reviewed by our local design review boards — the new modern, alas bad, Malibu homes (or the prairie look-alike farmhouses transplanted straight from an HGTV episode), increased density in downtown and taller buildings.
The proposed Munger dorm project at UCSB is the quintessential example of all that is going wrong and merits a quick local discussion beyond all that has been swirling in the national press.
UCSB was originally a marine naval base.
In the latter part of the 1940s and ’50s, the site was secured, and the university began master planning efforts for the campus.
The campus hired architects like Luckman and Pereira to complete master planning efforts for the campus and to design anchor buildings that embraced the Southern California building styles of the period, while ensuring sensitivity to the local Mediterranean vernacular: terra cotta roofs, courtyards that took advantage of the cool afternoon breezes and sunny days.
These buildings with amazing covered walkways, breeze block walls and courtyards that embrace transitional, indoor/outdoor spaces have served as the backbone for campus design for years.
Under the direction of the campus architect and Vice Chancellor of Administrative Services Marc Fisher (who served in 2002-2017), this tradition was furthered with the campus’ long range development plan. The Design Review Committee was a critical part of the vetting process for projects and further ensured the quality and consistency of design approach on the campus.
But the combination of a big donor and an aging chancellor, both of whom appear to disdain architects and aspire to leave a legacy with their names on it, are well on their way to doing so, albeit a bad one.
One just has to look at the style of the proposed residence hall that Mr. Munger has proposed to realize there is absolutely no connection to the local vernacular.
This building would probably make sense where Mr. Munger has “given” and demanded that his design be implemented, like Michigan with inclement weather.
But that is not how we live here in Santa Barbara, Charlie.
And that is not how we give here in Santa Barbara, Charlie.
Here, we don’t honk unless someone is about to be run over.
We don’t assume the wealth of anyone — because the person in the cut offs and flip flops is probably worth a lot more than anyone would expect. We appreciate history, revere and embrace it.
We move in slowly, get to know our neighbors who become friends, we open our hearts, windows, and wallets without asking for anything in return — especially during COVID! And we don’t impose and transplant architecture that isn’t born of local tradition.
The proposed Munger Hall is so horrendous, an architect on the UCSB Design Review Committee for 15 years, Dennis McFadden, resigned in protest Oct. 25. He said the massive, mostly windowless dormitory is “unsupportable from my perspective as an architect, a parent and a human being.”
Mr. Munger isn’t even paying for the whole project.
His donation of $200 million is only 13% of a $1.5-billion building. By the way, Mr. Munger’s design, including the windowless rooms for the students, is a condition of his gift.
Why would UCSB allow Mr. Munger to dictate how $1.3 billion of university money will be spent? Especially when the regents/students/taxpayers will carry the rest of the cost.
It appears the super rich now hold the keys to the public realm.
Editor’s note: After Bonnie Donovan wrote this column, the Santa Barbara chapter of the American Institute of Architects issued a statement opposing the proposed design for Munger Hall, which was reported in Saturday’s News-Press. It was signed by a long list of AIA members and AIA Fellows.
Bonnie Donovan writes “Did You Know?” in conjunction with a nonpartisan group of citizens. Her column normally runs in the Voices section on Sundays in the News-Press, and it will be there again next Sunday.